I did not automatically have the right to vote. I had to earn it. I immigrated to the U.S. at age seven from Lagos, Nigeria. As a teenager, I became an American citizen. I then earned my appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. After graduating in 1998, I served more than six years on active duty in tank units in the U.S. Army, deploying to Kuwait twice — both before and in response to September 11. Our deployment to Kuwait before September 11 was aimed squarely at protecting our allies. Our deployment after September 11 was aimed squarely at protecting our American democracy.
Our democracy is the envy of the world, but it is only as strong as the right to vote. That is precisely why foreign actors and power-first politicians are working so hard to undermine that right. They attack our right to vote and make it less secure, harder to access, and confusing to understand because doing so serves their selfish political agendas.
We know foreign actors have been intentionally attacking our electoral system for years, making it less secure. The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a report in 2019 that decisively stated what we already knew — the Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level. To combat these efforts, Missouri received $7,230,625 in federal election security grants in 2018. But only $556,746.30 of those funds, held by the secretary of state, were disbursed between October 1, 2018, and September 30, 2019. Because of our secretary of state’s failure to protect our elections, these vulnerabilities still exist and are available for exploitation by nefarious actors.
Our elections are also made less secure and less legitimate when access to the vote is limited. When elected officials use their power to pick and choose a limited group of voters to keep them in office instead of the voters choosing their elected officials, our elections fail to be a true representation of the will of all the people and our democracy becomes a mockery. Just days ago, the nonpartisan Center for American Progress Action Fund released a report specifically citing Jay Ashcroft, Missouri’s secretary of state, as one who is “hindering fair and accessible elections.” Voter suppression is carried out by politicians who know they cannot earn the vote of the people in a fair democratic election. Voter suppression makes our elections less secure. Period.
Finally, our elections are less secure when crucial information is withheld from the voters of Missouri. In a letter dated July 31, 2020, the U.S. Postal Service informed Ashcroft that it recommends Missouri voters return their ballots one week earlier than election day because the now-diminished U.S. Postal Service is unable to guarantee timely delivery of ballots due to Missouri’s archaic election laws. Our secretary of state failed to inform Missouri voters of this critical information. The letter was discovered over two weeks later only after media began to ask questions. Ashcroft’s irresponsibility is derelict and dangerous to our democracy.
My parents brought me here as a child for a better life and to take part in the world’s oldest experiment in a representative democracy. But our democracy is under attack from enemies — both foreign and domestic. We have to demand that those in power protect our elections, expand access to the ballot, and provide us with information we need to be informed and effective citizens. We need them to either protect our sacred and fundamental right to vote, or we need them to step aside.
Yinka Faleti is a U.S. Army veteran and Democratic nominee for Missouri secretary of state.