Gov. Kim Reynolds this week revealed her plan to permanently restore felons’ voting rights.
Iowa remains one of the last states that still permanently disenfranchises people convicted of felonies, redressable only by a direct appeal to the governor through an unnecessarily complicated process.
Reynolds’ proposed amendment would strike “a person convicted of any infamous crime” from the state constitution’s definition of disqualified voters, and replace it with, “a person convicted of any felony who has not discharged his or her sentence.”
On its face, this looks like a straightforward proposal, and one we readily support. However, some fellow Republicans may challenge Reynolds about the details.
One key consideration will be whether to restore rights for all felons, or only for some less egregious offenders. We urge the Legislature to adopt the broadest possible approach. It may be worth considering whether those convicted of voter misconduct felonies might be held to a different standard, but besides that, all former inmates should enjoy the right to participate in the democratic process after they’re released.
Another question will be whether to include full restitution as a requisite for voting rights, or only require felons to complete their prison sentences.
Here again, we hope lawmakers opt for fewer restrictions, not more. Imposing a requirement for financial restitution would create two classes of reformed felons — those with money, and those without.
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There are some conservative proposals negotiators could leverage to move the felon voting amendment forward. For example, lawmakers plan to consider putting victims’ rights language in the Iowa Constitution, and there was a proposal last year to package felon voting rights and gun rights together.
A diverse set of interest groups support the charge to restore felons’ voting rights. The League of Women Voters and American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa are actively advocating to extend voting rights.
Americans for Prosperity, an influential advocacy group among Republican lawmakers, plans to support Reynolds’ amendment, as they did for a similar measure last year in Florida. Several religious communities also have taken an interest in the issue.
Other groups may consider joining the cause. Business and economic development advocates should recognize that voting is an important step in reacclimating offenders to free society, helping to shore up a large segment of potential workers to fill open jobs.
While the amendment process takes years to play out, Reynolds could act sooner if she wants, by restoring an executive order to automatically restore felons’ voting rights in the meantime. That would provide valuable proof that felons in the voting booth pose no threat to the process.
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