In 2020, the year I turned 18, I encountered a problem. In my college town of Kirksville, there was only one notary public. In a county where thousands of students from all across Missouri, of all political stripes, gathered for school, there was one notary. My friend Morgan and I wasted no time; we became notaries ourselves. During the election, we helped, at least, a dozen of our friends access mail-in voting. Still, I had many friends who refused to vote by mail, simply because they were afraid their vote wouldn’t count.
In 2021, I worked to register voters on Truman’s campus. Students, after all, can and should register to vote using their dorm addresses. In my capacity as campaign coordinator for our university’s College Democrats, I brought in a man who now serves as one of Kirksville’s city council members to talk about the importance of voting in local elections. Still, it was difficult to bring students out to vote — partly because so few were registered to vote on campus and partly because those who were registered to vote off-campus were restricted from using our centralized Student Union Building as a voting location.
Secretary Jay Ashcroft believes that Texas’ hyper-restrictive voting rights legislation is the model we should base Missouri’s voting system on. I think he is unbearably out of touch. Missouri needs more access to voting, not less. Our rural communities are already struggling to get many of their citizens to participate in elections, and Ashcroft really thinks the way to remedy that is more archaic, anti-democratic voter suppression?
My anger is coming from a genuinely righteous place as my friends lose their faith in electoral politics. We are having our right to vote stripped, our right to equal representation stolen from our very grasp. Instead of expanding early voting opportunities (which, need I mention, are good for everyone from farmers to city folk), or assisting illiterate voters in casting their ballots, Ashcroft wants to take the opposite path.
Should we add photo ID laws, even after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against them? Should we brutalize the initiative petition, even as it has delivered working Missourians universally popular wins these past several years? I think the answer is a clear no. We already have natural barriers to voting. Constructing more is, at least, passively undemocratic.
I became a notary, in spite of the cost barriers, because I wanted to help people. But, I ask: Wouldn’t it be a far better democracy if a couple of 18-year-olds didn’t need to take up the responsibility of making sure their friend’s votes count? I worked to register young folks — even as they rejected the premise that local elections or elections in Kirksville mattered — when our government could instead register voters automatically or on the same day as the election.
I will never stop fighting for more access to voting rights. I hope there are more Missourians out there who will heed similar courses of action because if I can fight, you sure can too.
Mike Owsley is an author, Democratic operative, and student at Truman State University. He is studying political science and creative writing.