Women Get Vote, Push for Compulsory Voting

Gerrie Schipske

While most California women finally got the vote in 1911, several Long Beach women were allowed to vote in 1909 when property owners were asked to decide an issue in Long Beach. The movement for suffrage was as aggressive as the movement for temperance in Long Beach and many women were leaders in both movements. Take S. Marie C. Brehm. She was active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and even ran on its ticket for Vice President of the U.S. She was so committed to suffrage that she added the “S” to her name which stood for “Suffragette.”

Franny Bixby and Cora Morgan led the Political Equality League in Long Beach. Morgan became the second woman to register to vote in Los Angeles County and was considered the most powerful woman in Long Beach local politics. She ran the campaigns for several of the city commissioners and controlled the permits for vendors wanting a spot at the Pacific Market.

Many men and women argued against women getting the vote. Some argued that only church women would vote, others said that only “bad women” would vote and that the increase of voters would financially strap the State with election expenses.

Interestingly enough, 18 years later, politicians were lamenting that not enough people were voting.

It was Frank Merriam, resident of Long Beach and elected State Senator and future Governor, who proposed legislation that would make voting compulsory in California. The year was 1929 and there was concern among some about what was happening in Europe with the rise of Fascism.

Merriam argued that the effect of the small number of voters who go to the polls, by the very smallness of the vote, menace representative government.

Only one quarter of those eligible to vote in 1929 actually vote, he noted. His co-sponsor Senator Rochester of Los Angeles, voiced concern that “autocracies and dictatorships result from this limited franchise. Those countries in Europe which have compulsory voting do not have dictatorships, while in Italy and Spain, where voting is limited, there are dictators.”

Merriam and Rochester were met with objectors who felt that mandating voting would make voting unpopular and “thus defeat the purpose.” One state senator recommended educating voters as a means to over-come the non-voting habit.

Non-voting was considered a serious problem but not serious enough to make it compulsory.



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