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2020 and Beyond: The Unfinished Business of the 19th Amendment Syllabus

Ciara Hervas, Patricia Liu, Fariba Mahmud, Jessica Morandi, Toluwalope Moses
Harvard College

This year, 2020, marks a century since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which expanded the American electorate to include women. At face value, this constitutional change should have been a final victory for voting rights, a last chapter in the universal suffrage movement that advocated first for enfranchising all white men and then for both Black and women’s suffrage. Yet, as evidenced by previous units of the Suffrage Syllabus, the fight for equal enfranchisement did not end in 1920, and has not ended still. The unfinished business of the 19th Amendment lies in addressing the many ways in which the United States continues to fall short of ensuring voting equality for all.

Gender identity remains relevant to the electoral process. Women have voted at higher rates than men in every election since 1964, yet they remain drastically underrepresented in elected positions. However, modern voting rights activists use an intentionally broader and more intersectional lens than did the proponents of the 19th Amendment. Suffrage is intimately tied to citizenship, and the effective denial of the franchise to many immigrants, residents of US territories, and indigenous people leaves gaping holes in the American electorate. Additionally, many citizens—especially those who are people of color, transgender, nonbinary, previously incarcerated, young, or low-income—must overcome pervasive voter suppression efforts at the state and federal levels, ranging from strict voter ID laws and voting roll purges to felony disenfranchisement and gerrymandering. In response to these ongoing injustices, voter mobilization organizations are working to increase civic engagement across party lines, especially among young voters and historically underrepresented communities.

The suffrage movement has come a long way over the past century, but it is clear that the voting equality movement is far from over. And as for the next century? With continued advocacy, education, and resistance, America could be closer than ever to achieving truly equal enfranchisement—the elusive goal of one person, one vote—as we together weave the brilliant and variegated fabric of We the People.

To access the complete syllabus, please click on the online version of the 2020 and Beyond: The Unfinished Business of the 19th Amendment syllabus.

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