Advocacy groups reflect on voting rights on the anniversary of the 19th Amendment

“We’re not celebrating, we’re working,” Susan Gobreski, director of government policy for the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, told the Capital-Star

By: - August 18, 2021 5:47 pm

(Capital-Star file)

On the 101st anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Wednesday, civic groups in Pennsylvania reflected on the occasion with a watchful eye on the deluge of voting rights reforms around the nation. 

“We’re not celebrating, we’re working,” Susan Gobreski, director of government policy for the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, told the Capital-Star.

Gobreski and her colleagues are working to make voting more inclusive, adding that there is a “shared obligation” to find a pathway for qualified electors to cast their vote. 

“Ultimately, the 19th Amendment was about correcting a gap in the franchise,” Gobreski said, adding that “inclusion has to be a part” of the conversation.

“We still have a long way to go to make sure people of color are fully enfranchised.”

– Susan Gobreski

Calling the civil rights movement and the ratification of the 19th Amendment “moments where we woke up and decided it was time to look at voting rights collectively,” Gobreski said she feels there is an “opportunity” now to make voting even more inclusive. 

Kadida Kenner, executive director of the New Pennsylvania Project, a civic engagement group modeled after Stacy Abrams’ New Georgia Project and Fair Fight Georgia, echoed Gobreski about the need to address barriers women and voters of color face. 

“As we celebrate the 101st anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, let us be reminded that winning the right to vote for some women in this country was a long and hard fought battle,” Kenner said. “Today we can honor the legacy of those who fought to expand democracy by expanding the electorate to include disenfranchised women. We must keep the embers burning 101 years later to make the promise of a reflective democracy a reality”

While reflecting on the importance of the 19th Amendment, Kenner called on Congress to pass two pieces of legislation that Democrats and voting rights advocates have argued would strengthen the 1968 Voting Rights Act and protect against voter suppression efforts –  the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for late Georgia congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, and the For the People Act.

“The hard truth that so many Americans have to overcome voter purges, polling place changes, restrictive and unnecessary voter ID law, intimidation, and hours-long lines should shame us as a nation,” Kenner said. 

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Kenner’s call for strengthening voter protections comes as Republican lawmakers across the country look to tighten voting restrictions in the aftermath of the 2020 election, following former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of mass voter fraud. 

From Jan. 1.  to July 14, 2021, 18 states, including Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Louisiana, enacted 30 laws that restrict voting rights, according to Brenner Center for Justice data published last month. 

In Pennsylvania, legislators have previously mulled over increased voter identification requirements to no avail. 

This summer, GOP lawmakers made another attempt to institute tougher voter ID requirements as part of HB 1300, an election reform bill that was swiftly vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in June. 

Already, a new election reform bill – which does not include voter ID requirements – is making its way through the state Capitol. 

With a softened stance from the governor, House GOP to reintroduce election reform bill

“There’s a lot of work to do to make sure that people may vote, and that they are able to vote,” Gobreski said, adding that the League of Women Voters is “keeping an eye out on what our state Legislature is doing.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.