Des Moines Black Lives Matter holds rally emphasizing voting rights as presidential election approaches

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Des Moines Black Lives Matter hosted a freedom festival at Stewart Square on Saturday that emphasized voting rights, voter registration and applying pressure on Gov. Kim Reynolds to sign an executive order restoring voting rights for felons before the presidential election in November.

The festival began with a voting rights fair from noon to 5 p.m., including tents set up for the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Central Iowa Democratic Socialists for America, the Iowa Black Caucus, Asian and Latino Coalition PAC, and more.

Attendees were encouraged to register to vote, request absentee ballots and sign a petition for Reynolds to sign an executive order that would restore full voting rights for felons— an executive order she pledged to sign June.

Over 40 potential voters filled out absentee ballot requests and more than 10 felon voting restoration applications were handed out during the fair.

Education on voting rights and the voting process for felons was emphasized throughout the fair. A voting simulation with secrecy folders and voting booths was also set up, but those who participated in the simulation were surprised when they opened their model ballots to see statistics on voter suppression in Iowa rather than the option to vote.

“The idea was, you open it up and you can’t vote. Your voice is being silenced,” said Indira Sheumaker, a local activist who was manning the voting simulation.

Sheumaker said one in 10 Black Iowans don’t have voting rights.

“That needs to change,” she said, adding the importance for all Iowans to have the ability to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

“It’s simulating the powerlessness that one in 10 Black Iowans are experiencing,” she continued.

A rally for voting rights followed the fair. BLM activist Jaylen Cavil told the crowd of around 60 that it had been 47 days since Reynolds promised to sign the executive order that would restore voting rights for about 60,000 Iowans with felony convictions.

“She’s hiding. She knows the pressure is on,” Cavil said.

BLM activist Matthew Bruce said signing an executive order would be the first, and a more temporary, step toward voting rights for felons. He told the crowd a more permanent fix would be a constitutional amendment that would prevent felons from having their voting rights taken from them.

The festival ended with a screening of The Black Power Mixtape, a documentary that follows the evolution of the Black Power movement from 1967 to 1975.

Andrea Sahouri covers breaking news for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at asahouri@registermedia.com, 515-284-8247 or on Twitter at @andreamsahouri

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