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MLK Day speakers focus on upcoming state, national voting legislation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)

This year, on the federal holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life of public service, the King family asked events to be held with the motto "No celebration without legislation."

The family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. chose to use the 2022 MLK holiday to call on lawmakers to pass bills to expand voter access and reject legislation that restricts voting rights. This week, several national and state bills will be up for debate.

At the national level, the King family advocated for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The U.S. Senate will debate these two bills Tuesday. The two bills aim to expand voter registration, designate election day as a federal holiday, establish protections against gerrymandering and restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated Americans.

Martin Luther King III, Arndrea Waters King and Yolanda Renee King published a letter outlining their stance on the bills.

"The last 12 months have been defined by a tireless fight to protect the vote and save our democracy. Now, the Senate Majority Leader has committed to voting on rules reform on or before Martin Luther King Jr. Day," the letter reads. "This is a testament to the powerful work you, along with other leaders, organizers, and advocates, have done day-in and day-out and we are deeply grateful for your fight."

Both Missouri Senators, Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Roy Blunt, have come out against these bills.

The Missouri Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. State Commission awarded Blunt the 2022 Dr. Henry Givens Jr., Legacy Award. However, the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition condemned the award. Denise Liberman, director and general counsel of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, said she thinks Blunt falls short of the award.

"We're calling on Senator Blunt to consider his legacy and to consider the critical importance of passing the very legislation that Martin Luther King dedicated his life to fighting for and truly stepped in to honor the award," Liberman said.

Blunt has not responded to ABC 17's request for comment at this time.

In the Missouri state legislature, three bills will be up for public testimony with the Missouri House Committee on Elections and Elected Officials Wednesday morning. The bills would all raise the threshold for filing a citizen's initiative to add an issue to an election ballot.

Liberman is against the bills and says it's already difficult to get a citizen's initiative on the ballot.

"For proposals to be considered citizens have to collect a large number of signatures from voters across the state even get on the ballot," Liberman said. "And once on the ballot, a majority of Missouri's voters have to approve it. That's a system that works and lawmakers should applaud this initiative process and block efforts to make direct participation more difficult and more elusive for Missouri citizens."

However, many Missouri Republicans, including Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft are in favor of this and other election integrity initiatives. In a news release earlier this month, Ashcroft outlined some of his election priorities, which include requiring a photo ID, using paper ballots instead of machines and limiting absentee voting.

"It is a privilege to live in the United States and to vote according to conscience - it is our right as Missourians to have safe, secure elections with timely, accurate results," Ashcroft said.

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.

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