The Fight to Ensure Full Equality at the Ballot Box: An Interview with Dr. Megan Gall

by Matilda Young

Three red, white and blue buttons that say "Vote".

For Dr. Gall, voting rights work is very much intersectional, particularly in terms of LGBTQ equality.

A century ago, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Now, 100 years later, women-identified leaders like Dr. Megan Gall, Sherrilyn Ifill, Kristen Clarke and Stacey Abrams are carrying forward the legacy of early suffrage leaders by fighting to ensure that all of our votes are counted and that all people have access to the ballot box -- including LGBTQ people. 

For Dr. Gall, voting rights work is very much intersectional, particularly in terms of LGBTQ equality. “One of the things that has always struck me about the queer community is that as a group of minorities, we’re the only group of minorities where members of our community belong to every other community on earth. Because of that intersectionality, when we work on voting rights for other large marginalized communities, [LGBTQ people] are swept into what we’re doing because we are in all other groups.” 

Gall began her work in this field right after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County vs. Holder, which invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

“When we lost that protection, it meant that jurisdictions didn’t have to out themselves as making changes to election plans,” Gall said. As a result, “states just started making all kinds of changes.” Many of these changes are, in effect, modern-day voter suppression, with the rights of marginalized communities being targeted. 

Gall, the data director at All Voting is Local, is working to stop votes from being lost. All Voting is Local is a collaborative campaign housed at the Leadership Conference Education Fund in conjunction with the ACLU, American Constitution Society, Campaign Legal Center and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Gall said, “We came onto the scene so we could fight disenfranchisement before the last resort — litigation. We have a lot of litigation partners and it’s great work, but if it’s gotten to litigation, that means the damage is done.” 

For Gall, looking at the history of voting rights, the 19th Amendment was critical for enfranchisement as well as critically incomplete. “It was critical in that it enfranchised 26 million women before the 1920 election. And it was the result of decades and decades of work.”

“But women of color were really left behind by that scenario. The majority of Black women, even after the amendment passed, couldn’t vote because of state issues, particularly in the South. And women of color were particularly susceptible to intimidation, violence and poll taxes in a way that white women were not. Native American women had to fight for citizenship and then for the right to vote.” 

“It wasn’t until the 1964 Voting Rights Act that we as a nation really did the hard work of fixing the things that were left out of the 19th Amendment. And it certainly wasn’t a total fix,” Gall said. 

Groups like All Voting is Local and Abrams’ Fair Fight 2020 are hard at work to fix these ongoing issues of disenfranchisement and discrimination. Thanks to advocates like Gall, Abrams and civil rights leaders across movements, 100 years after the 19th Amendment, our journey towards full equality at the ballot box marches onward. 

This article first appeared in HRC’s Equality Magazine, and has been condensed. For the full article, click here.