Executive Summary: Your vote matters
Vol. 76, No. 5 / Sept. - Oct. 2020
Mischa Buford Epps
Mischa Buford Epps is executive director of The Missouri Bar.
One of my siblings was born on an election day. My mother’s water had broken, and she was in very active labor; however, before heading to the hospital to deliver, my parents stopped at their polling place to cast their ballots. This memory motivates me as we approach the November general elections.
Participating in elections is one of the key freedoms of American life. Many people in countries around the world do not have the same freedom, nor did many Americans in centuries past. At our country’s founding, the right to vote was limited to white male landowners. Over time, as a result of persistence, struggle, and sacrifice by innumerable forebearers, history has seen the franchise expand. This year marks major milestones in United States voting history. We celebrate the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted African-American men the right to vote. We also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which federalized full and equal voting rights for women. But the fight for women’s suffrage did not end in 1920. Most women of color did not obtain the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed and extended in 1970, eliminating literacy tests, poll taxes, and other tactics to disenfranchise voters. As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in 1964: “[t]he right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society.”2
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented complicating factor in this year’s voting process. The U.S. intelligence community has reported foreign actors trying to disrupt and undermine our free and fair elections. However, in the face of today’s challenges, we cannot lose hope. No matter what you believe or whom you support, it is imperative to exercise your right to vote.
Missouri lawyers can assist in ensuring that the right to vote is honored and protected for all. We can serve as poll workers, volunteer to answer questions through a voter hotline, or otherwise assist in non-partisan election protection efforts. One election protection option is available at electionprotection.wetheaction.org. We can also help our friends and neighbors better understand voter ID requirements and the alternatives for voting safely in light of the pandemic.
Missouri voters are eligible to cast ballots by mail with notarization of the ballot envelope, and voters in at-risk categories for contracting or transmitting COVID-19 are eligible to vote by absentee ballot without obtaining notarization. If you are a notary public, you can volunteer to notarize absentee or mail-in ballot envelopes at no cost for Missouri voters by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the Secretary of State’s website: sos.mo.gov/elections.
It is up to all of us to live up to the legacy left for us and honor the sacrifice, struggle, and tenacity of so many who have gone before. I plan to follow my parents’ example modeled for me and my siblings. Please join me by doing the same.
1 Mischa Buford Epps is executive director of The Missouri Bar.
2 Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 555 (1964).