Today, August 26, marks Women's Equality Day. It is also a little more than two months from the 2014 midterm elections. In my mind, these two things are inextricably linked.
Some of you may be asking, "What is Women's Equality Day?" That's a pretty easy question to answer. Every year since 1971, the President of the United States marks August 26 in commemoration of the day in 1920 that the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- granting women equal voting rights -- was certified into law.
Women fought long and hard for the right to vote. In 1848, the document produced by the Seneca Falls Convention was the first formal demand for women's suffrage. During World War I, suffragists picketed the White House -- possibly the first "cause" to do so. Many were arrested and participated in a hunger strike while in prison, leading to force feedings.
But not all women obtained access to the ballot box when the 19th amendment entered the law books. In the southern United States, Jim Crow laws kept most black women and men from voting. It wasn't until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that the right to vote was extended to all adult citizens.
Sadly, the clock is turning back on voting rights. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, relieving dozens of state and local jurisdictions from having to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice. They have wasted no time erecting new barriers against voting. In state after state, GOP-dominated legislatures have enacted new rules aimed at suppressing the votes of specific types of people: younger voters, immigrant citizens, voters of color and unmarried women.
The specific voter suppression laws vary from state to state. The most restrictive states require voters to present a government issued photo ID (a driver's license, a passport, military ID, etc.); currently, 34 states have voter ID laws, and 15 of those states require photo ID.
The voter-suppression crowd argues that requiring a photo ID for voting is not onerous. It's just a driver's license, and you have to have that to drive, or get on a plane, or buy alcohol. Besides, they say, we need photo IDs to prevent voter fraud.
Here's why that's all wrong: (1) Voter fraud is all but non-existent in the U.S., and photo ID doesn't address the very few instances that have been found. (2) Just a reminder for anyone who wasn't paying attention in middle school, voting is not like driving, buying alcohol or traveling by plane. Voting is a constitutional right and essential to the democratic process. (3) The notion that a photo ID is simply something everyone has presumes all eligible voters have the right paperwork (or the money to get the right paperwork, like a birth certificate), transportation to get to their local DMV, and the ability to take time off work to make the trip.
So, if there is no real voter fraud to worry about, what's the real goal of voter suppression measures? Well, it turns out that the majority of voting-eligible people in the U.S. disagree with the right wing's anti-woman, anti-social justice, anti-union agenda. Seven in ten Americans support Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. A majority support labor unions, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work. And 62-63 percent support comprehensive immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship.
The reality is, if enough voters actually turn out for this November's elections, we could elect candidates who support our issues and turn our country around. Does anyone doubt that the folks trying to suppress our votes are hearing footsteps?
I've always been proud of NOW's position as the grassroots arm of the women's movement. Our activists and members throughout the country are already doing the hard work on the ground -- knocking on doors, making calls, educating and mobilizing voters -- to get the word out about how high the stakes are this year. Want to get in on the action? Join me and take NOW's pledge to vote on November 4th.
The right to vote is precious. Our feminist foremothers were beaten, arrested, went on hunger strikes and endured force-feeding for that right. Our sisters and brothers in the civil rights movement were beaten, jailed and murdered for registering Black voters. This year, let's honor our proud history by voting in such large numbers that even the most dishonest, most cowardly suppression efforts can't stop us!