On Wednesday, Iowa ended its title as the only state in the nation to impose a lifetime voting ban on people with felony convictions when Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order restoring voting rights.
The order automatically reinstated the right to vote to Iowans who have completed their felony sentences, excluding those convicted of homicide and some sex offenses. Such individuals will still have to apply for restoration. Still, the order will restore voting rights to nearly 40,000 Iowans, according to Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP.
Reynolds’ decision to sign the order comes after pressure from local activists and organizations, including Des Moines Black Lives Matter and ACLU Iowa. Although not invited to the signing, members of Des Moines Black Lives Matter spent the last few months demanding Reynolds restore voting rights after she promised to do so in June. The group wanted the governor to take action before the upcoming election in November.
The state’s voting ban disproportionately affected Black Iowans, making the executive order an important step in improving racial disparities in Iowa. According to ACLU Iowa, only 4% of Iowans are Black, but a Black person is 11 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person in the state.
The fight for a more permanent solution comes next, according to Mark Stringer, executive director of ACLU Iowa. “While we’re delighted that immediately so many Iowans are eligible to register and vote, it’s important that we continue to pursue a more permanent fix to the problem of felony disenfranchisement in our state,” he said. Governor Reynolds agreed, saying, “Let me be clear: an executive order is, at best, a temporary solution. It can be changed with a stroke of a pen by the next governor, which is not good enough. Something that is fundamentally right should not be based on [the] benevolence of a single elected official.”
Stringer has advocated for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights, which the Iowa state legislature has failed to pass up until this point. However, Iowa State Representative Ako Abdul Samad, who had worked on the issue with Reynolds for a few years, looks to an even broader solution. “We’re asking everyone to reach in their own hearts to begin dealing with the root cause. You need to help us show that Black lives matter and if Black lives did matter this wouldn’t have been such a hoorah today. This would have been something that was already automatic,” he said.
Sources: NBC News 8/6/20; ACLU Iowa 4/19/20; CNN 8/5/20