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Suffrage is 100
Gibbs

GAYS MILLS - In 1984, my grandmother, Maude Gibbs, turned 90.  I couldn’t attend her birthday celebration in California at the time but I wrote her a three-page letter to honor the occasion. My dad read the letter to the group at her party. 

In the letter I listed many of the major changes she had witnessed since her birth in 1894. One of those changes, and a tectonic one, was when women got the right to vote in 1919. Grandma proudly cast her first vote in the national election of 1920 at the age of 26.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution is what was passed to enable HALF THE POPULATION to exercise the basic right of voting. That occurred on June 10, 1919.  We can be proud to know that Wisconsin was the very first state to ratify the 19th Amendment.  That is part of our history, and the reason we have been known as a progressive state.

Suffrage is kind of a strange word.  You don’t hear it much.  It simply means the right to vote.  A synonym is: franchise. 

I don’t know much about the fight for the rights of women’s voting, but I’d like to learn about it. It is a long, drawn out, and dramatic story. One thing I have found out is that there were suffragists, those who supported women getting the vote, and suffragettes, those women who worked, sometimes militantly, to get the vote.

 

So here we are 100 years on. The many observations of the anniversary of women achieving suffrage makes me think of our system of government. What other battles are going on concerning the basic act of a democratic society: voting? 

We are about to be inundated with another presidential election. The campaigns will be long; the scramble for votes will be intense. One disturbing fact about American elections is just how few people usually exercise the important right of voting. The electorate does seem to be fired up this go round so maybe this time it will be different. Voting matters.

The technology of voting has become a problem. Hacking into computer systems to alter vote totals is a real possibility.  Foreign influence in campaigning is a known fact, is difficult to control, and promises to remain a problem.

Gerrymandering, that process of establishing a voting district to favor a particular party is still with us.  Massachusetts Governor Eldridge Gerry signed a bill (in 1812!) to create a partisan district in Boston that was in the unlikely shape of a salamander. The practice is still a problem and as the pundits say, the candidates pick their voters instead of the other way around.  Several court cases are wrestling with this problem, 207 years since it first appeared.  Iowa has a districting system that is a model of simplicity, fairness, and logic.  More states should emulate it.

Various other problems with voting include voter registration, voter fraud, early voting, absentee ballots, and voter ID requirements. Our “mature” democracy still has some concerns about voting to iron out.