Iowans who have a felony conviction are not eligible to vote. We have heard that statement so many times we may assume it is the whole truth. Not really.
Iowans with a conviction who completed their sentence before July 4, 2005 had their rights restored by Gov. Tom Vilsack’s executive order. In addition, Iowans who completed their sentence before Jan. 14, 2011 also likely had their rights restored by the same order.
Although Gov. Terry Branstad issued a new executive order on Jan. 14, 2011 rescinding Vilsack’s, the new order did not affect the restoration of rights granted before that date. Therefore, most Iowans with a conviction who completed their sentence before Jan. 14, 2011 already have their rights restored and are eligible to register and vote.
Since Jan. 14, 2011, Iowans with a felony conviction can only have their rights restored by personal application to the governor. Gov. Kim Reynolds has continued this policy, but there is good news. She recently simplified the application so Iowans with a felony conviction now have a much easier and realistic opportunity for restoration. And as an advocate for the reintegration of people back into the community after incarceration, I applaud this new opportunity for restoration of citizenship.
So, I encourage Iowans who have completed their felony sentence to apply now. Don’t wait for the Legislature to act; act now on your own. Take the Governor at her word when she says she wants to give you a second chance.
Rev. Gary Sneller
Cedar Rapids RISE Program