Iowa governor to propose amendment allowing ex-felons to vote

Iowa governor to propose amendment allowing ex-felons to vote
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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said Tuesday that she wants to amend the state constitution to allow former felons to reclaim their right to vote after serving their sentences.

In her annual Condition of the State address, Reynolds urged legislators to begin the process of revising the state constitution to override a section that governs the franchise for those convicted of a felony.

The constitution’s current language prohibits convicted felons from voting for the rest of their lives, unless their rights are restored by the governor. Reynolds, who has been governor since May 2017, has restored the rights of 88 former felons.

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“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 told legislators Tuesday. “I believe Iowans recognize the power of redemption.”

Only one other state, Kentucky, permanently bans felons from voting, even after they have served their sentences. Floridians overwhelmingly voted to amend the state constitution in November, allowing those who have completed their sentences to regain their right to vote.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE (D) issued an executive order in 2005 that permanently restored former felons’ voting rights once they left prison. Reynolds’s predecessor, Terry Branstad (R), rescinded that order in 2011.

Iowa state law allows constitutional amendments if two successive legislatures pass a proposal, then a majority of voters approve a ballot measure. The state’s constitution has been amended 48 times since it was ratified in 1857.

Reynolds, who was arrested in 1999 and 2000 on drunken driving charges, told reporters recently that she has benefitted from second chances.

“I believe that people make mistakes and there’s opportunities to change, and that needs to be recognized,” she said, according to the Des Moines Register. “So it’s something that I’m passionate about.”

Two states — Maine and Vermont — never take away a felon’s right to vote.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia automatically restore a felon’s voting rights after he or she has been released from prison. Another 22 states grant felons the right to vote once they have completed their sentences, including parole.

The remaining states require some form of waiting period before a felon is allowed to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.