This blog post was contributed by Advocacy and Development Intern Frances C.
100 Years of Women’s Suffrage, or not?
In 2020, the United States celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which officially declared:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” – Amendment XIX, The Constitution of the United States.
While this was a major accomplishment for women’s voting rights and the democratic process at the time, the struggle to vote which continued afterwards for African American women (and men), immigrants, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and the Latinx communities did not ease up until nearly the beginning of this century.
In 1848, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton hosted the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York, signaling the official start to the women’s suffrage movement. For nearly three-quarters of a century, women, and male suffragists including Sojourner Truth and Frederik Douglass, well-known abolitionists, would fight for the right for women to vote through a multitude of avenues2. One major development which boosted the women’s suffrage movement was the election of Jeanette Rankin to Congress in 1917, and in 1918 the Committee on Women’s Suffrage was created. By 1919, 15 out of the 48 states allowed women to vote and finally, in 1920 the 19th amendment was added to the Constitution by Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby1.
However, this amendment only truly guaranteed these rights to middle-class white women; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which was not appealed until 1953)4 the Jim Crow laws of the South3 (which were not abolished until 1964) and language barriers excluded people of color, immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans from voting.
Present-Day Voting Barriers
Today, policies such as the felony disenfranchisement laws prevent millions of Americans with a felony, or even in some states with misdemeanors, from voting7. Additionally, territories of the United States (Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands) even today have limited representation in Congress and cannot vote in presidential elections, though they are subjugated by American policy and law6.
Since 1980, women in the United States have percentage wise voted in presidential elections at higher rates than their male counterparts in nearly every race and ethnicity10. However, the percentage of voter turnout differs massively between each race and ethnicity. For example, in last year’s presidential election, 68.4% of women in the U.S. voted, while 65% of men in the U.S. voted. This is the highest percentage of voter turnout at least since 1980 10.
In the 2020 election, 66.3% of African American women voted, while their male counterparts were at 58.3% 10. This is due, in part, to the felony disenfranchisement laws which disproportionately lock African American men out of the voting process. Over 6.2% of the adult African American population is disenfranchised, as opposed to 1.7% of the non-African American populations11, which includes 245,925 Black women who cannot vote in the United States12. According to a study done by the Rutgers Eagleton institute, 56.4% of women of the Hispanic population voted, and 51% of men voted. Asian and Pacific Islander women voted at a rate of 61.3% , and men by the rate of 57.8 %.10
Comparatively, the percentage of white women who voted was 69.6%, and the percentage of white men who voted was 67%. This massive difference between race and ethnicity and voting is due to restrictive practices such as the felony disenfranchisement laws, but also due to practices such as the exact match law of Georgia, which affected 51,000 voters in the 2018 gubernatorial election, of which 80% of the 51,000 were African American.13
In addition to laws like these, it has been found that it is much more difficult for minority populations to find polling places, as seen in the reported 14% of Hispanic respondents versus the 5% of white respondents. In addition to this, although the 1975 Voting Rights Act “requires all written voting materials to be made available in the language of the relevant minority group” there are very specific guidelines which are strictly followed and causes a lack of these translated ballots to be available.
YWCA Princeton supports and encourages civic engagement. From recent state elections, to the 2020 Presidential election, it’s never been more clear that every vote makes a difference. Every voice deserves to be heard. The voting rights some of us may take for granted is the future our predecessors fought for.
1. https://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Nineteenth-Amendment/ 2. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2020/08/18/489651/100-years-19th-amendment-fight-womens-suffrage-continues/ 3. https://onlinellm.usc.edu/a-brief-history-of-jim-crow-laws/ 4. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chinese-Exclusion-Act 5. https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/report/50-years-voting-rights-act-asian-american-perspective 6. https://immigrationforum.org/article/foreign-in-a-domestic-sense-u-s-territories-and-insular-areas/ 7. https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/voter-restoration/felony-disenfranchisement-laws-map 8. https://www.ywcampls.org/all-our-voices-blog/getting-the-vote-reflecting-on-the-u-s-womens-suffrage-movement-100-years-later/ 9. https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/2020-youth-voter-turnout-raceethnicity-and-gender 10. https://cawp.rutgers.edu/facts/voters/turnout 11. https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/locked-out-2020-estimates-of-people-denied-voting-rights-due-to-a-felony-conviction/ 12. https://static.prisonpolicy.org/scans/sp/fvr-women.pdf 13. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/voting-in-2020/why-minority-voters-have-a-lower-voter-turnout/ 14. https://www.justice.gov/crt/language-minority-citizens