Black Women Led the Way on Election Day—Now They’re Leading the Charge for Voting Rights

Black women voters turned out in unprecedented numbers on Election Day, delivering groundbreaking wins to a multitude of Black women candidates. Leticia James will be the first Black woman to serve as attorney general in New York; newcomers Lauren Underwood and Juliana Stratton from Illinois, Jahana Haynes from Connecticut and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts will join the U.S. House of Representatives as the first Black women to represent their states in Congress, and Ilhan Omar will be the first Muslim refugee elected to the chamber.

The strength of their wins is the direct result of high turnout by Black women—and men—at the polls. Black women’s leadership and GOTV efforts led Black women candidates to victory, and the Black women we elected will lead the country on a new path toward equality and justice for all.

But we had to overcome monumental hurdles to get to these victories—with some voters still fighting today to ensure their ballots from Tuesday are counted.

This election was as much about the attacks on voting rights as it was about voter turnout. White conservatives have been systematically dismantling voting rights and erecting giant barriers to voters of color—especially Black voters.

Gerrymandering, unfair voter ID laws and the illegal purging of people of color from the voting rolls was the norm in too many states. Voters waited in long lines across the country—as long as four-and-a-half hours. Students from Prairie A&M in Texas, a historically Black college, had to drive to other towns to cast ballots during early voting because county officials refused to set up a polling place in the campus town. In North Dakota, members of the Spirit Lake Tribe filed a federal complaint against the implementation of a voter ID law requiring a street address. Many voters live on tribal lands without residential addresses.

While we rallied to overcome many barriers, we also saw the negative results of voter suppression in races across the nation. Stacey Abrams battled in her race for Georgia governor against its then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who used the power of his post to purge thousands of voters from the voter rolls, hold 53,000 voter registrations hostage and throw out absentee ballots from a predominantly Black county. Even though Abrams turned out unprecedented numbers of voters, many showed up to polls and could not vote, and the outcome of that election is yet to be determined.

The lesson is clear: Conservative lawmakers will go to any length to stop voters of color from voting, and we cannot stop pushing back against oppressive laws that pose barriers to our right to be heard at the ballot box.

This Fall, In Our Own Voice launched a two-year initiative to educate Black women voters about reproductive justice issues throughout the year. Through the #IAMAVOTER campaign, we were able to raise the issues that must be addressed in our communities on a daily basis by our elected officials and engage with voters.

We’re keeping that initiative through 2019 to ensure that Black women voters continue to hold those we elected accountable to our issues—including demanding that they protect our right to vote.

We must continue to knock down the barriers and push for equal voting rights. We didn’t march and die fighting for our right to vote only to have that right denied us by a president who didn’t even win the popular vote. We must continue to reject the new Jim Crow era and the attempt by politicians to turn the clock backward. Voting rights must be accessible to all.

We must remember that these victories happened despite the impact of nearly two years of the Trump administration’s racist and sexist policies. We must fight not only to stop losing ground—we have win back full access to our fundamental right to vote. With this election behind us, we are determined to continue to fight. We will not rest until our country lives up to the constitutional promise of liberty and justice for all.

Black women are leading the way—and we invite you all to follow!


Marcela Howell is the founder and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda and the former senior policy and communications consultant for Communications Consortium Media Center and vice president of policy, communications and marketing at Advocates for Youth. She has a master's in literature from Saint Louis University and a J.D. from Pepperdine School of Law. You can follow Marcela on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.