Founded by the activists who secured voting rights for women, the League has always worked to promote the values and processes of representative government. Protecting and enhancing voting rights for all Americans, assuring opportunities for citizen participation, working for open, accountable, representative and responsive government at every level—all reflect the deeply held convictions of the League of Women Voters.
In the 1950s, the League worked courageously to protect fundamental citizen rights and individual liberties against the threats of the McCarthy era. In the 1960s, attention turned to securing “one person, one vote” through apportionment of legislative districts based substantially on population. In the 1970s, members worked to reform the legislative process and open it to citizen scrutiny, and to balance congressional and presidential powers. The League also sought to reform the campaign finance system to reduce the dominance of special interests, affirmed support for the direct election of the President and fought for full voting rights in Congress for the citizens of the District of Columbia.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the League worked to break down the barriers to voting, first through reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and then through a campaign for passage and implementation of the landmark National Voter Registration Act. Campaign finance reform, with a focus on public financing and on closing loopholes, again was a major activity at the federal and state levels, with the goal of enhancing the role of citizens in the election and legislative processes. In the late 1990s, the fight for DC voting rights was reinvigorated.
During that same period, the League worked to ensure the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices and opposed term limits for legislative offices.
In the mid- to late 1990s, the League launched its “Making Democracy Work” campaign, focusing on five key indicators of a healthy democracy: voter participation, campaign finance reform, diversity of representation, civic education and knowledge, and civic participation. The 1998 Convention added “full congressional voting representation for the District of Columbia” to the campaign. State and local Leagues measured the health of democracy in their communities, reported the results and worked with other groups to seek change. The LWVUS report, “Charting the Health of American Democracy,” took a nationwide measure and made recommendations for change.
In the 2000s, this campaign continued. Convention 2002 decided to update the position on the Selection of the President, focusing not only on the electoral process but on the other factors that affect the presidential race, e.g., money, parties and the media. The position was expanded and formally approved at Convention 2004.
In the second half of the 2000s, the League supported legislation to reform the lobbying process and to rebuild public confidence in Congress. In 2008, the House passed new ethics procedures, including new ethics rules, disclosure requirements for campaign contributions “bundled” by lobbyists, and a new ethics enforcement process. The League also continued its work seeking full enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act.
In late 2010 and again in 2012, the League and coalition partners urged the Speaker to preserve and strengthen House ethics rules and standards of conduct.
Campaign Finance in the 2000s: The five-year fight for campaign finance reform paid off in March 2002 when the President signed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act into law. The League was instrumental in developing this legislation and pushing it to enactment, and remains vigilant in ensuring the law is enforced and properly interpreted in the Courts.
In the late 2000s, the LWVUS was involved as a “friend of the court” in two pivotal U.S. Supreme Court cases: Caperton v. Massey and Citizens United v. FEC. In the latter case, the League argued that corporate spending in elections should not be equated with the First Amendment rights of individual citizens.
In 2010, the League reacted swiftly and strongly to the Supreme Court’s adverse decision in the Citizens United case, which allowed unlimited “independent” corporate spending in candidate elections. The League president testified before the relevant House committee on the key steps that can be taken to respond, focusing on the importance of including tighter disclosure requirements. The League continues to urge passage of the DISCLOSE Act to ensure that corporate and union spending in elections is fully disclosed.
Today the League continues to push for legislation to protect and reinvigorate the presidential public financing system and to institute congressional public financing as well. In addition, the League has worked to reinvigorate the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission (FEC) which has refused to enforce the law.
Election Administration in the 2000s: When the 2000 elections exposed the many problems facing our election administration system, the League leaped into action. Bringing our coalition allies together, the League worked to ensure that key reforms were part of the congressional debate. In October 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was signed into law, authorizing funds for each state to improve the operation of elections according to federal requirements.
The League continues to fight to ensure that the requirements of HAVA are implemented in ways to assure voter access. The League created a public awareness campaign in 2004, 5 Things You Need to Know on Election Day, designed to educate voters about the new requirements and the steps each voter could take to protect access. The campaign was highly successful, and has continued in subsequent election seasons.
Convention 2006 revised the League’s stand on voting systems to assure that they would be secure, accurate, recountable, accessible and transparent.
Voter Protection in the 2000s: In 2006, the League launched its highly successful Public Advocacy for Voter Protection (PAVP) project and by the early 2010s, the PAVP project had expanded to 18 states as the League engaged in targeted state-based advocacy. The LWVUS collaborates with state Leagues to enhance their public education and advocacy campaigns to fight barriers to voter participation and to ensure election laws and processes are applied in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner.
Since its inception, the PAVP project has helped to remove or mitigate barriers to voting by underserved populations, and to advance the capacity of state Leagues to become even more effective advocates in five focus areas identified by the League as essential to protecting the votes of all citizens and improving election administration overall: (1) Oppose photo ID and documentary proof of citizenship; (2) Improve administration of statewide database systems; (3) Guard against undue restrictions on voter registration; (4) Improve polling place management; and (5) Improve poll worker training.
League work includes advocating for compliance with existing laws and regulations, such as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, and advocating for key reforms through education and advocacy, and litigation when necessary. League action has been directed toward legislators, state/local elections officials, other policy makers, the media and concerned citizens, as appropriate.
One of the most major threats tackled by Leagues through the PAVP project is onerous and restrictive voter photo ID requirements. As many as 21 million Americans do not have government issued photo identification, with minorities and low-income individuals disproportionately less likely to have photo ID showing a current address. The League’s efforts to combat voter suppression often required issue monitoring and action by League advocates, countless in the media, and multiple steps in the state and federal court process. League leaders and their partners have worked every step of the way to ensure all eligible voters would have the opportunity to participate.
During the 2011-2012 cycle, the League’s efforts resulted in the defeat of five strict voter photo ID bills during state legislative sessions (CO, IA, ME, MO and NC); successful court action to block restrictive ID laws from implementation in four more states (SC, TX, PA and WI); and success of the “People’s Veto” in ME in protecting same-day voter registration.
On Election Day 2012, Minnesota voters were the first in the country to soundly reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required government-issue voter photo ID and eliminated Election Day Registration in future elections. The League and its partners were instrumental in securing this success for voters.
In the late summer and fall of 2012, the League was also a leader in pushing back against illegal purging of voters from voter registration lists in Colorado and Florida. Finally, through additional court action, the League succeeded in overturning onerous restrictions on, and quickly moved to fill the gap created by, limits to independent voter registration in the state of Florida.
Currently, advocates and voters await decisions from three separate courts regarding the future of Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin’s voter photo ID laws.
In early 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two important cases challenging the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), jeopardizing key voting rights safeguards that have been in place for decades. The LWVUS submitted an amicus brief in each case, and the Arizona state League was a plaintiff in the NVRA challenge. The League strongly supported the enforcement mechanism in the VRA, and, in support of the NVRA, continued its opposition to a documentary proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration.
In the lead-up to Election Day 2012, League volunteers worked around the clock to protect the rights of voters. They staffed English and Spanish language hotlines answering voters’ questions and trouble shooting for them. They set up poll observing programs, worked as poll workers and reported challenges to the national Election Protection Coalition. All of this was carried out with the goal of ensuring votes were successfully cast and counted. The League responded to particularly concerning last-minute attempts to restrict voting hours in Florida and Ohio, incorrect signs at Pennsylvania polling sites suggesting photo ID was required to vote, poor preparation that caused long lines, and an onslaught of subversive robo-calls and targeted mailings intent on misdirecting voters in the final days.
When possible, Leagues also worked to improve voter registration database matching criteria; students’ right to vote using their campus address; increasing the effectiveness of public assistance office voter registration; and, fair and equitable implementation of early voting and vote centers. In 2013, LWVUS is promoting four key proactive election reform priorities: expansion of early voting, secure online voter registration, permanent and portable statewide voter registration and improvement of polling place management.