Celebrating Women’s Suffrage Brings Another Election Issue to Light

Next week marks the 90th anniversary of the American woman’s right to vote. Since the passage of the 19th amendment, women have generally been more likely to turn out to vote than men. However there is one area of federal election law that some states undermine, which disproportionately disadvantages  women, particularly low income citizens and minorities.

“Voter turnout rates for women have equaled or exceeded voter turnout rates for men,” the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network blogged Wednesday. Voter registration rates are similarly higher among women as well, with 73 percent of voting-eligible women registered to vote in 2008, two percentage points above the national average. But, access to voter registration (and thus, the ballot) may be more difficult for low-income women. 

In a recent op-ed at Alternet, Project Vote’s Estelle Rogers discusses the Justice Department’s newfound focus on enforcing the National Voter Registration Act, which, among its many provisions, provides voter registration to citizens who apply for public assistance. Unfortunately, this area of federal law is often ignored, leaving hundreds of thousands of historically underrepresented, potential voters out of the electorate.

“It is important to remember whom we are talking about when we discuss low-income voters,” wrote Rogers. “Nearly two-thirds are women—often single parents—according to U.S. Census reports. Many are people of color, coming from a variety of minority communities.”

Unmarried women are less likely to be registered to vote. In 2008, only 69 percent of unmarried, voting-eligible women were registered to vote, two percentage points below the national average (and four percentage points below the average of all American women). African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latinos also registered to vote at rates as high as 19 percentage points behind their overrepresented white counterparts. And citizens earning less than $25,000 per year were the least likely to be registered to vote at just 65 percent.

However, “…in 2008, this often-overlooked electoral block registered and voted at record rates compared to past presidential elections. In other words, these eligible voters will turn out and vote if given the opportunity to do so.”

Project Vote and partners suggest that hundreds of thousands of applications submitted at public assistance agencies will result in greater turnout in 2010 by low-income voters, “a historically under-represented cohort.” This should dramatically boost participation among low-income women in Missouri and Ohio, where litigation brought by Project Vote and partners have forced state agencies into compliance with the NVRA.

Ninety years after suffrage, the voices of hundreds of thousands of low-income women are still missed at the voting booth. Bringing every state into compliance with the NVRA will help ensure that every woman’s vote, no matter her financial status, is counted.

Tags: low income, National Voter Registration Act, suffrage, Voting Rights, Women (all tags)

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