Women have come a long way since the early days of women’s suffrage which ultimately led to the passage of the 19th amendment- granting women the right to vote on August 26, 1920. On July 19, 1848 a controversial resolution seeking the vote for women was passed at the first women’s rights convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanon also called for the right to exercise free speech. The move was necessary because public speaking was considered an unwomanly act. Thomas Jefferson declared it would result in a “depravation of morals.” Ironically, that first convention was presided over by a man – James Mott, husband to suffragist Lucretia. It was not until 1920 that women earned the right to vote.
As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26, marking the day women received the right to vote in 1920, a move is now affront to disenfranchise women, whether indirectly or directly, the result may be the same. Voter ID laws enacted now in over half the states, requiring voters to present some form of identification as a requirement to vote will place unreasonable burdens on many women who may well be unaware of the difficulty they could face when casting their vote in the 2012 election.
States requiring voters to register with proof of citizenship is more problematic for women than for men. A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school shows that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name. Women who have recently married or divorced and have changed their names—and whose passport, naturalization papers or birth certificate are in their former names—will then be required to obtain a certified court document showing the divorce decree or marriage certificate. These documents vary in cost from state to state but can cost upwards of $25 plus any time off work to obtain them. The certified court documents may not even be in the state where you now reside, further delaying and complicating matters.
For those women who are already registered to vote, the same problem will hold true. The photo ID must be in the same name that is registered with the Election Board. Hence, any recent changes in name from divorce or marriage will require certified proof of the name change along with the new photo ID. Of course, most men need not endure such onerous paper trail requirements. But U.S. women change their names in 90 percent of marriages. Karen Celestino-Horseman, an attorney for the League of Women Voters, says “women in particular are going to be impacted,” by requirements that they produce documents authenticating every name change in cases of marriage and divorce.
Equal access to the polls is paramount for all. Women and particularly women of color who fought so hard for suffrage and became the last to get that right, some may now be the first to lose it.
Women hold the keys to the 2012 election. Since the 1980’s women have been voting more than men. In 2008 10 million more women showed up at the polls than men. And in battleground states where women outvote men in the hundreds of thousands, women’s votes are crucial. The only battleground state where women don’t outvote men is in Nevada. And even there, it’s not by much that men lead women.
In Pennsylvania, women outvoted men in 2008 by 400,000. In Ohio, women outvoted men by 275,000. In North Carolina, the figures are women over men by 358,000. Currently, Romney is winning when it comes to white men. But women hold the key to this election. With the Republicans war on women from Planned Parenthood, paycheck fairness for women to calling Georgetown student Sandra Fluke a slut, the Republicans are not trying to win favor with women.
And November, 2012 will show the power of women 92 years after suffrage. Happy Women’s Equality Day.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She also writes for the Huffington Post.