Almost 100 years ago, on August 26, 1920, the 19th amendment was officially added to the Constitution. On that day, women’s constitutional right to vote was recognized and the United States moved one step closer to equality and enfranchisement for all. Following decades of fighting for all varieties of progressive change, this, the ultimate triumph of the women’s suffrage movement, finally prevailed.
Today, many are still robbed of the right women so fiercely fought for.
Voter suppression and voting rights are feminist causes, and fighting for change on behalf of others is a feminist tradition; even before the women’s suffrage movement, women were consistently at the forefront of movements for progressive change, like labor rights or abolition (the abolition movement in particular is frequently noted as closely linked to women’s suffrage).
On the upcoming centennial of women’s suffrage, the history and current reality of voter suppression in the U.S. stands out.
Americans got a glimpse into this reality during Donald Trump’s March 30 interview with Fox and Friends. Showing what has become a signature brand of Trumpian disdain for democracy, the president said that before the extensive negotiations leading to the passage of the CARES Act, the bill “had … levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump highlights an increasingly apparent truth—voter suppression, most often of minorities, remains a pillar of U.S. elections to this day. Even more startling: Trump’s assertion implies that the election of Republican officials is dependent on voter suppression, implying that Republicans must suppress votes in order to win elections. Past, current and apparently future elections reveal the truth in his words.
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A 2018 study by The Atlantic on the role of voter suppression in the 2016 presidential election found that Black and Latinx participants were twice as likely—or more—to have experienced common barriers to voting as white participants.
Voter Suppression in Georgia
Clearly, the plan has remained the same for the 2020 elections, if the fiasco of Georgia’s primaries on Tuesday were any indication.
A severe shortage of poll workers, last minute changes, delayed opening times and mail-ballot confusion (among other issues) meant that many Georgia voters waited in lines for hours or were unable to send in their absentee ballots. Unsurprisingly, minority voters were disproportionately affected.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among other prominent figures, spoke out on Twitter against the voter suppression evident in Georgia’s primary. Many voice warnings that the events in Georgia are likely only the beginning of widespread voter suppression to come in November.
Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight Action and 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia also spoke up, saying in an interview with CBS on Wednesday,
“The ability for voter suppression to work is almost complete. Georgia has seen this before. Yesterday was, I think, one of the most egregious examples.”
Likely referring to her own failed bid for governor in 2018, Abrams ties together a modern and lasting history of voter suppression in her home state.
November Voter Suppression Efforts Already in Play
Disenfranchisement, however, is not limited to Georgia. According to a New York Times report on the upcoming presidential election, “The Republican program envisions recruiting up to 50,000 volunteers in 15 key states to monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious”—namely: Black people, Latinos and students.
Just days before the Georgia primaries, The New York Times published an op-ed by Abrams, in which she discusses the pervasiveness of U.S. voter suppression and how it so often hinders “would-be voters.” Nevertheless, she advocates this critical pillar of democracy:
“Voting is an act of faith. It is profound. In a democracy, it is the ultimate power. Through the vote, the poor can access financial means, the infirm can find health care support and the burdened and heavy-laden can receive a measure of relief from a social safety net that serves all. And we are willing to go to war to defend the sacred.”
Abrams reflects the pain felt across the country at the murder of George Floyd, at the continued prevalence of police brutality and at the ingrained, systemic racism in the country’s political and social structures. She recognizes how easy it is to feel that a single vote will have no impact, but pushes readers to remember that voting means having a voice.
“Voting will not save us from harm,” she writes, “But silence will surely damn us all.”
Throughout U.S. history, women have stood up and led the charge against injustice. Now should be no different. We cannot all achieve equality if we do not all have a voice, and as people of color continue to be turned away at the polls, their voices are unjustly silenced.
Abrams notes the sacredness of the vote in U.S. democracy. Terrance Floyd, surviving brother of George Floyd, calls for protestors to get out and vote, also recognizing the crucial power of using one’s voice.
Ensuring that everyone has the right to follow their calls to action is imperative. Donald Trump may scoff at the prospect of high levels of voter turnout this fall, but it is an achievable—and necessary—goal.
If you are looking for ways to get involved, these six organizations work towards universal enfranchisement and against voter suppression: ACLU, Brennan Center for Justice, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Black Voter Fund, Fair Fight Action and League of Women Voters of the U.S.
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