Commentary

What is the League of Women Voters anyway?

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Every day this month, come rain, shine, or frost, League of Women Voter members, Paul and Myra Abbott, come by and update the voter tally display on the courthouse lawn. People driving by see how many registered voters MoCo has and how many of us have voted so far in this election cycle. Posting these signs was a League idea and a League investment, and Montgomery County Clerk Karyn Douglas is grateful for it. It’s a simple thing but making the voting process more visible encourages more participation.

Volunteers with the League of Women Voters make this display possible as part of its ongoing work to build citizen participation in the democratic process.This month alone the League has offered voter registration, has uploaded the VOTE411 website where people can read profiles of candidates on our Montgomery County ballot, and placed cards listing times and places to vote in dozens of stores and offices throughout the county. Through the “Time to Vote!” project, high school seniors in cooperation with their US government teachers have been registered to vote. Each outreach League does is to remind you, whether you’re voting for the first time or the 50th time, that you are a valued citizen and part of the governing process of our nation. Citizens in this country shape how they are governed.

Our local government works not only because it is led by elected officials. Local government is effective because competent people operate departments dedicated to our utilities and other shared infrastructure. We are fortunate to take for granted running water, streetlights, roads, schools, sidewalks, wastewater treatment and scores of other shared resources that facilitate our daily lives.

Because our government is “of the people,” most of these public operations are overseen by citizen boards. These board meetings are open to the public. The League of Women Voters has an active Observer Corps that sends representatives to boards as varied as a school board or a drainage board. The active citizen work of the Observer Corps functions as a learning tool, as a conduit to inform other citizens, and to be sure that public boards live up to the trust placed in them.

The League also studies issues of public interest and concern. The public at large is most familiar with our Lunch with the League series that hosts a speaker who discusses a topic of public interest each month. (Lunch with the League programming is currently virtual and can be located on League’s website, Facebook page, and YouTube channels for viewing any time.) These are intended to engage our community in promoting positive solutions to public policy issues through education, conflict management, and advocacy.

Public officials and citizens alike value and trust the Government Directory that LWV publishes. The work of League is no more highly valued than in an election year when the organization keeps citizens informed about choices before them in a non-partisan way. League’s overarching goal is to empower voters and defend democracy as a governing form.

OK, but why did an organization like the League of Women Voters come into being?

The League of Women Voters has its roots in the women’s suffrage movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As is now well known, women of all ages and varied races and creeds worked tirelessly across three or four generations for the better part of a century. Finally, the men of Congress passed and later the 19th Amendment was ratified, one hundred years ago last August. Only one woman, a representative from Montana, could cast a congressional vote for women’s suffrage.

Those who had fought so hard and long for this simple declaration formed a group to help new voters more fully understand their new status. In its early days, League of Women Voters sponsored citizenship schools and civic education schools for women. This helped society as a whole see the merit of ongoing civic education for citizens. This has benefitted our whole society. Men as well as women were newly reminded that to keep our democratic system honest and fair, it’s vital for citizens to keep themselves informed and then to vote. That work continues onward.

What could be more important in an era of fractious national politics than to know an organization like the League of Women Voters exists to help forward non-partisan civic education? LWV envisions a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge, and the confidence to participate.

Our Crawfordsville League is 160 members strong and includes men as well as women. Here in the 21st century, League is putting an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and equality. Young people are active in League’s #SheisMe campaign. If you are not a member, think about joining us, partnering with us, or supporting this work to make our community stronger. Visit our webpage and Facebook page. Our democratic institutions can never have too many allies, supporters, or defenders. And, don’t forget to vote if you haven’t already.

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