DES MOINES, Iowa — Des Moines Black Lives Matter hosted a “Freedom Festival” Saturday highlighting voting registration and voting rights at Stewart Square where the group continued to call on Gov. Kim Reynolds to sign an executive order restoring voting rights for felons.
The voting fair highlighted diverse organizations such as the ACLU, NAACP, Central Iowa Democratic Socialists for America, the Asian and Latino Coalition PAC, and the Iowa Black Caucus. Each vendor encouraged visitors to register to vote and request an absentee ballot.
“It’s super important to get people registered to vote, it’s super important to educate them on voting by mail. I know that a lot of cultural communities don’t tend to vote because of lack of education and so it’s important to educate them on their rights to vote, the importance of it and it does matter,” said Lana Baccam-Paredes with the Asian and Latino Coalition PAC.
The event also had a voting simulation with voting booths and secrecy folders, donated by Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald. Potential voters were able to pick up a secrecy folder and practice voting ahead of the November election, but some potential voters were surprised by what was inside their secrecy folder. One in 10 participants received an empty ballot, a representation of the one in 10 Black Iowans who are currently disenfranchised.
“People open it up and they’re kind of shocked. I think it takes a little bit there for them to process,” said community activist Indira Sheumaker. “They are surprised that you walked in, you’re expected to be able to vote and that power was taken away from you.”
At the end of the simulation, participants are asked to sign a petition asking Reynolds to sign an executive order to restore felons voting rights. The voting fair also had a letter writing stations for people to personalize their message to Reynolds asking her to sign the executive order. Thirty-six people hand wrote letters for the governor.
“We’re fighting to get an executive order signed and eventually a constitutional amendment to change that so that people with previous felony convictions are able to vote, have their voices heard. So we’re kind of trying to simulate the powerlessness of not being able to have your voice heard and your vote counted,” said Sheumaker.
It has been 47 days since Reynolds promised to sign an executive order that would restore voting rights to 60,000 Iowans.