Advocates seek more steps to help restore felon voting rights

DES MOINES — Iowa is the only state that still bans all people with felony convictions from voting unless they appeal to the governor, but voting rights advocates say some paroled inmates mistakenly think they’re not allowed to vote when they’ve been convicted of lesser crimes.

Campaign Legal Center attorney Blair Bowie is urging Governor Kim Reynolds to issue an executive order and automatically restore felon voting rights, while continuing to push for a constitutional amendment to make the change permanent.

“We also ask the governor to work with the secretary of state’s office to create a place where people can easily look up their status and find out whether or not they are actually disenfranchised,” Bowie says. “And, if they are, easily apply to restore their voting rights online.”

A year ago, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds asked legislators to start the lengthy process of trying to amend the state constitution to automatically restore felon voting rights, but the proposal stalled in the Republican-led Iowa Senate. The Reynolds administration has simplified the application process for felons seeking restoration of their voting rights, but there’s now a three-to-four-month wait as a handful of state employees check the applications for accuracy.

“A lot of the people who are just now submitting, if the governor’s office continues to take as long as it has been, definitely won’t be restored by Caucus time,” says Ashley Caldwell of Restore Your Vote Iowa, a group that’s helping felons with the paperwork, “but hopefully should be by the time of the election in November.”

Iowa Public Radio recently spoke with Travis Fugere, who applied in November to have his voting rights restored.

“I’m a tax-paying citizen, but yet what I think doesn’t get counted,” he said.

A 2008 drug conviction landed Fugere in prison for a little less than two years. He’s now the manager of a central Iowa fast food restaurant and leading a recovery group at his church after being sober for 12 years.

“I’ve paid my dues,” he said. “I served my time, fines are paid.”

Fugere is now waiting to see if he can participate in the Iowa Caucuses, which are less than a month away.