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The State of Reform
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GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds had been under intense pressure from Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups.

Iowa ends status as only state with lifetime ban on felons voting

Correction: An earlier version misstated details of the executive order.

Iowa's governor decreed Wednesday that most felons in the state may vote starting this fall, ending the state's status as the only place in the country where convicted criminals are denied the franchise forever.

Expanding the political rights of people who've been to prison has been a top cause of voting rights groups for years, but the cause has gained fresh urgency this summer as the nation undergoes an intense reckoning with systemic racism — especially in the law enforcement system.

"It's a big step for so many on the road to redemption," Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said as she signed an executive order in her Des Moines office, fulfilling a promise she made two months ago after the General Assembly deadlocked on a more complex plan for eventually returning the vote to felons.

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County election administrators want Gov. Kim Reynolds, here at a January rally in Des Moines with President Trump, to make good on her promise right away.

Local officials push Iowa governor to fulfill felon voting rights vow

Pressure is building for Gov. Kim Reynolds to quickly fulfill her promise to restore voting rights to Iowa's convicted felons in time for the general election.

On Thursday, one month after the Republican governor promised such an executive order, county election administrators urged her to hurry up — because otherwise it might not be possible to make the bureaucratic changes before the November vote.

The details of her proclamation could shape the civic future of as many of 60,000 Iowans who have finished prison terms for felonies. The state is the only one that permanently denies the franchise to all felons, at a time when expanding their political rights has been a top cause of civil rights groups.

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Volunteers study an Iowa map before the caucuses earlier this year. Now, a lawsuit has been filed challenging a new law that opponents say makes it more difficult to vote by mail.

Hardened absentee rules in Iowa face newest Democratic lawsuit

Democrats have, as promised, taken their courthouse crusade for easier mail-in voting into bellwether Iowa — alleging a new state law makes it unfairly complicated to vote absentee.

Among those filing the state court lawsuit in Iowa City on Tuesday was Marc Elias, the attorney who has now filed three dozen cases on behalf of the party's campaign committees challenging a variety of election laws.

Their effort, which Republicans are fighting vigorously, aims to get courts to make voting easier this fall as a way to promote turnout during the coronavirus pandemic, which they're confident will benefit Democratic candidates. Iowa saw record turnout for its June primaries, with almost 80 percent of votes cast by mail — triple the usual share in the state.

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Efforts to expand mailed-in voting has spread through courtrooms and state legislatures. Advocates for expanding voting suffered three defeats recently.

Voting rights advocates suffer three losses

After a string of recent successes, advocates for improving the fairness of elections and expanding access to voting amid the coronavirus pandemic have suffered three defeats in recent days.

The setbacks came in Texas, Arizona and Iowa — all states where the Democrats believe they can score big upsets, at the presidential and congressional levels, if the voting rules are easeds enough to allow significant turnout this fall — no matter the state of the coronavirus pandemic.

The way elections are conducted has been the subject of several dozen lawsuits in state and federal courts as well as battles in numerous state legislatures. Who wins the bulk of them could shape not only President Trump's chances of reelection but also whether the Senate stays in Republican hands or turns Democratic.

The recent decisions are:

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