Women Have Come a Long Way. We Still Have a Long Way to Go.
Updated: Mar 30
By Reilley Flood, Campus Vote Project Communications Intern
Over a hundred years ago, the 19th amendment was passed, granting some women the right to vote. Still, inequities remained. Women of color did not have their rights protected until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, things seem different. Although women have the same voting rights as their male counterparts on paper, they still face barriers that stop them from voting, and more broadly, having a voice in our democracy.
Organizations like the League of Women Voters have been around through it all, and for the past 103 years have worked to “empower voters and defend democracy.”
I spoke to Caren Short, the Director of Legal and Research at the League about the barriers women face. She said the organization has evolved with time, pointing out that “the league was a very white organization.” They have pushed towards inclusivity by including “all perspectives and ensuring that we're fighting for a more inclusive democracy for everyone.”
Statistics show that women are voting. Between women and men, women are more likely to vote than their counterparts amongst White, Black, and Hispanic male voters. Furthermore, the number of female voters has exceeded the number of male voters in every presidential election since 1964. Short explained to me that the barriers faced by women today have not gone away, but have simply become less overt.
“Decades ago, you could just prohibit certain groups from voting, period,” she said. “But now because you can't do that, jurisdictions who are hoping to suppress the votes of specific groups have to be a little more sneaky.”
Short goes on to say that voting laws that suppress women appear to apply to constituents of all races, genders, and identities. In reality, they disproportionately impact certain communities over others.
This creates a unique problem because it changes the way discrimination is fought. “Organizations and groups have to convince people that there really is discrimination against particular groups,” Short said.
Despite being some of the fastest growing groups of voters, women of color, especially Black women, are disproportionately affected by voter suppression based on race and gender. People of color often suffer from longer wait times at polling locations. A study from the Brennan Center for Justice in 2020 found that voters of all races were more likely to wait in line at polling locations in densely populated areas, where Latino and Black voters disproportionately live.
Voters of color also face difficulties voting by mail. One study found that during the 2020 primary election in Georgia, mail in ballots from Asian, Latino, and Black voters were rejected at higher rates than white voters.
Strict voter ID is an increasingly common form of voter suppression. Transgender women are disproportionately and negatively impacted by these laws. The changing of gender on ID is costly and can be a lengthy process. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 35% of respondents said they had not changed their legal name because they could not afford it. In states with strict voter ID laws for in person voting, this keeps hundreds of thousands of transgender people from casting their ballot.
There is also a fear of harassment for transgender voters by bystanders and poll workers. That fear, unfortunately, is well warranted: 30% of transgender voters reported that they have been verbally harassed at the polls. This real threat of verbal assault, and broader threats of violence against the transgender community, may dissuade eligible voters from casting a ballot at all.
People with disabilities, including the 36 million women in the U.S. who are disabled, can be disadvantaged by the voting system. Over 11% of voters with disabilities faced some kind of barrier to voting in the 2020 election, more than any other group.
In the next year, state legislators introduced over 400 anti-voting laws. Some laws, like those that limit opportunities for early in-person voting and mail-in voting, create barriers for those with physical disabilities and those who are immunocompromised by limiting the options they have to safely cast a ballot.
Women make up 59.5% of college students in the US, another group disproportionately impacted by voter suppression tactics. Young people, ages 18-24, are the most likely age group to be enrolled in college courses–and the least likely, historically, to vote. A survey conducted by HIT Strategies and Fair Elections Center last year, found that although young people want to vote, they often lack information about the voting process and don’t have time to vote.
Students also say a major barrier to voting is finding transportation to their off-campus polling locations. A study between MTV and Duke University last year found that “nearly three quarters of college campuses did offer in person, on campus voting options and 90% had no early voting options at all. ”
Educating students on their rights and their civic duty, paired with giving them proper resources on how to vote increases voter turnout. This is why Campus Vote Project and other organizations like The League of Women Voters, Students Learn Students Vote, and Rock the Vote are so important. Empowering young voters helps create active community members and allows young people to have a voice.
Overall, we still have work to do, but there are changes being made. Women have registered to vote and cast their ballot at higher rates than men for decades. More women are being elected to office than ever before. Organizations like She Should Run and GirlGov are encouraging women to run for government positions.
Women have power both as individuals and communities, Short said. “You've got to educate yourself on the issue, find some people who can help you, support you and then go out and be an advocate for that issue.”
Working to eradicate these voting barriers for women helps everyone. “When you empower women, you're empowering everyone,” Short said.