Ernst says she supports felon voting rights despite Steve King’s prediction it will cost her votes

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during a video her office produced about her tele-town hall on May 20, 2020.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Thursday she supports Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to restore felon voting rights in the state, despite Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, tweeting it will hurt her this upcoming election.

During a conference call with reporters, Ernst said she supports Reynolds, though she declined to directly answer if she believed the decision will cost her votes. There shouldn’t be a “political consideration,” she said.

“I believe that everyone deserves a second chance,” Ernst said. “As we’re approaching this election, I think it was the right thing to do.”

Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield also called for Reynolds to sign an executive order restoring felon voting rights and said Reynolds executive order is a move in the right direction.

The Iowa Department of Corrections estimates at least 4,600 felons will annually have their voting rights restored, due to the governor’s executive order.

While there are no official reports showing whether ex-felons are more likely to vote for Democrats, in Florida, a study examining the contentious 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore showed that people overestimate the voter turnout of ex-felons and underestimate how many would vote conservatively, according to JSTOR Daily.

Though felon voting laws typically hurt Black men who make up a disproportionate amount of the nation’s prison population, in Florida, white men still made up the majority of felons. Black men are more likely to vote for a Democrat but white men typically vote Republican, according to the study.

Even though there are a high number of Black men in Iowa’s prisons in comparison to the state’s population, white men still make up over 60% of the state’s incarcerated felons, according to data from the DOC.

“Previous research overestimates the turnout rate of Florida’s ex-felons and underestimates the share of the vote George W. Bush would have won among them,” political scientist Traci Burch told JSTOR Daily.

Ernst said Iowa needs more voters out and engaged in the process and she was not going to apologize for supporting Reynolds’ order.

“I think it’s simply about doing the right thing,” Ernst said.

Linh Ta
Reporter Linh Ta comes to Iowa Capital Dispatch from the Des Moines Register, where she covered trending news, public safety and the suburbs. Most recently, she has covered retail business and followed both national and local trends to provide insight about the issues that matter the most to Iowans. Beyond traditional journalism, Ta has worked as a speech coach with the Des Moines Storytellers Project with the goal of sharing the diverse perspectives of Iowans from all walks of life. She is the 2019 winner of the Young Iowa Journalist Award and the winner of an Iowa Broadcast News Award. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @linhmaita.