Voter registration, candidate forums, issues: League of Women Voters can get you involved

Nov 11th, 2019 | By | Category: Spotlight

The Tacoma-Pierce County League of Women Voters holds a general meeting every month, and a recent one at the Puyallup Public Library found nearly every chair taken.

Members came prepared to take part in a lively discussion about the history of the suffrage movement, report on recent candidate forums, and share memories of their voting.

The group was engaged, interested and, in addition to taking care of important business, a lot of fun.

The League of Women Voters was formed nationally 100 years ago by women who were activists and trying to get the women’s vote, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County group’s president, Cynthia Stewart, who is passionate about the League.

She joined in 1972 when she had three kids under the age of 5. “I needed an outlet, something that would keep my brain going and an opportunity to get together with other adults,” she said.

Now, all these years later, she is still active and involved in the League.

The League, which is non-partisan, covers many issues and neither supports or opposes candidates or political parties.

“The overall mission is to get the public involved in government. We promote democracy, and we have two categories. One is voter services, and the other one is issues and action,” Stewart said.

The League works on voter registration, holds candidate forums and participates in election monitoring, including this year’s general election that ended Nov. 5. Their non-partisan involvement has given them high marks for being thorough, said Stewart.

Their “They Represent You” booklet, a directory of elected officials countywide, is very popular. “We print 7,000 copies and put them in libraries, politicians’ offices and any organizations that will take them. It is an information resource for the public that started many decades ago,” she said.

Paula Eismann serves as a unit leader (unit meetings are held in regions of the county and are open to the public), is a former co-president, and has been a member of the League for 20 years.“I’ve always been interested in public policy,” she said.

Eismann got her start when she served on the Planning Commission in the City of Edgewood, and has remained active for many years.

“The League does a study before we announce where we stand, and we use facts instead of emotions,” she said. She noted the League is inclusive and likes to look at both sides and allow people to express their opinions.

“We take on the environment, affordable housing, homeless issues,” she said, adding that this was the League’s way of keeping the public aware of what was happening so they are informed voters.

Last year the League held a three-part forum on civility that included voices from all areas.  “We also did a huge forum on homeless issues which brought in all the stakeholders,” Eismann said. “We really look at what is happening in society and do what we can to promote good decisionmaking.

League member Nancy Dahl attends Puyallup City Council meetings, writes a report on them and submits it to Eismann.

“I take detailed notes, and that helps me concentrate on what is being said and I try to get all of the comments,” said Dahl.

A member for the last three years, joining after the 2016 election, Dahl said she just couldn’t be uninvolved any more. She appreciates being part of a non-partisan group because it is focused on information instead of perception.

“These are not my positions but the League’s after intense studies. Every time I attend a League event, I come away feeling invigorated,” said Dahl.

Information about the League of Women Voters is available on the Tacoma-Pierce County unit’s website at tacomapiercelwv.org. 

Joan Cronk, who wrote this article, is a freelance writer from Puyallup.

Then and now: League’s original roots in Seattle have spread

Seattle is where the League of Women Voters first began to take root more than 100 years ago. At the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in 1909, Emma Smith DeVoe proposed creating a separate organization to educate women on election processes and lobby for legislation favoring women’s issues. Two years later, DeVoe founded the National Council of Women Voters (NCWV). Suffragists were some of the first members.

In 1919, after 15 states had ratified the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to give women the right to vote, the NAWSA and NCWV memberships voted to merge the organizations and become the National League of Women Voters. The consolidation was formalized the next year during a convention in Chicago.

Over the years, the League has lobbied for establishing the United Nations, opposed voter ID laws, and supported campaign finance reform.

As an organization, the League shuns partisan positions. It has played a role in partisan politics, though. Nationally, it sponsored presidential debates in 1976, 1980 and 1984 before stopping in protest of candidates’ campaigns placing conditions on the debate formats. At local and state levels, the League still conducts candidate forums for non-national races and addresses governmental issues.

In the Puget Sound area, local Leagues exist in King, Pierce and Kitsap counties, among others. The League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County, with about 700 members, lays claim to being one of the largest local chapters in the U.S. The League of Women Voters of Kitsap County reports 180 members.

Here’s how to contact the groups locally:

  • King County: seattlelwv.org, 206-329-4848.
  • Pierce County: tacomapierelwv.org, 253-272-1495
  • Kitsap County: lwv-kitsap.org

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