Promote an open governmental system that is representative, accountable and responsive.
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, the League and coalition partners sent a letter to the Speaker-designate urging him 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. 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 before the 2010 elections. 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.
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.
Throughout the next biennium, the League fought to ensure that the requirements of HAVA were 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.
Conventions 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 the League president visited six key states to promote issues of voter protection and education. By the late 2000s, the PAVP project had expanded to 16 states as the League engaged in targeted state-based advocacy. The LWVUS collaborates with state Leagues to enhance their public education and advocacy fight against onerous 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.
The League president travels across the country each year, meeting with state and local elections officials; key community members and leaders; and members of media. She addresses issues related to the PAVP project’s five focus areas.
One of the most urgent and widespread threats tackled by Leagues through the PAVP project is onerous voter 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. Examples of two of the many League voter ID actions in the 2000s: In 2008 and 2009, the LWVUS and the LWV of Missouri joined forces to fight a restrictive voter ID constitutional amendment, which narrowly defined the type of photo IDs voters must provide, thereby discriminating against people of color, the elderly, disabled people and low income-individuals.
The LWVUS filed an amicus brief in support of the LWV of Indiana in League of Women Voters v. Rokita before the Indiana Supreme Court regarding voter ID in 2009. In addition, the League filed an amicus brief in the Arizona voter ID case, Gonzalez v. Arizona, asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 prohibits a proof-of-citizenship requirement when using the national mail voter registration application form. The court agreed with the League in the case, which is still on appeal.