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'We as Missourians and As Voters Want to Be Able to Participate': Tackling Missouri Voter Access

KBIA's DC Benincasa spoke with President of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP Nimrod Chapel, Jr. about voter access and the effect of notarization ballot requirements in Missouri.

The 2020 election comes in the midst of a pandemic, and on top of that polarizing viewpoints on how citizens should access the polls November 3rd. Voter access is a hotly contested issue in Missouri – it’s one of seven states that has incorporated notarized ballots into its mail-in voting process, amid objections from groups like the NAACP, the ACLU, and the League of Women Voters – who say restrictions like notary requirements discourages voter participation.

KBIA’s DC Benincasa spoke about all this with Nimrod Chapel Jr. – he’s the President of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP – DC began by asking Chapel how partisan efforts to restrict voting impact voter participation.

Chapel: We as Missourians and as voters want to be able to participate and we need information to do that. But by making us concerned about the sources of the information when we need not be, I think that it gets a lot more to another question of, “Are we going to be able to continue to trust these democratic institutions that we need to as citizens?” Undermining our trust in society is not the way to win an election. We should be talking about issues and picking the best candidate. 

Benincasa- In terms of the notary, what you said earlier about requiring a notarization mail in a ballot or mail in an absentee, so you believe that that will disproportionally affect black populations because of COVID? Is that the primary reason?

Chapel-  Yes, there is a pandemic and it’s killing people and it’s making them sick. And doctors don’t even now have the ability to prevent some of the deaths nor prevent people from being sick or tell how bad that sickness will be. And we know that African Americans are dying quicker and suffering more from COVID-19, requiring our community to go to the polls to exercise the franchise, the right to vote, when it’s not necessary when we have an absentee ballot system and process that’s been around a very long time and that we’ve had no problems with.

They are choosing to do that one, to dissuade voters because now with this mail-in ballot that’s supposedly for use during the pandemic, you have to go get it notarized. Well that’s ridiculous. So you can either get COVID when you go vote, or you can get COVID when you go get your mail-in ballot notarized. Not to mention that there are not free notaries, and so we would view that as a poll tax. You can’t make people pay for the right to vote.

Benincasa: Are you worried that as absentee votes and mail-in votes become a bigger part of this election due to COVID that we will see tighter voting laws instituded as a response? 

Chapel: I hate to even link it as conservative because this is not a conservative value. What this is a political stance to ensure that one party is able to stay on top of the population that it is supposed to be providing a service and that is the service to the public of being an elected official. They aren’t interested in the realities of the situation, so I fully anticipate that no matter the course they will double down on these measures. And I say this to that. As long as there are people who believe in democracy and as long as we have access to the courts, we the NAACP and other organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the dozens of organizations represented by the Missouri Voter Protection coalition, will continue to bring lawsuits to ensure that people are able to vote.