Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Women and the Future of American Democracy

by Mary Griggs

We’ve all heard about the war against women. What hasn’t gotten the same amount of press is that the war goes beyond reproductive health to an attack on women’s most basic civil rights.

Ninety-two years ago, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted American women the right to vote in national and local elections. The amendment is beautiful in its brevity and clarity: “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.”

Women’s suffrage was by no means global when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. Article 21 of that document declared that everyone has the right to take part in the government and that the will of the people (which shall be by universal and equal suffrage), expressed in periodic and genuine elections, shall be the basis of the authority of government.

You would have thought the issue of our constructive participation in the political process would be fait accompli, the done-est of done deals.

You would have thought wrong.

For example, Janis Lane, president of the Central Mississippi Tea Party gave an interview to theJackson Free Pressrecently. As part of her discussion on where things went wrong, she said: “I'm really going to set you back here. Probably the biggest turn we ever made was when the women got the right to vote. Our country might have been better off if it was still just men voting.”

Perpetual blowhard Rush Limbaugh is not known for his feminist sensibilities. However, even long time detractors were a little taken aback by his blatant disrespect for women after he said on his July 3rd show, “When women got the right to vote is when it all went downhill.”

They are just the latest wave in an all out assault on women voters.

Across the nation, there has been a concerted effort by Republicans to disenfranchise voters. These laws will have a detrimental impact on women. Since the beginning of 2011, at least 180 bills restricting voting rights were introduced in 41 states. While identification requirements for voting are certainly not new, many states have prohibited once-acceptable identification such as student IDs, Social Security cards, utility bills and bank statements in favor of the “strict” or government-issued photo IDs.

Luckily, Louisiana was not one of those states that adopted the new ALEC inspired (and drafted) laws. The Louisiana Secretary of State lists out acceptable Election Day proof of identity: “a driver's license, a Louisiana Special ID, or some other generally recognized picture ID that contains your name and signature. Voters who have no picture ID may bring a utility bill, payroll check or government document that includes their name and address but they will have to sign an affidavit furnished by the Elections Division in order to vote.”

There are several factors that contribute to a person not having a current and valid photo ID. Such documents expire. Some voters do not drive, therefore a state-issued drivers license is not necessary. Voters move and are unable to obtain new ID prior to registration or Election Day.

Strict photo-ID requirements and proof-of-citizenship laws particularly affect women who change their name after getting married or divorced. Because updating documentation takes time and money, these laws create an additional barrier for low-income women. According to the Brennan Center, only 48 percent of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have a birth certificate with their current legal name. The same survey showed that only 66 percent of voting-age women had ready access to proof-of-citizenship documentation with their current legal name.

The transgender community is also greatly affected, since many of those who have transitioned to another gender are unable to update their IDs to their current gender because of difficulty satisfying state requirements on changing gender markers. According to a recent national survey, only 59 percent of trans people have updated photo IDs.

So why do some folks wish that women didn’t have the right to vote? Why, in the face of virtually non-existent voter fraud, do the Republican's continue to push to keep women away from the polls?

Simply put, the numbers don’t lie. Women have been a majority of the total vote in every election since 1984. According to poll data from the Pew Research Center, women comprised 53 percent of the overall electorate in 2008, 54 percent in 2004 and 52 percent in 2000.

And Republicans haven’t fared well with women voters. The same poll data shows that if you lose the women’s vote by any more than 11 points, it’s difficult for a Republican to get elected to the White House. Not since 1988 has a Republican presidential candidate won the women’s vote.

It is not just the White House that is at stake. Most of the biggest challenges to women’s reproductive health choices are being made at the state level. Expansion of anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity are being passed at the city level. Challenges to the teaching of scientifically proven evolution as being made at the local school board level. Further, changes to state constitutions (like to advance marriage equality) are decided by individual voters.

Electing tomorrow’s decision makers begins with us today. Because if you don’t vote, you don’t count. Don’t just get mad, get registered and vote!

In Louisiana, go to the Secretary of State website for information on how to register to vote, as well as links to important information about ballots, voting and elections. Remember, Geaux Vote.com!

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