vote sign

Credit: by kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop) on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–As U.S. women finish voting today they will be sending a big message on who they are as a bloc and what they want in the way of abortion policy and health care.

They will also be displaying their influence over races across the country, given women’s greater tendency to vote; 65.7 percent of women and 61.5 percent of men voted in 2008, roughly the same percentages as in 2004, according to the U.S. Census.

In the first half of 2012, states passed 39 measures to restrict abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a Washington-based reproductive rights organization.

In March, the Democratically controlled U.S. Senate rejected a measure, the Blunt Amendment, which would have let companies decline to cover birth control in health insurance plans if an employer had moral objections.

Many Republicans, including Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, have their sights set on defunding Planned Parenthood.

For Democrats, all that has fueled charges of a GOP “war on women,” voter mobilizations and expectations of a major gender gap in their party’s favor.

Rae Lynne Chornenky, president of the National Federation of Republican Women, has a different view though. After going around the country and talking about “how women have fared these last four years under the current administration,” she thinks women will be turning out for her party.

“I really believe we’re going to see that gender gap disappear in this election,” she said.

Some polls have shown President Barack Obama and Romney are actually tied among women, but others continue to show a gap.

Local chapters of the National Federation of Republican Women have been knocking on doors, tapping into phone banks and registering people to vote. Although Chornenky did not have numbers on how many the group has registered, she said her group has about 75,000 members and that volunteers in states without competitive races had traveled to those states needing additional help.

The group’s national office works with the Republican National Committee, as well as the Romney campaign, to coordinate talking points, statistics and reactions to new polling, which they send to local chapters.

Late-Game Wild Card

The devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy are injecting a late-game wild card into the election, and there were concerns that it could hurt early voting.

“What the storm does to voter turnout remains to be seen,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and co-founder of MomsRising, a nonpartisan group that works to raise the national profile of issues such as family security, pregnancy discrimination and maternity and paternity leave.

But election officials in so-called battleground states like North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania said the storm did not appear to be substantially impacting early voting, reported Politico Oct. 30.

Professor of government and politics at George Mason University, Michael McDonald, wrote in a Huffington Post editorial on Oct. 26 that 2012 early voting was on track to outpace early voting in 2008.

But Rowe-Finkbeiner worries that new voting laws–including voter I.D. laws — could create problems for mothers who have changed their last names but don’t have an updated I.D. card yet.

While in some states these laws were overturned or frozen for the time being, new voting laws will be in force in 13 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

To help avoid such problems, MomsRising is part of the Election Protection Coalition, and anyone who has voting issues can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

Rowe-Finkbeiner emphasized that moms “have a tremendous amount at stake in this election” given the still-tentative nature of the Affordable Care Act, which she says helps women. “Some candidates, who if elected, said their top priority is to roll it back.”

The act includes a number of provisions specific to women, such as the elimination of “gender rating,” or charging women more for insurance than men, and mandating that all insurance plans provide maternity and newborn coverage.

When asked if women’s issues such as contraception, health care and abortion would take a backseat to the economy, Rowe-Finkbeiner said, “Women’s issues are a national economic issue” and the two are “difficult to separate,” noting that health care bills are one of the central causes of bankruptcy.

DuVergne Gaines runs the Choices Campus Leadership Program at the Feminist Majority Foundation, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Her program also fears the impact of new voting laws–from barriers to groups registering voters to shortened early voting periods and voter I.D. laws — on young voters on college campuses. She said these laws were the “biggest challenges that we and allies have faced in terms of 2012 elections.”

Social Media Outreach

Rowe-Finkbeiner said MomsRising has 1 million members and an estimated social media and blogging reach of 3.5 million people. With that behind it, the group is focused on using social media for its voter mobilization efforts. Not only has the organization registered people to vote online, she said, but its Facebook page allows people to share why they are voting.

A study published in Nature found that social media increases voter turnout. During the 2010 midterm election, Facebook posts encouraged an additional 340,000 people to vote.

The nonpartisan American Association of University Women (AAUW)–which hosted 1,400 debate parties and registered “tens of thousands of people” to vote this year–created targeted Facebook ads encouraging people to register to vote, according to Policy Director Lisa Maatz. It also ran the “It’s My Vote” Facebook page and a Tumblr account.

The group also conducted on-the-ground trainings through local branches in a number of states to help mobilize women, especially young women, to vote. And on election day, the entire staff of association –almost 100 employees –will call young women to remind them to get to the polls.

In 2008, the percentage of those age 18 to 24 voting was, as is typical, lower than the national average; 52 percent of women and 45 percent of men voted in that age group. However, that age group was the only one to show a statistically significant increase in turnout compared to 2004.

While Maatz said that the”big bang vision” is tempered by realistic expectations for all of her group’s projects, the association’s voter mobilization efforts have “really performed beyond my expectations.”

The 121-year-old American Association of University Women, based in Washington, D.C., and MomsRising both belong to an online communications coalition called HERvotes, which also has its own hashtag, #HERvotes, to help people follow the issues on Twitter.

As part of its own voter mobilization efforts, AAUW offers fact sheets on candidates and the issues it believes women will be attuned to. The fact sheet on the presidential race notes that Obama supports and Romney opposes the contraception mandate and the Paycheck Fairness Act, although it stipulates, “No AAUW policy position is implied by the description of these issues.”

Tweets With Buzz

Social media has been abuzz with election-related tweets as well.

On Nov. 1, @BarackObama continued his outreach to women, tweeting, “President Obama: ‘I will never allow politicians in Washington to control health care choices that women should be making for themselves,'” which was retweeted over 2,200 times.

The handle @waterwynd tweeted on Nov. 2, “#Women2012 Are the Majority Bread-Winners hence #Obama’s #FairPay Act, currently blocked by #GOP,” emphasizing the economic argument that some women make for the current president.

Republican women can use the hashtag #WomenforRomney to get their message out. The handle @arthbo used the hashtag in her Nov. 1 tweet that read, “The most important issue in this election is ending the national nightmare of Obamacare.”

While many HERvotes members such as AAUW are nonpartisan, AAUW’s “It’s My Vote” Facebook page focuses on “attacks on birth control” and fair pay, which as issues would tend to play in the Democrats’ favor.

Choices Campus Leadership’s Gaines said that her program has mobilized students around issues such as birth control, health care and student loans. The program talks about the Affordable Care Act and what “it has done and is doing for women across the country.”

“I think young women are just done,” Gaines said, referring to antagonizing effects of legislation ranging from family planning to war funding. “Their bodies are on the line.”

Maatz said that both parties and both sides of the aisle seem to be energized to vote this year and that “both parties are really courting women.”

“It’s no good if one party ignores us and the other takes us for granted,” she said, adding that “Balance works well for addressing these issues…regardless of who’s elected.”

Samantha Kimmey is a writer covering women and politics this election season.

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