On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history. "This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless,” he said during his speech at the ceremony.
Almost 50 years later, it appears that quite a few US citizens feel that voting itself has become meaningless, especially in this election season marked by attack ads, robocalls and billionaire dominated SuperPacs. There is one group, however, that still whole-heartedly believes in the enormous importance of this fundamental right of American citizenship and fights daily to remind everyone just how precious it is, especially now.
For years, the League of Women Voters, the nation’s premier non-partisan organization, has been relentless in its efforts to remind Americans that voting is not only the essential privilege of our democracy, but also the foremost opportunity for any citizen to be heard on issues which affect every aspect of their lives. They have waged a tireless struggle against voter apathy and cynicism, while lobbying to make voting as free as possible. They are also trying, in today’s scathing political atmosphere, to re-excite and re-assure today’s voter that their votes count, especially in these turbulent economic times. And nowhere are these battles being fought more fiercely than at the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.
“People get turned off. They don’t think their vote means anything,”” says Miriam R. Adelman, the current New York City League President. A trailblazing attorney who graduated from Brooklyn Law School in a class that was 95% men, she remembers with great joy standing in line to vote for the first time in a US Presidential election.
“I think we have to convince people that their vote does count," she continues. "They don’t see how the vote affects their lives. They have to understand that every time they walk out the door – if the sidewalks are clean, the schools, education, who you elect affects all of these things. Most people don’t pay attention to an election until it’s almost the time to vote."
"People forget in history how hard it was for certain groups to get the right to vote. Women in the United States have had the right to vote for less than 100 years”.
Adelman points out that one vote in each election district could have changed the outcome of the 1960 Presidential Election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. She also cites the recent Iowa caucuses, where Rick Santorum’s margin of victory over Mitt Romney was 34 votes out of more than 120,000 votes that were cast.
“One vote alone may not change the outcome but one vote with other votes could change an election. In very small election districts, one vote can make the difference."
The other crucial mission for the League is to lobby against any laws they feel infringe on anyone’s freedom to vote. “We are for all voters” says Adelman, “even though we are the League of Women Voters. We have expanded our viewpoint to advocate foremost that people can vote as easily and openly as possible.”
The League of Women Voters of the City of New York is currently working with the national League of Women Voters on several such issues. Among them is to oppose the requirement in certain states that people have photo IDs in order to vote, which is not the law in New York. Another goal is to curtail the impact or even overturn the SuperPacs. In addition, the New York League is educating high school and college students about the importance of voting, leading voter registration training sessions for local community groups, and has created a Voter Registration Training Guide.
The League would also like to be known as the leading source of impartial information on candidates and elections. “A goal of the New York City League of Women Voters is to position ourselves as the first source of nonpartisan information that New Yorkers turn to,” says Ashton J. Stewart, the New York City League’s Executive Director.
“One of our most widely used sources of election and voting information is our website,” he continues. “By visiting LWVNYC.org during election cycles, New Yorkers will find many voter resources and links including a comprehensive, downloadable New York City voter guide and a link to VOTE411.org, a national League of Women Voters online voter-guide shared by the state and local leagues.”
“If a voter visits VOTE411.org, selects New York State and enters their address, it will provide them with campaign information for candidates in their election district in a ballot form similar to what they will see on Election Day.”
The League invites the candidates to take part, says Stewart, but all the information comes from the candidates themselves, without any editing by the League. “We just review the content to make sure there is nothing derogatory or offensive.”
Another source for voters, especially those who have no or intermittent internet access is the League’s year round telephone service. The most common question asked, Adelman says, is “what election district am I in?” The New York City League also distributes free voter guides and sells certain publications, all without any endorsement whatsoever of any candidate or candidate’s position.
“We are very careful with the information we give out, that it maintains our non-partisanship,” adds Adelman.
And what is the one thing Adelman would like to see everyone do this year?
“Vote! Get out and vote," she says emphatically. “Express your opinion…whoever you vote for is an expression of your opinion. Elected officials see what people are saying through their votes. They care about people voting because they can see what people are interested in. Votes count.”
www.lwv.org National League
www.lwvnyc.org NYC League
If you like writing about U.S. politics and the 2012 campaign, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.