What the voting rights order revealed about Kim Reynolds

“Quite simply, when someone serves their sentence and pays the price our justice system has set for their crimes, they should have their right to vote restored automatically, plain and simple,” Governor Kim Reynolds said on August 5, shortly before signing a critically important document.

Executive Order 7 automatically restores voting rights to most Iowans who have completed prison sentences or terms of probation or parole associated with felony convictions. The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP estimated that the order paves the way for more than 40,000 people to vote this year. Going forward, approximately 4,700 Iowans who complete felony sentences each year will regain the same rights.

Reynolds had publicly promised to sign such an order seven weeks ago, after Republican senators declined to advance the state constitutional amendment that was her preferred way of addressing the problem.

Both the substance of the measure and the way the governor announced it revealed aspects of her leadership style.

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Iowa lawmakers had their chance. Now governor should issue voting rights order

“Let them vote! Let them vote!” Black Lives Matter protesters chanted a few minutes after Governor Kim Reynolds signed a police reform bill on June 12. Reynolds did not acknowledge hearing them, continuing to pass out pens to advocates of the legislation, which the Iowa House and Senate had unanimously approved the night before.

The protesters want the governor to sign an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to Iowans who have completed felony sentences. Iowa has the country’s strictest felon voting ban, which disproportionately disenfranchises African Americans. Reynolds has resisted calls to issue an executive order, saying she wants the legislature to approve a state constitutional amendment on felon voting instead.

The Iowa legislature adjourned for the year on June 14 without the constitutional amendment clearing the Senate.

For many thousands of Iowans with felony convictions, an order from Reynolds provides the only path to voting before 2024. She should issue one as soon as possible.

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Racial disparities already apparent in Iowa's COVID-19 data

For the first time on April 14, the Iowa Department of Public Health released information about novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections by race and ethnicity. The results won’t surprise anyone who has been following the news from other parts of the country: a disproportionate number of Iowans with confirmed COVID-19 infections are African American or Latino.

Activists and some Democratic legislators had pushed for releasing the demographic information after a senior official said last week the public health department had no plans to publish a racial breakdown of Iowa’s COVID-19 numbers.

Meanwhile, Iowa reported its largest daily number of new COVID-19 cases (189) on April 14, fueled by the outbreak that has temporarily shut down a Tyson pork processing plant in Columbus Junction (Louisa County). At her daily press conference, Governor Kim Reynolds again praised efforts by meatpacking companies to slow the spread of the virus and keep workers and the food supply chain safe. However, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has highlighted unsafe workplace conditions for employees of meatpacking plants, a group that is disproportionately Latino.

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Latest reform won't help vast majority of Iowans disenfranchised over felonies

On the same day Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear restored voting rights to some 140,000 constituents who previously committed nonviolent crimes, Governor Kim Reynolds rolled out an incremental step to make it easier for Iowans to regain their voting rights after completing a felony sentence.

It was the fourth time the application process has been simplified in nearly nine years since Governor Terry Branstad restored Iowa’s lifetime ban on voting after a felony conviction.

Although the new policy may marginally increase the number of Iowans who can cast a ballot in 2020, it will leave tens of thousands of Iowans unable to vote for years. It’s not clear the governor’s office will be able to process all of the new applications in time for next year’s general election.

Reynolds could mostly solve this problem in a day. She clings to an unconvincing rationale for not doing so.

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Iowa governor names group to steer criminal justice reform efforts

Fourteen people representing a “diverse group of stakeholders” will recommend policies to reduce recidivism and racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system, Governor Kim Reynolds announced on November 4.

Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, a former state public defender, will chair the Governor’s FOCUS Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, which will meet for the first time on November 7. FOCUS stands for “Fueling Ongoing Collaboration and Uncovering Solutions.” The other members are:

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Reynolds takes solid step toward expanding voting rights

Since Governor Terry Branstad signed an order in January 2011 to end automatic restoration of voting rights for Iowans who have completed felony sentences, only 328 affected people have regained their franchise: 206 through the end of Branstad’s tenure, and 122 since Governor Kim Reynolds became the state’s leader in May 2017. Yet an estimated 52,000 Iowans are ineligible to vote because of a criminal record.

A constitutional amendment moving through the state legislature would end the lifetime ban for most Iowans with felony convictions but could not take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Today Reynolds announced several steps aimed at increasing the number of Iowans who could participate in the electoral process sooner than that.

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