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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Four links for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

For some, today’s holiday is just a day off from work or school. But thousands of people will be honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at events around Iowa. State government’s official celebration begins at 10:45 a.m. at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, 909 Robert D. Ray Drive in Des Moines. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker will discuss Dr. King’s legacy and various justice reform issues at three events in Mount Vernon or Cedar Rapids.

The African-American Museum of Iowa (55 12th Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids) is offering free admission between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, with children’s activities between 11 and 3. After the regular opening hours, the museum is hosting a job fair and a free screening of the movie “Hidden Figures.” On January 25 from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, museum staff will hold an event at the North Liberty Public Library highlighting “the fight for equal rights, both nationwide and in the state of Iowa. Featured individuals include Alexander Clark, the man who helped desegregate Iowa schools in 1867, and Edna Griffin, the woman who led sit-ins at the Katz Drugstore in Des Moines in 1948.”

I enclose below excerpts from a few articles related to racial inequality or the civil rights movement. Bleeding Heartland has compiled other links related to this holiday or to Dr. King’s work here, here, here, here, and here. The quote pictured at the top of this post first appeared in Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 1963).

Many politicians will quote the civil rights icon today. If Iowa lawmakers want to honor his legacy, they could pass some of the criminal justice reform bills introduced in recent years, or other ideas advocated by the NAACP. Instead, members of the Iowa Senate and perhaps the state House are likely to debate a bill to reinstate capital punishment this year. Many years of data point to racial disparities in how the death penalty is applied. (Rod Boshart’s reporting suggests the death penalty bill probably will not pass.)

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Courts will have the final say over Iowa's voter ID law

New restrictions on voting in Iowa are headed to Governor Terry Branstad after one last party-line vote in the state Senate on Thursday. The final version of House File 516 contains voter ID and signature verification requirements that will surely prevent some eligible voters from having their ballots counted. For more on those barriers, read Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert’s statement enclosed below, testimony from the public hearing in the Iowa House last month, Bleeding Heartland guest posts by representatives of One Iowa and the American Civil Liberties Union, John Deeth’s “deep dig,” and the position paper from Iowa’s Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. That commission took its first-ever stand on pending legislation out of concern House File 516 will “impede access to the voting booth.”

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Iowa House censored video of public hearing on voter ID bill

The topic at hand was supposed to be Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announcing that he may run for Iowa secretary of state in 2018. In a March 19 press release, Weipert said, “I’ve been meeting with auditors of both parties across the state, and there’s wide agreement we need new leadership in the Secretary of State’s Office. […] We should be helping people vote, not making it harder.” Auditors are the top election administrators in Iowa’s 99 counties. Weipert has been an outspoken critic of Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposal to enact new voter ID and signature verification requirements. The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved a version of Pate’s bill earlier this month.

Weipert has argued voter ID would disenfranchise some voters and create long lines at polling places. While working on a post about his possible challenge to Pate, I intended to include footage from the Johnson County auditor’s remarks at the March 6 public hearing on House File 516. I’d watched the whole hearing online. However, I couldn’t find Weipert anywhere in the video the Iowa House of Representatives posted on YouTube and on the legislature’s website.

Upon closer examination, I realized the official record of that hearing omitted the testimony of sixteen people, including Weipert.

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Coalition will work to expand felon voting rights in Iowa

Iowa’s leading civil rights advocacy groups have joined forces, fighting for changes that would allow thousands of Iowans who have completed felony sentences to “be full members of society and exercise their right to vote.” The seventeen groups in the new Restore Fair Voting Rights in Iowa coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Iowa.

Their efforts are badly needed, because even after two “streamlinings” of the process Governor Terry Branstad established on his first day back in office, an embarrassingly small number of Iowans have regained the right to vote.

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