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.
With the explosion of supposedly “independent” spending by outside groups in the years since Citizens United, the League is pushing for tougher rules on coordination, since much of the outside spending is not independent and instead is coordinated with candidate campaigns. In addition, the League continues to push for legislation to protect and reinvigorate the presidential public financing system and to institute congressional public financing as well. The League also is working to reform the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission (FEC), which has refused to enforce the law.
Election Administration in the 2000s - When the disputed 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. In 2005, the League created a public awareness campaign 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 with a particular emphasis on providing quality voting information to first-time voters and traditionally underrepresented communities.
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 more than 20 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:
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 require issue monitoring and action by League advocates, often over multiple state legislative sessions, countless articles and opinion pieces placed in national and regional media, and multiple steps in the state and federal courts. League leaders and their partners have worked every step of the way to ensure that all eligible voters would have the opportunity to participate and have the tools necessary to overcome the confusion that results from these drawn-out battles.
During 2011-2012, 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), in successful court action to block restrictive ID laws from implementation in four more states (SC, TX, PA and WI) and in the 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 limits to independent voter registration in the state of Florida and quickly moved to Fill the gap created by those restrictions.
The years 2013-2014 brought renewed attempts to restrict voting both nationally and in state legislatures. LWV staff assisted 31 state League affiliates as they encountered voter suppression issues. Leagues were instrumental in advocating against approximately 25 strict voter photo ID bills during the 2013-2014 state legislative sessions.
LWVUS and state Leagues across the country undertook court action to block restrictive laws in Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Wisconsin and many other states, with several major victories prior to Election Day 2016. Multiple legal challenges are still ongoing. An updated “ID Toolkit” was distributed to ensure that a unified, comprehensive and sustained message was disseminated by Leagues across the country. The toolkit includes: national overview of photo ID laws, overview of major court cases across the country, and a host of useful advocacy suggestions and templates.
The Ohio League received support in a challenge to reinstate the “golden week” of early voting following the legislature’s action to cut it. In Georgia, a League-led coalition successfully stopped legislation that would have significantly reduced the early voting period.
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.
During the 2014-2016 biennium, the LWVUS with state Leagues successfully challenged purging rules in Florida and sought to reverse a decision by the new Executive Director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to allow documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements in Kansas, Georgia and Arizona, which, if allowed, could set a precedent for other states to impose these restrictions.
State Leagues in Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin were active participants and leaders in a variety of lawsuits seeking to block voting restrictions in those states.
In the lead-up to Election Day 2016, League volunteers worked around the clock to protect the rights of voters. They staffed English and Spanish language hotlines answering voters’ questions and troubleshooting 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. In states where restrictive photo ID laws had passed and were implemented, the League actively sought out individuals who could have difficulty getting the required ID for voting purposes to provide assistance. Assistance included education about the requirements, transportation to DMVs, and help in obtaining, and in some instances paying for underlying documentation (e.g. birth certificates). As part of this effort LWV printed tens of thousands of state-specifc voter education materials in the lead-up to Election Day 2014. In 2016 alone, the League’s work to protect and mobilize voters was featured in more than 35,00 news stories.
Leagues also regularly met with elections officials to encourage Election Day preparedness, poll worker training (especially in states where changes had been made), and fair distribution of resources so that all polling places are staffed and prepared for voters. Across the country hundreds of League volunteers staffed hotlines and worked as election observers to ensure voters’ rights were protected on Election Day itself.
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. Since 2013, LWVUS has promoted five key proactive election reform priorities:
At the 2014 Convention, delegates voted an ambitious program to examine “Three Key Structures of Democracy”: redistricting reform, amending the Constitution, and money in politics. Through League studies, new positions were developed on Money in Politics, Considerations for Evaluating Constitutional Amendment Proposals, and Constitutional Conventions under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. A League task force recommended a new position on Redistricting to Convention 2016, and it was adopted by concurrence.
Based on these new positions and the positions on Voting Rights, the LWV launched a Campaign for Making Democracy Work for the 2016-2018 biennium. Voter registration, education, mobilization and protection are key parts of this campaign, which extends to legislative reform at the state and local levels as well as the national level.