One hundred and fifty years ago this month, a deputy U.S. marshal arrested noted social reformer Susan B. Anthony. The charge? “Wrongfully and unlawfully” voting for a candidate for Congress in Rochester, N.Y. The indictment noted she was “a person of the female sex.” She was ultimately convicted and fined $100, which she refused to pay.
It would be another 48 years before passage of the 19th Amendment and women were allowed to vote in the United States. Can you imagine Anthony or the other women arrested with her that day missing an opportunity like the one we had to vote in the local election?
There are 434,707 registered voters in San Mateo County. By late last week, elections officials had counted ballots for a little more than 21 percent of them. Tens of thousands of ballots remained in the pipeline to be counted, and the results from the tally won’t be certified until Dec. 8.
Free and fair elections like the one we just experienced in California are fundamental to our democracy, of course, though the definition of fair has been a moving target from the beginning. Women, people of color, immigrants, people who have been incarcerated — taken together a majority of today’s Americans would have been denied the right to vote in the United States through the years. On that score, the nation is much improved from the land previously governed entirely by wealthy white men.
But ongoing efforts in many parts of the country to make it more difficult to vote threaten to turn back the clock, which is never a good idea (unless, perhaps, it affords you an extra hour of sleep one weekend a year.) The ACLU reports hundreds of anti-voter bills in virtually every state in the union. They range from strict ID rules to purging voter rolls to limiting ballot drop boxes in minority communities. The result is that people of color, students, the elderly and other disadvantaged communities find it harder to cast a ballot. That doesn’t make for more secure elections, but rather more suspect results.
We are lucky here to enjoy secure mail-in balloting and a transparent process that renders results beyond question. And even in places filled with election deniers, the data has been clear: Local elections officials across the country have managed to conduct fair elections with accurate vote counts even as they are harassed and denigrated.
We live in a world of voting ease the suffragists couldn’t have imagined.
You may have forgotten that President Donald Trump pardoned Anthony for her 1872 crime of voting. That pardon was rejected by Deborah L. Hughes, director of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House in Rochester. She said a better honor would have been for Trump to take a clear stance against voter suppression. Trump didn’t do that. And misguided, armed “patriots” patrolling local polling stations aren’t interested in ensuring that every eligible American can vote free of intimidation either.
Protecting that most fundamental right and the legitimacy of the result is our job. It continues on the day after the election and throughout the days and weeks to come.
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