This month, March 2019, is Women's History Month in the United States and we Tennesseans have much to celebrate.
We celebrate Tennessee’s role in being the state that made the “perfect 36” required for the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. In a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett dedicated the 2019-20 Blue Book this month.
As League members, we are especially proud because the League of Women Voters is the successor organization to the Tennessee suffragists who worked so tirelessly to pass the 19th amendment. We commend Secretary Hargett for recognizing the significant role Tennessee played in our nation in guaranteeing all women the right to vote.
Notwithstanding our state’s proud history, however, in 2016, Tennessee was ranked 48th in the nation for voter turnout among all states and the District of Columbia. 48 out of 51, almost dead last!
But here is more good news. According to the recently released report “America Goes to the Polls 2018” prepared by Nonprofit VOTE and the US Elections Project, in 2018 Tennessee moved up in the rankings, from 48th place to 45th place. Tennessee voter turnout for the 2018 midterm elections was over 18 percentage points higher than in 2014. That means more of us are playing a role in selecting our leaders.
Yet, we believe that even 45th place is not good enough for Tennessee. As Tennesseans, we know we can do better—our democracy depends on it! There is more work to be done.
Voter turnout varies widely from state to state. While it is true that voters are more engaged in highly competitive state and local races, that factor does not explain everything. The data analysis of this national report points to the more important factors of election policies that made it harder or easier to vote. In Tennessee, the 2017 implementation of online voter registration has been very successful and is likely a contributing factor to the huge increase in voter turnout in Tennessee.
But let’s not stop there. We should consider additional policy changes to make it easier to vote that have a proven track record of success in other states. States with higher rates of voter turnout have adopted policies that include same day registration, automatic voter registration, and easy access to absentee ballots or other vote at home methods.
Automatic Voter Registration makes registration at motor vehicle and other government agencies an opt-out rather than an opt-in activity. Seventeen states have AVR, including Georgia, which, as a result, reported a tripling of voter registrations from driver services and record voter turnout. Officials report benefits such as applications processed more quickly and efficiently, fewer election day complaints about voters having to go vote where they were formerly registered, fewer provisional ballots and cost savings.
The League of Women Voters commends the TN Election officials for recent implementation of online voter registration and the thoughtful implementation of Election Day Convenience Vote Centers. We will continue to advocate for additional improvements so that Tennessee can move from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in participation in our democracy!
Vice President/Advocacy Chair