Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) thinks felons who served their sentences and repaid their debt to society should have the right to vote.

Gov. Reynolds recently shared portions of her upcoming Condition of the State speech to the Des Moines Register about felons having the right to vote. Reynolds’ speech emphasizes that she believes in second chances for felons who want to participate in democracy. and that she’s proposing a constitutional amendment to be voted on by Iowans to restore voting rights to felons who have re-entered society.

“Talk with someone who, by their own actions, hit rock bottom but decided to turn their life around,” Reynolds speech says. “Watch their face light up when they tell you about the person who offered them a helping hand. … There are few things as powerful as the joy of someone who got a second chance and found their purpose.”

Under current law, which former Governor Terry Branstad (R) signed in 2011 via executive order, felons are barred for life from voting after serving their sentences. Each individual felon must plead their case before the governor of the President of the United States to have their voting rights reinstated. Kentucky is the only other state that has a similar lifetime ban on felons casting ballots in state elections, after Florida’s Amendment 4 passed with overwhelming support in November.

Because Gov. Branstad unilaterally disenfranchised felons in 2011 through executive order, Gov. Reynolds could overturn the ban with an executive order of her own. However, in her prepared remarks to be delivered before the Iowa legislature this evening, she said the right of felons to vote should be up to current voters.

“I don’t believe that voting rights should be forever stripped, and I don’t believe restoration should be in the hands of a single person,” Reynolds’ speech says.

Under Iowa law, a constitutional amendment will mean that felons wanting to vote in the 2020 presidential election would be unable to do so. The Des Moines Register reported that state lawmakers must approve a constitutional amendment in two consecutive two-year sessions, and then Iowans must pass it in a statewide election. However, a constitutional amendment means a governor can’t overturn it via executive order in the future, as a second constitutional amendment would need to be passed to repeal it.

Gov. Reynolds will also outline her vision for criminal justice reform in her address, calling on lawmakers to pass bills allowing for new job training so formerly incarcerated Iowans can re-enter the workforce, and for a new package of reforms to protect victims’ rights.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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