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Brown And Black Forum Participants Want Candidates To Address Racial Justice, The Pandemic, And More

A woman sits to the right side of a sign that says "The Brown & Black Forums of America."
Kassidy Arena
Dwana Bradley moderated the roundtable discussion about voter education for Iowa's 2020 Presidential Brown and Black Forum on Monday. Drake University students spoke into microphones apart from the moderator to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and most speakers joined via Zoom.

Students, government officials and former felons talked about their key concerns for the presidential election at the Brown and Black Forum roundtable this week.

Voters talked at a roundtable discussion held by the Brown and Black Forum about their concerns for participation in this year's presidential election. The Brown and Black Forum is the oldest minority presidential forum in the U.S. and was founded by former Iowa State Representative Wayne Ford and community advocate Mary Campos.

The livestreamed roundtable featured four Drake University students who said one of the ways a presidential candidate will earn their vote is if he addresses racial unrest, not just black and white, but also Asian and Latino.

One student said when the coronavirus pandemic reached the U.S., he saw a rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans, and if a candidate addresses that issue, that is one factor which will influence his vote.

Drake student Teresa Otáñez-Ortiz joined the forum over Zoom. She said as a young voter, she is looking for a candidate who can restore rights to Americans.

“We need to just be trying to give everyone more rights instead of constraining us even more," Otáñez-Ortiz said.

Although the forum is nonpartisan and the speakers did not mention candidates specifically, Otáñez-Ortiz said for her, there is “only one person to choose.” The roundtable discussion also included former felons who mirrored the students’ topic of the importance of including people from all backgrounds in promoting voter participation, but had one major difference in experience.

The students said they have not had trouble accessing voting resources. But former felons said access remains a top concern for them as Election Day looms. Jeff Wallace is now a state inspector and works with juvenile detention centers. He said it is still confusing for former felons who have had their voting rights restored.

“I think it’s sort of that Alice in Wonderland mentality of it: nothing means what it says," Wallace said. Although Gov. Kim Reynolds' executive order restoring former felons' voting rights does not require restitution payment before voting, the speakers said they are concerned their voting rights could still be taken away in the future.

The speakers nodded their heads when moderator Jessica Trinidad said "my question was do you feel that is it attainable and realistic to go through the process and restore your right to vote which I feel like all of you have answer that it really isn't that obtainable?"

The Brown and Black Forum moderators also brought up specific voting questions at the roundtable, which Secretary of State Paul Pate and Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald answered. Trinidad asked how to promote more voter participation from first-time Latino voters who are children of immigrants, like herself. Pate said during a time of disinformation, conversations like the ones the Forum hosted are essential.

"We have to battle every day," Pate said. "[Disinformation] can actually turn people off and say 'my vote doesn't count.'"

Fitzgerald said voters should track their absentee ballots on the Secretary of State's website or they can vote in person. He said once absentee ballots are received in Polk County, voters should expect a postcard from his office to inform them that their vote counts.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines
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