For many years women struggled and lobbied and fought to gain the right to vote in general elections in the United States and in England, beginning in the mid 1800s, and for years they got precisely nowhere. Indeed, the more active suffragettes endured prison, public scorn and even torture in the effort to be allowed to participate as full citizens. There are cantons (like provinces) in Switzerland where women cannot vote today, so the battle is not yet won round the world.
When at last the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified by the 36th (of then 48) state in 1920 the leaders of the suffrage movement sat back and began to think about what women would do with their new privilege and concluded that some education was needed. After all, women had been encouraged to remain firmly in their kitchens and dairies and nurseries and to leave affairs of business and state to the men. How would they know, suddenly, about issues and evaluating candidates and getting information? So the League of Women Voters of the United States was formed, and within a relatively few years, 35 or so, there were Leagues starting up in all states, with the mission of educating people (the ladies were quite happy to enlighten any men who were willing) in how to register to vote, how and where to vote, and—most important of all—getting information on all candidates and issues to the voters in an impartial, balanced way.
That is still the mission of the League and our most important activity. Because we neither support nor oppose political parties or individual candidates we are regarded as one of the best sources of accurate information from and about people running for public office. The organizers of the League also realized that, being uppity women, they would be scrutinized ferociously in all their statements and works, and created a process for adopting an official position which continues to gain the respect of the majority of the population.
When we want to adopt a position regarding an issue and then take action either for or against legislation affecting that issue, we require all the local Leagues, at the town or county level, to study that issue and come to consensus within themselves as to what position to adopt. Local Leagues report consensus to state Leagues, which in turn report to the national board. The national position is thus crafted through the research and debate of thousands of League members all over the country and all facts and conclusions checked repeatedly.
At election time local Leagues formulate questions on local issues for all candidates for an office and solicit answers which must be of the same length. These answers are then published, often with the cooperation of the local news media or local businesses, in a Voter Guide, so that voters can find out, in the candidates own words (we do not edit for spelling, grammar, syntax or content), what candidates think about those issues. We also organize forums in which voters can ask questions of the candidates and afterwards have an opportunity for one-on-one discussions. We also assist in voter registration drives, rides to polls, and place “Don’t forget to Vote” signs and advertisements. Be informed and vote is the message. It is interesting that because our nonpartisan stance is so well known and fiercely maintained our Voter Guides can be taken into the polling place and used while voting, while partisan or candidate materials are banned.
We preserve the name “League of Women Voters” for sentimental reasons, but more practically, to prevent some organization with motives which conflict with the League’s principles from making use of the abandoned name and both using our credibility and undermining it at the same time, but we have welcomed men as members for many years.
If you are interested in learning about issues in your locality, if you want to participate in the political process and advocate on issues, if you want to promote an informed electorate and encourage citizens to exercise their right to vote, the League is for you. In Wyoming every vote is tremendously powerful because of our small population and the fact that we have no large urban areas. By and large, we live in the same towns as our elected officials, we meet them at the grocery store or the doctor’s office and we have access to them in a way which is unimaginable in a city like Denver or in a state like Texas or California. Your voice can and will be heard by those elected officials, and the League can help you make sure you are heard. If there is no local League where you live, become a member-at-large of the state League. You can get advice and help on doing your own voter information projects and you will be kept abreast of all League activities through the quarterly newsletter, which you can receive electronically.