Strengthening Democracy

We’ll be presenting three Making Democracy Work® - For All awards at our National Convention, held in Washington, DC later this spring. The awards seek to highlight the work of state and local Leagues in our quest to make a more perfect democracy across the country and at all levels of government.

The Strengthening Democracy award is to showcase the work of Leagues that activate their grassroots network to advocate change around key issues, including protecting voter rights or increasing voter registration and turnout. For this award, we’re rewarding Leagues at the state level as well as the local level.

The four state Leagues that have been chosen as finalists are: the League of Women Voters of California, the League of Women Voters of Kansas, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

The League of Women Voters of California has helped restore voting rights to thousands of formerly incarcerated Californians. The California League has advocated on this issue for a decade through lawsuits, leveraged partnerships and built public support. In 2015, the League celebrated when the state halted an appeal restored voting rights to around 42,000 people in California.

The League of Women Voters of Kansas has been working diligently to Push Back the Purge! – a purge of the voter rolls of incomplete voter registrations due to a documentary proof of citizenship requirement by the Secretary of State. The Kansas League has been working with partners to fight for the 20,000 voters whom have already been purged and the 4,000 more voters who are added to the list each month. The Kansas League has been involved in a lawsuit against the unnecessary hardships and complexities of the proof of citizenship requirement which disproportionately impacts students, minority communities and the elderly.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio ran the Yes on Issue 1 campaign in support of ballot initiative to reform the state’s legislature redistricting process. After years of the League working in partnership with other grassroots organizations and gathering support from over 100 diverse groups, Issue 1 passed with 71 percent voter approval. The Fair Districts=Fair Elections coalition grew out of this movement and is now focusing on Congressional redistricting.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has recruited, trained and placed hundreds of observers in polling places statewide in seven elections since 2010. In November 2014 they had almost 300 volunteers who covered 493 polling sites, with a focus on low-income areas and sites that serve large student populations. With much confusion around voter photo ID in Wisconsin, the observers help ensure that election laws are applied consistently across the state and report problems to the League and its partner organizations for trouble-shooting. The observers also gather valuable data and voter stories that the League uses in its advocacy for clean elections. With each election the project generates enthusiastic new members and visibility for the League.

The four local Leagues that have been chosen as finalists are: the League of Women Voters of New Orleans (LA), the League of Women Voters of Sioux Falls (SD), the League of Women Voters of Dallas (TX) and the League of Women Voters of Arlington (VA).

In Louisiana, the League of Women Voters of New Orleans is working on extending and expanding citizenship through voter registration at weekly naturalization ceremonies. Since naturalized citizens have a lower voter turnout than native citizens, the League works with the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters office and makes sure there are representatives of the office also onsite so that the registration is seamless and immediate.

In South Dakota, the League of Women Voters of Sioux Falls hosts Annual Legislative Coffees where legislators from the Sioux Falls districts meet with their constituents in three televised public question and answer forums. The League partners with several other organizations including the Minnehaha County Republican Women and the Minnehaha County Democratic Party to facilitate these forums. In 2016 attendance was at a record high with around 500 attendees in each session and 100 percent legislator attendance.

In Texas, the League of Women Voters of Dallas created the Texas Voter Education Guide which is an online lesson plan for K-12 teachers in Texas. The League worked with the Urban Leaders Fellowship program to develop a plan for enhancing voter education in Texas schools. The best of online civics courses were used as models and all of it was aligned to Texas social studies standards. The Guide, which was presented to the Texas Council for the Social Studies teachers’ conference, is designed to address the poor voter turnout in Texas, especially among young Latinos, by increasing civic understanding in students.

In Virginia, the League of Women Voters of Arlington has created an innovative and sustainable partnership between the County public schools, the Arlington League and a student-led civic engagement group to register every eligible high school student to vote. The League recruited and trained over 20 volunteers and organized presentations in 40 classrooms, specifically concentrating on underrepresented groups of students. Through this program, 320 Arlington high school students were registered in time for the 2016 primary election and educated on the new voter ID law.

Help us decide which project in each group did the most to strengthen democracy by voting below! Don’t forget to vote for both the state League and the local League. Anyone can vote and the polls will close on May 31.