What is the national popular vote and how does it compare to the U.S. electoral college system of voting? That question will be answered 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce by Angie Dunlap of St. Louis, who is going around to different League of Women Voters chapters throughout the state via the league's speaker bureau. The purpose of the presentation and forum is not only to educate league members but the surrounding community on league history as well as voting and election practices.
Dunlap presented the first in the series last month focusing on the suffragist movement in the U.S. The meeting Tuesday is on the national popular vote, and the Dec. 10 forum will explore Missouri's initiative petition process.
"It's all about the voice of the voters,” Dunlap said. “Women voters first, then presidential and then just Missouri voters and how we can have a direct impact on the legislation and laws of our state through the initiative petition process.”
Dunlap didn't want the 100th year of women's suffrage to go by unrecognized, she said. So she decided to visit league chapters in the state and offer the educational presentation and forum. The 19th amendment allowing women an equal right to vote was passed June 1919 and was ratified in August 1920.
"I want people to know about the league and the work we do, because I think it is a great organization," Dunlap said.
The national popular vote is an extension of the voting rights women were asking for 100 years ago, Dunlap said. The U.S. uses the electoral college system, first ratified in 1804. The number of congressional districts plus the U.S. senate determines how many electoral college votes there are and was seen as a way of evening out voting power of states with smaller populations.
"It just fits, for me to talk about [the national popular vote] right on the heels of the suffrage presentation," Dunlap said.
The electoral college system has been criticized for not offering an accurate picture of the popular vote. Whichever candidate reaches 270 electoral votes first is elected president under the electoral college system. There have been five occasions when the winner of the popular vote did not win the presidency, the most recent in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected president.
"The league has had the position since 1970, they told me, that they oppose the electoral college. It's been the league position that we are against it. So, you would have to change the constitution," Mexico-Audrain league president Sharon Swon said.
The U.S. constitution is hard to change, though. A constitutional amendment requires passage in both the U.S. House and Senate and then ratification of the amendment by two-thirds of states.
"The constitution doesn't change easily, and I'm actually glad that it doesn't," Swon said. "The national popular vote would replace the electoral college."
Swon hopes more people will attend Tuesday's presentation and forum. "Some people are really opposed to [the national popular vote] and then some people are for it and then some of us don't know because we haven't studied or read about it," she said.
The suffrage movement in Audrain County
"My effort was to get a feeling of the time of the suffragists and any activity there was across the state, and since I was talking in Mexico, I went through The Mexico Ledger and looked around specific events," Dunlap said.
The big events were the Republican and Democratic conventions in June 1916. Both political parties put women's equal suffrage, or the right to vote, in their party platforms that year. Republicans held their convention in Chicago, while the Democrats held theirs in St. Louis.
"It was a big deal, of course, because we had the trains and the women would go to St. Louis," Swon said.
It was at the St. Louis convention that 3,000 women held a silent protest outside the Democratic convention wearing white dresses, while holding yellow parasols and wearing yellow sashes. It became known as The Golden Lane.
"I didn't get to be a suffragette. I know I would have been one if I had lived at that time," Swon said. "I always admired the women. It took them a long time. Missouri gave women the right to vote in 1919."
A Mexico woman, Mrs. J.T. Johnson, attended the Golden Lane demonstration and the state's suffrage society meeting in St. Louis. She was a leader in the Audrain County Suffrage Association and was a founding member in 1920 of the Audrain County League of Women Voters.
"We really expected a little more for suffrage in the platform of the Democratic party than was given by the Republicans," she said in The Ledger in 1916 about her experience.
The Democratic suffrage plank stated, "We recommend the extension of franchise to the women of the country by the states upon the same terms as to men." The Republican plank was more exacting, stating that women should have the right to vote and that the decision should be determined on a state-by-state basis.
"I think Missouri will eventually get equal suffrage, of course it will be slow for Missouri. [It] is a very conservative state, yet it is sure to come sometime," Johnson said.
The suffrage movement in Audrain County and the state had planned to petition then Secretary of State Cornelius Roach, a Democrat, but decided to change tactics and work the case for suffrage through the state legislature. The state suffrage organization knew it would need $5,000, or around $118,000 adjusted for inflation, for its campaign.
"Mrs. Johnson served on the board for the state of Missouri for women's suffrage," Dunlap said.
The league created what was known as citizenship schools following the 19th amendment's ratification and the league's formation. It was a way to teach civics to the whole new swath of women voters, Swon said.
"They wanted to educate themselves, so I admire that. They had the league and the citizenship so they studied issues, and that's what they've done," she said.
The league's purpose
The league encourages an informed electorate. If there is a ballot issue, they learn about its pros and cons and then make a decision on whether to support it or not and provides information on the issue to voters. The league also defends the right to vote and helps people register to vote, Swon said.
"Our government is 'We the People,' and we the people are the government, and we should be involved and we should do things — advocated or oppose issues, let everyone know what is going on. The truth. That is what I really like," she said.
The Mexico-Audrain league does not charge membership dues to join, but it does collect dues for state and national membership, around $50. The league also then seeks business sponsors to help support its operations.
One recent issue the league opposed was the photo ID legislation, which requires all voters to have a government issued photo ID to be able to vote. The league didn't want there to be any hindrance to voting or anything that seemed like a poll tax, Swon said. The legislation passed, however, and so the league got to work educating voters about the law's requirements and how people could get a photo ID.
"We will advocate, on occasion, but it's never partisan. It's always on issues. It's not about who is on a ballot," Dunlap said. "We reach a consensus where we support, or oppose, or neither."
The league does not endorse any political candidates, but will hold candidate forums to give local voters a chance to see where candidates stand on various issues.
"As a league, we are not one party or another. Some people think, 'Well you're liberal.' Well, we're progressive. We don't see any point in going backwards," Swon said.
The local and state league are looking forward to the 2020 census and eventual congressional district map changes, Swon said. Congressional districts are determined by the census. The census also determines how much federal funding a region, county or community may receive based on population. The census is yet another opportunity to educate voters, which is what the league has done since its inception.
"I'm impressed that our league in Mexico is 100 years old. Before that, they were the women's suffrage movement. The Mexico league had an office for years," Swon said.
The Audrain County league always is looking for new members, regardless of gender. "We're small and I would like to have young people join us. Men, women, young people because I'm proud of the work we do. We register voters and if we had more people we could observe more boards," Swon said.
The Mexico-Audrain chapter currently has 13 members. If membership increases, it could have members attend public meetings as observers, and conduct poll surveys on election days.
"We try to empower [people] with knowledge so they can do all they can to engage in this government that we have, because it's our government and they should be active in it," Dunlap said.
NOTE: Angie Dunlap is not a direct relation to Mexico Ledger reporter Charles Dunlap.