Group Feels Urgency Ahead of Election to Restore Felons' Voting Rights

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- With less than a month until the Iowa caucuses, more than 52,000 Iowans with felony convictions are unsure if they will be able to participate.

For Jarvis Guyton, voting is something he dreams about doing.

"Before I even got to vote, it was taken away from me," Guyton said.

Guyton has been out of prison for almost a decade after serving two years for a drug conviction. When he was released, he said he was unsure of his voting rights.

As of last month, Iowa is the only state in the country that permanently bans convicted felons from voting, unless they appeal to the governor. In December, Kentucky Gov. Andrew Beshear signed an executive order ridding of this practice.

At the Iowa State Capitol Monday morning, advocates held a press conference expressing urgency in getting similar action in Iowa.

Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said he applauds Gov. Kim Reynolds' commitment to restoring the voting rights of felons, but he wants to see action sooner rather than later.

"It continues to penalize people long after serving their sentences and it prevents them from becoming truly invested in their communities and contributing members of society," he said.

Reynolds has resisted an executive order on this, saying she wants to focus on providing a permanent solution that cannot be overwritten by whomever is governor at the time. In the 2019 session, she tried and failed to enact the change through a constitutional amendment, as fellow Republicans raised questions.

In the meantime, she has simplified the application process for convicted felons to appeal for their voting rights to be restored.

Guyton is in that process, but he is behind a long list of 330 others who are trying to do the same.

Ashley Caldwell, the lead organizer with Restore Your Vote Iowa, said the process is taking months as the government has to verify everything in the felons' applications.

Guyton said he only recently got confirmation that his application was received but is grateful nonetheless that the process is beginning.

"I’m a hard working man and I paid my dues to society and I really just want to have my voting rights back," he said. "I’m very blessed for them helping me and giving me the opportunity to speak my voice and help me get my rights back."

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