Commentary: 19th Amendment

From: Helen Gibbins

19th_Amendment_Pg1This month we will celebrate two important events. On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee Legislature passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the Right-to-Vote. This vote gave the two thirds majority of states needed to ratify a constitutional amendment. On August 26, 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State certified the ratification. August 26 is now known as Women’s Equality Day.

When the U.S. Constitution was adopted, there was no reference to allowing free African American men and women of all colors the Right-to-Vote. The states determined eligibility, but Article 1. Sec. 4 allows the Congress to make laws on elections.

In this era, it is hard to believe that our Founding Fathers did not include suffrage for all citizens. After the Civil War the passage of the 15th Amendment gave African American men the Right-to-Vote, but not women. Although ratified in 1870 the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. At first the amendment was enforced; but after Reconstruction ended in 1877, many of the southern states established barriers such as the use of poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and other means. Other ethnic groups, including Native Americans, were kept from voting in some states.

What did it take to pass the 19th amendment giving women suffrage? Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the July 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. The Convention passed The Declaration of Sentiments that included the first public appeal for the rights of women to vote. The suffragists were often put at odds with their husbands and families. Some were militant and some were more restrained.  Years of meeting, appealing, protesting, writing, lobbying, marching, crusading before the White House, and even going to jail finally convinced Congress that eligible voters should also include women. Before the 19th amendment was passed, some states and territories had allowed women to vote; but the 19th Amendment assured all women in the United States  the Right-to-Vote.

The 19th Amendment says, “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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

But even after the passage of the 19th Amendment both men and women of color were blocked from voting in certain areas of the country.  It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to correct that travesty.

Then in 2013 along came the Supreme Court ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, that negated many of the protections of the Voting Rights Act.  Following this court decision, more than 16 states passed bills that made it more difficult for African Americans and other communities of color to access the ballot box.

These obstacles led to an increase of voting rights challenges aimed at finding alternative ways to protect the stripped provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Fast forward to 2019. HR 1, For the People Act, passed the House and is waiting action in the Senate. It will make voting easier and more accessible by modernizing our elections and putting power back in the hands of the American voters.  HR 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives to restore protections to the VRA. It would modernize the coverage formula overturned by the Supreme Court. It would also require nationwide notification of voting changes, promote transparency, and allow voters to have the right information about what is needed to vote before Election Day. While we celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment, we must also work continually to protect the Right-to-Vote, such as HR 1 and HR 4 would give.

All over West Virginia and the nation groups and colleges are planning celebrations of the Centennial of the 19th amendment.  … Let’s all look for opportunities to celebrate the 19th Amendment Centennial and work to protect the Right to Vote!