Women achieved the right to vote in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “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.”
The women’s suffrage (right-to-vote) movement was first articulated at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. Some states never barred women from voting; others began removing the barrier. Before the 19th Amendment a map of the country shows a distinctive geographic pattern — the entire western portion of the U.S. plus Michigan and New York gave full suffrage to women, whereas the eastern seaboard from Pennsylvania to Florida allowed none. The middle portion of the country was somewhere in between.
Fast forward to 2012. State legislatures across the country are trying desperately to limit access to the right to vote by passing laws with onerous ID requirements. Pennsylvaniais at the epicenter of that effort. The ACLU-PA, along with several ally organizations, is currently challenging the law’s constitutionality in state court. The vast majority of our clients are women, which is not a coincidence.
For a variety of reasons, women – in addition to people of color, low-income individuals, and young people – are particularly affected by voter ID laws. Women often change their names because of marriage or divorce, resulting in names that don’t match voter registration records. Women who have changed their names also need additional documentation, such as a marriage license, to obtain PennDOT ID.
Around the country there are possibly hundreds of thousands of women whose participation in the electoral process is threatened. We’ve come a long way — but as we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us be aware that the rights of women to participate fully remain fragile.
This post is part of a series for Women’s History Month.