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Lynn Schmidt: Pandemic is the latest tool to suppress our voting rights

Lynn Schmidt: Pandemic is the latest tool to suppress our voting rights

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Mike Parson and Jay Ashcroft

Gov. Mike Parson, center, walks into the Jefferson City office of Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, right, to file paperwork to become a candidate for governor on Feb. 25.

Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Americans are looking for safety when it comes to sending our children back to school and being able to vote in the Nov. 3 general election. So far, our leaders have been unable to reassure us of either of these. Our government’s response to the pandemic has been weak and ineffective. There has been no science-based, cohesive strategy. Americans deserve to vote safely in the upcoming election.

During an interview last month on “Good Morning Ozarks,” Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said, “I don’t know a father alive that wouldn’t risk getting [the coronavirus], even risk dying to make sure that his children had the greatest foundation for success for their life they could have. … That’s what a dad does.” Ashcroft later defended his statement. “I said I would risk that,” Ashcroft said. “And I didn’t know a father that wouldn’t. But I didn’t tell anybody else what to do. I just said we need to get schools going.”

Ashcroft’s statements struck me at the time as absurd and callous. Then I thought about his role in our elections. The secretary of state’s job includes election administration and oversight. We are about to embark on a general election in the middle of a pandemic. Is Ashcroft committed to giving Missourians the ability to vote safely and securely? Does he think as flippantly about our voting as he does about sending our children to school?

The solution for this year’s election would be to give easy access to absentee or mail-in ballots. State law requires absentee ballots to be notarized for free. Our government is asking Missouri voters, who are trying to remain safe from the coronavirus, to go out and interact with the public to have their ballot notarized.

Missouri also requires an excuse for mail-in or absentee voting. Missouri Senate Bill 631 created another justification to vote by absentee ballot. The new, seventh option allows voters to be eligible if they have coronavirus or are at risk because they fall into any of the following categories: are age 65 or older; live in a long-term care facility; have chronic lung disease or moderate-to-severe asthma; have serious heart conditions; are immunocompromised; have diabetes; have chronic kidney disease and are undergoing dialysis; or have liver disease. Voters qualified under this exemption are not required to have their ballot notarized. My question is: Aren’t we all at risk for contracting and transmitting the virus?

President Donald Trump acknowledged on live television on Aug. 13 that he is refusing to fund the U.S. Postal Service in an effort to derail mail-in voting. Our leaders are suppressing the vote and putting the public’s health in jeopardy. Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States said, “For this nation to remain true to its principles, we cannot allow any American’s vote to be denied, diluted, or defiled. The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.” The 45th president, Trump, should hold the same values and work to protect our fundamental rights and privileges.

I am a wife, mother, registered nurse, Missouri resident and a U.S. citizen. I am committed to taking the following actions: Calling or writing my members of Congress and calling or writing Missouri’s secretary of state, and asking that they take the necessary steps to stop the voter suppression, fund the U.S. Postal Service, and support universal mail-in or absentee voting. I will apply early for my mail-in ballot. And I will vote.

I will continue to speak out for my fellow citizens who may be disenfranchised and are just concerned about protecting their health. All Missourians should make their voices heard.

The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy. In the time of a pandemic, our right to vote should also include having our safety guarded. Our leaders should be working to secure that right in the safest way possible instead of attempting to suppress our vote and put our health in jeopardy.

Lynn Schmidt is the Missouri state leader for Stand Up Republic. She lives in St. Charles.

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