Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed an executive order granting convicted felons their voting rights after they complete their sentences.
Reynolds signed the order August 6, which removes Iowa as the only remaining state to broadly deny voting rights to felons. In signing the order Reynolds, a Republican, fulfilled a promise she made in June to issue the order.
Reynolds added she will keep pushing the state legislature to pass a constitutional amendment to prevent future governors from overturning the order.
Under the order, felons convicted of first- and second-degree murder, attempted murder, fetal homicide, and some sex offenses will not have their voting rights automatically restored. Instead, felons convicted of those crimes will have to petition the governor to restore their voting rights.
Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, said the order will restore the voting rights of 40,000 former felons who have completed their prison sentences, probation, and parole.
“We absolutely encourage people to take this day and register,” Andrews said. “Now our work is to make sure that people are registered and understand as of today they don’t need to do paperwork, they don’t need to do anything like that. As of today they are allowed to vote.”
Felons will not have to make financial restitution to the state before being eligible to vote, a requirement opposed by the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
Mark Stringer, the executive director of the ACLU 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,” Stringer said in a news release. “We’re relieved that the Governor’s order does not make eligibility to vote dependent on how much money a person has, that is, it’s not contingent on paying off fees and fines or other associated debts.”
Critics of the move, including many of Reynolds fellow Republicans, opposed the move, saying felons who owe restitution to victims must pay it before getting back their ability to vote. Voting rights advocates say such repayment schemes equate to a poll tax that would affect those who cannot afford it.
After recent changes made in Kentucky, Virginia, and Florida, Iowa was the only state to have broad constitutional language that revoked felons’ voting rights. Sixteen states restore the right to vote upon release and another 21 automatically restore it after the sentence is served, including parole and probation.
Florida added an amendment to its rule, forcing felons to pay a fee to restore their voting rights. Former Miami Heat forward LeBron James’ More Than A Vote Initiative has donated $100,000 to help former Florida felons vote in the 2020 election.