The Iowa Legislative Black Caucus hosted the fundraiser Stepping up to Justice on Sept. 22 at Noce in Des Moines. I attended to hear what candidates think voters need to know heading into the Nov. 8 midterm elections. The event supported Black Democratic caucus members who are up for reelection.
The state legislators serving on the Black caucus are Reps. Ruth Ann Gaines, chair; Phyllis Thede, vice chair; Ako Abdul-Samad, outreach; and Ross Wilburn, Iowa Democratic Party Chair. Gaines and Wilburn are running unopposed. Abdul-Samad is running against RJ Miller, an independent. Thede is running against Mike Vondran, a Republican.
Several caucus members said their constituents have expressed optimism about the midterm elections, but candidates said voters need more information about election-related deadlines.
Thede, who has served seven terms in the Iowa House, said it’s also important to remind people about the power of voting.
“If we don’t vote,” she said, “we give up that power.”
But what about people who don’t feel powerful, or who feel detached from politics?
Thede said people need to be reminded, amid national efforts to weaken voting access, that voting is simple and it’s a right.
“This is your power. You own that power,” she said. “There’s nobody else who can advocate for them, like themselves.”
During her tenure, it has become more important to visibly advocate for people of color, she said about her work on the Black caucus, which formed in 2018.
“I needed to understand the process in order to represent people of color,” she said.
Thede said she’s excited about possibly increasing the number of Black legislators elected this year. Iowa has only had one Black senator, Thomas Mann Jr., elected in 1982. Izaah Knox is running for Iowa Senate District 17 (Des Moines/Polk County), and Dr. Mary Kathleen Figaro is running for Iowa Senate District 47 (Quad Cities); both are Black. More voices will equal more work on the disparities affecting Black Iowans and people of color, Thede said.
“We need to continue to do it because nobody else is going to do it,” she said, of the Black caucus. “With a majority of Republicans, how are we going to get it done? We just keep pushing, and keep pushing, and we keep pushing.”
The Black caucus plans to push to get minority impact statements attached to all budget bills so all legislators will know more about how people of color are affected in the bills they draft, she said.
Black people fought, marched and died to vote, and voter suppression efforts today have the same goal as those they fought against: keeping voters away from the polls, she said.
“I want all people to vote, don’t get me wrong, but I think especially for Democrats they need to get out and vote, and if they don’t do that, we’re going to see more restrictive voting, more restrictive rights,” she said.
With the election looming, low voter turnout is a concern. Thede wants voters to consider the whys of voting. She said people are dismayed, upset and angry about what is happening in their communities, and they don’t know who to blame or what to do about it.
“Well my answer is this,” she said, “I’m going to repeat it over and over again: You get out and vote. That’s the only way change is going to happen.”
How to vote
Election Day is Nov. 8, 2022.
Deadlines from the Iowa Secretary of State:
Oct. 19 Early in-person voting begins at your county auditor’s office. Auditors will also begin mailing out absentee ballots to voters who requested them, using the printed form available on the auditor’s website.
Oct. 24 Deadline or mail-in absentee ballot requests to be received in your auditor’s office.
Nov. 7 Final day for in-person absentee voting.
Nov. 8 Election Day. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots must be received in your county auditor’s office before 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Registering to vote
Iowans can register online, by mail or at the auditor’s office through Oct. 24. Same-day registration will be available at your polling place on Election Day.
Where to vote
Find your polling place. It may have changed from past elections due to redistricting, so double check.
Vote in person at your polling place on Nov. 8, absentee by mail or by returning the absentee ballot to your auditor’s office or its designated ballot box. All absentee ballots must be received in the auditor’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Bring one (valid and unexpired) form of identification from the following list:
- Iowa driver’s license
- Non-operator state ID
- U.S. Passport
- U.S. Military ID or Veteran ID
- Iowa Voter Identification Card (signed)
- Tribal ID (signed and with photo)
Don’t have one of these forms of ID? Check the Iowa Secretary of State’s Voter Ready website for alternative methods.
Marking your ballot
Fill in the oval next to your selection. Vote in each race, or you may vote only for a particular race.
Turn it over: Public Measure #1 will be the back of this year’s ballot. If approved, it would amend the state constitution to make it almost impossible to regulate firearms in Iowa.
This article was originally published in Little Village’s October 2022 issues as the column Fractured State of Iowa Nice.