DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds plans before this fall’s election to issue an executive order that would restore the voting rights of felons who complete their sentences, according to sources with the ACLU of Iowa and Black Lives Matter of Des Moines.
Reynolds made the pledge Monday during a meeting with Black Lives Matter organizers, leaders with state chapters of the ACLU and NAACP, and state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, sources said.
The meeting’s attendees and discussion were confirmed by ACLU of Iowa executive director Mark Stringer and Black Lives Matter organizer Matthew Bruce. Bruce said he attended the meeting, and while Stringer did not, the ACLU’s director of policy and advocacy Daniel Zeno did, Stringer said.
Reynolds’ spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sources said Reynolds did not present details of the executive order, including any possible stipulations and how the order would be administered. But Reynolds pledged to issue the order in time for this fall’s election, sources said.
“We are grateful to have a chance to be at the table, as much as were invited to be, so we can make sure that as many people as possible regain their voting eligibility,” Stringer said.
Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2005 issued an executive order that granted automatic voting rights to felons who completed their sentences. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in 2010 reversed that order.
Since then, Iowa felons who completed their sentences had to petition the governor to have their voting rights restored. Iowa is the only state in the country with that requirement.
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Branstad’s lieutenant governor and successor, Reynolds has advocated for the restoration of felon voting rights through amending the Iowa Constitution, a process that takes at least three years because it must pass separate meetings of the Iowa Legislature separated by an election, then must be approved by a public vote.
A proposal moved through the Iowa Legislature over the past two years, but never gained full approval. And majority Republican state lawmakers added stipulations — such as a requirement that court fines and fees be paid before voting rights would be restored — that essentially made the restoration process more difficult, not less, as Reynolds has intended. If Reynolds issues an executive order, those stipulations will not apply.
Republican leaders said they backed off the proposed constitutional amendment because their understanding was that Reynolds planned to issue an executive order.
The Legislature and Reynolds did this past week approve racial justice legislation, including a ban on police choke holds and rehiring officers fired for misconduct or using excessive force.
With those legislative goals achieved, the felon voting executive order became a top priority for Black Lives Matter, which has been active since May 25, when George Floyd, a Minnesota man, died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Protesters were frequent visitors to the Iowa Capitol in the past week, often chanting, “Let them vote.”
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