Iowa Republicans’ obsession with restricting voting rights is not some harmless political science experiment. It has serious consequences, which are just now coming into full view.
General election voting kicks off on Oct. 5, when county auditors are allowed to start mailing absentee ballots and offer early in-person voting. With just a matter of days until ballots start being cast, tens of thousands of Iowans are still confused about how to vote.
Iowa’s poorly executed felon voting rights restoration is the latest example of the GOP’s election mishandling.
Almost two years ago, in her first Condition of the State address after winning election, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced plans for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for released felons. Many of the governor’s usual critics, including this editorial board, praised her leadership on the issue. However, the GOP-controlled Legislature couldn’t agree about the details, such as whether to require restitution payments to be made or to permanently ban some violent criminals. Even though Reynolds had the authority to restore voting rights through an executive order, she chose not to exercise through two disappointing legislative seasons.
In June, faced with a fervent Black Lives Matter protest movement, Reynolds promised to sign a felon voting order before the election. But it took the governor more than a month to make good on the promise, finally delivering in early August.
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The long delay in taking action on felon voting rights imposed a hefty burden, but politicians aren’t bearing it — Iowa voters are.
Another month has passed since Reynolds signed the order, but the state’s voter registration forms still say felons are not qualified to vote and instructs them to apply to the governor, as first reported by the Des Moines Register. Undoubtedly, that bold text at the top of the form is turning away people who actually are eligible, a foreseeable consequence of Reynolds’ refusal to act sooner.
Unnecessary frustration and confusion over the 2020 election does not end there.
Legislation passed last year made it harder for election commissioners to promote early absentee voting. Voters in Johnson and Linn counties received partially filled-in absentee ballot request forms that were later invalidated after a court challenge from the Trump campaign. And Iowans are still getting used to the unnecessary voter ID law passed in 2017.
Given the state’s failure to secure voting access for all Iowans, it falls on each of us to know the rules. Here are a few reliable sources for information about early absentee voting in Iowa:
• “Absentee ballot FAQ: What you need to know about voting by mail in Iowa,” available on TheGazette.com
• Iowa Secretary of State: sos.iowa.gov
• Linn County auditor: linncounty.org/128/Auditor
• Johnson County auditor: johnsoncountyiowa.gov/dept_auditor_elections.aspx
Make a plan now to vote in this important election. In 2020, voter education is nothing less than a form of self-defense.
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