95 Years After the 19th Amendment, Women’s Fight for Voting Rights Continues

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In 1971, the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day” to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th amendment – guaranteeing women the right to vote – and to honor the brave women and men who fought for women’s suffrage. Today, on the 95th anniversary of the 19th amendment, the right to vote seems unalienable and fundamental to any democracy – but nearly 100 years ago, many Americans didn’t think women should have that right.

The women’s suffrage movement spanned more than 70 years, and was carried out by tens of thousands of tireless advocates. To win the right to vote, generations of suffragists circulated petitions, gave speeches, and published newspapers, pamphlets and magazines. Despite seemingly insurmountable legal, financial, and political barriers, the movement became one of our country’s most successful civil rights efforts.

But today, nearly 100 years after women won their fundamental right to participate freely in their democracy, the right to vote is under attack. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. In the two years since then, states across the country have passed laws making it harder to vote through the elimination of early voting and same-day registration opportunities and restrictive voter ID requirements. These laws have had a disproportionately harmful effect on low-income voters, communities of color, people with disabilities, students, and the elderly – all groups that are, of course, comprised in part by women.

And for women, strict voter ID laws can pose a fairly unique problem. In the aftermath of Shelby, Texas was free to enact one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation – a law that a federal court struck down prior to Shelby in 2012, ruling that the law would potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of minority voters. Because of the strict ID provision, when Texas judge Sandra Watts tried to vote using the same identification she had been using for the last 50 years, she was unable to do so. The problem? Watts’ driver’s license lists her maiden name as her middle name, but on the state voting rolls, her given middle name is there. For women in Texas, getting married, getting divorced, or making any other adjustment to your name can be a barrier to voting.

Unfortunately, Watts’ story isn’t an anomaly. People across the country have been effectively disenfranchised post-Shelby. Today, 95 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment, women are waging a new voting rights battle. In Texas, Imani Clark, a student at Prairie View A&M University, is fighting the state’s restrictive ID law. In North Carolina, Rosanell Eaton – who was one of the first Black residents in her segregated county to vote in 1939 – is fighting North Carolina’s new voter restrictions that could jeopardize the right to vote for too many in 2016.