PROVIDENCE, RI -- Secretary of State Ralph Mollis celebrated the 91th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in Rhode Island by registering 131 students at Woonsocket High School Wednesday.
Hundreds of students packed the school’s auditorium to hear Mollis use the example of women’s suffrage to illustrate the importance of voting and taking on difficult challenges. Students saw the original state law granting Rhode Island women the right to vote in 1920 and Hillary Clinton’s signed Declaration of Candidacy, which officially entered her in Rhode Island’s 2008 presidential primary.
In 1920, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment giving women the right to vote. After passage by Congress, amendments to the Constitution must be ratified by two-thirds of the states before taking effect. Rhode Island ratified the amendment on Jan. 7, 1920.
But Rhode Island did not wait for its sister states to act. The General Assembly enacted its own version – “An Act Extending the Right to Vote to Women Citizens” – which was signed into law April 22, 1920.
“I think many students were surprised to learn it was not so long ago that women were not allowed to vote. I hope exposure to documents like this will inspire students to learn more and aspire to be better citizens,” said Mollis.
The teenagers had the opportunity to see both documents up close. Some even posed for photos with the historic papers.
Mollis combined the history lesson with a voter registration drive. He plans to register voters at every Rhode Island high school and college leading up to the 2012 elections.
“People who register to vote are more likely to become engaged and effective citizens of Rhode Island. Some of these individuals will become our next generation of leaders. Now is the time to reach out to them,” said Mollis.
His emphasis on young people reflects the reality that nearly 9 out of 10 eligible Rhode Islanders are already registered – more than 700,000 in all.
“The growth in our state will come from reaching out to newly eligible groups like high school and college students,” said Mollis.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 59 percent of eligible 18-to-24-year-olds were registered to vote on Election Day 2008. Just 49 percent actually voted in that election.
The Secretary of State’s office prepares the ballots for all federal, state and municipal elections held in Rhode Island. In addition, the office maintains the state’s central voter registration system and distributes handbooks that explain how to run for office, how to register to vote and how to vote.
Secretary of State Mollis is committed to making it easier to vote, helping businesses grow and making government more open and accessible. Students who missed the Secretary of State's visit can find voter registration forms and answers to frequently asked questions at sos.ri.gov.
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