2020 is a year like no other—a global pandemic and economic downturn, street protests against racism, hellish wildfires, and drenching hurricanes.
Against this chaotic backdrop, Americans will hold a presidential election, including significant congressional races, that many—whether Democrat, Republican or other—see as critically important to the country’s future. How will it all play out?
There are many influences at work: voting by mail, social distancing requirements, and foreign interference, to name a few. Another is the “women’s vote.” In this centennial year since the passage of the 19th Amendment stating that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” women are stepping into the political spotlight in unprecedented numbers.
For starters, Kamala Harris is the first woman of color on a major party presidential ticket and only the third female vice presidential nominee, following Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008. More women ran for office this year during primaries than ever before, breaking records previously set in 2018, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
More women won and now will be on ballots in the general election. Many are incumbents: both longtime officeholders and those looking to retain seats only captured in 2018. Others are seeking open seats where incumbents stepped down. Still others challenged members of their own political party and, in some cases, bested them.
Gains for women in the Senate may be difficult but the House is a different story, with some 300 women still on the ballot after the primaries.
In Georgia, there are several hotly contested races. Though women have been woefully underrepresented in the state’s congressional delegation, some progress may be made this year, with women on the ballot in 10 of Georgia’s 14 House districts.
There are currently 26 women in the Senate (17D, 9R), the highest number ever. Up until 1991, there were two or fewer women in that chamber; their numbers did not hit double digits until 2001.
Georgia is the only state with two contested Senate seats in 2020. That’s because Johnny Isakson stepped down in December 2019 midway through his third term for health reasons, allowing the governor to appoint a Republican businesswoman Kelly Loeffler as his successor. A special election for the seat will be held at the same time as the general election.
The “gender gap” – which refers to the difference in male and female voting numbers and their voting preferences – has been around and talked about since the early 1980s. In every U.S. presidential election dating back to 1984, women reported having turned out to vote at slightly higher rates than men, according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, the gender gap in party affiliation continues to widen.
In a country where voices are heard by votes, will women’s impact as both voters and officeholders be felt in this centennial year of a hard-fought, three-generation fight for the vote?