Government

Gov. Reynolds streamlines voting rights application for felons

She urges lawmakers to pass constitutional amendment

Iowa NAACP President Betty Andrews joins Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday to advocate for the restoration of voting rights for felons who complete their sentences. Reynolds announced she has streamlined the application process, trimming it from three pages to one. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)
Iowa NAACP President Betty Andrews joins Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday to advocate for the restoration of voting rights for felons who complete their sentences. Reynolds announced she has streamlined the application process, trimming it from three pages to one. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — While she waits for lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment restoring felons’ voting rights on the ballot, Gov. Kim Reynolds is continuing efforts to give Iowans who have completed their sentences a second chance at “re-entry into life as a contributing member of our communities.”

Reynolds was joined Tuesday by representatives of the NAACP and Americans for Prosperity in announcing she has streamlined the application for restoring the right to vote from three pages to one.

Regaining voting rights is about more than “a trip to the ballot box,” said the Republican governor, who has restored the voting rights of 122 felons since May 2017.

“It really resurrects dignity (and) re-entry into life as a contributing member of our communities,” she said.

Streamlining of the application was a collaborative effort with the University of Iowa Legal Clinic, NAACP, Americans for Prosperity, League of Women Voters, the departments of Corrections and Public Safety and others.

“We’re trying to do our best to eliminate potential burdens to make the process as simple and user-friendly as possible,” Reynolds said.

A background check and associated $15 fee were eliminated. The application requires only the key information needed for her office to make a decision.

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The changes to the application makes the NAACP hopeful, said Betty Andrews, the organization’s Iowa president. But she encouraged Reynolds to take action through an executive order while waiting for a constitutional amendment to be approved.

“We also believe it is important that right now in the interim people have the opportunity to vote if at all possible,” Andrews said.

A resolution calling for a constitutional amendment was unanimously approved last week by the House Judiciary Committee. However, a more difficult challenge will be statutory language defining who is eligible to regain voting rights. Some lawmakers would make the process more difficult than the current practice by requiring felons to complete restitution and repay court costs.

Drew Klein of Americans for Prosperity encourage lawmakers to take a holistic approach to criminal justice. While public safety should be uppermost in their minds, Klein said, “there is no evidence that stripping somebody of their right to vote after they finish their sentence does anything to promote public safety.”

Withholding voting rights can contribute to a “cycle of recidivism that ultimately creates new victims and imposes recurring costs on taxpayers,” he said.

“Once these folks leave our prisons, we all have vested interest in making sure they become productive citizens,” Klein said.

Iowans looking to restore their voting rights can go to governor.iowa.gov/services/voting-rights-restoration.

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

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