On Mother's Day be thankful women have the right to vote — But it's worthless if we don't use it

On this Mother’s Day, it’s hard to believe that 100 years ago most women in America – except in few states – didn’t have the right to vote. We could bring children into the world, but we had no say in electing the officials who would have an impact on our children’s lives and on our own.  

By denying our ability to participate in our nation’s democracy, the concerns of women were deemed less important than the concerns of men. Since we were powerless to vote anyone in or out of office, campaigns did not seek to be inclusive and appeal to and engage women.

But times have changed.

Thankfully, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in1920, finally gave us the right to vote. And today women account for more than 60 percent of our country’s registered voters. Now we need to use this power of the ballot, not ignore it.

Women are still badly under-represented in elected office. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, only 23 of the 100 U.S. senators and 84 of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are women. In statewide elective executive offices, women occupy only 70 of 312 available positions – including just six of the 50 governorships. And only 1,874 of the 7,383 seats in state legislatures are held by women.

It’s estimated that so far more than 500 women have thrown their hats in the ring to run for federal, state and local offices in the current election cycle since last year.

These women – and the men and women supporting them – are delivering their message to voters every single day in states from Maine to California. The platform for Americans who want to ignite change and have their voices heard is bigger than ever. It’s thrilling to see so many people engaged in the political process.

Running for office is a worthy undertaking. We need more women in leadership positions on city councils, in state legislatures and governorships, and in the halls of Congress.

But another way to speak out and make your voice heard is to check in at your local polling place and vote. And what many voters don’t know is that they will have two opportunities to make their voices heard in this year’s midterm elections – in the primary and general elections.

Nearly 139 million Americans voted in the 2016 elections. Eighteen months ago, these men and women were impassioned and motivated to be a part of an historic election.

But even though voter turnout was at a high, less than 60 percent of eligible voters actually showed up at the voting booth. The numbers surrounding the primary elections were even lower, with 57.6 million Americans – about 28 percent – participating in the presidential primaries.

Six months from now, Americans will have another opportunity to choose the men and women who represent us in local positions, state capitols and in Washington. Historically, midterm elections have much lower turnout rates than elections in presidential years.

The 2014 midterm, primary and general elections hit a 72-year low, with only 36 percent of Americans voting in the general election. The state primaries, happening now through mid-September, had abysmally low turnout rates in 2014, with about 15 percent of those eligible voting in state primaries.

Too often, voters express a sense of “choosing a lesser of two evils” when voting in general elections. If you’ve had that feeling while standing in the voting booth, think about this: those candidates were probably chosen in races where less than half of your state’s voting population cast ballots.

These low turnout rates often contribute to the elevation of extreme candidates on both sides of the aisle, leading many general election voters to feel discouraged with the political process and their representatives. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Last fall, I joined a breakfast and bipartisan discussion in New York City about why women can and should run for office. It was just a few weeks before the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama, and the election was making national headlines.

The importance of primaries and sending strong, viable candidates to the general election was on the minds of everyone and a huge topic of discussion. Afterward, a few women in attendance said to me: “You know, I’ve never once voted in a primary. I had no idea it was so important.”

Every election is important. Every opportunity to elevate your voice, your concerns and your beliefs is one that should be embraced.

This year, we will again have the opportunity to participate in a potentially historic series of primaries and elections around country. Will you join us?

If you don’t know when your state’s primary election is, you can find out hereYou can also register to vote here.

Sarah Chamberlain is the founder of the Women2Women Conversations Tour and the president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership.

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