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Iowa Governor Issues Executive Order Restoring Some Felons’ Voting Rights

Iowa governor Kim Reynolds arrives on Air Force One with President Trump in Des Moines, Iowa, June 11, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Wednesday that automatically reinstates the voting rights of some convicted felons. 

The order will permit some Iowans who have completed their felony sentences — excluding those convicted for homicide — to automatically be able to vote in elections without having to petition the governor’s office individually. 

“When someone serves their sentence and pays the price our justice system has set for their crimes, they should have their right to vote restored automatically, plain and simple,” the Republican governor said, adding that the current requirements create “the potential for uneven justice.”

“It means people who have served their sentence and are seeking to get their lives back on track permanently are prohibited from one of the most basic rights of citizenship,” she said.

The order requires Iowans to “complete any prison probation, or parole, or special sentence” before they can register to vote, and will require felons to pay victim restitution before voting, the governor said. Those who committed felony homicide offenses, including murder and manslaughter, will still have to individually apply for restoration.

Iowa was the only state with a lifetime ban on voting for convicted felons unless they appealed to the governor and were granted restoration. The ban affected more than 60,000 residents and almost 10% of the state’s black population, The Hill reported.  

While the governor had urged state lawmakers to amend the Iowa Constitution to change the felon voting requirements over the past two years, she said in June that she would sign an executive order changing the requirements after facing pressure from state advocates and Des Moines Black Lives Matter activists who pressed her to take action ahead of the November election.

A joint resolution that would have allowed for a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to some people with convictions failed to pass the state legislature this session. 

Reynolds warned that the executive order would only be a temporary fix and continued to press for a constitutional amendment. 

“Let me be clear: an executive order is, at best, a temporary solution. It can be changed with a stroke of a pen by the next governor, which is not good enough,” Reynolds said. “Something that is fundamentally right should not be based on benevolence of a single elected official.”

In 2011, Republican Governor Terry Branstad reversed a 2005 executive order by his predecessor, Democrat Tom Vilsack, that restored voting rights for Iowans who completed their sentences.

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