Welcome to August! This month we invite you to learn about Women’s Equality Day on August 26th – the date we celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. The day represents the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement led by women and offers an opportunity to reflect on the importance of voting as a sacred right to represent oneself autonomously – a value we share at YWCA Clark County.
Women’s Equality Day also serves as a reminder that equality in words is not the same as equality in practice, as women of color had to work decades longer to garner full equality under the law. Black women in the South, Native American women on reservations, and women living in U.S. territories remained disenfranchised in exercising their right to vote through a variety of tactics often via poll taxes, unscrupulous literacy or English tests, threats of retaliation, and the reality of violence.
However, calls for assistance from the nationally recognized women’s groups, such as the National Women’s Party (NWP), went unheeded. Largely led by white women, these groups declined to join the civil rights movement out of fear that to do so would alienate white Americans and their Southern members. It wasn’t until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned all discriminatory voting laws and provided provisions for government enforcement, that ensured all Black Americans and other marginalized groups the full right to vote. Albeit, to this day, obstacles to voting persist in the form of gerrymandered state voter maps and continued voter suppression.
In 2013, in the case Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states subject to the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act no longer had to get federal approval of new voting rules. Prior to the Shelby decision, states with a proven history of racial animus and discrimination, were required to get any changes in election laws approved by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal district court. This was done to ensure any new laws did not have a detrimental effect on the voting rights of racial, ethnic, or language minorities, with the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, and South Carolina all required to participate. The Shelby decision, however, reversed the preclearance provision, leaving those states to write their own election laws with no federal oversight.
As of July 7, 2023, a total of 74 cases have been filed challenging the subsequently redrawn congressional and legislative maps in 27 states, of which 45 remain pending at either the trial or appellate levels. Allegations against these states are often for “packing and cracking” Black and/or ethnic populations into either one voting district so as to limit their representation, or by splitting them into two districts with the intent to dilute their votes. Since women have registered and voted at higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1980, Women’s Equality Day is an important reminder that we have the power to combat the systemic disempowerment of women and people of color. Please see the sidebar for ways to engage or visit YWCA Clark County’s website: https://ywcaclarkcounty.org/.