DES MOINES, Iowa — With three months to go until the November 3rd election, many convicted felons in Iowa are now able to vote.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has been trying to get a constitutional amendment change for felon voting rights since she was elected, but her fellow Republicans repeatedly voted it down. So instead she opted for a temporary fix an executive order that she signed on Wednesday.
“Quite simply, when someone serves their sentence and pays the price our justice system has set for their crimes, they should have their right to vote restored automatically, plain and simple,” Gov. Reynolds said at Wednesday’s executive order signing.
This executive order is important for citizens like Kwame Bevel and the estimated 60,000 Iowans who have a felony charge on their record. Bevel is a Des Moines resident and a convicted felon.
“I think it’s huge because it gives those folks a chance that, like myself, you know, just simply made a mistake,” Bevel said. “We’ve all been young. We all might not have made a mistake to that extent, or you know, made those types of mistakes but, being young, you live and you learn. I think that it’s huge that [Gov. Reynolds] signed the executive order to give people like that, who just made a mistake and resulted in a felony conviction, but giving them a chance to have their voices be heard, especially during these times.”
Bevel hasn’t been able to vote since 2008 when he helped elect President Barack Obama. Now, with his sentence completed in full and “making a shift” in his life, Bevel said he’s elated to be able to have his voice heard again.
“I definitely want to get out [and vote]. I think it’s going to be a rejuvenating feeling for me, or more namely, something that is, I think been overdue in this state,” Bevel said. “It’s something that I will be able to look up when I get done, you know, casting my vote, and say, ‘okay, the state is really now, finally taking action to promote change in a positive way.'”
Black Iowans disproportionately make up Iowa’s prison system. That’s why multiple advocates, like the NAACP, have been pushing for this for years.
“As we work to address issues of racial disparities, we cannot ignore how negatively and significantly the current process has impacted the lives of so many Iowans of color. The right to vote and seek public office is important for so many reasons, including enabling someone to become a full member of society again, but it’s more than that,” Gov. Reynolds said.
Bevel couldn’t agree more, thanking Gov. Reynolds for stepping up now and believing in second chances. Although Iowa was the only state to have a lifetime ban barring felons from voting, he said it’s better late than never.
“At the end of the day, whether you’re a felon, non-felon, no matter what race, creed or gender. If you’re really trying to promote positive change, you should have a voice when it comes time to vote and really make change cause action,” Bevel said.
Under the executive order, felons must complete their sentence, including parole or probation, in order to have their voting rights restored. There is no requirement for felons to pay off restitution to victims in order to vote.
Felons convicted of some of the most serious of felonies including murder, manslaughter, and serious sexual abuse crimes would still have to petition the governor to have their rights restored.
The Black Lives Matter Des Moines group has been pushing for this executive order for months now. Hear their reaction to the Governor’s signing here.