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Iowa City Grows in Diversity, Prompting More Voter Outreach


Friday, April 15, 2022   

Some areas in Iowa are seeing bigger population growth among certain racial groups, and community leaders in one city want to make sure democracy works just as hard for every individual.

According to the Iowa Data Center, Iowa City's Black population has increased by more than 200% over the past two decades.

Tracy Jon Sargeant, co-founder of the Multicultural Development Center of Iowa, based in Iowa City, said the local growth is fueled by immigrants from Africa, but added it has not helped with election turnout.

"Unfortunately, we're not seeing a direct correlation to the increase in Black population in Iowa city and the number of people turning out at the polls," Sargeant observed.

To fix it, community partners are increasing voting sites within predominantly Black districts, and there is help to ensure residents have the right paperwork well ahead of time.

Sargeant acknowledged barriers from last year's election changes approved by the Legislature. Supporters called them "reforms" to restore faith in elections, but opponents described the changes as voter suppression.

Sargeant noted the outreach comes amid divisive state policies he feels are not representative of Iowa as a whole. He argued it is important for diverse communities to feel comfortable with civic engagement, not only for producing more minority candidates, but speaking up when necessary.

"At the very least, you know, people are aware of who their elected officials are, and they're encouraged to engage in those conversations," Sargeant urged.

Sargeant added it can help as government agencies apply the federal funding provided to states during the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan included $130 billion for local governments. Community leaders want to see fair distribution of the remaining funds, with assurances they will reach the communities needing assistance.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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The United States celebrates Independence Day while Congress investigates the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Bob/Adobe Stock)

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