Ninety-one years ago today, then-Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation formally adopting the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. After over 70 years of fighting, women were finally guaranteed the right to vote. The product of this effort, this vast expansion of the right to vote, was cause for celebration for everyone in this country.
It was a crucial moment for women, who would finally have a say in the government under which they lived, and whose individual rights would flourish. It was an important moment for men, too, who would benefit from a more diverse and inclusive democracy. Finally, it was a defining moment for this country, the foundation of which doubled in strength. The 19th Amendment drastically increased the investment that Americans had in our democracy, as the 15th Amendment had done in 1870 (granting the right to vote to all men regardless of race) and as the 26th Amendment would do in 1971 (granting the right to vote to 18-year-olds). This investment solidified our democracy and ensured its continuing success.
Unfortunately, the past 10 years have seen a persistent chipping away at this investment through laws making it more difficult to register and to vote. Voter identification laws have been cropping up across the country, limiting the ability of poor and elderly voters to cast ballots. Thirty-four states considered such legislation this year, and strict voter ID laws are now in place in seven states.
Many states are also limiting the ability of voters to vote in-person before Election Day. In the past year, seven states have shortened early voting time frames.
States have made registration more difficult for voters, as well. Two state legislatures passed bills repealing Election Day registration laws, even though studies show that voter turnout is 7 percent higher in states that allow Election Day registration. Fortunately, one of those states’ governors, Brian Schweitzer of Montana, vetoed the legislation. Florida passed legislation making it much more difficult for third-party organizations to register voters. Three additional states now require documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
As we celebrate the 91st anniversary of women’s suffrage, we should recommit to our investment in this democracy. We should remember that every vote on Election Day adds strength to our country’s foundation. We should reverse the trend of discouraging and disfranchising voters and we should work to ensure that all voters continue to participate in elections in the United States. Our country—and our democracy—is worth the investment.