Women's Suffrage Was a Milestone. But We Haven't Reached the Endpoint.

Rose Minutaglio
·8 mins read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

From ELLE

After decades of picketing and marches organized by legendary suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Church Terrell, women in the U.S. finally won the right to vote on August 18, 1920. But the ratification of the 19th amendment wasn't a triumphant end to their activism—it was the beginning of a movement to secure the vote for all women, regardless of race.

As we celebrate the centennial of the Constitutional landmark, five female activists take ELLE.com inside the biggest voting rights issues we contend with today—all while in the middle of a public health emergency and a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice.

Photo credit: Courtesy Virginia Kase
Photo credit: Courtesy Virginia Kase

Virginia Kase, League of Women Voters

In 1919, one year before the ratification of the 19th amendment, National American Woman Suffrage Association President Carrie Chapman Catt proposed the creation of a "League of Women Voters" to "combine [women] in an effort for legislation which will protect coming movements, which we cannot even foretell, from suffering the untoward conditions which have hindered for so long the coming of equal suffrage." Today the LWV is run by Virginia Kase, 48, who says voters never stopped facing disenfranchisement at the polls, even in 2020.

"Voter suppression and disenfranchisement have been around forever. It just looks a little different in 2020. Throughout the primary elections, we saw many poll closures, often last minute, that caused confusion and long lines for voters. It’s not far-fetched to imagine a COVID-19 spike in the weeks leading up to the election, and some places using that as an excuse to close polling locations with little notice to voters before Election Day. The restrictions and false information attacks on voting by mail is another particularly underhanded voter suppression tactic that is being employed right now. Some others include requiring affidavits, witness signatures, or photo ID’s which are all barriers to casting a ballot. Misinformation is another modern form of voter suppression and is probably one of the most difficult to address. The problem with this tactic is that voters may not recognize misinformation for what it is and could spread false information without knowing it. As long as there are people in power who are focused on their own self-interest instead of the country’s interests, there will be attempts to keep people from participating in our elections. That is why we must fight against it in every form. It’s also why we have to change and improve systems and laws to ensure that we are making is harder to suppress the vote and easier to advance voting rights."

Photo credit: Courtesy Renee Montgomery
Photo credit: Courtesy Renee Montgomery

Renee Montgomery, More Than a Vote

Two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery, 33, opted out of the 2020 season to focus on social justice issues and political reform. She is advocating for more HBCU funding, speaking out against voter suppression, and working with LeBron James’s More Than a Vote campaign to protect African-Americans’ voting rights.

"Voter suppression comes in all forms, it could be anything from downsizing voting locations to manipulating the mail-in voting. COVID-19 has also added a whole new layer of problems for voting. The recent democratic VP candidate Kamala Harris summed it up beautifully when she said, 'This pandemic has exacerbated the health, education, and economic disparities that have disproportionately impacted communities of color for centuries.' The More Than A Vote campaign is trying to address the many forms and efforts to suppress votes. Not only that, but we want to make sure that people have as many safe voting options as possible.

My hope is that everyone understands the power of their vote and their voice. My hope is that more minorities and others who have been disenfranchised become active participants in the political process—that’s voting and actually running for offices locally and nationally. I truly believe we can return to being the flagship for democracy. It’s going to take a lot of work, but there’s no better time than now to get started so that future generations can reap the benefits. Moments equal momentum. Once everyone understands that voting is a responsibility and treats it as such, then we will truly see change."

Photo credit: Courtesy Donna Semans
Photo credit: Courtesy Donna Semans

Donna Semans, Four Directions

Four Directions is a family-run organization committed to navigating a stronger future for Native communities by extending "equal access to the ballot box across Indian Country." Donna Semans, 40, the group's director of grassroots organization, is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, or Sicangu Oyate, who works to make sure Native Americans aren't left out of the election conversation.

"Equal access to the ballot box is the biggest issue when it comes to voting rights. For the last decade, Four Directions has focused efforts on reducing obstacles to the ballot box, including fighting for equal access to in-person early voting locations. Now, because of COVID-19, mail ballot voting is more critical now than ever. On the Navajo Nation, we are testing how long it takes mail to travel to count election offices. We are finding, more often than not, the Native vote is disparately impacted. Every Native voter should be ensured equal access and that their vote will be counted. Our work involves training Natives to work in polling places and to organize their own communities, which are uniquely remote, underserved, and too often left to succeed or fail on their own. We work closely with tribal leaders, and, when we have to, we pursue litigation. As Chief Joseph said, 'Treat all men alike. Give them the same law. Give them an even chance to live and grow.'"

Photo credit: Courtesy Sindy Benavides
Photo credit: Courtesy Sindy Benavides

Sindy M. Benavides, League of United Latin American Citizens

League of United Latin American Citizens CEO Sindy M. Benavides, 38, oversees the organization's initiatives encouraging members of the Latinx community to run for office and register to voter. Benavides also works with members of Congress, advocating for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, which she says "protected communities of color from discriminatory voting laws," before it was weakened in 2013.

"As the power of Latinos continues to grow, there are direct attempts to undermine our democracy by limiting or altogether blocking our access to the voting booth. We have seen various tactics like eliminating polling locations, thus causing long waiting lines, banning early voting, placing restrictions on voting by mail, moving polling sites to obscure, inaccessible locations, and purging voters. We are also seeing deliberate disinformation on social media targeting Latinos and communities of color that includes promoting the wrong election date, incorrect polling hours, or the use of fear tactics like stating that ICE is at the polling locations. Our hope is that one day, our community will not face voting barriers simply for being Latino. More Latinos continue to turn 18 years of age every year, adding an additional million eligible voters to the already existing 32 million Latino eligible voters. Our dream is that one day, they are all registered and that they vote in record-breaking numbers. Our greatest act of defiance is to vote. Our greatest way to protest is to vote. Our greatest way to rise up, represent our community, is to show up and vote."

Photo credit: Lamp Left Media
Photo credit: Lamp Left Media

Raaheela Ahmed, Campus Vote Project

As Deputy Director for Campus Vote Project, Raaheela Ahmed, 27, works to reduce barriers to student voting. Normally she assists in grassroots efforts to promote best voting practices on college campuses. This year, due to pandemic-related school shutdowns, Campus Vote Project released state-by-state guidelines on COVID-19 voting and absentee voting, in addition to information on registering for the fall general election.

"Lagging decision-making and frequent or last-minute changes in voting practices from governmental entities and institutions is a big concern when it comes to voter turnout and voter suppression in the 2020 general election. That's what happened for several primary elections this past spring, and it could spell disaster if repeated in the fall. The state of our country is in an unprecedented state of flux and uncertainty due to COVID-19. The rates of infection and death are amongst the highest in the world. Folks are housing and income insecure. Schools are all over the place in their decisions to open for the school year, and our political processes are not immune to all this chaos. My hope is that our legislators and executives come together in recognizing that our nation’s forefathers got some things wrong, especially when it comes to voting, and that it is a continuous process to right those wrongs."

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