In Winter Term 2018, Carter Craig and Rebecca Tew in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Honors Colloquium at Western Oregon University interviewed Representative Teresa Alonso León about the Nineteenth Amendment centenary and the importance of the vote. Representative Alonso Leon is a graduate of Western Oregon University and Portland State University. She was elected to represent House District 22 in November 2016 and is currently serving in her first term. House District 22 is composed of the communities of Woodburn, Gervais, and North Salem. Representative Alonso Leon spoke eloquently to the effects of empowering women to vote in our state and nation. Women have had an effect on all levels of politics and Representative Alonso León looks forward to women furthering their involvement by running for office and addressing other social problems.
Q: In your view, why is voting important?
Representative Alonso León: Voting is so important for every member of our community that can. I always tell people that if you are not making decisions, they are being made for you. Too many people in our community have been having decisions made for them.
It is equally important that when we encourage people to vote, we give them candidates at all levels of government that truly represent them and deserve their vote. That is why it is so important that women and people of color decide to run for office.
Q: What barriers to voting have some Oregon women experienced?
Representative Alonso León: I am proud of many of the steps that Oregon has made to make voting easier for everyone—including voting by mail, which allows people to vote anywhere and in a larger window of time, allowing voter registration at the DMV, fondly called “Motor Voter”, and now allowing 16 years old to “pre-register” to vote so that when they are 18 they are ready to hit the polls.
However, I am very concerned by suggestions by state leaders that Oregon’s voter registration lists should be cleared and everyone forced to re-register or that anyone should have to have an ID to vote. I also want our state to address the fact that those who have been incarcerated for a felony conviction are ineligible to vote. While we work to ensure that our justice system does not continue to incarcerate people of color at vastly higher rates, we must ensure that we also don’t strip those individuals of one of their most basic rights after they come back into our communities and work to build a life.
Q: How have some women used the vote as a tool for social change?
Representative Alonso León: Women vote in local, state and national elections to support candidates that reflect their values, they vote in their unions to elect the leaders that will fight for workers’ rights, they vote in commissions, boards, and associations across the state to improve their communities, organizations, and public bodies, and they are voting in the State Legislature to pass policies that help lift up our state. But that work is not new—women have been doing it for a long time and now it is our duty to amplify that work and to continue doing more.
Q: What additional points do you feel are important for us to consider as we commemorate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment?
Representative Alonso León: I want women in our state to know that it is so crucial for them to vote—but that they also need to be ready to lead. When you vote, make sure it is your name on that ballot!