DETROIT - On August 26, 1920, women won the right to vote. Incredibly, almost 100 years later and in state after state, Republican legislators are passing voter suppression laws to take voting rights away. Most affected are people of color, women and working families.
The Metro Detroit chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women is determined to see they don't succeed.
At a CLUW-sponsored voter protection forum this week at United Auto Workers Local 22, speakers provided the vital information voters need.
Catherine Martin, retired UAW national Community Action Program assistant director, outlined a national CLUW program to enlist people to become poll workers and monitors. A monitor's job is to insure every eligible voter casts their vote, see that certain groups are not targeted at the polls, and make sure voters have the information and assistance they need during the voting process.
She said the program, open to any voter, is part of the AFL-CIO'S "My Vote, My Right" voter protection program. People can volunteer by contacting their local CLUW chapter or signing up online.
Another CLUW program Martin outlined is "Count to 5," aimed at mobilizing the maximum turnout of voters by asking members to get five others to commit to voting for working women's issues.
Johnnie Jolliffi, secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan, who is 58, called November's elections the most important of her lifetime. Women exert a big influence on people's lives, she said, and since women vote in greater numbers than men, that influence can turn an election.
She expressed outrage at Missouri Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin's remarks that women who are raped don't need abortion rights, and at the failure of leading Republicans to denounce him. She asked, "Are these the kind of people we want in office? We will not let Romney silence us. It's time for us to stand up."
Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey dispelled several common misunderstandings about voting, including one that ex-felons in Michigan cannot vote. Not true, said Winfrey. Also, anyone age 60 and over or expecting to be out of town on Election Day can request an absentee ballot, she noted.
Although Michigan has a photo ID law, Winfrey said voters still have the right to vote with a regular ballot by signing an affidavit saying "you are who you say you are."
The 2012 Michigan ballot will be very long and somewhat complicated due to the many voter initiated referendum questions and judicial races. Winfrey urged people to study sample ballots in advance and to make sure all offices and questions are voted on.
As an example, she said Michigan will be electing three members to the state's Supreme Court. "Judges make a big difference in our lives," she said, warning that 30 percent of voters walk out before voting in the judicial races. "Make all of your vote count," she exclaimed.
Photo: Catherine Martin, retired UAW Community Action Program assistant director, addresses the CLUW meeting in Detroit. John Rummel/PW