Earlier this month the Jackson County Board of Commissioners declared 2020 a year of celebration in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
At least, most women; Native Americans didn’t gain citizenship until 1924 and it wasn’t until 1962 that the right to vote was secured in all states. For African-American women, equal access to the ballot didn’t arrive until the 1960s.
Still, the 19th Amendment is well worth celebrating, particularly in Jackson County, home of the groundbreaking Gertrude Dills McKee, the first woman elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1930.
The movement to grant women the right to vote moved in fits and starts in locales across the country before the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920. The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention is generally recognized as the start of the nationwide suffrage movement.
Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote – actually making the move when it was still a territory in 1869. In 1889 it wrote suffrage into its new state constitution. Colorado was the first state to modify its constitution to allow women to exercise the voting franchise in 1893. Utah and Idaho followed shortly thereafter, Washington in 1910, California in 1911, and about a dozen other states prior to the adoption of the 19th Amendment.
The 19th Amendment is well worth celebrating not just because it represents basic fairness to U.S. citizens, but also because it is a right that is being utilized.
That wasn’t always the case. The first nationwide elections, in 1920 and 1924, that followed the amendment’s passage saw appallingly low turnouts because women had yet to develop voting habits.
That has changed, and that change is evidently permanent. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, in every election since 1964 women have voted in greater numbers than men. Women also vote at higher rates, a trend that has held since 1980 and appears to be widening. In 2016, 63.3 percent of eligible women voted, compared to 59.3 percent of eligible men. In raw numbers, nearly 10 million more women than men cast ballots in 2016.
In Jackson County, as of Jan. 11, 14,035 women were registered to vote, compared to 12,136 men. (The estimated female share of county population stands at about 51 percent, according to Census estimates).
A right that isn’t exercised is pointless, and we’re glad to see women leading the way when it comes to voting.
Having said that, we’ll say this: In the 2016 presidential election, there were 231,556,622 eligible voters.
Hillary Clinton gained the votes of 25.6 percent of that pool, Donald Trump 25.5 percent and Gary Johnson 1.7 percent.
Nearly 47 percent of eligible voters didn’t bother to show up.
So yes, let’s celebrate a century of half the population gaining the right to vote.
But let’s recognize there’s a lot of work to be done on the half – men and women – of the population that are disenfranchising themselves.