It’s wonderfully ironic that the ratification of the 19th Amendment, establishing women’s right to vote, occurred 100 years ago today because a young state legislator couldn’t say “no” to his mother.
The Tennessee Legislature was in position to be the 36th and final state needed to make the amendment — “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” — part of the Constitution.
The Senate passed the amendment easily but it was headed for failure in the House, where a motion to table it failed on a 48-48 tie. Rep. Harry T. Burn voted to table but suddenly decided to cast an “aye” vote on passage, ensuring ratification, 49-47. Burns had received a letter from his mother between the votes: “Dear Son, Hurrah and vote for suffrage!” she wrote.
Now, women vote in larger numbers than men. In 2016, for example, 73.7 million women and 63.8 million men cast ballots.
And women in office are ascendant. A record number of women — 101 representing 34 states — serve in the U.S. House. Sen. Kamala Harris is the first woman of color to join a major-party presidential ticket. And women also are on the rise in state houses and city halls, including Scranton, where Paige Gebhardt Cognetti is the city’s first woman mayor.
Yet voting access is far from a sure thing. The 19th Amendment made it unconstitutional to thwart voting based on gender, but that didn’t stop many male-dominated governments from trying. Aggressive federal enforcement of voting rights did not occur until passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Voting access remains at risk. From starving the Postal Service to jeopardize voting by mail, to over-aggressively purging registration lists, to demanding unreasonable levels of identification, to vastly reducing the number of polling places, efforts to suppress voting are very much alive.
The anniversary of the ratification vote must be a call to revive the key section of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court eliminated in 2012, and to maintain vigilance against those who would attempt to hold power through selective disenfranchisement.
— The Citizens’ Voice, Wilkes-Barre (TNS)