Pate: Tools to assist felons with restored voting rights ‘not the finished product’

    Gov. Kim Reynolds, flanked by lawmakers and community leaders, speaks Aug. 5 in the State Capitol before signing an executive order to restore voting rights for some felons who have completed their sentences. (Screen shot from livestream)

    Iowa Secretary of State Pate Pate on Friday unveiled a new voter registration form and website aimed at assisting Iowans with past felony convictions who have had their voting rights restored.

    However, Pate said Friday in an interview the tools aren’t complete.

    “Actually, the process is evolving. What we’re putting out there today is not the finished product by any means,” he said. “Because clearly, we want to modify it based on additional input we get.”

    Early voting starts in Iowa on Oct. 5. Absentee ballots will go out to voters who have requested them and satellite voting stations will open in some counties.

    Pate received input from the governor’s office, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the Brennan Center for Justice and others on how to assist Iowans with felony convictions, according to a news release from the secretary of state’s office.

    The action comes after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order on Aug. 5 to automatically restore voting rights to most felons who have serviced their sentences and probation or parole. Since 2011, felons have had to apply to the governor’s office to have voting rights restored.

    Pate’s office received criticism from some advocates in mid-August because the registration form and website were not immediately updated after the executive order was signed.

    “Every day that there is a delay in updating these critical materials poses a risk to eligible citizens’ opportunity to vote in upcoming elections,” Betty Andrews of NAACP said in August.

    The new voter registration form was unanimously approved by the state’s Voter Registration Commission on Friday, Pate said.  The new form clarifies that Iowans with felony convictions can register to vote once their rights are restored by the governor, including by executive order. The old form remains valid for voter registration, according to Pate’s release.

    A new interactive website, RestoreYourVote.Iowa.gov, includes a question-and-answer section, links to Iowa’s voter registration portal and a video that explains the voting process. It also includes a “toolkit” for advocacy groups to use when assisting people with past felony convictions to register to vote.

    The Secretary of State’s Office and the Iowa Judicial Branch recently concluded “an extensive review of its active felon database to ensure its accuracy,” according to Pate’s news release. More than 90,000 records were manually reviewed by both agencies. The new database will be available for election officials ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

    Kathie Obradovich
    Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.