This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
Long lines of voters have been seen in several places, including recently in the District and Atlanta, with many people expressing difficulties in casting their ballots.
While voter suppression is a real fear today, it’s nothing new.
As the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment draws closer, historians and others recalled the plight of women voters — particularly African Americans — even after suffrage victory.
Madison Paige, CEO of Bold Blue Campaigns and the organizer behind the Mail-In Vote Task Force being operated by the People Over PACs super PAC, noted that as one of the few Black women CEOs in the political space, she has a unique perspective.
“Voting was never intended to be available to everyone living in America. It was intended to be the privilege of a small subset of men belonging to the ruling class,” said Paige, who in 2013, launched Bold Blue Campaigns, a political services firm focusing exclusively on serving Democratic state and municipal candidates nationwide.
“The intent is still evident today 100 years after suffrage. Denying the franchise to those with less privilege secures the position and interests of the privileged,” Paige said.
Their model has been to fight everywhere and keep costs low for candidates through grassroots support.
In 2018, Bold Blue scored its most successful election cycle to date and is now launching Operation Blue Map, the only nationwide organized Democratic response to GOP gerrymandering.
“Women have decided elections for better or worse ever since securing the right to vote,” Paige said. “From ‘soccer moms’ to #MeToo, women voters matter. The methods of disenfranchisement have simply become more sophisticated.”
No longer are African American women alone in the struggle for Black equality in the United States, said Omar Ali, a dean and professor of the Lloyd International Honors College at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
“Seven years before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, the great anti-lynching crusader and journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett had to insert herself into the front of the March on Washington for women’s right to vote,” said Ali, the author of “In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third Party Movements in the United States” (Ohio University Press, 2020).
“Wells-Barnett and other Black women were told to march in the back,” Ali said. “Today, millions of white people have joined the Black-led anti-lynching efforts of 2020. There is a profound cultural shift underway.”
Voter suppression has been consistent throughout the United States since the Compromise of 1877, said Eric Smaw, an associate professor of philosophy at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.
“Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, European-Americans prevented African-Americans from voting using racial intimidation, verbal threats, poll taxes, ‘voter literacy tests,’ and physical violence from domestic terrorist organizations like the Klu Klux Klan,” Smaw said. “Since 1965, conservative groups have used the criminal justice system to suppress the vote by engaging in false arrests, wrongful convictions and felon disenfranchisement.”