Women are leading the fight for voting rights

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos blocked Texas’s voter ID law, accusing the state of “voter intimidation.” A day before, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar promoted automatic voter registration to millions in an appearance on The Daily Show. And Saturday saw voter registration events across the country, inspired by a call from Kentucky Sec. of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (pictured) to counter white supremacist violence with registration drives.

From the streets to the courts to cable TV, women — who were barred from voting within the lifetimes of some living Americans— are at the forefront of the fight to protect and expand access to the ballot.

Here are 11 of the women leading the charge:

Stacey Abrams: A former Democratic leader of the Georgia House, Abrams founded the New Georgia Project, which registered thousands of mostly non-white voters, despite efforts by Georgia’s secretary of state to obstruct the group’s work. Now, she’s running for governor on a strong voting rights platform, and she’s been endorsed by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. 

Kate BrownAs Oregon Secretary of State, Brown, a Democrat, was the driving force behind the state’s first-in-the-nation automatic voter registration (AVR) bill, passed in 2015. (AVR, by the way, builds on the 1993 Motor Voter law, which was the brainchild of another female voting rights crusader, Frances Fox Piven). Brown then signed the bill after becoming governor. The result: Oregon, the only state where AVR was in effect for last year’s election, saw a bigger jump in turnout than anywhere else.

Hillary ClintonClinton’s 2015 campaign speech in Houston laying out an ambitious voting platform helped make support for expanding voting rights a consensus position within the Democratic Party (her opponent Bernie Sanders was equally bold on the subject). Since last year’s election, Clinton has continued to highlight voting issues, saying voter suppression, “particularly in Wisconsin,” helped cost her the race.

Kathleen ClydeAs an Ohio state lawmaker, Clyde, a Democrat, has been a voting rights champion, fighting the state’s cuts to early voting and same-day registration, its purges of the voter rolls, and other restrictive voting policies. Now she’s running for secretary of state, with automatic voter registration a key part of her platform.

Ruth Bader GinsburgThe Supreme Court justice’s scathing dissent in Shelby County v. Holder underscored the flaws in the majority’s central holding: that racial bias in voting had diminished enough that the Voting Rights Act’s strongest plank, the pre-clearance system, could be invalidated. Neutering pre-clearance, Ginsburg wrote, would be “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm.” Four years later, with new findings of intentional racial discrimination in voting by formerly covered states seemingly coming every week, it’s clear that RBG was right.

Nellie GorbeaRhode Island Secretary of State Gorbea, a Democrat, led the successful effort to pass automatic voter registration in her state, and has worked to promote AVR nationally. The Rhode Island bill was signed by another female friend of voting rights, Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Alison Lundergan GrimesDespite holding office in a red state, Kentucky’s Secretary of State has been as vocal as any election official in rejecting the White House voting commission’s controversial request for voter data. (“There’s not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible,” she’s said). Grimes, a Democrat, has also established online voter registration in her state, and lately has been a sought-after speaker for voting causes around the country. 

Amy KlobucharThe U.S. senator from Minnesota, who’s been talked about as a potential Democratic presidential candidate, has introduced one bill to require states to offer automatic voter registration, and another to establish same-day voter registration nationally. “Why don’t we just let every 18-year-old who is eligible to vote — automatically register them? Why don’t we do that?,” Klobuchar asked Tuesday night on The Daily Show. “There are a bunch of people that are afraid of people voting. I am not afraid of people voting.” 

Nelva Gonzales RamosThe district court judge, an Obama appointed, struck down Texas’s original voter ID law in a comprehensive, 147-page opinion in 2014, finding that state lawmakers “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of” (her italics) the law’s effect on minorities. On Wednesday, Gonzales Ramos found that Texas’s new, modified ID law also intended to discriminate, and accused the state of “voter intimidation” by requiring voters, with the threat of jail time, to explain why they lack ID. The twin opinions are among the clearest recent judicial affirmations of the importance of the right to vote, and the high bar that voting restrictions must meet.

Terri SewellWhen Alabama last year closed DMV offices in heavily minority counties, making it harder for blacks to get voter IDs, Sewell, a Democratic congresswoman, played a key role in the successful fight to reopen them. Sewell, whose district includes Selma, this year introduced legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act to full strength, and she’s a member of a voting panel formed by Democrats that aims to counter the White House voting commission.

Natalie TennantWest Virginia last year became the only red state to pass automatic voter registration through the legislature — an effort spearheaded by Tennant, at the time the secretary of state. Now Tennant, a Democrat, is working with the Brennan Center for Justice to bring AVR to other states. 

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