“Quite simply, when someone serves their sentence, they paid their price our justice system has set for their crimes,” Reynolds said at the bill signing. “They should have the right to vote restored automatically. Plain and simple.”
Before the order, Iowa was the only state prohibiting anyone convicted of a felony from voting or holding public office unless they petitioned the governor.
“That creates 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, unless a single individual decides otherwise,” Reynolds said.
The prohibition disproportionately affected minorities, according to state officials.
The order has two parts. It restores the right to vote for Iowans who have already completed their felony sentences. Those who complete their sentences in the future will see their rights restored by the governor upon completion.
People convicted of homicide are excluded.
The executive action comes after Reynolds failed to garner enough support in the state Senate in June for a proposed amendment to the state Constitution. It is portrayed as a temporary measure.
“Whereas, a constitutional amendment continues to be the only permanent solution to this issue, but the process for proposing and ratifying such an amendment will likely take several additional years during which time Iowans would be deprived of these advantages,” the order states (pdf).
Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican, said in a statement that he commended Reynolds for signing the order.
“I also appreciate that she has ensured that those individuals convicted of the most serious and heinous crimes will not receive blanket restoration,” he said. “The House took action on the constitutional amendment in 2019 and I look forward to continue working with the Governor and Senate to find resolution next session.”
State Sen. Jerry Behn, a Republican, told a local radio station earlier this year that he’s more concerned about victims than felons.
“To be perfectly blunt, I’m more concerned about the victim of the crime than the perpetrator of the crime. If the perpetrator of the crime gets in trouble, as they should, that’s fine,” Behn said. “The idea that just because you served some prison time somehow you’ve paid your debt to society is not necessarily accurate in my mind. If you stole an amount of money there should be some restitution to the victim.”
At the bill signing on Wednesday, state Rep. Ako Abdul Samad, a Democrat, praised the governor.
“Many hands have went into this, but it boils down to the governor taking a stand, standing up to a promise that I know we had talked about over two years ago,” he told reporters at the bill signing.
“I wanted to say from all of us: thank you for doing this. It is imperative that we get it done. It is imperative for the rights for everyone to be able to vote.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa also applauded the move but said workers were disappointed felons convicted of homicide were excluded.
Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, told those assembled at the Statehouse that the order would restore the rights to some 40,000 felons.
In addition to groups like the union and the NAACP, Black Lives Matter activists pressured the Reynolds administration to take action to allow felons to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
“She’s gonna sign it by July 4 or we are going to raise hell and by that I mean we are going to be up here every single day making a bunch of noise and whatever else,” Jake Sahr, one activist, said during a rally at the state capitol in June. “Whatever we have to do to get her to sign that. Either that or impeach her.”