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A Look at Modern Voter Suppression in Missouri

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Nathan Lawrence
/
KBIA

While some voters are mailing ballots and others are waiting in lines to make their voices heard before Election Day. Communities of color continue facing barriers that keep them from doing the same—silencing their voices in the democratic process.

These barriers, better known as voter suppression, come in many forms. Long voting lines, restrictive voter-ID laws and misinformation and disinformation are all symptoms of Jim Crow-era tactics that discourage voter turnout.

MU political science professor Mary Stegmaier said these barriers have disproportionate effects on specific communities.

“When we think about voter suppression in the United States, there is a history of suppression, and particularly against Black voters,” Stegmaier said.

Early voting

Voter suppression starts with the practice of early voting—or lack thereof in Missouri— according to the Democratic candidate for Missouri Secretary of State Yinka Faleti. In most states, early voting allows individuals to cast votes before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Only 15 states allow same-day voter registration—Missouri is not one of them.

While many can visit polls to fill out ballots on election day, others do not have that luxury.

“There are many people in Missouri who are not privileged and have to work a third shift,” Faleti said. “So, when they're working that third shift, they're not available during the day to vote.”

However, it takes an approved excuse to get an absentee ballot in Missouri, such as a disability or an age barrier. However, this method is not technically considered early voting. Early voting takes place on specified dates before Election Day for any registered voter and an excuse is not needed.

Voter registration

MU political science professor Peverill Squire says voter suppression exists within the national voting process.

“In the United States, we have a two-step process and almost every state requires you to register to vote first, and then at a later point in time, actually show up to vote,” Squire said. “It's actually that registration obstacle which is the most difficult to overcome.”

In Missouri, those who wish to vote had to be registered to vote by Oct. 7 and are expected to show up in-person to vote on Nov. 3.

“So, in Missouri, if one did not register by October 7, nearly a full month ahead of the election, you're precluded from exercising your fundamental right as an American,” Faleti said.

The state requires photo or non-photo identification at polling locations. If a voter cannot present a form of identification, they can fill out a provisional ballot which is used to record a vote and does not count until the voter shows proof of identification.

A provisional ballot counts as a vote if it fulfills one of two qualifications. The first requires would-be voters returning to the same polling location with a valid form of photo identification on election day. The second way a provisional ballot counts requires the voter’s signature on the provisional ballot envelope to match the one on voter registration records as determined by a local election authority.

Representation

Stegmaier said voter suppression can discourage people by making them feel as if their voices are being ignored, and, therefore, they decide not to vote.

“If low income voters are less likely to turn out to vote, if minority voters are less likely to participate, this means that politicians, some of them won't feel a need to listen to the issues that these groups are facing, and try to address those issues on their behalf,” Stegmaier said.

As a Black woman on Branson's Board of Aldermen, Julia King wants to change this. She hopes her position will inspire more people to increase their political engagement.

“When our board consists of older white men only, some people may perceive that they aren't relatable to all demographics, or they're not as approachable or they don't understand,” King said. “Having someone that's younger and a person of color, and a female might invite other people to show up and engage and feel like they’re being heard.”

The more Missouri’s elected officials reflect state demographics, the more equitable representation will be. Change starts with the candidates who are running.

“You always have to try to match your candidacy with the people you're trying to represent,” Squire said. “And to be able to convey some sense of understanding what the problems are the obstacles that may be in existence in your district, or state.”

Big picture

With a day left until Election Day, many Missourians must overcome obstacles to cast their ballots this election cycle, and candidates—as well as local governments—will need to spend more effort encouraging people to come to the polling sites.

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Sara Williams, Jacob Luebbert, Khue Nguyen, Auzzie Gonzalez, Jingying Xu contributed to this reporting.

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