Women Voters: The Key Element To Any Winning Election Formula

This continues to be an election year like no other. None of the typical rules apply, pollsters are scrambling and pundits are fumbling. But there is one thing that has remained constant. Politicians know they can't win without women voters, and that continued electoral might gives women the leverage we need to hold their feet to the fire on issues like equal pay, college affordability and campus safety, creating well-paying jobs, and access to birth control. Witness the other night's epic debate: in their opening statements one candidate spoke about childcare, and the other about equal pay. I need to say this again: In the opening statements of the first presidential debate, the two major party candidates focused on issues especially important to women. This is big. This is, one might say, huge. Election Day is now Ladies Night.

Unmarried women, people of color, and millennials make up what's being called the Rising American Electorate, a moniker coined by the Voter Participation Center. Women make up half the population and are the majority of voters yet we're typically underrepresented at the polls. The AAUW Action Fund understands the importance of women in the electoral process, and is leveraging that strength to not only drive the campaign debate, but to ensure that post-election we can hold policy makers accountable for their decisions impacting women and girls. One way we do that is through the AAUW Action Fund Congressional Voting Record, which covers the entire 114th Congress so far (2015-2016), and outlines how U.S. senators and representatives voted on issues affecting education, economic security, and civil rights.

This voting record is a great tool for all voters, especially women, to see just where elected officials stand on issues important to them. No more reading between the lines of campaign promises and real action, voters can see where their elected officials stood when the electoral rubber met the policy road. Women can see if their legislator is one of the co-sponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act or how they voted on the Every Student Succeeds Act. They can see if their representatives stood up for civil rights, whether on school vouchers or campus sexual violence. Find out which legislators are making efforts to get "dark money" out of politics and reform campaign finance. Check to see if your representative is protecting or blocking women's access to contraception and reproductive health care. Legislators need to know women are informed and we are watching. We put them in office, after all, and we're prepared to make our feelings known at the ballot box.

Voting records like this can be used to promote get-out-the-vote efforts such as issue forums, town halls, candidate debates, and local voter education events in communities and on college campuses nationwide. The AAUW Action Fund also has head-to-head voter guides with candidate comparisons in all the key races, including president. These programs and resources help to educate local communities on critical issues of the day, policy makers' records, and demonstrate -- particularly to women voters -- what's at stake as we head to the polls.

Politicians and policy makers at all levels of government routinely make decisions about issues that directly affect women and working families. But more often than not, key conversations lack women's voices. To create real change women must be part of the conversation, and the most powerful way to chime in is by registering to vote and casting our ballots. It does us no good if one party ignores us while the other one takes us for granted. Candidates and public officials are clueing in to the fact that they must speak to and act on issues important to women if they want to win. All voters need to ask tough questions and -- most importantly -- vote. Remember at the end of the day, elections are decided by the people who actually show up. When women vote, we change the conversation and we'll be driving the discussion come November 8 and beyond.