This article originally appeared in the Argus Leader.

In 95 years of existence, it is impossible to determine how many elections League of Women Voters has influenced.

In this case, however, the influence has been for the good. The national group, which has had a local chapter since 1954, requires its members to be nonpartisan. Instead of supporting individual candidates, LWV members register others to vote and sponsor informational events where prospective voters can be informed on issues.

All that without engaging in the political process themselves.

"If one of our members on our local or state board wants to run for political office, they would need to remove themselves from the board," said Nancy Hallenbeck, president of the LWV of South Dakota.

"It goes even to signage," said Deb McIntyre, president of the League of Women Voters of Sioux Falls. "If Nancy wanted to have a sign in her yard for a certain candidate, that would be discouraged."

The League of Women Voters, which marks its 95th anniversary on Saturday, was founded about six months before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Since 1973, men have been able to join the League.

In South Dakota, LWV chapters exist in only two communities, Sioux Falls and Aberdeen. A Rapid City chapter closed several years ago.

In Sioux Falls, League members are a familiar sight throughout the year. On Feb. 21 they will participate in the third and fourth legislative coffees of the current session, giving people a chance to ask questions of their state senators and representatives.

At 6:30 p.m. April 1 at the Instructional Planning Center, the League will host a candidate forum for the Sioux Falls School District board election and provide speakers both for and against the initiative on the school year start date.

And on Feb. 27, and three or four more times during 2015, LWV members will attend naturalization sessions, registering new citizens to vote after the swearing-in ceremonies. Those are some of the favorite times for League members.

"After the last one I probably took 50 or 60 voter registrations down to the courthouse," Hallenbeck said.

Other voter registration efforts focus on longtime state residents. A grant last year allowed the League to travel to American Indian reservations and visit vocational-technical schools to register under-represented populations.

"It was a wonderful experience to do that," said Hallenbeck, who traveled to the Crow Creek and Lower Brule reservations.

Stephanie Becker was raised in this area, then left to live in Washington, D.C., for 25 years. When she returned, she joined the League to reacquaint herself with people — and with issues.

"I like the voter education aspect of it," she said. "That would be my favorite part."

That is why for 15 years Becker, now state secretary, organized the legislative coffees. The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce handles the logistics for the events while the League supplies the volunteers who moderate the sessions, collect written questions from the audience, sort them into topics and time responses.

Again, nonpartisanship is essential, the women said.

"When we supply the moderator, there's a trust factor," McIntyre said.

Moderators undergo training to ensure all sides are treated fairly, Hallenbeck said. At the same time, those who sort through the audience queries do not alter the wording but try to reduce repetition.

"We're very careful with the integrity of the questions that are asked and not asked," Becker said. "After each legislative coffee, the questions are given to the Chamber and then sent to the (legislators). They just want to be aware of what the citizens of Sioux Falls care about."

Nationally, the League of Women Voters will tackle controversial issues and have its members study both sides. Last year, the topic was federal agricultural policy.

"We don't realize what a local impact there is for some of these issues," Hallenbeck said.

 

Local LWV

To learn more about the Sioux Falls League of Women Voters, visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/LWVSF, or email it at siouxfallslwv@gmail.com.

URL: 
http://lwv.org/content/league-women-voters-impacts-elections-good-way