How Voter Suppression Stifles Women’s Right To Vote

Voter suppression is a women's issue: From marital name changes to domestic violence, women experience unique hurdles when trying to exercise their right to vote.
Hazel Hunkines Hallinnan, one of the original suffragists, rests after marching with supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue. Thousands of women participated in the march which coincided with the 57th anniversary of women’s suffrage – August 26, 1977 (AP File Photo)

Hazel Hunkines Hallinnan, one of the original suffragists, rests after marching with supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue. Thousands of women participated in the march which coincided with the 57th anniversary of women’s suffrage – August 26, 1977 (AP File Photo)

If you want to get involved in fighting voter suppression, visit AWP’s website and get involved in Voter Empowerment Day on September 25!

More women are running for office in 2018 than ever before. If we want them to win in November, we need women to vote in greater numbers than ever before. And that will demand that we fight voter suppression laws, many of which target women. As with many political issues, women are consistently left out of the voter suppression discussion. A quick Google search of voter suppression will bring up many articles, but almost none mention the effect on women. Statistics on voter suppression during the 2016 election focus on race—but don’t include gender as a factor. We won’t know the true number of women that are prevented from voting until studies focus specifically on how voter suppression impacts women. Since we comprise just over half the voting population, it’s time to pay attention to the ways our votes are disenfranchised.

According to a new Pew Research Center study, 56 percent of women lean Democratic (as opposed to 44 percent of men) while only 37 percent lean Republican. The 2016 presidential election saw the biggest gender divide in a half-century with Hillary Clinton winning the women’s vote by 12 points—she lost by the same 12-point margin. Black women are the strongest voting faction of the Democratic Party, with a whopping 94 percent pulling the lever for Hillary. These statistics are meaningful. However, they only measure the votes of people who were able to vote.

Voter ID Laws

Up to 33 percent of women don’t have the proper documentation to get an ID to vote. This 33% includes women of all races and incomes. While this stat is powerful, it only measures the number of women lacking documentation rather than how many women actually have their vote suppressed. Many states require original documents proving a name change in order to obtain an ID, and since the vast majority of women change their name when they get married this places a high burden on women voting. As shocking as it sounds, a third of women could be kept from voting as a result of these voter ID laws. Many Americans don’t see a problem with voter ID laws because most of us have driver’s licenses. However, for people who don’t have a car, and for those living far from a DMV, this requirement can place a heavy burden on a person trying to vote.

While voter ID laws suppress the votes of many marginalized groups, the ID requirement places an extra burden on women because over 90 percent of women change their name when they get married. After all, it’s not enough to have a photo ID; they need a photo ID that matches their name on the voter rolls. This is rarely a problem for cis men, but it’s a very common problem for women and trans people (who also often change their names when they transition).  In most states, altering a driver’s license requires original documentation of each name change. This can be quite an obstacle for women who’ve married and divorced multiple times or who move from the state where the original documentation is held. Women are also overrepresented in the group of people making less than $25,000 per year who are more than twice as likely to lack access to documentation proving their citizenship.

Non-Inclusive Voting Processes

Voter ID laws aren’t the only voter suppression tactics that make it hard for women to vote. Since women are more likely to hold low-wage, hourly jobs, it can be harder for them to make it to the polling place during work hours. Since 2013, many states have passed laws limiting early voting, cutting the hours of polling places, or in some cases, closing them all together. Women are also more likely to be caregivers to both children and elderly parents and lack relief caregivers who would allow them to vote. Early voting, more polling places, and an increase in polling hours would make voting easier for everyone and allow more voting options for those with strict schedules. In a similar way, caucuses during primaries may make it more difficult for women and disabled people to vote, because of the extended time and the requirement to stand for long periods.

Domestic Violence

Marie recently left her abusive partner. Her 8 year-long relationship involved coercive control and didn’t get physical until she decided to leave. After leaving her partner held onto her and her children’s birth certificates, social security cards, and other official documentation. Without these forms of documentation, they have no way to register to vote in many states.

Domestic violence is a huge factor in voter suppression that is rarely mentioned. Like Marie, many people in abusive relationships don’t have access to the documents needed to register to vote or obtain a voter ID in some states. When people leave abusive relationships, they are often forced to leave these papers behind. Control of women is also a factor in caucus votes. Women have reported that it was impossible for them to vote freely at a caucus while in a controlling relationship.

Skye from Nebraska said “When I was in a DV relationship I couldn’t caucus, and because I couldn’t caucus I couldn’t vote. I only realized after I was out of the DV situation for 10 years that not only was my vote suppressed but I was denied another one of my rights. Until he nearly killed me and I was free.”

Victims of domestic violence (85% of which are women often are wary about having their address be public, which is a requirement to being on voter rolls. Some states have address confidentiality programs to protect domestic violence victims and allow them to register. However, these programs are not widely publicized, and not all of them are sufficient. There are also eight states with no program at all to protect domestic violence survivors’ privacy while also allowing them to vote. Some states require the DV survivor fill out paperwork again after voting or only remove some of their information from some places. Voting shouldn’t jeopardize a woman’s safety and make her vulnerable to her abuser.

If domestic violence victims are living in a shelter, they might have to use that address to register to vote but, again, many DV shelters keep their addresses confidential. If a woman changes her name while escaping an abuser she will also have to re-register under that new name. It can also be difficult to register to vote if you are forced to constantly move to keep one step ahead of your abuser.

We Can Do Better

As the special elections of the last year and a half have shown us, voter mobilization of the base IS a winning strategy. Also while it’s discouraging that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, women as a whole are moving left. It seems that in the foreseeable future Democrats aren’t going to win the votes of white people as a whole, but they are gaining more votes of upper-middle-class, educated, white women as they did in the 2016 election in which Hillary Clinton won the votes of college-educated white women.

It’s clear that suppressing women’s votes helps Republicans win, but it also silences a political voice that we fought hard to attain. Women’s votes are needed to elect progressive women politicians who prioritize women’s political issues. We have been forced to trust men to legislate on our issues for far too long. With Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation looming to the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade in danger, we need to focus on enfranchising women. New sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh emphasize the need for more women to be empowered in the political process. Gun reform, sexual harassment, workplace equality, family leave, checks on abuse of power within law enforcement, and immigration are all movements led by women that need the support and involvement of women voters. The disenfranchisement of women’s votes must not be ignored any longer.

Women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community all lean Democratic and are all overrepresented in the groups most harmed by voter suppression. Our fight for voter rights must be intersectional. Black women are the strongest force for the Democratic Party and face the most intersecting oppressions blocking their votes. Ending voter ID laws and expanding voting hours and early voting would go a long way to making it easier for women to vote. We also need better programs to ensure domestic violence victims can vote while maintaining their safety. We must work to expand the electorate, not limit it. Voter ID laws that could disenfranchise a third of women voters makes it easy to silence women politically and keep the electorate in the hands of men. In a record year of women running for office, we must also work towards a record number of women voting. In two years for the next presidential election, it will be the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Unfortunately, women’s fight for the vote still isn’t over.

Opinion // Voter Suppression / Voting / Women / Women's Suffrage