The fight for voting rights continues 100 years later
One hundred years ago on August 18, women got the right to vote when Tennessee’s legislature put the 19th Amendment over the top.
Tennessee was the last state of the then 48 states that could possibly ratify the 19th Amendment which granted all American women the right to vote in 1920.
The right to vote (also known as suffrage) is an important part of our democracy. Throughout history, different groups were prevented from taking part in the voting process. At one point, women, people of color, and immigrants could not vote. People without money, property, or an education were also barred from voting.
On Aug. 18, 1920, state Rep. Harry T. Burn of Niota changed his “no” vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives to “aye.” Tennessee became the 36th and final state needed to pass the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Editorial cartoonists called the state “The Perfect 36” since three-quarters of the states were necessary for ratification. After Tennessee Gov. A.H Roberts signed and sent Tennessee’s ratification papers to Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued his proclamation on Aug. 26, which became known as “Women’s Equality Day.” Votes for women became the law of the land.
Burns’ decision ended a 72-year fight to get women to vote. Those efforts included women organizing suffrage groups, lobbying politicians, marching in parades, and hosting protests at the White House.
The coincidence is fitting not because it symbolizes the end of the suffrage movement, but because 2020 is a jarring reminder that the fight for voting rights never ends.
Up in Washington, the president of the United States is using his lofty platform — in the midst of a pandemic — to question the validity of mail-in ballots for the general election, even as he and his wife requested mail ballots of their own from Palm Beach County, Fla.
And, just last week the president said he doesn’t want the U.S. Postal Service to get the money it needs to handle the expected flood of mail-in ballots.
A political crony of Trump’s, Louis DeJoy, has cut overtime for postal workers ahead of what’s expected to be a deluge of ballots during the general election. In some places, the Postal Service at the direction of DeJoy has removed mail-sorting machines as well as street boxes, and is talking about higher rates for mail ballot.
We need to remember what women in the United States have known for centuries: The fight for voting rights is a marathon, not a sprint.
The 15th Amendment, for example, passed in 1870 and granted Black men the right to vote. But not women, to the disappointment of suffragists across the nation. It would take another half-century before the 19th Amendment knocked down the gender voting hurdle.
If the 100 years since then has proved anything, it’s that the fight isn’t over yet. We as a nation must ensure that everyone’s vote counts, whether it be in-person or by mail.
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