Mark Peterson: Women voters could be key

06/13/2014 6:41 PM

06/13/2014 6:41 PM

2014 could become the year of the woman voter in Kansas. First, some data provided to “frame” the issue:

•  There are 1 million women age 18 or older in Kansas, according to 2012 U.S. Census estimates.
•  Of female Kansans age 25 or older, 650,000 have associate’s degrees or less education.
•  Of those 650,000 women, 350,000 have high school diplomas or less education.
•  There are 115,000 female heads of households in Kansas; 75,000 have dependents in the home age 18 or younger. Those who are mothers are not eligible for the same health care their children may receive unless, heaven forbid, their personal income is well less than $8,000 annually.
•  There are, according to that 2012 estimate, 279,000 single (never married) Kansas women – most younger than 30, many low-skilled and underemployed or unemployed.
•  Most Kansas K-12 schoolteachers are female. Their employment status is now more capricious than before this past legislative session.
•  Most nursing and nonprofessional personnel in health care are women. The further away from an actual nursing degree or technical certification, the lower the pay and the poorer the benefits.
•  Most low-wage jobs in retail and food service are “manned” by women.

In the 2012 presidential voting year, 67 percent of registered Kansans voted. The 1.18 million voters who turned out were evenly split by gender. Presidential years in Kansas consistently produce 20 percentage points more turnout than “off-year” elections. In the 2012 election, about 500,000 Kansas women did not vote. In 2014, if the off-year trend holds, 650,000 women will not be voting.

Of those 650,000 women who are less likely to vote, many will be those economically fragile female heads of households and young single women. These are people whose fates are often deeply affected by public policy – think school nutrition programs, public day-care programs, arts in the schools and community, Pell Grants, student loans, job training, Medicaid, welfare and food stamps, various protective services, child-support payment enforcement, and anti-discrimination enforcement against employers and supervisors. Many of these policy issues for these women, and even those with more education and better employment, were not addressed in ways that benefited them in the past two or four years.

Most of these women reside in the state’s urbanized areas. If mobilized, women could affect the outcomes of elections at the state and federal levels.

Democratic congressional candidates Kelly Kultala in the 3rd District and Margie Wakefield in the 2nd District, Democratic gubernatorial running mates Paul Davis and Jill Docking, and secretary of state candidate Jean Schodorf – along with the Reroute the Roadmap group and Kansas teachers union – are mobilizing and reaching out to this underrepresented, voiceless and economically stressed population.

After the treatment these women have had in the past 42 months, they might be “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It turns out that someone is paying attention.

Several groups have formed WomenforKansas.org and are orchestrating a “Taking Back Kansas” conference Aug. 29-30 in Wichita. Could 2014 be the “Year of the Woman Voter in Kansas”?

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