Is Another State Ready to Reject Disenfranchisement?

Iowa, Governor, Kim Reynolds
Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds speaking at the Ames, Iowa, Straw Poll on August 13, 2011. Reynolds is now governor. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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Only three states — Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia — are still permanently banning former felons from voting. Soon, that list may be down to two.

After Florida’s voters overwhelmingly rejected this form of disenfranchisement in November by approving an amendment to the state constitution that makes more than one million former felons eligible to vote, Iowa may be next.

Last week during her Condition of the State Address, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) announced her intention to change the state constitution to allow felons to vote after finishing their sentences.

“I don’t believe that voting rights should be forever stripped, and I don’t believe restoration should be in the hands of a single person,” Reynolds said, referring to her right as governor to grant clemency on an individual basis as she has done 88 times since taking office.

“I believe Iowans recognize the power of redemption — let’s put this issue in their hands.”

Reynolds is expected to add a constitutional amendment to re-enfranchise felons. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) issued an executive order in 2005 that permitted felons to vote, but then former Gov. Terry Branstad (R) quickly issued a reversal upon assuming office in 2011.

“I’m a recipient of second chances,” Reynolds explained. “I believe that people make mistakes and there’s opportunities to change, and that needs to be recognized.

“So it’s something that I’m passionate about.”

The Sentencing Project estimates that lifting the felon voting ban would give about 52,000 Iowans the right to vote, or about two percent of the population.

Iowa is a prototypical swing state, with a Republican governor, two GOP senators, one Republican House member, and three Democratic House members. The state voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and for President Donald Trump in 2016. Two percent of the population receiving enfranchisement could have a significant electoral outcome.

The push to permit felons to vote may be personal for Gov. Reynolds. She was arrested twice for drunk driving, in 1999 and 2000.

“I’m a recipient of second chances,” Reynolds explained. “I believe that people make mistakes and there’s opportunities to change, and that needs to be recognized.

“So it’s something that I’m passionate about.”

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2 responses to “Is Another State Ready to Reject Disenfranchisement?”

  1. Ron Cady says:

    I believe that even those incarcerated should have the right to vote. They are still citizens of this Country and have and will continue to pay taxes in support of this country. Those who have served their time and have been released should have all of their rights of citizenship restored.

    Why subject them to the judgment of others as to whether they are deserving or not? There are plenty of people voting now who are bigger criminals than those incarcerated, they just have not been caught yet, or they have the means to ensure that they are never punished for their acts of wrongdoing. In this country we need more voter participation, not less.

  2. If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in.