On November 8, the nation will come together to elect its next president. The League of Women Voters, an organization established in 1920 during the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote, is encouraging all Americans to vote on election day. The Globe spoke with league member Judy Cochran and the chair of the Making Democracy Work committee, Mary Lanigan, about the organization’s efforts.
League members, which include women and men of various ages and backgrounds, are members on the national, state and local level. The Montgomery County-based League is a local chapter in Maryland—which means members work at what is called the grassroots level. “While local leagues discuss and vote on national issues,” explains Cochran, “we also focus on key issues important within Montgomery County.”
Members research and discuss current issues affecting Americans today. Following research on various subjects, league members create Fact Sheets which recapitulate information on these key issues. Facts sheets on national issues and issues specific to Montgomery County can be found at the organization’s website: http://www.lwvmocomd.org.
Fact Sheet topics range from immigration in Montgomery County, agriculture methods and youth at risk to campaign finance and ballot questions in the upcoming general election.
“We serve people of various backgrounds,” explains Lanigan. The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County reaches out to various communities in the county, which have included meetings with the Chinese American Parents Association and voter registration at the Maryland Buddhist Temple and Bethel World Outreach Church. The League also meets with senior citizens living in assisted living residences, and helps those residents unable to make it to the polls on election day request absentee ballots.
Civic engagement roundtables between League members and community leaders are also frequently held. These discussions focus on voter participation and how to increase community involvement and voter turnout.
Information pamphlets and voter’s guides are distributed throughout the county, including Montgomery College. Voter guides will be available in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building next to the campus bookstore.
“The main message,” explains Lanigan, “is that everyone needs to get out there and vote.” Voter registration is a key part of the League’s work, and members dedicate time to registering citizens.
This includes recently naturalized citizens taking part in their first election.
“There is a fairly low percentage of naturalized citizens registered to vote,” Lanigan explains.
Every first Monday of the month, League members attend a U.S. Naturalization Ceremony held in Greenbelt, Md. “The ceremony is incredibly moving,” says Cochran. Following the ceremony, members of the League meet with these new citizens and register them to vote. “We register them immediately,” explains Cochran. When naturalized citizens register to vote, they take their right as American citizens into action.
Forums on candidates and local issues can be found throughout the community. The League is a nonpartisan organization and places great emphasis on both voter registration and voter education. “We focus on educating voters about the voting system,” explains Lanigan.
The League provides voter’s guides, which include information not only on polling locations and election dates, but also on candidates. “We do not endorse any candidates,” explains Cochran. Instead, candidates are given the opportunity to respond to questions themselves and to submit their positions on multiple issues to the League. The League prints their submissions, untouched and unedited. “We do not touch their responses in anyway,” explains Lanigan. “As long as they respond, we publish it.”
Personalized voter’s guides can be found at http://www.Vote411.org. Information including upcoming forum events and registration deadlines are offered based on a person’s residence. Simply type in your address and you will receive a variety of information. “Our mission is informed voting,” explains Cochran. “We must be informed with key issues and the people affected by them.”
Students who are interested in getting involved with the League and volunteering can find more information at the Montgomery County League’s website: http://www.lwvmocomd.org.
“We are always looking for volunteers,” offers Lanigan. Students, including students who are under the voting age or non-citizens are strongly encouraged to learn more. “Young adults and non-citizens can always find opportunities to participate,” explains Cochran. “By just listening to a community forum, they can get a better understanding of our nation’s democracy.”
“The most important thing people can do is to encourage theirfriends to vote,” says Lanigan. “The right to vote is the most powerful individual right a person has. If you have registered, take the next step and get out there and actually vote. Be a part of democracy.”
The Maryland voter registration deadline is October 18. The general election will be held on Tuesday, November 8.