Does One Voice Matter?

(I haven’t published any political blogs before, but I found my experience this week so empowering I had to share.)

Does one vote count? Is one voice heard? It’s easy to be discouraged but heed the event that occurred this very week in the state of Washington.

LAST WEEK: THE BAD NEWS

Washington has an open-records act that requires elected officials to conduct their business on behalf of the voters publicly. (Perhaps that’s why they are called “public” officials?) For decades the legislature has maintained that they are exempt, but last September media outlets sued the Washington legislature to obtain records. A county judge ruled that the legislature did have to abide by the open-records act. Over a period of 48 hours, the legislature passed a bill exempting themselves from most of the act. In particular they voted that legislators could withhold their calendars, emails, and any harassment complaints. This was passed by 84% in the Senate and 86% in the House—without any floor debate or public hearings.

The Governor said he would decide whether to sign the bill or to just let it sit on his desk for a few days when it would automatically become law because of his inaction. He saw no point in vetoing the bill as the vote had been “veto-proof.”

THIS WEEK: THE GOOD NEWS

Newspapers across the state printed editorials on their front pages condemning the action by the legislature. My local paper, The Seattle Times, had a full-page spread with the pictures and contact information for every legislator and the governor. I contacted both of my representatives, my senator, and the governor.

The Governor’s Office received over 20,000 phone calls, letters, and emails in just a few days. The outcry was unprecedented. Apparently, the legislators must have had a similar response. (Who knows exactly, since they don’t release information about their activities?) By the end of this week many of them contacted the governor and said they thought the bill should be rethought.

The Governor vetoed the bill and the legislature did not take a second vote to override. A task force, including the media, will be established to work through another version of the bill within the next nine months. It will apply to the legislature in 2019. (Who knew public records law was so complicated?)

THE MESSAGE TO TAKE TO HEART:

Yes, 20,000 responses are a lot. Yes, it was a larger number of responses than the Governor expected, but consider this: A response of 20,000 people represents less than ½ of one percent of the voters in the State of Washington. The voice of those 20,000, however, was loud, swift, and persistent.

Take heart, women who are pushing for more change. Take heart, young voters who are becoming politically active. Organize, move forward, persist. One voice can be heard when joined with just a few others.

Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution

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. [19th Amendment, U.S. Constitution]

The nineteenth amendment to our Constitution is terse and straightforward. The language adopted on August 18, 1920 does not grant rights. (As the Constitution gives states the right to determine voting qualifications, some states had already granted women the right to vote.) It prohibits the restriction of voting rights based on gender.

The nineteenth amendment to our Constitution is terse and straightforward. The language adopted on August 18, 1920 does not grant rights. (As the Constitution gives states the right to determine voting qualifications, some states had already granted women the right to vote.) It prohibits the restriction of voting rights based on gender.

Its necessity was required because of a Supreme Court ruling, Minor v. Happersett, in 1875. The Court agreed that women were granted citizenship under the Constitution but denied that all citizens, in this case women, could be assumed to have the right to vote simply by virtue of their citizenship.

Throughout the history of our country, some women had been outspoken about women’s rights. When the Constitution was under consideration, Abigail Adams petitioned her husband John to include rights for women in the document, but her words fell on fallow ground. The Constitution left the decisions about which citizens were eligible to vote to the states and all but New Jersey, denied that right to a women. (New Jersey later revoked that privilege in 1807.)

SUFFRAGISTS-1In June 1848, the Liberty Party, even though it was all male, wrote a plank in their presidential campaign platform, calling for women’s suffrage. One month later, at a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, women demanded suffrage.

Perhaps Francis Minor, a suffrage leader in Missouri, was growing impatient when she attempted to register to vote on October 15, 1872. Turned away because she was a woman, she engaged her favorite lawyer, her husband, Francis Minor, to bring action against the local county. He argued that the Constitution assured the right to vote when it granted women citizenship. The courts, up to and including the Supreme Court, found fault with this logic and denied a woman’s right to participate in democracy.

By this time women’s suffrage leaders were popping up like iris in springtime and, as independent-minded souls moved West, the early territories, and later states, were early adopters of voting rights for women. Both Wyoming Territory and Utah had granted women the right to vote before Minor v. Happersett (Wyoming in 1869 and Utah in 1870). Organization at state and national levels began to make inroads. In 1878, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted the nineteenth amendment. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Washington Territory granted women (including black women) the right to vote in 1881. Colorado and California followed in 1893 and Idaho in 1896. Oregon approved suffrage for women in 1912, after defeating the measure five times.

Susan B. Anthony’s amendment was submitted to Congress repeatedly over the forty-one years it took for Congress to submit the amendment to the states for ratification. Even then it might not have been approved if President Wilson had not strong-armed Congress and called a special session to consider suffrage. Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan, all sitting in session, ratified the amendment within days. Tennessee was the last state to approve the amendment when 50 of its 99 representatives voted yes.

After the amendment passed, the remaining twelve states voted to ratify the amendment but eight Southern states did not do so until 1952 or later. Mississippi was the last state to ratify the amendment—in 1984.