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Tuesday marks the launch of Make It Work, a three-year, non-profit campaign that hopes to call attention to women’s economic security — or, one may argue, insecurity.

Make It Work is specifically focused on the economic inequality experienced by women, which the organizers believe is too often ignored or forgotten in broader discussions of income and wealth inequality.

Vivien Labaton, co-director of the campaign, explained to The National Memo that as more women graduate college — at increasingly higher rates than their male counterparts — and take on the role of breadwinner in the home, the gender wealth gap may be easily overlooked. Make It Work seeks to remedy this by seizing upon the opportunity that the 2014 midterm elections and 2016 presidential election present for women: a chance for them to use their “highly coveted votes” as a means of ensuring that candidates answer for the economic concerns that plague women’s lives and threaten their economic security.

Considering that women account for approximately two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers in the United States, candidates from either party could suffer by ignoring the reality that wealth inequality and gender pay gaps disproportionately impact women. Through online ads and on-the-ground organizing tactics in three soon-to-be announced targeted states, Make It Work will push the message that any candidate who addresses these issues deserves women’s support during election season.

The campaign is avoiding overt partisanship, but Democrats presently stand to gain more from the movement than their Republican opponents. Because the issues at hand require remedies that exist only through policy reform and legislative action, and Make It Work’s strategy relies heavily on the influence of women’s votes in political elections, an absolute divorce from party politics seems impossible.

Women’s votes could determine whether Democrats retain control over the Senate in 2015. Women now make up 53 percent of the electorate, and in the 2012 presidential election, 55 percent voted for President Barack Obama. The 2012 presidential election also saw an increase in unmarried female voters, to 25 percent of the electorate; nearly tw0-thirds of them voted for Obama. Democrats will need to keep those numbers high to compete in competitive midterm races.

Both parties recognize the weight of women’s votes — but they have considerably different approaches as they attempt to appeal to women. Facing the accusation that they have waged a war on women, Republicans have backed away from specific women’s issues and focused more on merely disputing the claim that said war exists — or at least that they are waging it.

The dialogue among elected Democrats goes deeper. In an effort to mobilize voters of both genders, Democrats have focused on income inequality and introduced legislative initiatives — like a minimum-wage hike — to tackle this challenge. Democrats — including the president — have also assumed the role of outspoken defenders of women’s economic rights, explicitly tying wealth and income inequality to gender discrimination and the gender pay gap. With legislative proposals like the Paycheck Fairness Act — a bill that would, among other things, allow women to fight for fair and equal pay — Democrats are confronting women’s issues far more directly than Republicans. Whether this earns them Make It Work’s support remains to be seen.

Even if it does, Democratic candidates — especially those in red states — will face an uphill battle. The issues most important to most Americans — and, specifically, women — are those that influence and shape the Democratic Party’s platform, and yet these positions are often distracted from and distorted.

Wealth inequality and women’s economic security can define the next few months or even the next years, but only if men and women force candidates to answer to the unequal economic realities of so many Americans in order to win an election.

As Labaton puts it, this is not a “persuasion challenge,” but rather an “activation challenge.”

Yet she remains hopeful. “We know the potential is huge,” she says.

Photo: Sarahstierch via Flickr

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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