Protecting the integrity of our democracy is a never-ending endeavor.
We are reminded of that need as we mark the 95th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women across this country a voice in their government by granting them the right to vote.
Winning the right to vote was a long and arduous process. It took decades of activism, agitation, even civil disobedience.
Women from across this country, across generations and across the political spectrum labored to win the right to vote. Women, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul, were jailed, heckled, ridiculed and beaten in response to their efforts to strengthen and protect the foundation of our democracy, to ensure a government truly of, by and for all people.
Here in Maine, after a visit to Bangor by Susan B. Anthony in 1854 and equal rights speeches made by Lucy Stone in Augusta and Cornish in 1855, the Maine Women’s Suffrage Association was formed. The association, which later would become the League of Women Voters of Maine, led women and men in the effort to secure Maine women’s right to vote. In November 1919, Maine became the third New England state to ratify the 19th Amendment.
It has been nearly a century since the 19th Amendment was adopted. In that time, we have seen many more victories for political equality. Our democracy grew stronger as voting rights expanded to include more and more Americans and as people across this country stood together, fighting for a more perfect democracy.
But as we celebrate these victories and the sacrifices made by so many to fulfill the founding principles of our country, we must remember the struggle to ensure a true democracy is far from over.
Today we are presented with new challenges, including one of the most serious: the growing influence of money in our political system.
In recent years, the floodgates of money in politics have opened. Unlimited funds are flowing into our political system with little transparency or accountability.
That money drowns the voices of the people and concentrates power and control in the hands of a small group of wealthy donors.
A recent New York Times analysis of political giving in the 2016 presidential campaign shows that fewer than 400 families are responsible for nearly half the $388 million raised to date. The New York Times calls that a “concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.”
Those donors have influence.
A 2014 study found that the opinions of ordinary Americans have little to no effect on public policy, while the opinions of wealthy donors held significant sway over elected officials that resulted in the adoption of policies they favor.
A system that values donors over voters is not a true democracy.
Now is the time for us to change course.
That’s why 80,000 Mainers signed a petition to put Question 1 on November’s ballot to ensure politicians are accountable to us — the people.
Question 1 will put control of elections back into the hands of Maine voters by making common-sense reforms to our campaign finance laws.
First, it encourages candidates to adopt strict spending limits by strengthening Maine’s landmark Clean Elections system, which allows candidates to run for office without being dependent on contributions from wealthy special interests and big-money donors.
Second, it increases transparency and disclosure of special interest money in our elections by requiring outside groups to list their top three funders on ads they buy.
Third, it increases fines and penalties for anyone who breaks our campaign finance laws. This helps ensure our representatives are accountable to the people — to us.
Leaders of the past fought to ensure that every American could vote. Our foremothers made great sacrifices to ensure political equality for all.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, it’s our turn. We can honor their sacrifice by ensuring the right to vote they fought so hard to secure still matters.
Question 1 gives us that opportunity.
In a political system where money is equal to speech and power is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy few, Question 1 will elevate the voice of everyday Mainers in elections and ensure that everyone — not just the wealthy — is represented in our democracy.
We encourage our fellow Mainers, men and women alike, to vote yes on Question 1 this November.
Elizabeth Sutherland is a member of the League of Women Voters of Maine and a partner at Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications in Bangor. Jill Ward is president of the League of Women Voters of Maine and works as a nonprofit consultant in Portland.