Montezuma County celebrates 100 years of the 19th Amendment

Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020 3:03 PM
The League of Women Voters of Montezuma County led a parade Saturday through Cortez, Dolores and Mancos with signs celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which was the largest ever expansion of enfranchisement in the U.S.

The 19th Amendment became law on Aug. 26, 1920, a first step toward the right to vote for women. One hundred years later, the granddaughter of a suffragist drove with the League of Women Voters of Montezuma County through Cortez, Mancos and Dolores Saturday morning to celebrate the centennial anniversary of that right.

Donna Fitzpatrick drove through town with a sign that read “Thanks Gramma,” a nod to who grandmother, who struggled so she could vote. Many of the other signs read “Be a Voter,” encouraging everyone to exercise their right to vote.

“It’s critical, every vote counts,” said Judy Schuenemeyer, a member of the League of Women Voters of Montezuma County and organizer of the event.

Schuenemeyer also emphasized that the 19th Amendment was only the first step for women in earning the right to vote. Black women faced the same barriers at the polls that Black men did in the Jim Crow South, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. And Native Americans didn’t gain the right to citizenship until 1924. Chinese Americans were granted citizenship in 1943.

“But we’re celebrating the fact that it was a first step,” Schuenemeyer said.

Suffragists often wore white with purple sashes in their parades, so members of the League of Women Voters of Montezuma County wore white shirts and purple sashes.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., mentioned this first step during the Democratic National Convention this week, in which she accepted her nomination as vice president.

“That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me,” Harris said in her nomination acceptance speech. “Women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty and justice for all.”

If Joe Biden and Harris win the election on Nov. 3, Harris will become the first female vice president. She is the first woman of color to accept a vice presidential nomination for a major political party.

Voting access has dominated national news cycles as mail-in voting becomes a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires social distancing and heavy sanitation. The U.S. Postal Service recently has made sweeping operational changes that have slowed mail service around the nation, creating concern about mail-in voting for the election.

President Donald Trump’s administration instituted policy changes at USPS that triggered some changes, including cutting overtime for employees, limiting post office hours and removing some high-volume mail sorting machines from USPS facilities.

Leaders in Washington are concerned that the policies were meant to hinder mail-in voting ahead of the presidential election, but Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before U.S. Congress on Friday that the changes were meant to increase efficiency and save money. DeJoy is a donor to Trump.

The postmaster general agreed to halt the changes until after the November election.

The nonpartisan celebration of the 19th Amendment included signs encouraging everyone to vote.

Some people across the United States have expressed concern that mail-in voting will lead to uncounted ballots or double-counted ballots, but Schuenemeyer of the League of Women Voters of Montezuma County said mail-in voting is what Colorado has already been doing, and it “works well.”

“From what I’ve seen, people take much more care when they can sit with a ballot and review all of the information,” Schuenemeyer said. “If you go to the polls, you just feel rushed because you know there are people behind you waiting.”

As for mail-in voting benefiting certain parties, Schuenemeyer said there hasn’t been a Democrat elected in Montezuma County for about 20 years.

“We just want everyone to exercise their right to vote,” Schuenemeyer said.