More than 150 years ago, Seraph Young cast a historic ballot in a Salt Lake City municipal election, the first woman in U.S. history to vote under an equal suffrage law.
Now, with another election approaching, a group of women who, like Young, are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are making their voices heard and urging their sisters in the faith to help defeat President Donald Trump.
These women are not radicals, even if what they’re doing — appealing to their fellow members' core beliefs to encourage people to vote against the GOP nominee — is a little radical.
The group, Women of Faith Speak Up and Speak Out, includes business, political and community leaders — women like Neylan McBaine, who heads up Better Days 2020, a nonprofit created to educate Utahns about women’s contributions to the state, and Susan Madsen, a business professor and founder and director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project. It features women like former Republican state Rep. Becky Edwards and former state Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham.
“This election is not about allegiance to a party, it’s about saving our democracy,” Tommie Montgomery Leydsman, a Coast Guard veteran and schoolteacher of 33 years, says in a new video from the group.
“This November, as women of faith and covenant, we reject the ugly, cruel and corrupt to champion principle, unity, harmony and integrity,” says Ally Isom, former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Gary Herbert who worked for the church’s public relations department until earlier this year.
The project grew organically, each woman in the video recording her own feelings, inviting others to do the same, and then splicing it into a unified message, Isom told me. She said they want to reach “the silent majority” and let them know “there are others who feel the current tenor in public discourse is unacceptable and even dangerous. In a way to say, ‘you’re not alone.’ ”
They are clear that they in no way claim to be speaking for the church, but they are speaking to the values espoused by the faith.
There are, of course, countless groups making similar cases for or against the presidential candidates. Last month, the Trump campaign launched its Latter-day Saints for Trump group, led by former Sen. Orrin Hatch and Cindy Biggs, the wife of a congressman from Arizona.
The day before Pioneer Day, Donald Trump Jr. led a conference call appealing to Utah Latter-day Saints, comparing his dad to a pioneer because he’s an independent outsider — and not, presumably, because he’s had three wives. (I couldn’t help myself.)
Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign has established similar ancillary groups to reach out to people of faith, including Latter-day Saints.
But here’s where Women of Faith and another, similar group — Mormon Women for Ethical Government — are more intriguing than most: They are appealing to a group of voters who have a particular unease with Trump.
Nationally, polls show women across the board favor Biden over Trump by a 16-point margin, which, if it holds, would be the largest gender gap on record.
In recent history, Latter-day Saints are the most reliable supporters of Republican presidents, along with evangelicals. In 2004, 2008 and 2012, the two groups were nearly identical in their support of the GOP nominee.
But, in 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, compared to 61% of LDS voters. Nationally, 55% of LDS voters approve of the president’s performance, with 40% disapproving, compared to 71% of evangelicals who approve and 26% who disapprove.
There is no national data specific to LDS women, but, in Utah, there is a wide gender gap between men and women in the faith.
Half of self-described very active LDS women in Utah strongly or somewhat disapprove of the president, and 59% of somewhat active women disapprove, according to a Y2 Analytics poll for Utah Policy in June. Contrast that with LDS men, about two-thirds of whom approve of the president.
It’s easy to see why LDS women would be put off by Trump’s heavy-handed policies, his boorish personal behavior and his persistent mistreatment of women. Those traits also open a door for a well-tailored appeal, which is what the Women of Faith group is aiming to do.
“In November, I will be prioritizing the character of our nation,” McBaine says in the video. “I will choose experience over entertainment, sincerity over posturing, and unity over chaos.”
You might be thinking that it doesn’t matter, since if Utah is close enough to make a difference, Trump has about 45 other states he’s losing as well.
And that’s true. But members of the church make up potentially important voting blocs in states that do matter. There are an estimated 180,000 LDS voters in Florida, roughly 100,000 in North Carolina, 330,000 in Texas, and 180,000 in Arizona.
Trump won Arizona in 2016 by just over 90,000 votes and is behind in the polls, so in this election, the votes of LDS women could indeed prove historic — although perhaps not quite as historic as Seraph Young’s.