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  • Carolyn L. Baker

The Unfinished Business of the 19th Amendment

Amendment XIX:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or any State, on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

One hundred years ago today, the Tennessee Legislature ratified the 19th Amendment, adding women’s right to vote to the U.S. Constitution. White women, that is. Women of color still had to fight for several more decades to advance policies and laws that would give them access to the ballot box. And even then the tools of intimidation, poll taxes, roll purges, cutting back on early voting, and unnecessarily restrictive voter registration requirements suppressed the votes of people of color.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was enacted to help secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. And it was repeatedly renewed, by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress, to make sure voting is fair especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent. Then in 2013, a Supreme Court decision struck down one of its core provisions - preclearance. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a wide-ranging dissent on behalf of herself and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, justifying the continued vitality of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision. “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the Voting Rights Amendment has proven effective,” Ginsburg wrote. “The Court appears to believe that the Voting Rights Amendment’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed.”

“The Supreme Court has effectively gutted one of the nation’s most important and effective civil rights laws,” Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. “Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades. Today’s decision is a blow to democracy. Jurisdictions will be able to enact policies that prevent minorities from voting, and the only recourse these citizens will have will be expensive and time-consuming litigation.”

“Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision erases fundamental protections against racial discrimination in voting that have been effective for more than 40 years,” Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, said in a statement. “Congress must act quickly to restore the Voting Rights Act.”

“Today will be remembered as a step backward in the march towards equal rights,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “We must ensure that this day is just a page in our nation’s history, rather than the return to a dark chapter.”

“The Roberts Court proved again that it will not be deterred by Supreme Court precedent, the realities on the ground in our nation; nor will it defer to Congress even when the legislative branch is granted clear authority by the Constitution to remedy our nation’s long history of discrimination against racial and language minorities,” said J. Gerald Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center. “The Court today declared racism dead in this country despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.”

So a century after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, let’s talk about the unfinished business behind the anniversary. “What we are seeing is systematic voter suppression around the country,” says Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action, the Georgia organization building on former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ work mobilizing and protecting the rights of voters. In announcing the initiative aimed at mobilizing voters and countering voter suppression in 2020 Abrams said, “We’re going to have a fair fight in 2020 because my mission is to make certain that no one has to go through in 2020 what we went through in 2018.”

Concerns about voting accessibility ahead of the November election, are concerns for all citizens, regardless of party affiliation. Guaranteeing fair, free, and secure elections is about doing what’s right for every citizen, as human beings. Here are important actions to take between now and Nov 3rd to ensure democracy for all:

Check your voter registration early and often to make sure it’s up to date and make sure family and friends also check;

Volunteer to be a poll worker;

Counter misinformation and disinformation by knowing getting credible sources for voting information such as, and; and

Share these tips!

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