Reynolds does the right thing

Iowa’s governor moves to make restoring voting rights to felons an easier process

During her Condition of the State Address in January, Gov. Kim Reynolds called upon the Legislature to begin the process of amending Iowa’s constitution. Currently, it strips felons of their right to vote for life. While it is possible for a governor to use clemency powers to restore voting privileges, the Reynolds is correct in concluding that the current constitutional provision is too harsh.

States vary in whether and how they restrict voting rights of felons. In two states — Maine and Vermont — they never lose the ability to vote, even while incarcerated. In other states, felons only are unable to vote while imprisoned. In still others, they lose voting privileges indefinitely for some but not all crimes. States also differ in terms of whether voting rights are restored during parole and probation periods and concerning the process for restoring the ability to vote.

Iowa is one of only two states — the other is Kentucky — where all felons are permanently disenfranchised unless the government restores voting privileges on a case-by-case basis. In our state they must apply to the governor for clemency to regain voter status.

Reynolds wants the constitution to be amended so that felons regain voter rights upon completion of their sentences. The necessary constitutional amendment is moving through the Legislature. The amendment process, however, is lengthy. An amendment must be passed by two sessions of the General Assembly and then submitted to Iowa voters for their approval.

The governor has moved to improve the existing mechanism for restoring felons to the voting rolls while the amendment process takes place. She announced earlier this month that she in implementing a simpler application process for felons who wish to once again become voters.

The new application is straightforward and designed to be easy to understand. It eliminates submission of some of the material previously required as well as information that is readily verifiable online. The goal is to approve or deny requests within one month of an application’s receipt.

“Iowans believe in second chances and we should help those individuals who want to re-enter society by restoring their voting rights, offering in-demand training, or encouraging additional education,” Reynolds said in a statement released March 12.

The Messenger agrees.

We commend Reynolds for recommending a better system for making felons who have served their time contributing members of our communities. Punishment and redemption are both important. Routinely disenfranchising felons permanently, however, is too extreme a penalty. We hope lawmakers will keep the constitutional amendment process on track and support the governor’s approach as that unfolds.