WASHINGTON – Maryland Rep. Constance Morella joined a coalition of women’s groups kicking off a national campaign Thursday to register women voters and increase their participation at the polls.
Known as “Women’s Vote ’96,” the effort is the product of more than 100 organizations, including the League of Women Voters, religious, political and social groups and unions and businesses.
Local fund-raising events will be organized as part of the $500,000 campaign.
In College Park, for instance, sociology students at the University of Maryland have scheduled a cake sale for Nov. 15 and raffles for students and professors.
Organizers of the campaign criticized what they said is low turn-out among women. “We’ve got to shake up women in the United States,” said Morella, R-Bethesda. “You’ve got the franchise. Use it.”
Only about 45 percent of women who were eligible voted last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited by Irene Natividad, chairwoman of “Women’s Vote `96.”
That percentage is the lowest since 1974, according to organizers of the drive.
Maryland does not count men and women separately among the state’s 2.4 million registered voters, according to a spokeswoman at the state Administrative Board of Election Laws.
Organizers of the campaign linked voter participation and success in winning legislation favorable to women. Through voting, women can win “control over their lives and their future,” Natividad said.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., identified child care, economic opportunity and job training as women’s issues.
Morella cited government testing of medication important to women and access to health care and credit as reasons why women should vote.
She also mentioned the Violence Against Women Act, which President Clinton signed into law last year as part of a national crime bill. Supporters in the House are trying to get additional money for shelters for battered women, domestic violence hotlines and police training in handling rape cases, said Mary Anne Leary, Morella’s spokeswoman.
Curtis Gans, head of the private Washington-based research organization, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, said a gender gap was apparent in last year’s elections.
“Women voted more Democratic than Republican and more Democratic than men,” he said in a telephone interview.
But when black women are separated from the overall totals of how women voted, “women voted Republican,” he said.
Women are less likely than men to support war policies and are more concerned about public safety and the quality of education, Gans said. Men “are likely to be more belligerent and risk-taking. They are less compassionate,” he said. -30-