electionlineWeekly Talks to Female Election Leaders About “What Suffrage Means to Me”

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As the nation begins to mark the centennial of the passage and ultimate ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution – granting women the vote – electionlineWeekly’s Mindy Moretti reached out to other female election leaders across the country for their thoughts on the issue of suffrage. Here’s what they had to say:

One hundred years ago this week, the Senate approved the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ultimately give women the right to vote.

After the June 4, 1919 passage (the House approved it two weeks prior) it took 16 months to get three-fourths of the states to ratify the Amendment.

Wisconsin is credited with being first and it was Tennessee that pushed the needle over the line for ratification on August 26, 1920.

Interestingly, several states — Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia — rejected the 19th Amendment initially, but eventually ratified the Amendment after it was law with Mississippi being last in 1984.

During the next 16 months we’ll be highlighting the Suffrage movement in different ways, including last week’s look at three exhibits celebrating the centennial.

This week, we asked the highest ranking female election official in each state what Suffrage means to them. The responses come from large and small states, from both coasts and the Heartland. We heard from Democrats, Republicans and some whose party affiliation we have don’t even know! It’s a fascinating read and we really hope that you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Thank you to everyone who responded.

Gail Fenumiai, director, Division of Elections
I cannot imagine not having the right to vote.  It is the core of our nation’s democracy. I am thankful for the courageous and wonderful women who fought hard for this precious right.  As an election official, it is hard for me to comprehend barring individuals from voting. It is our job to ensure that we never forget their struggles and continue to strive to remove barriers to voting and provide equal access for all.


Katie Hobbs, secretary of state
In August of 2018, during the suffrage celebrations, I was a candidate for Secretary of State. The moment I realized that I would (hopefully) be in the office for the 100th anniversary was profound. The magnitude of what this anniversary means, how far we have come, and the opportunity to be in a position to help create a meaningful celebration gave me chills. Arizona has been a state where women lead, and I am grateful to all the women who paved the way for me. I also feel an incredible sense of responsibility to continue to be vigilant and protect access to our elections for everyone who is eligible. My daughter will be able to vote for the first time in 2020, during the 19th Amendment Centennial. She represents the next generation of voters who will share their stories to ensure future generations never take this right for granted.

Leslie Bellamy, director
I think especially for me as an election official the fight for the passage of our 19th Amendment has not only provided me a right to voice my opinion through casting my ballot, but a career path I am passionate about.  I started in elections over 20 years ago as a Voter Registration clerk, and will end my state career as Director of Elections for the state of Arkansas. The suffrage movement has provided a path where I can participate in legislative changes to carry on the movement of not being denied the right to a voice.  I continue to utilize my experience to work in legislative sessions and training sessions to protect the democratic process with the evolving industry.

Jana Lean, chief of elections
The hundred year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote reminds me that not so long ago in history, women were suppressed and marginalized in our society. We have made huge strides, but we are again at a crossroads where the rights of women are being threatened.

I believe it is not just our civic duty to let our voices be heard through the ballot box, but it is a moral imperative to protect the rights of all of the women who will follow us. It is our time to continue the impressive work of the Suffragettes that paved the way for us today.

Respectful discourse, the peaceful transition of power, and fair representation is the foundation our county was built on. I think we should honor the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote by continuing the fight for free and fair elections for everyone!

Jena Griswold, secretary of state
The significance of the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniversary is both historic and an important reminder that we must continue to strive for access to our democracy. Because of the suffragists who advocated to expand the right to vote to women, Colorado became the second state to allow women to vote in 1893. On this anniversary of women across our country gaining that right, we must commit to ensuring, as a nation, that every eligible voter can have their voice heard in our elections. Together, we can build a democracy that all Americans can believe in.

Denise Merrill, secretary of state
The movement for women’s suffrage is a testament of the power of direct action to expand democracy. Not just a reminder of the laws that were changed, I plan to use this centennial anniversary as a reminder of what is possible when ordinary people organize in the name of justice. And, although we celebrate the end of the denial of the right to vote on the basis of sex, it’s important to also remember that it was only a first step towards universal suffrage and equality of the sexes, and it left out women of color almost entirely.

We should celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment as more than a single event, and instead celebrate it as the introductory chapter in the long stories of women’s equality and voting rights alike. We will mark the centennial, but we will also use it to remember the work that remains. It is a promise to remain committed to that work until it is complete.

Elaine Manlove, election commissioner
While I’ve never seen myself as a “feminist”, voting is not something I take for granted.  I am thankful to the women who went before me and fought for all of us to have this right. There should have never been a fight!  If we are governed by the law, we should be able to vote on those who make those laws.


District of Columbia
Alice Miller, executive director
Having worked in elections for most of my career, this 100th anniversary of suffrage resonates with me for a number of professional and personal reasons. As women throughout the District of Columbia occupy an increasing number of elected offices both locally and nationwide, and occupy other high level positions of authority, enfranchising voters of all genders is vitally important for the protection of accurate representation in our city. As the mother of a daughter, I am committed to ensuring that the next generation of voters and candidates in the District of Columbia feels that their electoral process is available and accessible to them regardless of their race, gender, or national origin. On this historically significant anniversary, it is my hope that we continue to make progress so that all District voters feel they can participate in our elections.

Laurel M. Lee, secretary of state
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which provided women the right to vote. The suffragist movement was a long and difficult battle, but it was fought with the utter and absolute conviction that women should be full and equal citizens with the right to participate in our democracy.

These women, and the men who supported them, paved the way not just for our future, but also for the future of our children and the many generations to come. Now, nearly 100 years later, women continue to help shape the trajectory of our nation and our world through their leadership.

I’m thankful for those women who led the way 100-plus years ago because without them, women would not have the rights and privileges of citizenship that we enjoy today.

We honor them by continuing to be leaders in our communities, our state and our world and by fully participating in our democracy.

Connie Lawson, secretary of state
100 years ago, the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress, and American women won the right to vote. After decades of civic exclusion and political irrelevance, hundreds of thousands of women were finally handed enfranchisement at the ballot box.

It is striking how recently these changes took place. My mother was born only a short while after ratification, and in my younger days I spoke with many relatives and family friends who could recall this seismic change. Furthermore, if we are painfully honest with ourselves, some women were still denied the right to vote until 1965, simply because of their skin color.

So often we accept the twists of history as inevitable fact, but these rights came only after many years of fighting and perseverance. It is often said, correctly, that we stand on the shoulders of giants. I pray we never take our electoral equality for granted.

Christy Wilson, deputy secretary of state
It is a huge honor for me to work in elections in a state that has historically been a leader in voting rights and remains that way today. Iowa was the first state to elect a woman to public office, the first state to appoint a female to the bar and one of the first states to allow women to vote. Iowan Carrie Chapman Catt was a national leader in the women’s suffrage movement.

Today, we’re one of the few states that has online voter registration, same day voter registration, early voting and no-fault absentee voting. We strive every day to encourage and help all Iowans to register to vote and participate in elections. Our country has come a long way in the last 100 years and this centennial anniversary is a great reminder that we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, secretary of state
“The right is ours, have it we must, use it we will,” said Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  This echoes in my head every time I enter our Capitol.

As Secretary of State, I’ve worked hard to ensure all eligible citizens have access to our ballot box and vote.  Sadly, the struggle which began 100 years ago to ensure the basic inalienable rights of women, continues today.

Suffrage describes a moment in time where a movement for equality began.  Personally, I’m reminded of my grandmothers. They saw the right to vote be realized.

While women can now get an education, own property, vote, hold office, get a job and practice our faith – equality doesn’t exist.  As long as “firsts” continue – like being the first statewide elected official to have a child in office – the movement is not finished and little girls everywhere rely on our fortitude to stand up and speak out.

Linda Lamone, administrator of elections
Every election makes history, but the 1920 election in Maryland was indeed historic. A special session of the Maryland legislature was held on September 20 – 22, 1920. The result was a bill that granted Maryland women the right to register and to vote. I cannot tell you the number of women that cast a vote at the November 9, 1920 General Election, but 1,288,931 Maryland women cast a vote in the 2018 General Election!

Thus, while we celebrate the anniversary of an action by a body of men that changed a law, we also celebrate and recognize the powerful and determined women that sacrificed so much to make this happen. Countless women across the country spent years attending secret meetings, organized, protested and went to jail all to gain the right to vote.

It may be difficult for us to understand the complexity, time and overall effort that it took to made this change around the country, especially without today’s methods of communication and ability to get a message out. No website, no email, no social media.

An interesting side effect of the historical legal change was the impact it had on election administration. It is clear from a review of the 1920 Maryland legislation that the legislators were aware that they also had to address what would be required to implement a change to the voting process. For example, they added extra days for the Registration Boards to sit, added polling places to accommodate more voters, added clerical employees at the boards of elections, added a new requirement to record the sex of the applicants in the registration records, and increased the compensation of poll workers and clerks of registration (by no more than $2.00).

We read so often that voter turnout is not what we would like it to be. It is disheartening to think of the sacrifices and difficulties that it took to gain the right to vote by half of our population and yet so few take advantage of the franchise.

Thank you so much to those pioneering women who made it possible for me to vote and to run the elections for the State of Maryland.

Michelle Tassinari, director and legal counsel, Elections Division
As we approach the 100th anniversary of woman’s suffrage, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the current state of women’s rights in our country.  I have great admiration for the suffragists who successfully fought for the rights of women 100 years ago. While we gained the right to vote, there is still more to do to achieve true equality for all.  A century ago, brave, strong women took to the streets during difficult times in our country’s history. The fight for women’s suffrage lasted for decades and finally achieved victory, which was just one of the first steps toward women’s equality. We must never forget those who came before us and who fought for our rights. I am proud to be a woman working in elections and using my position to help make sure all who are eligible can exercise their right to vote.

Jocelyn Benson, secretary of state
With courage and perseverance, suffragists fought and organized for the right to vote. These trailblazing women brought America closer to the promises of its founding with the passage of the 19th amendment. But as history teaches us, the fight for equality wasn’t over then and isn’t over today. It took 50 more years to expand the right to vote to African Americans and people of color. Now, 100 years after the suffrage movement and 50 years after the civil rights movement, it’s on all of us to continue in the footsteps of the trailblazers who came before us. Our democracy is at its best when all voices are heard. At a moment when women are still underrepresented in industries from sports to business to politics, we must continue to use our votes and our voices to advocate for a seat at every table where decisions are made.

Chrissy Peters, director of elections
The celebration of the 100th anniversary of woman’s right to suffrage is an important time of history that should be reflected on with great admiration. I am thankful for my right to vote and reflect with gratitude the hard battles of those before us. I bring my young daughters with me when I cast my ballot. Personally for me, this is leading by example so that my daughters understand the importance of our right, privilege and opportunity to have our voices heard.


Barbara Cegavske, secretary of state
Voting is both a privilege and a responsibility that all citizens must take seriously. I am fortunate to have always lived in a time when women have been afforded the opportunity to vote. To mark 100 years of Women’s Suffrage while serving as Nevada’s third female Secretary of State will be a special honor for me and I am extremely proud to join women across the country in celebrating this important milestone in 2020!


New Jersey
Tahesha Way, secretary of state
Every right we cherish as Americans is secured with the ballot box. Thanks to the leadership of women like New Jersey’s own Alice Paul, the right to vote was legally extended to women 100 years ago. While African American women like me were still prevented from exercising this right many years after 1920, the 19th Amendment nonetheless made this country fairer, opening doors for women to participate more broadly in public life and service. It is the knowledge of this history which underscores my commitment to an open democracy that ensures and maximizes ballot access for all American citizens.

New Mexico
Maggie Toulouse Oliver, secretary of state
The victory of women’s suffrage is a powerfully inspiring example of civic change that has deeply shaped my personal and public life. It’s incredible to be alive for the 100th anniversary and to be able to reflect on the advances that have been made toward fulfilling America’s democratic promise and opening the franchise to all eligible voters. But part of that reflection is to know the work is not done. The victory of women’s suffrage in America should serve as a reminder that many communities still face barriers to the ballot box and that efforts at voter suppression are not gone, but have simply taken on new forms. I draw inspiration from the pioneers of women’s suffrage in America everyday as I look for ways to expand voting rights and civic participation and I hope the 100th anniversary inspires a new generation to do the same.

Amanda Grandjean, director of elections and deputy assistant secretary of state
“There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make the laws and elect the lawmakers.” As we consider the powerful words of Susan B. Anthony, we are reminded why the right of women and men to vote equally in elections is unassailable. It’s about tried and true representation in our democratic republic. One hundred years, relative to the duration of our nation’s history, is not a long time for women to be a part of our nation’s democratic process. We’ve broken glass ceilings since then, but there are still quite a few more that need shattered. It’s my hope that women across Ohio and the nation will do far more than use this anniversary as a time to celebrate – instead, use it as a call to action. Get engaged. Get involved. Be a part of the process that our sisters fought so bravely for. Our time is now.

Bev Clarno, secretary of state
Woman’s suffrage is such an important but relatively unknown part of our history. Here in Oregon, women were given the right to vote in 1912, eight years before the 19th amendment was ratified. In 2020 we will be celebrating the 100 year anniversary of that historic amendment, and I am so honored that I will be serving as Oregon’s Secretary of State during the centennial celebration.

I often think of my mother, who was alive when women didn’t have the vote, and knew firsthand what it meant to finally be able to vote. I think about myself, as an 83 year old woman serving in public office. 100 years ago I would not have had this opportunity, and I am so grateful for all the women, and men, who fought so hard so that I could have this right today.

Kathy Boockvar, secretary of state
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women’s constitutional right to vote, 100 years feels like a blink of an eye. What might be most shocking is how long it took to get there – 144 years after this democracy was founded – plus decades thereafter while the struggle continued for so many.

As Pennsylvania’s chief election official, the magnitude of our – my – responsibility to nurture, protect, and defend this right cannot be overstated.

It has been a long, devastating road to suffrage for all. We committed unspeakable atrocities to our own, and overwhelming numbers of lives were indelibly altered, and lost, in pursuit of voting rights. We must honor the sacrifices of all who brought us to this point by ensuring that no eligible voter is disenfranchised.  We must commit every fiber of our being to ensuring we never let such atrocities happen on our soil again.

Rhode Island
Nellie Gorbea, secretary of state
As Rhode Island’s Secretary of State, I’ve seen firsthand that bringing people with different viewpoints and experiences to the table is how we get our best public policies.

The passage of the 19th Amendment was a watershed moment in that regard. Women obviously bring different perspectives than men and since being enfranchised, our voices have contributed to some of the biggest policy changes over the last century.

While there is still much work to be done to make sure all citizens have a voice in government, today I reflect on the things we’re seeing that our mothers and grandmothers could never have imagined. I think about what our daughters will see, and I am hopeful.

I encourage voters to remember that the single act of casting a ballot is fundamental to making government work for all people.

South Carolina
Marci Andino, executive director
The 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage is an important milestone in the history of our country. Over the course of a century, women have not only gained the right to vote, but they register and vote in greater numbers than men, are elected to public offices and run elections in many states and local jurisdictions. We’ve come a long way in a hundred years!

As a young girl, I remember standing in a long line with my mother so she could register to vote. Little did I know at the time, making it easier for people to register to vote would become a passion of mine. I’ve spent most of my professional career working to ensure that all eligible citizens have the opportunity to register to vote and to participate in fair and impartial elections. Those are more than just words to me – I am honored to serve as the chief state election official for the State of South Carolina and I’m very grateful to the women before me.

South Dakota
Kea Warne, deputy secretary of state
In my capacity as the director of South Dakota elections I have the honor of ensuring that elections are run with integrity and that all citizens have the ability to vote if they so choose. It is difficult for me to imagine, but not that long ago women in our country were not given an equal voice. Women’s suffrage was obtained 100 years ago, a blink of an eye in the span of history. The Dakota Territory almost passed women’s right to vote in 1872 and had several near misses after that including attempts from the legendary Susan B. Anthony. All those efforts failed until 1918 when we were finally given the right to vote in state elections, and the 19th Amendment to the constitution was passed in 1919. Now, 100 years later we have had female state legislators, female representatives in Congress, female constitutional officers, a lieutenant governor and now finally, governor. We also have a woman in charge of the State’s elections, a responsibility I take great pride in and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the efforts of so many, not so very long ago.

U.S. Virgin Islands
Caroline Fawkes, supervisor of elections
Women’s suffrage refers to the right of women to participate in democratic processes through voting on the same basis as men. I agree with the view that women gained the right to vote due to their contributions to the war, since I too have served in the military for over thirty-two years.

Women persevered and endured great hardships to ensure the granting of rights that many today take for granted. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

As the Supervisor of Elections, it’s great to see now when the polls open women and men stand next to each other and cast a vote that holds the same importance. In addition, the number of women elected in 2018 shows that more women are participating in the political process. This victory was not only for women, but for democracy and the principle of equality upon which our great nation was founded.

Kim Wyman, secretary of state
I believe the act of voting is the most sacred right we hold as Americans. As I reflect on the suffragists who sacrificed so much to give women the right to vote and worked relentlessly to pass the 19th Amendment, I think about the strong, influential women in my life. Women like my mom, my grandmothers, my aunts, and mentors who taught me the importance of civic engagement. They took time to learn about the candidates and issues before voting. I saw their “I Voted” stickers. They served on election boards. Their actions made me see the importance of my vote. They are the reason why I have not missed voting in an election since turning 18. These women gave me the courage to become an election administrator 25 years ago and now I am honored to have the responsibility of protecting the voting rights of every Washington citizen.

West Virginia
Brittany Westfall, elections director
Being raised by a single mother, it is difficult for me to imagine a time when women were forced to depend on men not only for finances, but also for their voices. On this 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, I tried to imagine how it felt to stand in line at the polling place, only to be turned away. I tried to imagine the courage it took to rally, lobby, and vote, even when that meant jail time. I am grateful to the women who realized how valuable the right to vote would be for their daughters and granddaughters. Without their courage, I know that I would not have the life I have today or the honor of working with 134 women election administrators. As women in elections, I hope we continue their journey by ensuring no voter is ever again turned away based on sex, religion, or race.

Meagan Wolfe, administrator
In 1919, Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th amendment granting women an equal right to vote.  In 2019, it was my great honor and privilege to be confirmed as Wisconsin’s first female chief election official. My hope is to continue Wisconsin’s long tradition of fostering a fair and thriving democracy and being a leader in the administration of elections.

I have long believed that the fight for suffrage has made American women key players in the administration of elections nationwide; in my experience, there are few public sector professions with as many high-profile and experienced women in positions of authority and responsibility. I’m grateful to everyone here for sharing their thoughts and of course to my friend and colleague Mindy for assembling them … to all the women who play key roles in our nation’s election system: thank you and stay tuned!

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