On the centennial of passage of the 19th Amendment, Donald Trump, with much fanfare, pardoned Susan B. Anthony, who died in 1906, for her crime of voting.
No thanks, say the caretakers of her legacy.
“If one wants to honor Susan B. Anthony today, a clear stance against any form of voter suppression would be welcome,” Deborah L. Hughes, president and CEO of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House in Rochester, said. “Enforcement and expansion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be celebrated, we must assure that states respect the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Support for the Equal Rights Amendment would be well-received. Advocacy for human rights for all would be splendid. Anthony was also a strong proponent of sex education, fair labor practices, excellent public education, equal pay for equal work, and elimination of all forms of discrimination.”
With 62 percent of women voters saying they are “unlikely” to vote for Trump, women (more than 50 percent of the electorate) will likely determine the outcome of this election.
But just as the coronavirus pandemic is exposing in cruel detail the systemic racial inequalities in health care, jobs, education and housing, it is also exposing the continued systemic gender inequity – women are disproportionately the health care workers, the caretakers, the educators, the postal workers, the essential workers who can’t just Zoom in but are on the front lines. They are also disproportionately among the unemployed, facing eviction and hunger, and desperate to keep their children and parents safe.
Yes, this election is the election of a lifetime, but voters, particularly women voters in this Centennial of Women’s Suffrage, face particular barriers.
There is a need more than ever for mail-in-voting, but consider this: 550,000 absentee ballots were rejected in the presidential primaries, according to an NPR analysis. “That’s far more than the 318,728 ballots rejected in the 2016 general election and has raised alarms about what might happen in November when tens of millions of more voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail, many for the first time,” it said.
Key reasons for rejection include missing signature, late arrival (an issue relating to the sabotage of the US Postal Service), but also in cases where signatures don’t match what’s on record. This particularly impacts women who may well change their names with marriage or divorce. Names are hyphenated or not, maiden names attached to married names or not. I forgot if I registered with my middle initial or not, should I be afraid to do an absentee ballot?
How many of those 550,000 were women, whose signatures were rejected?
Here in New York state, which had been one of the worst in terms of voter turnout because of obstacles to voting and extraordinary limits on absentee voting, we have made great gains in improving access (such as early voting) and now to accommodate the real public health concerns of COVID-19 with expanded absentee voting. But the clogged primary, which resulted in several elections taking weeks to be decided, was the test and wake-up call. Thankfully, improvements have been made for the general election.
Gov. Cuomo has signed election reforms allowing absentee ballot applications to be submitted to the Board of Elections immediately, enabling voters to get an absentee ballot due to risk or fear of illness including COVID-19 and ensuring all absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day or received by the Board of Elections without a postmark on the day after the Election will be counted. Ballots with a postmark demonstrating that they were mailed on or before Election Day will be counted if received by Nov. 10.
Also, by executive order, county boards of elections are required to:
1. Send a mailing outlining all deadlines for voters by Tuesday, Sept. 8.
2. Send staffing plans and needs to the New York State Board of Elections by Sept. 20 so BOE can assist in ensuring adequate coverage.
3. Adopt a uniform clarified envelope for absentee ballots and require counties to use it.
4. Count votes faster: require all objections to be made by the county board in real time, make sure that boards are ready to count votes and reconcile affidavit and absentee ballots by 48 hours after elections.
5. Provide an option for New Yorkers to vote absentee in village, town and special district elections.
All boards of elections should be making sure they have everything in place, the staff in place, to count the ballots as soon as possible, Cuomo said. “You have to be able to tabulate the vote. We want it done and we want it done right, but we want it done timely. We don’t want to hear after-the-fact excuses for why you couldn’t do it.”
He added, “This election is going to be one of the most critical in modern history. It will be controversial. You already hear the statements questioning the vote, and the accuracy of the vote, and mail-in ballots. We want to make sure that every vote is counted; every voice is heard and that it’s fair and right and accurate.”
What else needs to be done? Absentee ballots must be able to be tracked in the process, the voter should receive a text or email confirming receipt, and if rejected for any reason, the ballot returned to give the voter the opportunity to fix the error.
This nation should have already had a woman president. This year, the centennial of Women’s Suffrage, there is the chance to elect our first female vice president.
And if we did have women in appropriate numbers in positions of power, you bet we would solve the biggest issues facing society: public education, childcare and universal pre-K, universal health care, Social Security and Medicare, climate change, gun violence prevention, criminal justice, reproductive rights, immigration reform, pay equity. The list goes on.