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Iowa updates voter registration form with felon voting information

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Iowa was the last state to ban those with felony convictions from voting, even after completion of their sentences.

Des Moines Register

Days before early voting begins in Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate has unveiled a new website and voter registration form with updated information on when people with felony convictions may resume voting.

Iowa’s four-member Voter Registration Commission approved the new form on Friday, Pate announced in a news release. The update comes two months after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order in early August restoring the right to vote to most people with felony convictions in Iowa once they have served their sentences, including any parole or probation.

The form, which Iowans fill out when they register to vote, includes a reference to a new state website, RestoreYourVote.iowa.gov, which contains information about the executive order and how to register to vote. The site lets people with past felony convictions check to see if their rights have been restored.

More: Early voting begins Monday. Here’s what you need to know about absentee ballots and voting early in Iowa

A sentence at the top of the new voter registration form states: “In Iowa, you are not qualified to vote following a felony conviction until your right to vote is restored by the Governor. To learn more about voting after a felony conviction visit RestoreYourVote.iowa.gov.”

At the bottom of the form, where a signature is required, the voter is asked to swear that “I have never been convicted of a felony OR my right to vote has been restored by the Governor, including through Executive Order, after a felony conviction.”

The commission that approved the change is bipartisan. Pate and Reynolds are both Republicans.

“I agree with Governor Reynolds that Iowans who have served their time deserve a second chance and should be able to make their voices heard by voting,” Pate wrote in the news release. “These resources will help Iowans with felony convictions participate in the process.” 

More: Absentee ballot requests are outpacing 2016 in many Iowa counties. Here’s how election offices say they’ve prepared.

The old form instructed felons to petition the governor to restore their voting rights. Critics, including the NAACP, said it was confusing and a potential deterrent to people with past felony convictions registering to vote.

Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, called the language on the new form “a step in the right direction” but said the NAACP still has suggestions that it hopes the voter registration commission takes up at its next meeting, following the election.

“We think that it should be clearer,” she said.

And, she said, the form should include a phone number that people can call if they have questions. Andrews said she’d also like to see the language above the signature line changed to allow Iowans to register to vote if they believe their rights have been restored. That would ease concerns about the potential five-year prison sentence and $7,500 fine associated with filling out the form with information the voter knows isn’t true. If the state is using an accurate database, election officials should be able to verify whether the person is eligible to vote, she said.

More: Who’s eligible to vote in Iowa under Gov. Kim Reynolds’ executive order on felon voting rights?

Pate said Friday that the Secretary of State’s office and Iowa Judicial Branch have also completed a manual review of the state’s felon database, which is used to determine if people with felony convictions are ineligible to vote. In the past, the database has wrongly barred some people from voting.

Early voting begins Oct. 5 in Iowa. The pre-registration deadline for the general election is Oct. 24. Voters can also register at the polls in person on Nov. 3.

Reynolds’ executive order automatically restores voting rights to people with felony convictions once they have completed their sentences, including any probation or parole.

It has some exceptions: People convicted of felonies outlined in Iowa Code chapter 707, which include murder and manslaughter, do not receive automatic restoration. And people convicted of serious sexual abuse crimes will need to complete any special sentences before their voting rights are restored.

Those whose voting rights are not automatically restored can still petition the governor individually to ask for restoration. 

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

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