Activists with the Des Moines Black Lives Matter organization left their follow-up meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds late this morning with a major commitment on voting rights, but an unclear timetable.
Reynolds, according to the activists in the room, said that she would issue an executive order restoring former felons’ voting rights in some form before the November election, at the latest by late summer or early fall. Her office did not have initial draft language as activists believed they’d been promised as of today.
The governor’s office did not immediately confirm or deny any details.
“She wants the time to develop the programs, she wants time to write the language out, to vet the language,” said Matthew Bruce, one of the local Black Lives Matter leaders. “It’s too long.”
He said that the Governor explained that she needed time to coordinate with other leaders she’d been working with on the voting rights issue.
“We were expecting to see some language when we walked in today,” Jaylen Cavil, another activist, said. “I thought that by now, we would see some real action steps or know what concrete action steps she was going to take.”
Iowa remains the only state in the nation that does not allow for automatic restoration of former felons’ voting rights. Individuals can apply to the governor to regain their right to vote, but it can be a long and complicated process that not many use.
Kentucky left Iowa alone in the disenfranchisement distinction after their governor signed an executive order last December.
Reynolds has said voting rights restoration is a key priority of hers over the past two years. Voting rights advocates and Democrats have repeatedly criticized her for not simply issuing an executive order like former Gov. Tom Vilsack did in 2005 that would automatically grant ballot access to all former felons.
Originally this legislative session, the Republican plan was to advance a constitutional amendment that would ensure voting rights restoration. The Iowa House overwhelmingly passed their part of the amendment last year. But Republicans in the Iowa Senate decided at the last minute over the weekend to not hold a vote on the amendment, killing the effort.
Before that, Republican legislators pushed for and passed a measure that would force former felons to pay any sort of victim restitution before regaining their voting rights in the event of a constitutional amendment passage. Many decried that as a modern-day “poll tax” that would likely disproportionately impact Iowans. With the constitutional attempt done for now, that restitution part shouldn’t apply to rights restored under an executive order (depending on how it’s written).
However, even had the amendment route continued on, Iowans wouldn’t have gotten their rights restored until the 2022 election. Both chambers would have had to pass the amendment again in one of the next two years when a new general assembly convened, and then it would be voted on by Iowans.
With the Senate derailing the constitutional amendment path for this general assembly, the process would have to start over again, pushing the rights restoration timeline back to 2024.
If Reynolds does follow through and sign an executive order at some point before this year’s election, it would be a major victory for Iowans’ voting rights and would allow at least tens of thousands more Iowans to vote in November.
Still, trust issues remain with activists on whether it will all come to pass with Reynolds.
“I don’t think she’s fully understanding the urgency of the moment right now,” Cavil said.
by Pat Rynard
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