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A year after the violent U.S. Capitol insurrection, Missouri Democrats and activists held a January 6 vigil to push national voting rights legislation and oppose voting reforms proposed in the Missouri state legislature.
An in-person vigil was scheduled for downtown Springfield and other areas of the state but was moved online due to inclement weather.
Organizers of Missouri Voter Protection Coalition drew a straight line from rhetoric undermining the 2020 election results, the January 6 attack, and alleged efforts to "suppress the vote" in Missouri and elsewhere.
"January 6 was an attack on all Americans, against our country, against our democracy, against our freedom as voters to choose the leaders who represent us. This attack was spurred by the big lie, by a spate of disinformation those lies had consequences. They lied and people died. And today we mourn everybody who was harmed, everybody who was killed, and everybody who was injured in that violent assault and we know that these attacks continue," said Denise Lieberman, a St. Louis civil rights lawyer and the event's host.
"That very same disinformation, that very same big lie form the basis of a record number of voter suppression measures introduced in 49 out of the 50 states around the country in 2021... over 180 pieces of legislation introduced in 2021 that would subvert or sabotage election processes."
Lieberman specifically pointed to "several dozen election bills" filed in Missouri's state legislature and the efforts of Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to enact voting reforms.
According to Lieberman, these bills would " further undermine our freedom to vote in our democracy" by "enshrining photo ID requirements and attacking the citizen initiative process."
Election reform in Missouri
Over the summer, Ashcroft outlined his priorities for "election integrity reform" — including photo ID for in-person voting, "strong ID requirements" for absentee voting, a shift to paper ballots, eliminating "curing" (or fixing errors) on absentee ballots and several measures pertaining to voting machines and cybersecurity.
As the state legislative session opened this week, Ashcroft said the legislature should consider passing an election reform bill akin to one that passed in Texas last year — calling it a "model" for Missouri.
"The test of our nation’s election system is not found in landslides, but when the outcome turns upon a handful of votes. Voter fraud need not be massive to undermine an election’s outcome. And people are more likely to vote if they believe their ballot will be fairly counted," Ashcroft wrote in a brief supporting the Texas law.
Lieberman said the Texas bill was "one of the worst pieces of voter suppression legislation in this country."
Also speaking at the event, state rep. David Tyson Smith (D-Columbia) said he was "working hard" in Jefferson City to defeat these proposed election reforms.
"We have to fight. We have to be vigilant and we cannot be deterred. This is serious. And it's really going to take an effort from all of us, not just the representatives. It's going to take the citizens to get involved to show up to testify. I'm on the elections committee. I'm gonna need people to come down and testify when these bills come through," Smith said.
"This is one of the most dangerous times in American history and one of the most dangerous times of Missouri because we cannot afford to have the rights of all of our citizens restricted."
U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver echoed this call to action — but for activists to push through federal voting rights legislation long stalled in the U.S. Congress.
"We have to have an inside game and an outside game — we always did," Cleaver told those at the vigil. "We've got to a point now where we have found the inside game, but we need activists on the outside who are doing stuff, so that it makes it easier for the people on the inside. We've got to have the activists."
Springfield activist Seven Nelson spoke on voting rights
These politicians were joined by Springfield teen and local activist Seven Nelson, who voiced her support for an expansion of voting rights.
"I feel so privileged to have this opportunity to speak out about this. Not only kind of representing my generation, but as well as future generations..." Nelson said at the vigil. "Just being a youth and just kind of speaking out about this, I find it very important that we continue to fight."
Having only graduated from Kickapoo High School last year, the 19-year-old said she faces barriers to vote as a young person.
"As a student, I had full-time work, being in school, and also helping my mom with the kids and stuff back at home. So, I know there's a lot of people who are in similar circumstances where our own lives kind of contrast with the opportunity to go out and vote," she told the News-Leader after the event.
Nelson added the capitol attack was one impetus for her voting rights advocacy.
"I just feel like (January 6) was a call for action for us to push for justice when it comes to these things because it showed how we're allowing the past to keep on occurring instead of us trying to prevent it. People are going to keep on trying take your vote away unless you decide to take a stand."
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri Democrats push for voting rights at Jan. 6 Capitol riot vigil