Eyes on Reynolds after lawmakers say she made felon voting rights promise

Updated: Jun. 15, 2020 at 11:46 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Des Moines Black Lives Matter members have been among the most active and vocal groups pressuring Gov. Kim Reynolds and state lawmakers over the last two weeks for sweeping changes to address injustices.

While some of their goals have been accomplished, they’re still demanding the state restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies ahead of the November general election. Iowa is the only state where people convicted of felonies are automatically disenfranchised and have to petition the governor to get voting rights back.

According to the ACLU of Iowa, Reynolds has committed to restoring those rights by signing an executive order by early fall 2020.

“Our policy and advocacy director, Daniel Zeno, was in the meeting with the governor this morning [Monday], along with Black Lives Matter activists, the NAACP, and Rep. [Ako] Abdul-Samad, and at that meeting, Gov. Reynolds reiterated a commitment that we’d heard she’d made on Friday to draft an executive order that would restore voting eligibility for at least some of those who have been convicted of a felony and completed their sentence,” Mark Stringer, the executive director of ACLU of Iowa, said.

Stringer called the matter “a nonpartisan issue of fundamental fairness.”

“This is about people’s constitutional rights, and voting, we think, is one that’s very important, and therefore eligibility for voting, even for those convicted of a felony, is essential, especially after they’ve completed their sentence,” Stringer said.

Reynolds herself has said it’s one of her priorities, but she has also said she’d rather that restoration comes in the form of a state constitutional amendment instead of an executive order. Such an order is quicker to enact, as Reynolds would just need to sign it herself for it to go into effect. But it’s also easier to undo, as a future governor could sign a new order that would cancel Reynolds’.

An amendment to the state constitution is harder to undo, but it takes more time and work. The amendment would have to pass both the Iowa House of Representatives and Senate in two consecutive general assemblies, each of which is two-years long. Then the amendment would go before Iowa voters, a majority of whom would need to approve it.

Stringer said, at this point, the earliest Iowans could vote on a potential amendment would be in 2024.

“We would prefer there to be a permanent solution, but we are definitely supportive of an executive order in the meantime,” he said.

The statehouse did consider that amendment to the constitution this year through House Joint Resolution 14, but it never came to a vote in the Senate before the legislative session ended Sunday.

Republican Brad Zaun, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told KCRG-TV9, “Negotiations continued on HJR14 until Friday. However, once we were told Gov. Kim Reynolds was going to sign an executive order reinstating felon voting rights, that ended our efforts.”

When asked by whom they were told Reynolds would sign the executive order, Zaun said, “From the Governor herself.”

Julian Garrett, the vice-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoed that in another statement, saying, “There were differences of opinion among legislators on this amendment, HJR 14. When we learned that the governor was planning to sign an executive order allowing felons to vote, we decided not to proceed with HJR 14. We assume that the governor’s executive order will resolve the issue.”

TV9 has reached out to Reynolds’ office for comment but hasn’t heard back.

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