The League of Women Voters is celebrating its 95th year, but the nonpartisan group is more focused on the future than the past, members say.
“Throughout its history, the league has addressed the current issues of its day, and it has changed with the times,” notes Aiden Carson, vice president of the organization’s Asheville-Buncombe County chapter. “I think we’re really poised to take the next step — to become more involved in the community and to offer more opportunities to people who want to join.”
The organization works to educate voters, conduct research and advocate policy based on that research, Carson explains. “It’s been that way from the very beginning. We’re very involved in researching issues, and we come to conclusions, advocating for those issues.”
Over the years, those issues have included environmental quality, fair and honest campaign practices, affordable housing and an equitable tax structure, says Carson. This year, members of the local chapter chose to focus on four issues: voter rights, election reform, redistricting reform and health care (with an emphasis on Medicaid expansion).
“Our opportunity to express our preferences is through the vote,” notes Carson. “If it doesn’t work, we have to make it work. There is nobody to blame. There is no ‘they’; there’s only us. We have to take responsibility to educate ourselves, learn about the issues and help others register to vote.”
Standing up for democracy
The national organization was founded in Chicago in 1920, at the height of the women’s suffrage movement. Today, the league has more than 800 chapters covering all 50 states; membership is open to both men and women.
Chapter President Lizzi Shimer says the league was founded to give women a strong voice and help them make the most of their vote. To that end, the nonprofit hosts candidate forums, voter registration drives and other community events year-round.
“It’s not about any person or particular party,” Shimer explains. “It’s about providing that educational piece to the community so they can be as informed as possible when they make their own choices.”
Carson, a league member for more than 30 years, agrees. “Many people feel like they don’t have time to properly inform themselves, so they don’t feel like they’re qualified to vote, but it is just so important,” she says. “If you don’t vote, you’re just kind of consenting to the way things are.”
Virginia Daffron, who serves on the local chapter’s board (and is a freelance writer for Xpress), says she was initially attracted to the league because it offered an opportunity to be politically active without having to support a specific candidate or party.
“To me, it’s daunting to think of getting involved in partisan politics,” she says. “I think people are put off by the polarization, but there are ways that you can participate in the process and become more informed and involved that serve the overall agenda of democracy.”
Looking ahead, Carson hopes the league will continue to take a stand for human rights. She believes the next generation will help carry the organization’s goals into the future.
“I’m just really, really proud of the League of Women Voters and everything they do,” says Carson. “They’re standing up for the basic structure of our democracy. They make sure that all of the democratic processes are in place and are being followed properly. They’re watchdogs. I just think they’re a wonderful and indispensable voice for democracy.”