Advancing Equity for All by Exercising Our 19th Amendment Voting Rights

August 26, 2020 - Christine Mason Soneral and Nicole Carter

Women's Leadership Institute BlogThis year marks an important evolution in women’s ability to participate in democracy—the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits the states and federal government from using sex as a basis to deny citizens the right to vote.  While worthy of observance, the right to vote for women did not come early, easily or equally.  In addition, today there are still many places in the world where women lack or find it difficult to vote and are thus denied meaningful participation and decision-making.

The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919, almost a full century after women’s organizations in the United States started advocating for and insisting upon voting equality between the sexes.  It was passed decades after countries like New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Russia and Germany granted women the right to vote. It required marches, demonstrations, imprisonment and even hunger strikes.  The Amendment faced significant congressional challenges on its way to adoption, with proposals repeatedly put forth and voted down.  It wasn’t until August 18, 1920 that the final necessary state ratification was secured such that the Amendment could be added to the Constitution.  By this time, the United States was the twenty-seventh country in the world to grant women the right to vote.  After its passage, the Amendment’s adoption continued to face opposition and several legal challenges were pursued by resistors.  The Amendment’s validity was ultimately upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

Because the 19th Amendment states “[t]he right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”, it is often hailed as providing all female citizens in the United States the right to vote.  However, Native American women weren't allowed to vote until they were granted citizenship with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 and many Asian American women were not allowed to become citizens and vote until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.  Moreover, millions of black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) were consistently prevented from voting through the widespread use of voter suppression tactics such as poll taxes, residency requirements, literacy tests, denial of citizenship, obstructed access to the voter box, intimidation and violence.  Black women did not obtain the right to vote until the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. 

In order to achieve equity for women and other underrepresented persons, it is imperative that we vote.  We can change outcomes at the local, state and federal level.  Diversity of voters has determined the outcome of elections. For example, women of color now have an opportunity to effectuate election outcomes as never before. As noted by the Center for American Progress: “women of color now represent almost one-third of citizen voting-age (CVA) women, an increase of 10 percentage points from 2000 to 2017.  In other words, there are 13.6 million more CVA women of color than there were in 2000, compared with 6 million additional CVA non-Hispanic white women.” 

Knowing the arduous path towards suffrage should serve as a catalyst for women to vote whenever possible and to be accountable to the power of the ballot.  If we want our voice to be heard and we want to make a change for the better, we will be inspired to exercise this fundamental, human right.  Our vote sends a message to politicians about what issues we care about; it impacts the present day and the future.  Even if what or whom we cast our vote for doesn’t win; our vote matters.  We need to be encouraged to live into the Constitution’s promise that all power is inherent to the people.  All free government is founded on their authority and is instituted for their equal protection and benefit and they have the right in lawful and constituted methods to alter or reform their forms of government in such manner as they may think proper. 

There is no better time for women to reflect on the policy changes that we would like to see from equal pay, to safeguards for working mothers, to using the takeaways learned by living through a catastrophic novel coronavirus pandemic together, to fully understanding and embracing the concept that Black Lives Matter; we have the permission, power and authority to change the trajectory for women in this country for generations to come by exercising our right to vote!


Written by

Christine Mason Soneral

Christine Mason Soneral

Senior VP and General Counsel for ITC Holdings Corp.

Nicole Carter

Nicole Carter

Principal of Novi High School