How can we keep our momentum moving toward #5050x2028? One thing is clear. Summer vacation is over. To make next summer sunny for women in elected office, we’ve got to get going now.
No question, the 2020 election was closely fought and helped bring highly capable women to the governing table. Yet they took their seats in one of the most challenging times to stay in office for more than one term.
Gains are now targets. Of a change in party, skin color, issues, or perspectives — and sometimes in all of the above. Many state, federal, or even local incumbents face a legion of highly motivated people, well beyond their actual constituents, mobilized to oppose them, laser focused and nationally funded to bring them down hard.
Meanwhile, we’ve still left a large number of women — and their skills, talents, and evident gains for all of us when they’re at the table — on the sidelines, defying our own best interests. When does that stop?
If you want to unleash the logic of that head-scratching waste of ready resources, consider this. Within the storms of the current political climate, take a moment to recognize what caused all the commotion in the first place: the determination to change what huge waves of us wanted to do for more representative government and a less divided America.
So, what do we need to do to continue the forward motion that prompted the screeching brake pedals?
Drawing New Lines
First stop: state legislatures. Lines are being drawn for congressional districts to reflect population shifts coming from the last census. The tradition is to protect incumbents, regardless of party, and make it even more difficult for challengers to win.
That means solidifying the status quo, which is a roadblock to our journey to #5050x2028.
Here’s what we can do now.
In states that are gaining seats, the moment is now to help shape any new ones to be friendly to fresh team members. What businesses and community groups can you bring to the table to support expanded voices and wider representation in your neck of the woods?
In states that are losing seats, our must-do is to protect existing gains for women. For example, in Pennsylvania, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission is asking for initial comment through a website before beginning its deliberations. Pennsylvania is an example of the challenges we most likely will face: two of the newest members of its delegation are female Democrats from the Philadelphia suburbs.
Republicans in Harrisburg will likely try to pit them against each other, resulting in one less female member.
Between January 1 and July 14, 2021, at least 18 states enacted 30 laws that restrict access to the vote
While states are drawing these new lines, many are looking at voting laws to decide how easy it should be to vote. Once again, these efforts are generally viewed as, at the very least, protecting the status quo.
Expanding Voting Access
In the 2020 election, two-thirds of the voting-eligible population did so — more than in any election in 120 years.
Then, between January 1 and July 14, 2021, at least 18 states enacted 30 laws that restrict access to voting. After years of making it easier for workers and others in today’s mobile society to get to the ballot box, these new laws make mail voting and early voting more difficult, impose harsher voter ID requirements, and make faulty voter purges more likely. More than 400 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions alone!
In fact, after weeks of epic battles, the Texas legislature passed a bill in August that will further tighten what were already some of the nation’s strictest voting rules.
What’s a voter who cares to do? First: support action and activists in the places we may see gains in access to the polls. At least 25 states enacted 54 laws with provisions to expand voting access. These laws make early and mail voting more readily available, make voter registration easier, and restore voting rights to Americans with past convictions who’ve done their time.
Of course, many of the states in which voting is already more accessible are the same states enacting policies to continue expanding that access. Champion them. If you are concerned that your state is restricting access to the ability to vote, reach out to your U.S. Senator this week, as Congress grapples with these issues. Voice the need to ensure that voting rights are protected for all your state’s constituents.
As we look to 2022, age-old wisdom offers helpful watchwords: “Don’t let the storm disrupt your journey. Let it clear your path.” Today’s storm is our next opportunity to build the good government we all want for our future, through faith in each other and in our shared identity: America is the country of freedom.
©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund