On Wednesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed an executive order that immediately restored voting rights to former inmates who have completed their sentences.
According to NBC News, this move means Iowa is no longer the only state to permanently disenfranchise former inmates. Approximately 40,000 former inmates who have completed their prison sentences, probation and parole will immediately have their rights restored. The order doesn’t extend to people convicted of particular crimes, such as first- and second-degree murder, attempted murder and certain sex offenses. Those people will have to petition the Governor to have their rights restored. The order also doesn’t require former inmates to pay financial restitution to victims before they can vote.
Reynolds has long spoken about her desire to give former inmates a second chance, citing her own experiences with alcoholism and DUI arrests before she got sober over 20 years ago. “It boils down to our fundamental belief in redemption and second chances. It’s a big step for so many on the road to redemption and proving to themselves and maybe to others that their crimes or convictions do not define them,” Reynolds said before signing the order.
Reynolds is still pushing for an amendment to the state’s constitution so that the change can’t be reversed by any future governor. She made an attempt last year but received push back from the Republican-led state legislature. Some of the governor’s Republican colleagues oppose the order, believing that certain crimes are beyond redemption, and that those who owe restitution should pay it in full before their rights are restored.
Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, has spent years advocating for this change and is now focused on ensuring those whose rights have been newly restored are able to take full advantage. “We absolutely encourage people to take this day and register. Now our work is to make sure that people are registered and understand as of today they don’t need to do paperwork, they don’t need to do anything like that. As of today they are allowed to vote.”
State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad (D), a Black lawmaker who has worked with Reynolds over the last two years to address the issue, was glad to see the order signed but noted that it was only a single step in the process of addressing systemic racism. “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,” Samad told NBC News. “This would have been something that was already automatic.”