The Kansas City Public Library will host a three-part community conversation about voting access. Held in advance of the November 8 election, “Voting Access: Where we’ve been and where we’re headed,” is a series of community-led discussions about the past, present, and future of voting to ensure it is accessible and equitable for all.

Recently, Missouri implemented new voting identification laws, which require voters to use a government-issued photo ID to vote on election day. Previously, voters could present different forms of identification at the polls, like easily accessible documents such as a utility bill or voting card. 

The changes to the laws have drawn criticism that the new requirements are disproportionately impacting voters of color, the young, and the disabled. A lawsuit has been filed by voting rights activists claiming the new law is unconstitutional. 

The first of the series, sponsored by the NAACP,  and Kansas City Public Radio, was hosted by the Kansas City Public Library Plaza branch. It consisted of a moderated, panel discussion and question and answer portion where audience members were encouraged to participate in the discourse through questions for the panel of experts.

The event was moderated by Mary Sanchez. Sanchez, a Kansas City native, is a veteran journalist who has spent years reporting on race, class, social and criminal justice, immigration, and educational issues. The panel was comprised of University of Missouri professor of History, Jeffrey Pasley; former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander, and Trish Vincent, the Chief of Staff for Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.

The dearth of the discussion focused on interpreting if the new voter identification law in Missouri is a form of voter suppression. Former Secretary of State, Jason Kander, also founded Let America Vote, an organization with the mission to end voter suppression across the country.

“Voter suppression that’s going on right now is a political party that has decided that demographically, statistically, it cannot continue to keep up without changing its policies,” Kander said. “So instead of changing (our) policies, to attract more of these people who tend not to vote for us, we will win by subtraction, we will make it harder for people of color to vote, or make it harder for even young people’s vote in a lot of states with some of the ID policies that are passed.”

Currently, individuals who do not have a photo ID must now cast a provisional ballot, which requires additional steps before it can be counted. In order for a provisional ballot to be counted a voter would need to return to the polling station, they cast their provisional ballot with a photo ID or an election official must verify their signature based on voter records. 

Less than half of all provisional ballots cast in the November 2020 election were counted according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office. 

The next meeting will be on Sept. 24 at the Bluford Branch public library, and the final meeting will be on Oct. 1 at the Northeast Branch location. Both one-hour meetings will include a presentation and question and answer from voting registration advocates.

Jacob Martin covered news that focuses on housing and equality issues in Kansas City. Prior to joining our team, he worked as a general assignments reporter with KCUR in Kansas City. A Louisville, Kentucky...

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