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Iowa restores ex-prisoner voting rights

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Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds has signed an executive order that automatically reinstates the voting rights of Iowans who have completed their prison sentences. The order does, however, exclude those convicted of homicide, who would still have to individually apply to have their rights restored once released.


“When someone serves their sentence and pays the price our justice system has set for their crime, they should have their right to vote restored automatically, plain and simple,” Reynolds said.


Iowa was the only US state with a lifetime ban on voting for convicted felons unless they appealed to the governor and were granted restoration.


Reynolds acknowledged the executive order was a temporary solution that could be changed by the next governor. “An executive order can be changed with a stroke of a pen by the next governor, which is not good enough. Something that is fundamentally right should not be based on benevolence of a single elected official,” she noted.


Reynolds has made the issue a priority, previously discussing her own struggle with alcoholism and drink-driving arrests before she sought treatment and got sober more than 20 years ago. “It boils down to our fundamental belief in redemption and second chances,” Reynolds said before signing the order. “It’s a big step for so many on the road to redemption and proving to themselves and maybe to others that their crimes or convictions do not define them.”


Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, had issued an executive order in 2005 to restore voting rights for residents who completed their sentences. That decision was reversed in 2011 by his successor, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. Reynolds says she will continue to push for an amendment to the Iowa constitution.


Mark Stringer, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, called the move to restore voting rights, a victory for the state. “Iowa no longer is the only state in the country to permanently and for life ban its citizens from voting following any felony conviction,” he said.


In 2016, an estimated 52,000 Iowans were disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, according to a report from The Sentencing Project. To date, 16 states restore the right to vote upon release from prison and another 21 automatically restore it after the sentence is served, including parole and probation.


ABOVE Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, after signing the executive order

PHOTO Charlie Neibergall/AP


Iowa no longer is the only state in the country to permanently and for life ban its citizens from voting following any felony conviction.

Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa executive director

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