In the middle of the blazing summer of 1848, more than 300 people gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, for the nation’s very first women’s rights conference. By the end of that convention, the participants would vote on 11 women’s rights resolutions, including the affirmation that women in the United States of America should have the right to vote. (Notably, it was the only resolution that did not pass unanimously.)
But despite making proclamations that would impact American women as a collective — and the diverse coalition of women who made up the suffrage movement — the only Black American at Seneca Falls was Frederick Douglass.
Decades later, in August 1920, the United States finally ratified the 19th Amendment, most often remembered in the collective American imagination as the moment when women got the right to vote. But in fact, the 19th was not a guarantee of enfranchisement for all women, but rather a guarantee that states could not bar people from voting due to their sex.
This left ample room for states to suppress and disenfranchise on the basis of wealth and race, and they quickly did through Jim Crow laws, which included poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses. As with the convention at Seneca Falls, Black women, many of whom had fought long and hard for women’s enfranchisement, were largely left behind even as the white-dominated national suffragist organizations moved on.
One hundred years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, we are still grappling with its fractured, incomplete outcomes.
“There’s power in the legacy of the 19th Amendment,” said Amanda Brown Lierman, organizer director at Supermajority, a women’s voting rights organization. “But it’s important to acknowledge that the 19th Amendment did not give the right to vote to all women. In fact, much of the movement at that time excluded and marginalized the voices of Black women in particular. In that space, we still have a long way to go.”
The Long Fight For The Vote
The women’s suffrage movement is most often associated with white figures: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul. And while these women did play a major role in the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment, there were plenty of Black women and other women of color who fought for those rights, too, such as Sojourner Truth and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. And they were ultimately failed by the movement.
Many in the first generation of suffragists were also abolitionists and set aside their goal of enfranchisement for women to help in the fight against slavery during the Civil War. Once the North won, many suffragists believed that all people would be given the right to vote. Instead, suffragists were asked to support the 15th Amendment, which only extended the right to vote to Black men, who died by the thousands in the Civil War.
Stanton and Anthony, along with some other white suffragists, believed that if only one group could get the vote first, it should be white, educated women. To see Black men enfranchised over white women infuriated many white suffragists.
The causes of abolition and women’s suffrage, once compatible, became increasingly at odds with one another.
In the late 19th century, as women were fighting for the right to vote, Southern states were busy disenfranchising Black men using grandfather clauses, literacy tests, polling taxes and violence. The National American Woman Suffrage Association, co-founded by Stanton, Anthony, Catt and Lucy Stone, decided it would be politically expedient to simply exclude Black women. Black women who had once been prominent in the suffrage movement were excluded, with some Southern NAWSA chapters refusing Black members altogether. By 1896, Black suffragists including Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Harriet Tubman formed the National Association of Colored Women.
Some white suffragists were actively hostile to Black voting rights, while others were not overtly racist but still comfortable with excluding Black women when it was politically expedient to do so, said Corrine M. McConnaughy, political scientist and author of “The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment.”
“To point to their choices and stress the need to understand them isn’t to single out the activists, but to foreground how deeply race structured the political system and how much that mattered to the prospects for a truly broad and integrated women’s movement,” McConnaughy said.
By 1913, the second generation of suffragists had arrived, in coalition with the labor movement. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns formed the National Woman’s Party, organizing a parade of 5,000 to 10,000 marchers down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. While there was a smattering of Black suffragists at the parade, including members of a Howard University sorority, marchers were primarily white women. Wells-Barnett, who was already famous at the time for her work in anti-lynching and women’s suffrage, was asked to march with a contingent in the back because she was Black.
In the years that followed, Paul began introducing some of the more militant tactics practiced by the British suffragists earlier in the century. She and other suffragists were arrested after picketing at the White House for months, and they went on a hunger strike while imprisoned. The tide for suffrage turned when a referendum on women’s right to vote passed in 1917 in New York, the most populous state in the country at the time. Black women’s clubs and the NAACP organized around the push and were integral in the passage of the referendum.
Southern politicians were terrified of Black women becoming enfranchised, with one Mississippi senator reportedly saying, “That will be the end of white supremacy if Black women get the vote.” Although some Southern lawmakers pushed to edit the amendment to only include white women, Black women’s organizations, specifically the Northeastern Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, ensured that this modification never came to fruition.
The bad press that swirled around the treatment of suffragists in prison, as well as women’s essential roles in World War I, finally forced President Woodrow Wilson’s hand to support women’s suffrage. After being pushed through the House, the Senate and 36 states, the amendment — originally introduced to Congress in 1878 — was finally passed, becoming the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on Aug. 18, 1920.
Fulfilling The Promise Of The 19th Amendment
In some respects, it’s miraculous to think about the fact that just a century ago, women could be barred from voting on the basis of their gender.
Over the last 100 years, women went from being predominantly disenfranchised to becoming more than half of the electorate. Black women became the nation’s most consistent voters. Women are running — and winning — races at every level of our government. In the last federal election, there was a female nominee of a major party for president of the United States. This time around, there is a Black and South Asian woman on the Democratic ticket. There is a female speaker of the House. The arguably brightest rising star in Congress is a woman. Just last month, women united on the House floor to call out a culture that labels women “bitches” for daring to take up space at all.
Gender is still a very real barrier for women seeking power in this country — see: every sexist attack made against Hillary Clinton in 2016 — but there are indeed women seeking that power, and winning it. But these wins also serve to remind us who has continued to be left behind.
“This moment calls for real, honest reflection so that we can continue to stand on the work that was done and the progress that was made, but also learn from the mistakes,” said Lierman, the organizer director of Supermajority.
Nearly a century after suffragists won the right to vote, many American women are still struggling to cast their ballots.
In Black and brown communities especially, women face barriers to voter registration and early voting access, as well as strict voter ID requirements — legacies of the Jim Crow era. Over 6 million Americans are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, and those in prison are disproportionately people of color.
Many women, especially low-income women, struggle to take time off to get to the polls because Election Day is still not a national holiday, and when they finally arrive, they’re often met with hourslong lines and broken machines. Transgender women and gender-nonconforming people are often turned away at polls because the name or gender marker on their IDs does not match how they present. Immigrant and Indigenous women still face many hurdles before getting to the ballot box.
“All of our rights are bound up together — our broadest pro-democracy coalition is the best one,” said political scientist McConnaughy. “If we each call the work ‘done’ once we have a seat at the table, someone will be ready to start pushing seats back — including our own.”
The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment is not a time for simple celebrations, but for more complicated reckonings and calls to action.
“The overarching legacy [of the 19th Amendment] is the lesson that democracy is always unfinished business that requires broad and concerted effort to maintain and improve,” said McConnaughy.
2020 is the time to continue the project our foremothers started and do better. To that end, HuffPost spoke with nine women across the country who are still fighting to expand the electorate and make our democracy what the rosiest views of the United States imagine it to be.
Jaida A. Hampton, Lexington, Kentucky
WRITTEN BY TARYN FINLEY
Halfway into Jaida A. Hampton’s final semester at the University of Kentucky, three Louisville police officers killed Breonna Taylor in her bed during a no-knock raid. It shook Hampton’s world and mobilized her in the same beat.
“Being a Black woman in Kentucky, living alone, just to know that any moment someone could barge through my door because they feel they have the right to it has my anxiety through the roof,” Hampton said.
She began protesting in the streets a week after Taylor’s death, about two months before her story made national headlines. And on July 14, police arrested Hampton at one of those protests, making her all the more determined to do her part to fight for justice, including at the ballot box.
Hampton and 86 other protesters with the social justice organization Until Freedom held a demonstration in front of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s house, calling for the arrest of Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove, the officers who shot Taylor. Police told the protesters to leave the area or risk arrest; instead, Hampton and the other protesters sat down on Cameron’s lawn, linked arms and chanted “Say her name. Breonna Taylor.”
They continued to chant as police arrested them, during the 20-minute ride to the precinct and throughout the duration of their detainment from 6 p.m. to 11:20 a.m.
Though surrounded by about 21 other protesters in her cell — and officers, many of whom weren’t wearing masks — Hampton felt alone, worrying about her future.
“I was thinking about when you fill out a job application and they ask, have you ever been to jail? Do you have a felony? And I sat there and I thought about that,” she said. “I thought about how I could potentially lose my job and my right to vote.”
Hampton was charged with a felony for intimidating a participant in the legal process and two misdemeanors for disorderly conduct and trespassing. The felony charge was eventually dropped, and Until Freedom created a petition demanding the same for all charges against the protesters.
The entire experience was traumatizing and dehumanizing. The arrested protesters were “being treated like a criminal in a sense for what we believed in,” Hampton said. But she said the other protesters locked up with her formed an even tighter community in their cells.
Though Hampton has been socially aware since Chicago police killed Laquan McDonald in her hometown in 2014, that night helped further motivate Hampton to pivot from focusing on sports entertainment law to civil and criminal law. Taylor’s killing was an unfortunate reminder that Black women are not protected in the U.S., Hampton said.
“The fight became super personal,” Hampton said. “We’ve seen justice get served, or even if it’s just a little bit of justice, get served for males. But when it comes down to women, it’s much harder.”
She recognizes that Black women face injustice in nearly every other area, including voting and the whitewashed legacy of the 19th Amendment and women’s suffrage. Hampton knew about the voting rights work done by the founders of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, as well as the racism they faced while marching in the back of the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession. But she had no idea how much other history was left out of her textbooks — such as Ida B. Wells’ and Sojourner Truth’s work for women’s voting rights — until she served as a legislative fellow for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and visited a women’s museum in 2019.
For Hampton, in an ideal world, the cops who killed Taylor would be fired, arrested and charged — two of them are still with the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department — and more Black women would be leading this country. “No one can lead like a Black woman, to be honest,” she said.
She knows there’s still much work to be done. So she’s working to register others to vote while educating her community on issues and the power of Black women’s vote.
“Our political participation is known for being powerful and a necessary survival strategy. But it’s not just for us as Black women. ... It’s also for our future children and our loved ones and the generations to come after us,” Hampton said. “I look at Tiffany Dena Loftin, Tamika Mallory, Michelle Obama, Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisholm. So continuing building each other up as Black women and being seen as the leaders that we are [is important].”
“As a young Black woman, seeing the ways the U.S. government has [historically] tried to keep me from voting, it just shows you how much power there is in voting.”
AMIRA TRIPP FOLSOM, PORTLAND, OREGON
Amira Tripp Folsom, Portland, Oregon
WRITTEN BY EMMA GRAY
Two months after Amira Tripp Folsom entered high school, Donald Trump was elected.
The now 18-year-old, who was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, was just beginning young adulthood in 2016. The only president she had ever been cognizant of was former President Barack Obama, so seeing the political pendulum swing so severely in the other direction shook her.
“I was just like, there’s no way they’re going to let that happen,” said Folsom, “and then you get to Election Day. I felt really let down by the people who could vote and were supposed to be making decisions that would affect my life, too.”
The experience also made her determined to use her own vote wisely. “I was just like, OK, if I’m going to have any say in this, this cannot happen again,” she said.
Four years later, in the midst of a global pandemic, Folsom does have a say, and has spent the last few years advocating to widen the pool of young people who are allowed that say — first through the youth leadership organization Next Up Oregon, and now as a member of the Youth Advisory Board of Vote16, a national campaign that supports local efforts to expand voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds at the state and local level. (This has already happened in places like Takoma Park, Maryland.) She is passionate about creating a generation of “active and engaged and informed” voters and sees voting as a habit that needs to be established early.
“Young people consistently have not shown up to vote the same way that older age groups have,” said Folsom. “And it’s not really the fault of young people because [it’s] not something that we’re trained to do. When you lower the voting age to 16, it really helps young people build the habit of voting, because voting and being civically engaged is a muscle that needs to be exercised.”
Folsom sees her work as part of a long legacy of women of color fighting to expand the electorate. She used to find personal meaning in reading about suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But as she’s delved more into the history of the suffrage movement in America, she’s felt increasingly like many of the most famous white suffragists weren’t actually fighting for women like her.
“How can you take pride in something that still actively held other women down?” she asked. “Within the women’s suffrage movement, there was a lot of racism and exclusion. So I think that while they did make positive change, I don’t think they necessarily made positive change for me in particular.”
She sees echoes of the unsteady, uneven coalition between Black suffragists and white suffragists in the often unsteady, uneven coalitions between Black and white women today. Folsom believes that time and time again, white women have ultimately opted to “choose their whiteness over their womanhood” — as demonstrated by the oft-quoted percentage of white female voters who voted for Trump over fellow white woman Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“White women don’t necessarily show up for Black women and other women of color the way Black women and other women of color show up for them,” Folsom said
Folsom hopes that white women will recognize the privilege that they hold and use it wisely by fighting against voter ID laws, felon disenfranchisement and voter suppression and disenfranchisement in Native American communities.
Folsom plans to continue her work with Vote16 and to (somewhat unenthusiastically) vote for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden come November. She’ll be thinking not just about who is going to fill the role of president, but about how that person will address the global pandemic, who could be appointed to the Supreme Court, and who might be appointed to the Cabinet and voted into Congress.
“I’m just trying to think about the future of this country,” said Folsom. “As a young Black woman, seeing the ways the U.S. government has [historically] tried to keep me from voting, it just shows you how much power there is in voting. And I need people to understand that’s not something that you should just relinquish.”
Tara Benally, San Juan County, Utah
WRITTEN BY BROOKLYN WAYLAND
Tara Benally, who is of Hopi and Navajo descent, spent part of her childhood living in the Navajo Nation, where she fetched water from the nearest spring, burned lamp oil to do her homework and learned the traditional Navajo ways from her grandmother. She spent the rest of her time away from the reservation, where she saw the gaps between what people outside reservations could access and what was available to those inside.
Benally’s upbringing taught her to love and want to support her community. As her grandmother reminded her daily, “We need to make something happen; we need to build homes here for other families and for our kids; we have to make a change.”
After college, Benally moved back to the Navajo Nation and helped build homes for people in the community, but she soon saw that much more needed to be done. She got involved in legal assistance and advocacy. And though she never expected to be involved in politics, she eventually turned her focus to ensuring that Native people are able to exercise their right to vote as field director for the Rural Utah and Rural Arizona Project.
Encouraging members of her community to vote isn’t always easy, particularly because it’s not a typical cultural practice for many. The tribe’s political system places individuals in power out of respect for their knowledge, not based on votes. Plus, the U.S. government has excluded tribal members from its voting systems in one form or another for generations.
Although the 19th Amendment granted American women the right to vote in 1920, Native Americans weren’t granted U.S. citizenship until four years later, and their struggle for voting rights has taken much longer than that. For years, many states would still not recognize them as U.S. citizens. The last state to guarantee voting rights to Native Americans was Utah, in 1962. After years of poll taxes, intimidation and literacy tests kept Native Americans from voting, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped solidify their right to vote.
But many Native Americans are still unable to access that right because of language barriers, lack of access to transportation, and address requirements that disqualify Native Americans on reservations who may not have a “proper” address to list when they register to vote. Many polling stations do not have interpreters for Indigenous languages.
Benally focuses on voter registration in Native communities and provides education on the election process. In 2018, her program was able to register 1,600 members of the Navajo Nation to vote in a San Juan County special election, enabling two Navajo citizens to gain commission seats.
“We may be oppressed in so many different areas, but we are still a rich nation, we are still a very proud nation,” Benally said of the Navajo Nation.
She’s proud of her work, which she sees as part of a long line of strong and outspoken women in her family.
“It is empowering to me as a woman that I can look back and honestly say we are really making a change for the people,” Benally said. “We have heard our people’s cries; we have heard our people’s stories, wants and needs to make this nation the great nation it was before the western movement.”
“There’s still work to do. And there’s an enormous amount of responsibility on me to answer the call.”
TEQUILA JOHNSON, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
Tequila Johnson, Nashville, Tennessee
WRITTEN BY JENAVIEVE HATCH
For the last five years, Tequila Johnson has worked to reach out to Black voters in Tennessee, a state with such a history of voter suppression that it was one of the five worst states for voter turnout in the last four presidential elections, with even lower turnout rates for midterms.
Johnson’s entry into politics in 2015 came after a lifetime of experiences with systemic injustice and a period of personal upheaval and exhaustion. She was the new mother of a 4-week-old daughter, and her baby’s father was going through parole issues after being incarcerated. She had just finished her master’s degree and was sitting on six figures of student loan debt. She’d experienced police violence in high school, and her father had been incarcerated.
“I had almost grown immune to injustice. It started to feel like this is just the way of life for Black people,” Johnson said. “It just felt like no matter how hard I work, or how deep I tried to dig myself out of this hole, more dirt was being put on my head. And that really opened my eyes, because I realized at that moment that … a lot of the social ills that plague my community, and my family, and me personally, were symptoms of a larger system that was being controlled by the few, but impacting the many.”
Johnson began to participate in local politics by going to Nashville City Council and school board meetings, as well as setting up meetings with state legislators to talk about educational disparities in her community. Through that work, what stood out to Johnson was how Black people and poor people, who were most affected by legislation, were also the ones who were “so apathetic to the system” that they didn’t even want to participate in it.
That’s why she co-founded The Equity Alliance, an organization centered on involving Black Tennesseeans in the democratic process, in 2016. She now serves as co-executive director.
The organization is up against major challenges. Voter suppression has long been a part of legalized discrimination in Tennessee — the 15th Amendment was only formally ratified there in 1997. Currently, 21% of Black people in Tennessee have lost the right to vote via the state’s voter disenfranchisement law.
As recently as last year, Republican lawmakers in the state passed another voter suppression bill — essentially forcing extreme regulations and burdens on grassroots organizations conducting voter drives in underrepresented communities. The bill came after The Equity Alliance, in conjunction with the Tennessee Black Voter Project, registered nearly 90,000 people of color in 2018, shattering their initial goal of 35,000.
In response to the 2019 voter suppression bill, The Equity Alliance launched the Aye-for-an-Aye campaign and a statewide listening tour, pledging to register 100 voters for every “Aye” the voter suppression bill received. The goal was to register at least 7,200 new voters; Johnson said the group surpassed it by an extra 8,000 or so.
“When you talk about social justice and liberation, we have this notion to come from a place of trauma,” Johnson told HuffPost. “I wanted to build something that wasn’t rooted in trauma, rooted in negativity … The Equity Alliance is built around the world we want people to have access to — not necessarily what we are fighting against, but what we’re fighting for.”
As 2020 marks a century since women gained the right to vote, Johnson credits the Black women who came before her for inspiring her fight to get Black Tennesseans engaged in the democratic process.
“The 19th Amendment was awesome, but it did not grant Black women the right to vote,” Johnson said. “Even though we fought on the front lines of that movement, even though our ancestors were chastised and were essentially ridiculed by that movement … that is a testament to our strength.”
“There’s still work to do,” she said. “And there’s an enormous amount of responsibility on me to answer the call.”
Diana Colín, Los Angeles County, California
WRITTEN BY BROOKLYN WAYLAND
As a high school student, Diana Colín remembers darting from hallway to hallway and in and out of the quad, trying desperately to avoid her high school counselor. The counselor was trying to help her apply for financial aid and had asked for Colín’s Social Security number. As an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 2, Colín didn’t have one.
Twelve years later, Colín found herself in those same school hallways. But this time she walked confidently with a ballot in her hand, waiting to cast her vote in the 2020 presidential primary as a U.S. citizen.
Colín gained citizenship in 2017 and voted for the first time the following year. She and her sister, who had just turned 18, went to the polls together to cast their first votes.
“It was so powerful to have two Latina women of color, immigrants and daughters of immigrants voting together,” Colín said.
That’s the goal for many people in the immigrant community, she said: to finally get to have a say in the places they work, pay taxes, send their kids to school and participate as members of the community.
Colín, now 31 years old and the political director of immigrant rights group CHIRLA and CHIRLA Action Fund, is focused on ensuring that other immigrants and Latinos get the chance to participate in the political process.
Even 100 years after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, accessing that right has not been easy for many Latina or immigrant women. Colín has seen countless women in her community struggle to navigate the electoral process. Some do not speak English and some do not read Spanish.
She remembers the time an elderly woman came into the office saying she wanted to vote and asking if Colín could walk her through the process and help her fill out her ballot.
Colín quickly realized the ballot was from the last election. She drove the woman to her polling station, which the woman didn’t know existed, and when no poll workers could speak Spanish in the predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood, Colín translated and explained that the woman would not have to show her ID after she was asked to.
Colín also works to ensure Latina and immigrant women see the importance of voting — something many candidates and campaigns fail to illustrate. While working on political campaigns, she noticed that candidates tend to focus on high-propensity voters, who are usually older and white, neglecting Latino and naturalized U.S. citizens.
“We weren’t talking to my community, we weren’t talking to folks in Spanish, we weren’t talking to Latino or immigrant voters,” Colín said. “I knew that was the work I wanted to do.”
With CHIRLA, Colín drove up and down the state of California, focusing on building congressional support for immigration reform and reviewing such legislation with members of her community.
“Candidates need to really take Latino and immigrant voters seriously,” Colín said. “They have to be taken into consideration beyond 30 days before an election or two months before an election.”
“You know, we’ve been saying this for a long time,” she said. “The road to the White House, the road to Congress, the road to your state legislature goes through the Latino vote.”
“Certain people here are like, ‘No, voter suppression doesn’t exist here.’ While they might not be saying ‘You can’t vote because of this, this and this,’ your actions really say the same thing.”
JAZLYN CRAWFORD, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Jazlyn Crawford, Atlanta, Georgia
WRITTEN BY JAMIE FELDMAN
In November 2018, Jazlyn Crawford was getting ready to vote in her first election. A sophomore at Spelman College in Atlanta, she changed her voter registration from her home state of Pennsylvania to Georgia in order to vote in the gubernatorial contest between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp.
It took until the day before the election for Crawford, an international studies major, to receive notice that the registration change had gone through. She took the confirmation letter to the polls, where she stood in a long line and watched multiple people be turned away. When she got to the front of the line, she was nearly turned away herself.
The polling worker told Crawford he couldn’t find her name, then pushed back when she requested a provisional ballot.
“He told me there were several people requesting provisional ballots and only two left, so how fair would it be to give me one and not someone else?” she said. “I told him it would be fair and within my rights as a voter — and asked him to check for my name again.”
Following the exchange, Crawford says the worker was able to find her name and allowed her to vote the regular way. But the experience was still illuminating: She saw how difficult it was not only for her but many people to wait in long lines, deal with faulty machines and, in certain cases, get turned away entirely. The governor’s race was so fraught with stories of voter suppression all over the state that Abrams vowed to fight the policies in place that contributed to her ultimately close defeat.
Crawford realized that a lot of things people simply don’t know make voting and getting politically involved even more difficult. Since then, she has worked hard to make sure her vote is counted this time — in her first presidential election — and also that everyone around her gets out there, too.
She now works with organizations in both Pennsylvania and Georgia to spread accessible information and assist with all aspects of the voting experience.
“Right now I’m not exactly going door to door,” she said. “But I’m digitally working with people to figure out how to navigate this process. Now with the coronavirus, it’s just figuring out what voting looks like, making sure I’m educating myself on what to do and how to do it safely.”
Crawford works with fellow college students to navigate voting, which is more complicated if they’re away from home. She noted that some voting forms for mail-in ballots can be denied if the applicant lists a P.O. box for their address, for example.
She has also met with politicians — including Spelman sister Abrams — to work to dismantle voter suppression in Georgia and beyond. “Certain people here are like, ‘No, voter suppression doesn’t exist here,’” Crawford said. “While they might not be saying, ‘You can’t vote because of this, this and this,’ your actions really say the same thing. I’ve been working to point out where there is suppression that makes it harder for people to exercise their right.”
Crawford says she is really excited to vote in November and to see what is going to happen, and encourages anyone with questions to reach out to her on her social media platforms. “My message to people ahead of the election is to do everything you can in your power to make sure your voice is heard, continue to be, as Shirley Chisholm once said, ‘unbossed and unbought’ and to get out there. That’s all we can do at this point.”
And while an interest in politics comes naturally to Crawford — her aunt is Georgia state Sen. Nikema Willams (D) and her parents both work in politics — she tries to pull in others’ interests by using contemporary examples, like quoting “Real Housewives of Atlanta” to explain foreign policy.
“It seems really silly at first, but whatever it takes to get people to understand the current state of the country is what it’s going to take, and people are actually involved that way,” Crawford said.
Chanel Haley, Atlanta, Georgia
WRITTEN BY ALANNA VAGIANOS
One of Chanel Haley’s most formative memories is watching her mother volunteer to help elect Maureen O’Connor, the first female mayor of San Diego, in 1985. “I thought, hey, if a Black single mother who had me when she was 14 could take time out to volunteer for a woman to be elected for the first time in our city,” then she could as well, she said.
After Haley transitioned at 18, she began to work in civic engagement. “Certainly in my 20s, after transitioning and seeing how I and other transwomen of color were being treated, I should definitely be caring about politics, too,” she said.
Now 40 and living outside of Atlanta, Haley has spent the past two decades fighting for the rights of Black, transgender and gender-nonconfoming people, among others. She helped elect Simone Bell, the first openly gay Black woman to win a general assembly seat in the country, in 2009. Haley later served as Bell’s senior legislative aide and became the first Black trans person to be hired by the Georgia House. In 2014, Haley was appointed to the City of Atlanta Human Relations Commission, becoming the first trans person to chair an Atlanta city board. She is currently a delegate in the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
Now, Haley serves as the gender policy manager for Equality Foundation of Georgia, working, among other things, on expanding voting access for trans and genderqueer people.
“It’s so important that the trans community speak up and come out of the shadows when it’s safe for them to do so, and be able to vote on issues that affect them directly,” Haley said.
Trans and gender-nonconforming people face unique obstacles to voting due to federal voter registration requirements and strict voter ID laws that vary by state. Many of these laws, allegedly intended to stop voter fraud, actually hinder transgender people from voting because they require identification documents to match a person’s gender. Oftentimes, licenses and passports reflect the gender assigned to a person at birth rather than their authentic gender identity. If identification documents don’t show a person’s current name, polling officials are legally allowed to turn them away at the ballot box, as long as they are given a provisional ballot and the opportunity to later prove their identity. In practice, voting rights experts say, poll workers don’t always follow the law.
One million transgender people are eligible to vote, but nearly 380,000 do not have IDs that match their correct name and gender, according to the Williams Institute. More than 81,000 live in states with strict photo ID requirements for voting, and a disproportionate number are trans people of color.
People of all different gender identities, as well as different racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, must come together to fight for transgender and genderqueer voting rights, Haley said. “Because when one person’s rights are taken away, it opens the door for the next group of people’s rights to be taken away,” she said.
“What I want people to really understand about me is that yes, I am a Black trans woman living in the South and I’ve done all these things, but my allegiance is with equality,” Haley added. “Everything that I do — whether I’m getting paid for it or doing it for free — it’s because I believe in equality, equality for everybody.”
And as Americans mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Haley wants candidates — particularly Democrats — to remember the women that amendment excluded.
“It’s like an oxymoron,” Haley said of the 19th Amendment, because it only applied to white women. “We do know that for a Democrat to be elected to the White House they need the Black female vote,” she said. “The requirement of Black women to vote in the election and reelection of Democrats is obvious, and yet what is given back to the community is usually lackluster.”
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article stated that poll workers are legally allowed to turn people away from the ballot box if the gender marker on their ID does not match how they present at the poll. While poll workers can turn people away for this reason, they are legally required to give the voter a provisional ballot.
“I’m going to keep trying to encourage people to have their voice heard as loud and as much as they can and encourage people to do what is right.”
HANA OMAR, INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA
Hana Omar, Indianapolis, Indiana
WRITTEN BY ROWAIDA ABDELAZIZ
Hana Omar, now 27, came to the U.S. with her two brothers, sister and mother in 2014 as a refugee from Somalia. Two years later, her new country elected President Donald Trump, who quickly set out to exclude more people like Omar and her family from the country by enacting a travel ban and weakening the refugee resettlement system.
At the time, Omar couldn’t stop it. She wasn’t eligible to vote. But she vowed that once she gained her U.S. citizenship, she would use her new rights and encourage others to do the same.
After the coronavirus postponed their initial citizenship appointment set for March, Omar and her siblings – in their masks and practicing social distancing – took their oath in June and were officially naturalized as American citizens. That same day, Omar registered to vote.
“I’m very excited and proud to be here and to be able to vote and have my voice heard,” she said. “This country keeps on evolving and it’s very nice to be part of it.”
A student at Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis studying dental hygiene, Omar is using her free time to learn about the American electoral process and discuss politics with her family, friends and co-workers. The office where she works as a dental assistant plans to close on Election Day in November to encourage its staff and clients to vote.
Omar has noticed that some new citizens refrain from voting because they feel they don’t know enough and often are overlooked by politicians. Refugees and new U.S. citizens, especially those who are not fluent in English, are often intimidated by the voting process, don’t have basic information such as election dates and locations, and therefore choose to sit out. Refugees from countries where the political and voting systems are corrupt might also experience hesitation and confusion about the U.S. voting system. Misconceptions and the lack of outreach to dismantle them can further isolate new Americans and discourage them from partaking in the voting process.
“People who just got their citizenships often feel like it’s not their place to vote or try to make a change,” Omar told HuffPost. “They feel because they’re new here, they should just take a step back and watch everything and not get involved.”
Omar urges community members to take part in elections and vote for people who will “hear you out and understand where you’re coming from” and for those “who represent us, [have] been through our experiences or at least understand them.”
Omar is dismayed that some U.S. citizens don’t vote. She said if they won’t vote for themselves, they should vote for people like her and her family who could be affected by harmful policies.
She said the recent anti-racism protests, the coronavirus pandemic and the rise of hate against Muslims and other minorities “is so unfair and it’s hard to watch every day on the news. So, if that’s not enough to push everyone to vote, I don’t know what it is.”
“I’m going to keep trying to encourage people to have their voice heard as loud and as much as they can and encourage people to do what is right,” she added.
“There are so many existential threats we’re all going through as a country right now, and ensuring that people have access to the ballot in November is key. It has to be.”
NICOLE D. PORTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Nicole D. Porter, Washington, D.C.
WRITTEN BY JENAVIEVE HATCH
Nicole D. Porter has spent the past two decades committed to reforming the criminal justice system. She’s monitored conditions in detention and advocated against mass incarceration as part of the Texas ACLU, as the director of the Prison and Jail Accountability Project, and for the last eight years, as director of advocacy for The Sentencing Project.
Porter has worked to expand voting rights denied to millions of people based on their past felony convictions, preventing them from participating in democracy even after they’ve done their time. And she has made sure that incarcerated people who are eligible to vote can actually do so.
Voting, in particular, has always been a key issue for Porter, a Houston native. She was politically engaged in high school and excited to vote in her first election. In college, she joined the Young Democrats (though she no longer identifies as such), and one of her first forays into activism was manning the voter registration table on her college campus in Baltimore.
“Voting has always been a key issue for me,” Porter said. “I’ve always been personally excited about it, and it’s always been an avenue for me to engage my activism and civic participation.”
Through her work, Porter has seen how much felony disenfranchisement affects Americans’ lives. As the number of incarcerated people in the United States has risen so significantly over the last 30 years, so too has the country’s population of disenfranchised citizens.
As of 2016, an estimated 6 million Americans were unable to vote because of a felony conviction; half of those people are disenfranchised because of harsh state laws that restrict voting rights once sentences are completed.
And because Black people and other people of color are so unjustly targeted by the American criminal justice system, they are also hit the hardest when it comes to disenfranchisement. One in every 13 Black Americans has lost their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement — that’s 2.2 million Black citizens across the country, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering the racist roots of disenfranchisement, especially in Southern states. And of that national number, about 20% of those disenfranchised people are women.
In recent years, several states have taken great strides to expand voting rights — and that’s due to the committed work of advocates like Porter who work on both a federal and state level to push for such reforms.
Last year, Colorado restored voting rights to parolees, and Kentucky restored voting rights to formerly incarcerated people convicted of nonviolent felonies. In 2016, California restored voting rights to people convicted of a felony offense housed in jail, but not in prison.
Beyond expanding the franchise to people with felony convictions, Porter’s urgent work this year has centered around the coronavirus pandemic — getting people out of prisons is a priority, she said, especially after public health experts correctly warned last spring that detention facilities would be fertile ground for an outbreak. But it’s also an extremely important election year, and fighting for voting rights for those incarcerated people is a key priority, too.
“There are so many existential threats we’re all going through as a country right now, and ensuring that people have access to the ballot in November is key. It has to be,” Porter said.
Porter and The Sentencing Project at large are working to support voter registration efforts for people in jails and prisons, but because of COVID-19, that work is now extra challenging since jails and prisons aren’t allowing anyone inside for public health purposes.
And as the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment approaches during such a huge election year, Porter’s work in expanding voting rights to all citizens is as urgent as ever.
“There’s a long history in the United States of excluded groups fighting [for] and seeking their access to the franchise of voting,” she said. “Expanding the vote to people with felony convictions is an extension of that history, and an extension of disenfranchised residents claiming their full civil and political rights.”
Credits: Editors: Elise Foley, Mari Hayman and Richard Kim; Reporters: Emma Gray, Alanna Vagianos, Rowaida Abdelaziz, Jamie Feldman, Taryn Finley, Jenavieve Hatch and Brooklyn Wayland; Creative Director: Ivylise Simones; Photo Director: Christy Havranek; Art Director: Isabella Carapella; Photo Editor: Damon Scheleur