Former Vilsack Counsel: ‘Time is of the Essence’ on Felon Voting Rights Executive Order

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DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s been nearly a month since Gov. Kim Reynolds met with Des Moines Black Lives Matter organizers and committed to signing an executive order to restore felon voting rights, and many feel the clock is ticking.

Gary Dickey, the former general counsel and policy director for Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, drafted executive order No. 42 to restore felon voting rights, and said it took him quite some time to write it.

“It was fairly lengthy because you wanted to make sure all the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed and to make sure it would withstand legal challenge,” Dickey said.

Reynolds, a Republican, has said there are “no hard and fast deadlines” for drafting her executive order, other than the upcoming November election. She has expressed the desire to get the verbiage and language right, due to the fact that her successor could change the order again.

“This time around all they would really need to do is take Governor Vilsack’s executive order number 42, change the date and sign it and I think it would hold up today as well as it did in 2005,” Dickey said.

In an effort to speed up the process and “make it easy” for Reynolds, the Black Lives Matter group wrote their own executive order for the governor. Yena Balekyani, an organizer with the group, said they have been working with leaders like Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo and Deidre DeJear, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ Iowa presidential campaign chair, to draft the language.

Protestors have urged the governor to take immediate action so they can have adequate time to educate, register and mobilize the roughly 60,000 disenfrachised felons in Iowa who have completed their sentences.

“Time is of the essence on this issue,” Dickey said. “Restoring the right to vote isn’t registering them so they would still have to re-register in order to vote by November. It’s important the governor act fast, so we can spread the word and individuals know they can vote again.”

It took the group about a month to write the order, which they posted on Twitter Saturday. Balekyani said one month should have been more than enough time for Reynolds to do the same.

One thing that could be slowing down the process is politics.

Dickey said an element being considered this time around is whether or not to require payment of fines and court costs as a condition for felons receiving voting rights back — a topic of contention during the 2020 legislative session.

The lawyer gave the example of citizens who are behind on taxes or have declared bankrupty but are still able to vote, asking why the same concept should not be applied to felons who have already paid their debts to society through a prison sentence.

“Your ability to pay should not be a condition to your right to vote,” Dickey said.

In June, the governor signed a separate bill that would place these payment conditions on her plan to restore felon voting rights. However, this is rendered ineffective until there is a constitutional change — a more permanent solution Reynolds has been pushing for.

Doing so would require changing Iowa’s constitution to no longer place ban felons from voting for life — an effort that was ultimately pushed back by years after Senate Republicans declined to pass the amendment at the end of the legislative session.

Currently, Iowa is the only state that disenfranchises felons for life, unless they appeal directly to the governor to ask for heir voting rights back.

“Those individuals that do get their rights to vote back are more likely to get reintegrated into society, less likely to re-offend,” Dickey said. “That means they’ll be on their way to getting a job, restarting a family, doing all those things necessary in being a part of community.”

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