Betsy E. Huber.jpg

Huber

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote across the country and enfranchised nearly 50% of the U.S. population, was celebrated on Tuesday, Aug. 18. A century later, voting is as — if not more — important than ever before.

For the Grange, founded more than 150 years ago, equal voice and vote for women was baked into our structure from day one. Our founders believed that women were necessary in the longevity of our organization and “much like the farm, both men and women are needed to succeed” in all facets of life, public and private.

With four offices designated strictly for women and the ability to run for any office within the Grange, radical inclusivity of women in our organization has meant more to American civil society than we may ever know.

The Grange has purposefully carved out spaces for women to voice opinions with credibility, hold positions of leadership and understand the importance of their vote — something cited by members past and present as providing women the courage and skills necessary to take on leadership in their communities and beyond.

Women in the United States take seriously their role as engaged citizens — something that is evident by data that shows in the 2016 presidential election, 63.3% of women voted as opposed to only 59.3% of men voted. Even though women have outnumbered men at the polls in every presidential election since 1980, there is more to be done to honor the work and sacrifice of the suffragettes whom we must thank for this right.

We know we can do better for a nation founded on the cry for representation.

Today, while 86.8% of U.S. citizens are registered to vote, actual turnout languishes at an average of 55.7% for presidential elections and far less for municipal elections. When comparing U.S. voter turnout to other developed countries we see Americans rank 26th out of citizens from 32 nations in major elections.

Apathy is not an American value.

The many battles fought to bring democracy to the reach of white, landowning male citizens; then to male, nonwhite citizens; then to women — and to those disenfranchised because of Jim Crow-era laws and more — must be honored by each citizen by way of casting a ballot in November and every other election we are eligible to take part in. I am proud to say I’ve never missed an opportunity to cast a ballot in any election — a right won thanks to those who spoke, organized and marched for it.

This election season certainly is like no other in our history, and there are clear challenges to seeing all eligible electors cast their ballots. Americans, though, are a people battle-tested and up for the challenge.

I call upon every citizen to help us honor each of our ancestors who fought for and won their place on the voter rolls by ensuring you are registered, you are informed and you are prepared to let your voice be heard in November, and in all future local elections.

Know the deadline for registration and for requesting a mail-in ballot if your state encourages the practice or you wish to take advantage of it for your safety. Or, make sure you know your physical polling place as some have been or will be changed in the face of the pandemic, and schedule ample time to wait if necessary to cast your ballot in person.

During these uncertain times, it is essential to our democracy that every citizen exercise their right to vote, even if doing so means embracing changes needed to make this a safe environment. We must demand that our local election officials take seriously the call to make our polling places safe while still remaining accessible.

We cannot allow disenfranchisement to happen today after such hard battles were fought to extend this right to all, and must call especially on those entrusted with the responsibility to maintain our democracy to do so with every citizen in mind.

We must also do our part.

In the era of information overload, it is imperative for each citizen to use reputable sources, such as the League of Women Voters website and print materials, to learn more about the candidates who will appear on our ballots, and ensure you’re making an informed decision.

Then look back in a family album or history and commit to exercising a right you enjoy that someone who came before you did not.

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Betsy E. Huber is the president of the National Grange, America’s oldest rural and agricultural advocacy organization.

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