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Women Won the Right to Vote in 1920...So Why Not Use It?
Daily Press (Newport News, VA), August 15, 2004, p. J1

Too many Virginia women aren't counted

First, some history, Virginia style: Did you know that the U.S. Constitution was amended in 1920 to give women the right to vote, but the Virginia General Assembly did not vote to ratify the women's suffrage amendment until 1952?

Why, you might ask? Virginia's efforts to suppress the rights of women were closely linked to efforts to disenfranchise black voters. A report issued in 1941 concerning Virginia's poll tax and other barriers to voting imposed on black voters by the 1902 Constitution said that "fear of large numbers of Negro women voters" fueled opposition to the women's suffrage amendment that was "decisively rejected" by the General Assembly.

Second, some more recent Virginia facts to put history in a current context:

Virginia women don't register to vote or turn out to vote with the same frequency as women in more than 30 other states.

From 1992 to 1996, Virginia ranked 36th out of 50 states in the number of women registered to vote (fifth out of nine in the South Atlantic Region) and 33rd out of 50 states in women's voter turnout (third out of nine in the region).

Why, you might ask again? Perhaps it is because Virginia remains a state in which it is more difficult to cast a ballot than in many others. While other states have encouraged initiatives designed to make it easier to vote, including voting by mail, "no excuse" absentee voting and early voting, Virginia has resisted efforts to make voting more accessible. For example, in 1999, former Gov. Jim Gilmore vetoed legislation that would have allowed anyone to cast an absentee ballot for any reason. Virginia continues to require voters to have one of nine specific reasons to vote absentee. Unfortunately, none of those reasons is: I am a woman with a full-time job and full-time family responsibilities who finds it difficult to get to the polls.

Now, take a look at some interesting recent research about voting and views of young women and unmarried women.

First -- according to a study by Women's Voices. Women Vote. -- if unmarried women had voted at the same rate as married women in 2000, there would have been 6 million more voters. Add to this that these potential voters are economic populists and social progressives who actually think that government can be a positive force for change. A close election could have turned into a landslide if candidates had worked to connect with and drive these voters to the polls.

Second, last month Rock the Vote and Lifetime TV released the results of a joint study of 1,000 women and 1,000 men that found a disconnect between the issues women voters (and, particularly, young women voters) care about and what the candidates are talking about. According to the press release announcing the results:

"Roughly nine of 10 undecided women (nearly one-third of those surveyed) said that a candidate's stance on equal pay (90 percent), preventing violence and sexual assault (89 percent), women's health issues (88 percent) would influence their vote. More than eight out of 10 cited access to child care (84 percent) and balancing work and family (82 percent) as issues that would greatly or somewhat impact their vote."

Note, please, not a single reference to choice or guns here.

Note, also, that fewer than one in 10 women said that they'd heard a "great deal" about these issues from the candidates or in the media.

What, then, is the prescription for action?

Women have decided every presidential election since 1980. According to Women's Voices. Women Vote., unmarried women now make up about 20 percent of the electorate nationally -- more than NASCAR dads (6 percent) and as large a share as Latino, African-American and Jewish voters combined.

Maybe Democrats should stop wringing their hands about whether their party and their candidates appeal to NASCAR dads and tax-phobic men over 55 and worry more about connecting with, registering and turning out women (and minority) voters in Virginia.

We can't make it easier to vote in Virginia before the 2004 elections, but we can certainly make women voters more passionate about registering and voting.

Women are listening. All we need to create the emotional spark -- the "torque," as I call it -- that helps drive women voters to the polls, is for our candidates to speak loudly, and with authenticity and concern, about the everyday issues of concern to women highlighted in the Rock the Vote/Lifetime poll: equal pay, preventing violence against women, caregiver issues, work/life balance, women's health. Issues that appeal to the sandwich generation and Gen-X alike. Issues that appeal to real women with real lives. (end)

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