By Taylor Reid
MI First Election
As the 2016 presidential election nears, the League of Women Voters of the Lansing Area is racing to provide voting information to the community, and defend the rights of voters.
Recently, the League has opposed two bills that have been signed into law. The first eliminates straight-ticket voting. The other forbids libraries and local governments from using public money to give information about ballot proposals 60 days before an election. League co-presidents, Camilla Davis and Beth Moore, believe that these bills limit the rights of voters.
“Anything regarding legislation that has to do with voter rights, we express a lot of opinions on. I feel that it’s our responsibility to stick up for voters, and to make sure that their rights are being respected,” Davis said.
The law about information has particularly worried Moore. A large responsibility of the League is to create voter guides that educate people about candidates and the proposals. With this new law, there is concern that these guides will no longer be allowed in libraries.
Founded in 1920 as an of the women’s suffrage movement, the League of Women Voters is a volunteer organization aimed at helping voters understand important issues.
“I always say that we have two arms. Extending from one is the voting information, and then advocacy is the other,” said Moore.
Originally, the organization allowed only women to join, but this has since changed to include everyone. In the Lansing area, about 15 percent of the League’s members are male.
“While our roots are in getting women the vote, we really encourage everyone to join, and we fight against any form of discrimination,” Moore said.
Creating voter guides is only one of many ways that the League tries to educate voters.
Marilyn Wilson, who handles voter services for the League, said that there is much to be accomplished before the November election.
First up? Emailing all the high schools in the Lansing area to discuss information about registering to vote. Another priority is to post information about the candidates on Vote4111.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to reach new various generations. It would be nice if students could vote online. I think that would get more people involved,” Wilson said.
To inform Michigan State students, the League has partnered with YouVote, which encourages students to vote. However, a problem has arisen from the constant change of leadership in this student-run organization.
“Students graduate and then someone new takes over, so it’s hard to build a steady relationship with them,” said Davis. “We’d like to do more with MSU students. We’d like to be able to give them more information, particularly about where they can vote.”
During meetings, the League discusses hot button topics. With many opinions expressed, conversations can last for hours. The League arrives at decisions by consensus voting. This involves coming to a decision that best reflects the majority’s opinions.
“Once we all agree on something, we’ll start to write legislators and get information out to the general public. We also will submit testimonies,” Moore said.
Why undertake these tasks? For Davis, the reason is simple.
“A lot of things in this country would go better if people expressed their opinions,” she said. “We have to participate to make change. Voting and advocacy is not just a privilege, but an obligation.”
Once a month, the League of Women Voters carves out time for an activity less intimidating than standing up to legislators: their book club. Mostly, the members read biographies about women, a celebration of the roots of their organization. Currently, the members are reading “The Women Behind the New Deal,” a biography about Frances Perkins.
“The books we read help us better understand our government, and how things work. It’s important to understand our history, and to learn about different things,” Davis said. “And it’s a great bonding experience for the League.”
If you’re interested in joining the League of Women Voters, visit lansing.mi.lwvnet.org/.