Iowa marked an anniversary this week, one that is worth noting. A century ago, the state extended women the right to vote.
Iowa’s approval of the 19th Amendment came a year before it was adopted nationally. Iowa wasn’t exactly at the leading edge of that fight. Territorial governments in Wyoming and Utah did so in the 1880s. Wyoming was also the first state to elect a female governor. That happened in 1925, some 92 years before Kim Reynolds became Iowa’s first woman to hold that office.
The right to vote is essential for full participation in our nation. It is not an exaggeration to say it may be the primary right — and duty — conferred by citizenship. And that is why work remains to be done on the issue.
We have editorialized several times in the past year on the question of voting rights for those who have been convicted of felonies. Our editorial board has spent a significant amount of time debating the issue, and a consensus emerged that the state needs to examine ways to restore the vote for those who have served their sentences.
The simple reality is that not all felonies are crimes that pose the same levels of threat to the public. A person who battled alcoholism in decades past and received three convictions for drunken driving has a felony conviction. But no one can dispute that the risk from someone who has worked hard to stay sober since that time is considerably less than someone with a record of multiple violent felonies. There’s a difference, but the law treats those cases the same way.
Reynolds deserved credit for her support of measures to restore voting rights to some Iowa felons, and we said so. The fact the Iowa legislature failed to follow through was an indictment against its ability to act, even when there is broad support for a measure.
We raise the issue again today because it is Independence Day. The denial of the colonies’ votes and representation in the British parliament was a key rallying cry for independence. It is entirely fitting that we call for those rights to be protected in the modern nation that revolt created.
American history is, with all its fits and starts, the story of people gaining broader rights. It is the pursuit of that “more perfect union” mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution. It is a process that does not end, one that each generation grapples with in its own ways.
Amid today’s celebrations, we encourage people to take a moment to consider what we may each do to ensure the legacy we leave is befitting of the one left to us. It is right that we celebrate this nation, that we mark its creation as the first on earth formed not out of racial, religious or geographic homogeneity, but out of ideals.
Perfecting our union is probably not possible. People are fallible, after all. But that does not give us permission to shirk the duty to pursue that goal.
Enjoy the holiday. There’s a lot to celebrate.