Iowa Governor Will Sign Executive Order on Felon Voting Rights

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The Governor of Iowa confirmed yesterday that she will sign an executive order restoring voting rights to many individuals formerly convicted of felonies. The Des Moines Register has more:

Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters Tuesday that she will sign an executive order restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, a move that will address Iowa’s status as the last state in the country with a lifetime ban on felon voting.

“We’re working on that right now, sitting down with various groups, listening to what they think is important, what is contained in that executive order,” Reynolds told Radio Iowa in Osage on Tuesday morning, “and then I’ve got my legal team working on it.”

Iowa is the only state in the country that bans all felons from voting unless they apply individually to the governor’s office to have their rights restored. More than 60,000 Iowans, including nearly one in 10 African American adults, are barred from voting in the state due to a prior felony conviction.

There had been indications that the governor would sign an order, but it was not confirmed until yesterday:

Activists with Des Moines Black Lives Matter, officials with the NAACP and ACLU, and two Iowa state representatives met with Reynolds on Friday and Monday to discuss an executive order. Those in the meeting said Reynolds told them she would sign an order before the November election, but Reynolds had not confirmed that she would do so until Tuesday.

“We have an important election coming up,” Reynolds said, according to Radio Iowa. “…We’re working on the language to see what that looks like, but hopefully it would mirror what we would put in a constitutional amendment so that we could be consistent in what we’re trying to do.”

The forthcoming order comes in the wake of efforts to get the Legislature to enact a constitutional amendment which would address the issue permanently:

For the past two years, Reynolds has pushed the Legislature to approve an amendment to the state constitution to make the process of regaining voting rights automatic once felons have completed their sentences. But Republicans in the Iowa Senate killed the proposal each year. On Sunday, the Legislature adjourned without the Senate taking a vote on the measure.

Senate Republicans said they did not approve the constitutional language because they believed Reynolds planned to sign an executive order, making the amendment unnecessary.

Reynolds told Radio Iowa she still wants to see the Legislature address the issue.

“I still am not going to give up on a permanent solution,” she said. “I just believe that’s the right thing to do and then it doesn’t matter who’s sitting in the governor’s chair.”

Advocates and legislators will be watching to see the details of the order – especially the inclusion of any financial restitution requirements like the ones that have been an issue in Florida:

The details of the potential order are unclear. In an effort to make the constitutional amendment more palatable to Senate Republicans, Reynolds signed legislation that — if the amendment had passed — would have set conditions for which felons can automatically get their voting rights back, excluding those convicted of certain crimes, and would have required all felons to fully pay victim restitution before they can vote.

That could mean that Reynolds’ executive order would be different than one signed by former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, in 2005. The Vilsack order was later rescinded by Reynolds’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.

Advocates are planning to draft their own version and lobby the governor to adopt it:

Organizer Matthew Bruce told the Des Moines Register Tuesday morning that the group is now working with a coalition of lawmakers and former public officials to draft their own version of executive order language and rally support behind it.

“We’ll bring that language forward and get as many lawmakers … and community organizations as we can behind it and continue to push these protests behind our own language,” he said. “That way there’s nowhere for Kim Reynolds to run to say that she can’t get it done. All she has to do is put her signature on it.”

An executive order on voting rights would move Iowa away from its status as the lone state in the Union that permanently revokes voting rights for individuals convicted of felonies. Given the recent controversies in the Hawkeye State over vote-by-mail and other aspects of the election process, don’t be surprised if there continues to be some disagreement over the eventual terms of the order. Stay tuned…

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