The UConn Womxn Law Students’ Association hosted a roundtable panel entitled “Womxn Empowering Womxn: The 19th Amendment and the Right to Vote” to discuss the historical background of women gaining the right to vote, why this vote is important and the powerful political implications surrounding it.
The panelists included Toni Boucher, former state senator from the 26th Senatorial District, Jillian Gilchrest, state representative from the 18th District of West Hartford and Willajeanne McLean, distinguished professor of law at UConn Law School. Each panelist shared their own personal experiences with voting and why women being granted the right to vote is important to them.
The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress on June 1, 1919 and ratified on August 18, 1920. This amendment granted women the right to vote and was a pivotal moment in history because it introduced a new era in which women had a voice in politics.
This led to a government that was on a path to being more representative of the entire population’s views and ideas, not just those of white men. It is important to note that while white women were able to exercise their right to vote, barriers remained in place that prohibited black women from voting, and it would take many years before voting was an entirely equal and fair process.
“I remember seeing signs for white only and color only. So, the act of going to vote was a statement and I had parents who instilled in me that my forebears were more than likely not able to vote and that I should never take it for granted,” McLean said.
McLean shared how the act of voting is a deeply personal issue for her. Every time she goes to the polls, she is reminded that her vote stands for everyone who came before her who wasn’t as fortunate to have this privilege.
“Every time I go to vote I am reminded that I am voting for everyone who couldn’t,” McLean said. “It is a way of giving voice to the things I believe in.”
For Boucher, who immigrated to the United States when she was five years old and couldn’t speak any English, voting was always seen as an important duty in her family. After becoming naturalized citizens, her father never missed an election. This sparked her eagerness to become politically aware throughout high school and led her to embark on a career in public office that allows her to use her own political voice to advocate for those who are unable to advocate for themselves.
“Go further in making sure that women don’t take these rights for granted and utilize that power effectively for a vote,” Boucher said.
It is easy to overlook history and take having the right to vote for granted, and, according to Boucher, many people either forget to vote or just don’t think that it is important. As a seasoned politician, Boucher does her part in spreading awareness about voting by hosting coffee hours, publishing op-eds and putting signs up on her lawn. By engaging with politics and encouraging others to do the same, she is doing her part to hopefully increase voter turnout in her district.
All three panelists also stressed the importance of not only voting in presidential elections, but also making sure to vote in local elections and urging other members of your community do the same.
“It’s easy to vote nationally because all of the attention is focused on that”“
“It’s easy to vote nationally because all of the attention is focused on that,” Boucher said.
There is plenty of media attention surrounding presidential elections, but, according to Boucher, what happens in your own state and in your own district is going to have a much bigger effect on your daily life. Because of this, it is vital that eligible voters do their research and vote in local elections.
Gilchrest, who is currently running for office, emphasized Boucher’s statement and shared how she weaves voting into conversations with friends and families as a way to make everyone aware of how important their vote is and that their voice counts, especially in local politics.
If you are someone who is unsure of which candidate to vote for, she recommends checking out sites like Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan digital encyclopedia with information about local candidates, or your local Democratic and Republican Town Committee websites and Facebook pages.
It is easy to disregard the importance of having the right to vote, but it was only 100 years ago that women were denied this basic human right. We are lucky to be living in a time where women are actively involved in politics and hold many important seats, but there is still more progress to be made.
“Kids who are growing up now aren’t going to find it surprising that there is a woman on the vice-presidential ticket or the presidential slot…I think this is really great,” McLean said. “When you see it, you can imagine it for yourself.”
Having women in important government positions allows younger generations of girls to see that their opportunities are limitless. Although she recognizes that change takes time, Gilchrest said that she will not be satisfied until there is equal representation in all branches of government on the local, state and national levels.
“Women bring a different way of leading and engaging each other. We also see that different policies are passed”
“Women bring a different way of leading and engaging each other. We also see that different policies are passed,” Gilchrest said.
The landmark passage of the 19th Amendment introduced a new era in the political history of the country in which women now had a voice in political decisions. Fast forward 100 years, and now there is a woman on the vice presidential ticket. The country has come a long way in evening out the playing field and it is important to remember the strong, resilient women that came before you and fought tirelessly for a better life for future generations of women.
“I think in remembering the sacrifice of others…encourages us to not stand by the sidelines because there are still people who are disenfranchised. Until everyone has the right to vote I don’t think we can be complacent. We can’t be silent,” McLean said.
With important local elections and a presidential election on the horizon, voting is your way of using your political voice to have a say in the people that represent you. Visit your local Registrar of Voters to register to vote or check your voter registration status.