Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order on Wednesday restoring the right to vote to many state residents with felony convictions.
Her action should render some 40,000 Iowans eligible to vote ahead of the 2020 general election. The executive order automatically restores voting rights for people who have completed most felony sentences, including prison, probation and parole time.
However, those with felony homicide convictions still have to individually apply to have their rights restored.
At the signing event on Wednesday, the Republican governor credited advocates from the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and others who had long fought to restore full voting rights for those formerly incarcerated.
“It boils down to our fundamental belief in redemption and second chances,” Reynolds said. “When someone serves their sentence ... they should have their right to vote restored automatically, plain and simple.”
She called voting “one of the most basic rights of citizenship.”
The governor, who is white, also noted that the previous voting rights restrictions disproportionately impacted people of color. Iowa imprisons Black people at a rate over 10 times higher than white people, per the Prison Policy Initiative.
This change comes after more than two months of nationwide protests against racism and police violence.
Iowa had been the only state that still barred people with felony convictions from voting or holding public office for life, unless they petitioned the governor. Florida voted to restore voting rights to people with felony convictions in 2018, and Kentucky’s governor signed an executive order to do so in 2019.
Reynolds warned that her executive order is “at best a temporary solution,” noting that any subsequent governor could reverse the decision with their own order. She urged Iowa lawmakers to make the change permanent by amending the state constitution.
At Wednesday’s signing, Democratic state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, who is Black, wore a T-shirt with the image of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights legend who fought for Black people’s voting rights for decades. Abdul-Samad credited this shift in Iowa to “what John Lewis has fought for ... what the NAACP has fought for, what Black Lives Matter has fought for.”
“It is imperative for the rights for everyone to be able to vote,” he said. “This comes at a time where this is seriously a tribute to the legacy of Congressman Lewis. So, thank you very much.”