2020 is an election year, a year when citizens go to the polls to cast their ballots for who will represent them, their interests, and their communities. This month also marks the 100th anniversary of one of the largest expansions of voting rights in U.S. history – the passage of the nineteenth amendment granting women suffrage, or the right to vote. In February I wrote a blog about the long journey of voting rights in the United States (you can read that one here); today, I want to look more closely at the fight for women’s suffrage specifically.
As an American living overseas, I have often taken advantage of the absentee ballot process – which allows U.S. citizens to vote by mailing in their ballots. Each state determines their own process for this; some allow voting electronically, while others require a paper ballot to be mailed in. So it is critical for Americans abroad to find out exactly what those requirements are early in the year – otherwise our votes might not be counted!
Although I am grateful for the ability to vote by absentee ballot, I prefer to go in person when I can – it is very satisfying to walk into that polling station, alongside other voters, and fulfill your duty as a citizen of a democratic country. In February, I was able to vote in person during the Ohio primary election. We also usually get stickers after we vote, which adds to the fun and helps us remind others it is time to vote! Even after many years of voting, I still get a thrill from being able to exercise my voice on the direction of my community, my state, and my country.
In the United States and in democracies around the world, the right to vote is one of the highest privileges and most important responsibilities enjoyed by citizens. The citizens of Armenia exercised this right and lived up to this responsibility participating in the free and fair elections in 2018 which followed the Velvet Revolution.
However, in many countries around the world the right to vote has not always been guaranteed nor extended to all citizens. Though the right to vote is currently enjoyed by all citizens above the age of eighteen in the United States, this was not always the case. Indeed, at the country’s founding, many were excluded from this form of democratic participation – including women.
For women, the struggle for suffrage was hard fought. While the movement advocating for the right of women to vote started in the early 1800s, it was not until the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first women’s rights convention held in the United States, that the movement really garnered national attention. In the decades that followed the suffrage movement lobbied U.S. states and Congress through peaceful protest, public demonstration, coordinated advocacy, and political pressure to expand voting rights to include women.
In 1920, the movement finally achieved this goal.
To amend the U.S. constitution, an amendment must first be approved by Congress, then ratified, or voted upon favorably, by three fourths of the states. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, putting it past the threshold required for adoption, thereby guaranteeing the right to vote for all women.
First introduced in Congress in 1878 and finally ratified in 1920, the nineteenth amendment to the constitution states: “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.”
This centennial anniversary is a reminder that democracy is a constant work in progress. It is also a chance to reflect on the hard-won responsibilities of citizenship incumbent on all citizens in a democracy – to participate, to use their voice, and perhaps most importantly, to vote.