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Tens of thousands of convicted felons eligible to vote in November’s election, but will they be able to cast a ballot?

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) - More Iowans than ever are eligible to cast a ballot this year after Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order restoring voting rights to most convicted felons.

It is estimated between 40-50,000 convicted felons will be able to vote in November's election.

Chawn Yilmaz is one of them. She was convicted of a felony in California in 2002.

She has since served her time and repaid her fines. Now, she is looking forward to having a say in the nation's future.

"Being able to vote in an election is empowering," she said. "It is more important than having a driver's license."

Iowa was the last state in the country to allow convicted felons to vote. Yilmaz was able to vote as a convicted felon in California before losing that right when she moved to Iowa.

When she heard of Governor Reynold's executive order, Yilmaz said she couldn't wait to register. She logged on to the state's website, restoreyourvote.iowa.gov, and went through the application process but was rejected.

"It was discouraging," she said. "I was discouraged, but I wasn't going to give up because I knew my right to vote had been restored, and I was determined to vote in this election."

In an email, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State's office said they are not aware of any website issues.

The spokesperson said the issue could be voters not selecting the right responses regarding their online application status.

The website is maintained by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

If you have trouble getting through online, you can always go to your county auditor's office in person or print out the registration form and mail it to your auditor.

That is what Yilmaz did. She was able to register to vote at her county auditor's office.

While there, she saw the State of Iowa's official voter registration form.

At the very top it reads, "in Iowa, you are not qualified to vote following a felony conviction until your right is restored by the Governor."

It may sound like the previous time when convicted felons had to appeal to the Governor individually to restore their voting rights. The language was modified on October 2 to reflect the governor's executive order.

It was part of a push to bring everything up to compliance with the Governor's August executive order ahead of the election.

Yilmaz said she is worried the language will discourage convicted felons from voting.

"There are thousands, tens of thousands of convicted felons in this state who don't realize they can cast a ballot and make it count," she said.

Black Hawk County Auditor Grant Veeder said his office has a master list of convicted felons eligible to vote. It is maintained by the Secretary of State Paul Pate's office.

He said Pate's office has been working to clean it up over the past few months.

"There have been ones that fell through the cracks in the past, but hopefully that's all been cleaned up," he said.

Veeder said they wouldn't crosscheck the list at the polls on election day, so anyone can come up and register. Veeder said they take voters at their word.

"If somebody registers to vote and they sign that statement that says that they have discharged their sentence," he said. "If we find out subsequently that they had not been eligible to do that, then we would refer that to the county attorney's office."

Yilmaz said she is planning to vote on election day but believes tens of thousands of other convicted felons in the Hawkeye state don't know they have that choice.

"I just don't feel like they have been cooperative locally, where you register to vote to make that possible," she said.

The deadline to register to vote in November's election is October 24.

Voters can still register to vote at the polls on election day.

For more on the basics of voting in the Hawkeye State, click here.

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Daniel Perreault

Reporter

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