SENIOR POWER: Women’s Equality Day

By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Thursday August 15, 2013 - 03:40:00 PM

In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced in Congress legislation designating August 26 each year as Women's Equality Day in the United States of America. Women had finally been provided the right to vote when, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was signed. Sixteen other nations had already guaranteed women this right. The amendment had been introduced in 1878.  

What does this have to do with senior power, with old Americans? One might also ask whether old women vote. Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. Just who is or is not eligible to vote varies by country. Some nations discriminate based on sex, race, and/or religion; age and citizenship are usually among the criteria. Low voter turnout has been attributed to a variety of economic, demographic, cultural, technological, and institutional factors. It may also be due to disenchantment, indifference, or contentment.  

Over the last 40 years, voter turnout has been steadily declining in the established democracies. This trend has also accompanied a general decline in civic participation, such as church attendance, membership in professional, fraternal and student societies, youth groups, and parent-teacher associations. At the same time, some forms of participation have increased—people are far more likely to participate in boycotts and demonstrations, and to donate to political campaigns.  

States with the best older voter turnout are Washington, Maine, Montana, North Dakota and Colorado. Senior citizens are much more likely than younger people to vote. People under age 45 are much less likely to vote. Nationwide, 61% of people age 65+ voted in the 2010 election, the best turnout of any age group and compared to 46% of all citizens. In the United States, the oldest citizens are the most likely to cast their ballots, which gives us political clout beyond our numbers alone. 

Senior citizens have a vested interest in protecting the benefits they receive from the federal government. From Medicare to Social Security to Medicaid (California’s Medi-Cal), older people have a greater interest in voting than younger people who do not receive the same benefits. If these popular government programs for senior citizens were to change, it would dramatically affect the lives of most retirees.  

The voter registration process is another reason older people vote in greater numbers than younger people. Every time a person moves to a new address, she or he must re-register to vote. People over age 65 have more residential stability. The longer one is in a place, the more ties one has to the community and the more campaigns there are which are likely to mobilize one.  

Older voters tend to be more stable in where they live, whereas younger voters tend to be more mobile. Young people who forget or simply won’t bother to reregister at their new address may be kept from voting. Some political scientists contend that voters who are away from home at college are at a great disadvantage voting-eligibilitywise. Having lived in a university neighborhood and worked at polling places on election days, I am aware of just the opposite-- young twice-voters.  

Older voters are thought to have more time. "They have the time to participate in politics," says Paul R. Campbell of the U.S. Bureau of the Census. "Most of them are retired, largely thanks to Social Security, and they have the disposable income to make campaign contributions and the skills to write letters to politicians." 


The California Senior Legislature (CSL) is a four-day model legislative session in which 120 delegates, each at least 60 years old, convene in Sacramento to consider aging-related bills that they have written. It was established by the State Legislature to provide an organized grass roots advocacy tool with direct input into the State Legislature. Year-round activities include advocacy efforts to support CSL priorities, although I am not aware of any in Berkeley.  

The first CSL session was held in 1980. Since then, CSL delegates have spearheaded advocacy efforts in long term care, elder abuse, nursing home reform, national health plan and many other areas. Delegates are elected to four year terms in the CSL from all areas of California. There is a great deal of variation among the methods for holding elections and gathering votes. Primary responsibility has been the local Area Agency on Aging’s determination. In some areas, the elections are held in senior centers. It is years since CSL campaigning and elections were held in the two remaining Berkeley senior centers. 

In Alameda County, the Advisory Committee to the Area Agency on Aging conducts the election by receiving applications for the open positions, asking the prospective candidates to appear before a meeting of the Committee (which is open to the public) and make a presentation’ then the Committee members vote to select the Assembly and Senate members of the CSL from PSA 9. 

The 2013 Annual Legislative Session of the CSL will be held October 28 – 31. Senior Legislators will seek State lawmakers to author at least 10 of the Session's priority proposals and then work throughout the year to ensure adoption of these measures. The CSL is funded by contributions, not taxes. 


Why don’t women vote for women? Or, to put it another way, when there is so much unanimity about reforms women want, what inhibits them from voting themselves into power? There is no male bond to counter women’s submissiveness, which can be so divisive. Especially among Southern women. Women do vote, however-- slightly more than men. In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama carried 55% of the female vote.  

Need I say more? Just 2 things. ERA. Hillary! In the August 3, 2013 issue of The Daily Beast, conservative Myra Adams presents her version of “16 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Will Win 2016.” 


WORD - Women Organized to Resist and Defend - has issued a call to action: nationwide demonstrations for Women’s Equality Day, August 23-26. On Saturday, August 24 WORD joins the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington Rally and March in D.C. A few of the West Coast cities that will rally and march are: 

Los Angeles on Sunday, August 25 ( or 323-596-7340);  

Sacramento on Saturday, August 24 (; and 

San Francisco on Saturday, August 24 ( or 415-375-9502.) 

General inquiries:

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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends screening all patients 60+ years old for signs and symptoms of elder abuse and advocating for a safe environment for all aging women. ("ACOG Recommends Screening Women for Elder Abuse" (HealthDay News, Jun. 20, 2013).