Issues with Secretary of State website frustrating for convicted felons wanting to register to vote

Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 6:08 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Chawn Yilmaz was born in Cedar Rapids but lived in California for most of her adult life. That’s wherein 2002 she was convicted of a felony.

“Living in California I could vote. I voted in the 2016 election," Yilmaz said.

However, in Iowa, she couldn’t. Until this August, when Gov. Kim Reynolds restored felon voting rights. The last state in the nation to do so.

“I tried to register online as soon as I found out I was going to be eligible to vote in this election," Yilmaz said. “It’s an important, empowering thing. I think to vote.”

When Yilmaz tried to register on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website, she was denied for being a felon.

“I repeatedly tried and tried. It wasn’t until last week that I made an appointment at the Auditor’s Office to get registered," Yilmaz said.

Yilmaz was able to register in person but was told they were unaware of the issues with the website, but the voter registration form, that was just revised this month still says felons can’t vote right at the top.

“A full two months later a revised application that has inaccurate information, so I’ve been trying to pass the word on Facebook just to let people know," Yilmaz said.

TV9 did reach out to the Secretary of State about these issues. Paul Pate said in a interview they tested the website to make sure it is up to date and that it did not have issues. Pate also said they revised the form to make it as clear as possible to felons voting for the first time this year, but understands it can be confusing to first time felon voters.

Joel Miller, Linn County Auditor, said he even believes that wording can be confusing for felons wanting to register.

“I don’t like the way it’s written, but it’s not my form it’s the official form from the Iowa Secretary of State,” Miller said.

Miller said the Secretary of State released Linn County’s felon list about a week ago, and they sent out letters to about 4,000 felons.

“Some of them came in and registered to vote, and then unfortunately when the felon list was released by the Secretary of State within about the last ten days we found out about 30 had to be cancelled from the registration because they had not fulfilled their obligation, that is finished their probation so yes lots of questions," Miller said.

Miller said he feels more coordination from the Secretary of State and Governor’s Office could have helped avoid some of this confusion.

“We have a lot of things going on in this election, and to basically wait to the last minute to spring that felon list on us was inappropriate. It was just too late. We shouldn’t be having to be dealing with these things when we are 15 days from the election now,” Yilmaz said.

Miller said the best way for felons to figure out if they can register to vote is to come to an early voting place in person, like Yilmaz did, and get registered and vote there. Although Yilmaz was able to get registered, she said she hopes others experiencing issues like she did won’t discourage them from voting.

“I think people are just totally unaware and or they tried to do it online, and they are completely discouraged. Don’t let that discourage you. Your right has been restored by the Governor. You can vote," Yilmaz said. “There are thousands, tens of thousands of convicted felons in Iowa that can literally change the vote this year, if they went out and used their voice."

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