Iowa auditors urge Gov. Kim Reynolds to expedite felon voting rights order

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference at the Statehou
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference at the Statehouse, Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, pool)

DES MOINES — A group of county auditors in Iowa is urging Gov. Kim Reynolds to issue an executive order restoring felon voting rights “as soon as possible” that does not exclude particular convictions from eligibility and requires repayment of legal financial obligations as a condition to qualify.

In a letter from Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz, president of the Iowa Association of County Auditors, the association’s members told Reynolds on Thursday “these changes cannot happen overnight.” It said they will need time to process registrations and make the proper preparations to accommodate the change by the Nov. 3 general election.

“This policy change will require amendments to the information we provide online and in person to Iowans eligible to vote,” Moritz wrote. “This policy should be supported by outreach and education to inform potential voters of their eligibility, along with the registration of up to 60,000 Iowans who would regain eligibility requires time for our offices to process their voter registration forms.”

During a radio interview Wednesday, Reynolds reiterated that she planned to issue to use her executive powers to restore voting rights for paroled felons. The Iowa Senate failed to take up her proposed constitutional amendment during the 2020 session, which ended June 14.

“It will be out in plenty of time prior to the election,” said the Republican governor, who indicated she, her staff and legal counsel are meeting with various groups to gather input.

Reynolds also indicated her executive order would take victims into account by making exceptions for murder, rape and other heinous crimes.

In their letter, the auditors requested the governor “restore voting rights without excluding Iowans with particular convictions from eligibility.” It noted “we are not criminal justice professionals,” and it would be difficult for them to determine eligibility based on complex sentencing statutes.

The auditors, who run elections at the county level, requested the governor’s order “establish a bright-line rule that is easy for us to administer and for voters to understand: Iowans who are not incarcerated and no longer on probation or parole are eligible to vote.”

Also, because counties and probation and parole officers lack a mechanism for tracking payments made toward victim restitution and other court costs, the association urged the governor “not to require the repayment of any legal financial obligations as a condition of eligibility.”

Near the end of the 2020 session, Reynolds signed Senate File 2348, a bill she called “a sensible compromise.” It requires a felon to complete a criminal sentence, including probation and parole, and pay restitution owed to a victim or victim’s family, before regaining the right to vote.

The governor has streamlined the system for people seeking voting rights through applications she must review and approve. She had called for lawmakers to approve a resolution for a “historic” constitutional amendment that automatically would restore felon voting rights. But she agreed to use her executive powers to restore felon voting rights after the resolution died in the Iowa Senate.

Her executive order would end Iowa’s distinction as the last state to strip all former felons of voting rights for life.

Pressure has built for Reynolds to issue an executive order as protests over police violence have erupted across Iowa and Black Lives Matter activists have demanded action. She has said she would sign the executive order before the November presidential election but has not specified any other time line.

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