Gov. Kim Reynolds signals changes could come to felon voting rights policy

    Governor Reynolds gives her first Condition of the State address in January 2018.

    Governor Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she is taking a look at several criminal justice reform policies for next year, including restoring voting rights for felons in the state.

    A legislative advisory board suggested last week that lawmakers take into consideration restoring voting rights for Iowans convicted of a felony. Right now, Iowa and Kentucky are the only two states that ban felons from voting unless granted clemency by the governor on an individual basis. Any changes could affect about 52,000 Iowans, or 2% of the state's population.

    "We’re looking at several criminal justice reforms so we’re going to take a look at several components of that," Reynolds said. She declined to provide any further details about plans, only that those proposals could be part of her Condition of the State address to lawmakers in January.

    This comes on the heels of voters in Florida approving a constitutional amendment that would allow the state's 1.5 million felons to vote. Reynolds said this is part of the reason her team is going to "take a look" at the issue.

    "I want that to be a part of what we look at next year," she said. She said she hasn't spoken to leadership in the GOP-controlled legislature about the issue as she works to craft her budget recommendations for the next budget year.

    Since she took office in May 2017, Reynolds has issued restored the voting rights for 88 Iowans convicted of felonies, spokeswoman Brenna Smith said.

    Reynolds said Tuesday that her staff made sure all pending requests were processed before the November election. She shared an anecdote about a man who thanked her personally for granting him clemency.

    "He said: ‘Not only did I get a letter, but your team personally reached out to me with a phone call to make sure that I knew that my rights had been restored,'" Reynolds told reporters.

    "And he said: 'I can’t even begin to tell you the dignity I felt because I had gotten my life back to be able to go vote. I made some mistakes when I was younger.' He personally went up to me and shared that with me," Reynolds said.

    In 2005, Governor Tom Vilsack signed an executive order that restored voting rights to Iowans who had already completed sentences for felony convictions. Governor Terry Branstad rescinded that order in 2011.

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