Only a few short weeks have passed since Election Day, but it already feels like a lifetime ago. No longer are voters in swing states subjected to nonstop political ads, and the evening news is once again covering a host of national and international issues instead of just wall-to-wall coverage of the presidential campaign. But, Election Day was as much a starting line as it was an end point. Now is the time to reflect back on the 2012 election and look toward what’s to come in 2013.
For years, the League of Women Voters has been proud to work towards Making Democracy Work™. What do League members do to put our mission into action? They work to ensure all eligible voters are registered and able to vote. They get those voters turned out and active at the polls. They protect voters from undue barriers and help voters overcome the barriers they face. They educate voters on the issues most important to them. They advocate for legislative solutions to the problems facing our communities at the local, state, and national level, and take on countless other actions. Our volunteers also take on other seemingly small and individual tasks to ensure that all voters’ voices are heard and honored. Together, these individual acts result in millions of voters served nationwide.
Each year, we seek to reform the process in order to move democracy forward and make sure the act of voting gets easier, not harder. But, this year opened with an unprecedented attack on voting rights. Leagues across the country met this challenge head on. In many states, we worked with a wide variety of partners and civil rights leaders to successfully battle back against illegal purges of voter rolls, onerous voter photo ID requirements, and attacks on our longtime independent voter registration drives. These struggles took place in state legislatures, state, district and federal courts, and as ballot initiatives. The culmination of this work came when 11 states’ suppressive laws were stopped in time for Election Day, and when voters in Minnesota soundly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment requiring voter photo ID in future elections. This victory marked the first time that voters rejected such an initiative.
Yet, we recognize that we will be continuing the fight to protect voters in 2013 and beyond; currently, we’re awaiting decisions from three courts, regarding the future of Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law. Additionally, we anticipate more attempts to restrict voting both nationally and in state legislatures. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case on the Voting Rights Act, potentially jeopardizing key voting rights safeguards that have been in place for decades.
We will also continue efforts to engage as many new voters as possible. On National Voter Registration Day in September 2012, over 1,000 organizations across the country helped register nearly 300,000 voters! We were one of the lead participants of National Voter Registration Day, and Leagues in nearly 250 communities held registration events in 44 states. League volunteers will build on this work by welcoming first-time voters into the political process during next year’s local, and very important, elections.
On the ninety-second anniversary of the 19th amendment, we re-launched our one-stop online elections resource, VOTE411.org. Throughout 2012, over two million voters used this resource to find answers to their most pressing questions: am I registered, who’s on my ballot and where is my polling place, as well as whether or not to expect any changes in the voting process since the last election. VOTE411.org will continue to be an invaluable elections resource providing information for voters in elections in 2013 and the years to come.
In addition to registering thousands of voters and protecting the rights of untold voters, these volunteers helped millions of voters learn about the candidates. Leagues across the country distributed millions of voters’ guides and hosted hundreds of candidate debates from school board up to U.S. Senate, in order to help educate voters in their communities. In non-election years, these same volunteers will convene their neighbors in important discussions about the issues facing their communities and our country.
Facing larger-than-ever threats of big money in our elections this year, Leagues also utilized their experience and solid reputations to battle back against the onslaught of deceptive political ads. Through our Truth in Campaign Advertising Project, League members encouraged local television stations to reject deceptive political ads and/or provide viewers with nonpartisan, objective analysis of the political ads being run on their stations. We hope a new trend of stations fact-checking campaign ads will become the norm as an integral part of the community service local media provide voters. We also supported the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required full disclosure of political campaign advertising spending in federal elections, and were disappointed when the Senate refused to even debate the issue. Leagues nationwide put pressure on their elected officials to stop the flood of secret money by supporting disclosure in general and the DISCLOSE Act specifically. In 2013, we will continue to battle back against the influence of secret money in our political process and to ensure voters have all the information they need before they vote.
This fall, I visited eight states to help ensure preparations were in place for the upcoming elections. To accomplish this goal, I met with elected officials, poll workers and observers, coalition partners, voters and the media to ensure voters were getting the information they needed to be able to vote in this historic election. I couldn’t have been prouder when, even as Hurricane Sandy threatened millions of voters’ opportunity to exercise their right to vote, Leagues in the affected areas jumped into service, ensuring voters had up-to-date information regarding changes in their communities. They set up hotlines, used social media, and worked tirelessly with elections officials to ensure voters were able to cast a ballot.
And on Election Day, I watched as voters stood in long lines to cast votes in those key states. As the president himself acknowledged on election night, our election system can and should be better; Election Day is our opportunity to weigh in on the pressing issues facing our nation, and our elections process needs some adjustments to ensure it is more responsive to voters’ needs. The League will continue to work with legislators and other officials and offer our support in creating an election system that is free, fair and accessible to all eligible voters.
Through all of this innovative work there were many success stories this Election Day. But there were also many aspects of our elections process that can and should be improved to make our democracy work better. To start, there were reports in a number of states of misleading information regarding ID requirements. There were hours-long lines in many states.
As the League looks forward, we are committed to addressing these issues and the many others that will arise to ensure a smoother voting process that engages the entire electorate, as well as continuing our work to get secret money out of politics. We look forward to partnering with voters and supporters across the country to accomplish this work.