Government

Iowa election officials still identifying felons now eligible to vote

Thousands should be able to cast ballots Nov. 3, if they register

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds bumps elbows with state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, after signing an executive order Aug.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds bumps elbows with state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, after signing an executive order Aug. 5 in Des Moines that granted felons the right to vote in Iowa. The Iowa Secretary of State is identifying those felons who have successfully completed their sentences. They have until Oct. 24 to register to vote in the Nov. 3 general election. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

BACKGROUND: Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Aug. 5 to restore voting rights to those convicted of most felony crimes, once they have finished their sentenced.

Reynolds had restored voting rights for more than 1,100 people since she became governor in 2017. Those felons had to apply to the governor’s office to have their voting rights restored.

The restoration of those rights was important to Reynolds and was given impetus with the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the Memorial Day death of George Floyd when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, a scene captured on video and shared widely.

Reynolds, a Republican, had asked the Republican-controlled Legislature in January to make voting rights restoration automatic upon completion of a prison sentence.

Iowa was the only state in the nation to ban all people with felony convictions from voting unless they applied individually to the governor’s office to have their rights restored.

“When someone completes their sentence, they should be able to vote again,” Reynolds said. “The right to vote is the cornerstone of being a part of society and being heard, and really successfully reentering society.”

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE: Since Reynolds’ executive order, the process of identifying felons now eligible to vote has been underway, according to the Secretary of State Office, which oversees elections.

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And county auditors have been fielding questions from felons wondering if they can vote. Linn County Auditor Joel Miller had “lots” of questions for several days after Reynolds issued her order.

If there are no red flags — such as a conviction for murder, manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter or special lifetime sentences for sexual crimes or other offenses, where voting rights are not restored — a person with a felony conviction who is out of prison can register to vote, which involves signing an oath that they are eligible to vote.

The Secretary of State Office is in the process of matching Department of Correction records with those from the judicial branch to determine how many felons have discharged their sentences and now are eligible to register to vote.

The Department of Corrections has one record for each felony charge rather than one record for each person charged, which has complicated the count, according to the Secretary of State.

After removing duplicates based on their Department of Correction identification numbers, 113,770 individuals have completed their sentences since the Department of Corrections started using electronic records.

Of those, 35,580 completed their sentences after Jan. 14, 2011 — the date when former Gov. Terry Branstad issued an executive order overturning former Gov. Tom Vilsack’s executive order that restored felon voting rights.

However, even those numbers may not represent the actual number of people now eligible to regain their voting rights, a spokesman for Secretary of State Paul Pate said.

That’s because some of them may be deceased, or moved out of state, or claimed the right to vote in another state, or are not citizens or have been judged by a court as not competent to vote.

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Linn County Auditor Miller expects to get the names of as many as 6,000 felons living in Linn County. His office will attempt to verify those names with postal addresses to determine eligibility to register in Linn County.

His office has prepared a letter to send to those individuals to let them know how to register. They did not receive absentee ballot request forms mailed from his office, he said, “because we don’t know who they are.”

The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election is 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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