Nearly a Century After Suffrage, Women’s Voting Rights Under Attack in the States
It has been more than 90 years since women fought their way to suffrage. In that period of time, we’ve experienced the Year of the Woman – when a record number of women ran and/or won congressional races in 1992 – and voter turnout rates for women that have consistently exceeded voter turnout rates for men since 1980. The gender gap that often gives Democrats the edge among female voters (except in 2010) and proved to be Ronald Reagan’s “woman problem” has forced all candidates to acknowledge the power of the female vote. Despite this growing clout, 2011 saw a barrage of state legislation that effectively moves women’s suffrage back in time and impedes access to the polls for millions of us.
The passage of voter ID legislation made headlines this year for its anticipated horrific effects on the electoral participation of minority, low-income, and young voters. However, its specific detrimental impact on women was less publicized. According to a survey sponsored by the Brennan Center, only 66% of voting-age women with access to any proof of citizenship have documentation with their current legal name. Using numbers from 2000, this may leave as many as 32 million voting-age women vulnerable to the whims of conservatives trying to suppress the vote of traditionally progressive voting blocs through voter ID. Of the whopping 33 states that introduced bills this year to require photo identification at the polls, so far, eleven state legislatures have passed the measures. Voter ID has been signed into law in seven states to date.
Similarly, attempts to shorten the early voting period – in which voters can cast a ballot before Election Day at satellite locations – and eliminate weekend voting were successful in five states this year. These measures make it that much harder for busy women to have their voices heard by taking away the flexibility needed to accommodate work and familial obligations. Women in these states will once again be forced to choose between participating in democracy and, say, picking up a child from day care – a discomfiting situation of which Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott would surely disapprove.
It is time for women to not only take advantage of the right to vote for which so many fought, but to invoke the passionate dissent that marked the long march to suffrage. We can vote out those who seek to quiet our voices, but we can also send a clear warning that we will not stand by and watch as our rights are picked apart. As conservatives gear up for a second round of assaults on voting rights in 2012, it is crucial that women – with all of the power and potential that has been realized in the years since those pioneering heroes – act now by defending that which we fought for and won decades ago.
Cristina Francisco-McGuire is a Policy Specialist for Progressive States Network, specializing in election reform and wage theft issues. You can follow her on Twitter at @CristinaPSN.