Making Democracy Work

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Voting Rights Victory Again!

League of Women Voters

Dear Marylou,

We won!

On Friday, a federal appeals court sided with the League in our lawsuit against the state of North Carolina and overturned one of the worst voter-discrimination laws in the entire country. This is an overwhelming victory--not just for the League but, far more important, the hundreds of thousands of voters in North Carolina whose right to vote had been imperiled by the new law.

And it's a measure of the tremendous impact committed supporters like you are having in our ongoing campaign to protect voters' rights. Thank you for standing with us! The court barred North Carolina from requiring photo IDs and ordered the state to restore a week of early voting and pre-registration and maintain same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

In finding that the new law would disproportionately impact communities of color, the judges noted in their decision that "we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent."

Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters applauded that statement: "We are grateful to the Court of Appeals for seeing this bill for what it was: a race-based, chilling attempt to silence the voices of eligible voters."

The North Carolina law was one of many passed in states across the country shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act back in 2013.

Friday's decision was the third major victory for voters' rights in recent weeks, following similar decisions against anti-voter laws in Wisconsin and Texas.

I hope you are as heartened by this news as all of us here at the League were when we heard it on Friday--and I hope you feel a real sense of pride in contributing to this victory for democracy!

Thanks again for all that you do!

Sincerely, Jeanette Senecal Senior Director, Elections and e-Democracy

P.S. To learn more about elections in your state, please visit VOTE411.org.

Voters Won Today: League of Women Voters Prevails in Major Federal Voting Rights Case 07/29/2016

League of Women Voters North Carolina, voter id, HB 589

by Jessica Jones

Politicians have no business standing in the way of our right to vote

Raleigh, NC: The League of Women Voters has just won a major federal voting rights case, reinstating significant rights for North Carolina voters in time for Election Day. The League has been fighting HB 589, an omnibus voter suppression bill designed to limit the rights of voters, especially communities of color, since 2013.

"Democracy wins today. Voters win today. This decision is the latest in a string of major federal rulings that send a clear message: Politicians have no business standing in the way of our right to vote," said Mary Klenz, co-president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, a plaintiff in the case.

"We are grateful to the Court of Appeals for seeing this bill for what it was: a race-based, chilling attempt to silence the voices of eligible voters," said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States.

"As we've seen in Wisconsin and Texas, and now North Carolina, federal courts are calling foul on post-Shelby attempts to suppress voters' rights. Their rulings are loud and clear. Politicians do not control our democracy; voters do," Carson said.

"With this ruling, League volunteers will be able to get back to what we do best: equipping voters with the information they need to cast a vote this year," continued Klenz. "We have a lot of work to do to make sure North Carolinians understand how this ruling affects them, and we stand ready to help millions of North Carolinians exercise their most fundamental right to vote."

The League of Women Voters was represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union, and was joined by North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Onestop Unifour Collaborative, Common Cause North Carolina, and five individuals as plaintiffs on this lawsuit.

Contact: Maggie Bush, 202-429-1965

New Citizen Registering to Vote with the help of the White Plains League

NATIONAL VOTER REGISTRATION DAY 9/22/2015

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2015 is NATIONAL VOTER REGISTRATION DAY

The League of Women Voters is joining with over 1,500 other organizations to ‪#‎CelebrateNVRD‬ on Tuesday, September 22nd. While supporters of the day come from many different places and backgrounds, we all agree that voting is something to celebrate, whether it's in one of the hundreds of local elections taking place this fall or in next year's pivotal presidential election.

Call for Moderators

Call for Debate and Meeting Moderators

We are looking for volunteers to serve as moderators at candidate debates and other public forums. Paul Schwarz (of LWVW-WP), Moderator Coordinator for LWV of Westchester, will train volunteers in the time-proven guidelines established by the LWV. He will be holding one or more training sessions for persons who would like to explore becoming a moderator.

The moderators role is to conduct any debate in a manner that candidates and audience members are treated fairly and impartially. To avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, moderators are not assigned meetings within their own communities. Moderators are welcomed at events and treated with respect; it's also a great skill to have. Debates, or forums, are usually sponsored by a local League but sometimes by another group in a community. If you have interest or what to learn more, contact Paul at PKSchwarz1@gmail.com

Fighting for Voters Rights Since 1920

In 2013, just six weeks after the United States Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that ensured certain states were not implementing discriminatory voting laws, the North Carolina Governor signed into law an omnibus anti-voter bill.

The Voting Rights Act at 50

NY Times, August 5, 2015

For the first 48 years of its existence, the Voting Rights Act -- signed by President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this week -- was one of the most popular and effective civil rights laws in American history. Centuries of slavery, segregation and officially sanctioned discrimination had kept African-Americans from having any real voice in the nation's politics. Under the aggressive new law, black voter registration and turnout soared, as did the number of black elected officials.

Recognizing its success, Congress repeatedly reaffirmed the act and expanded its protections. The last time, in 2006, overwhelming majorities in both houses extended the law for another 25 years. But only seven years later, in 2013, five Supreme Court justices elbowed in and concluded, on scant evidence, that there was no longer a need for the law's most powerful tool; the Voting Rights Act, they claimed, had done its job.

In truth, the battle for voting rights has had to be unrelenting, and the act itself has been under constant assault from the start. As Ari Berman writes in his new history of the law, "Give Us the Ballot," the act's revolutionary success "spawned an equally committed group of counterrevolutionaries" who have aimed to dismantle the central achievements of the civil rights movement.

Today there are no poll taxes or literacy tests. Instead there are strict and unnecessary voter-identification requirements, or cutbacks to early voting and same-day registration -- all of which are known to disproportionately burden black voters.

The relative subtlety of the newer measures does not make them any less insidious. But it does make them more resistant to charges of illegality. A federal trial that ended last week in North Carolina provided the clearest example of the challenges faced by those who want to protect democracy's most fundamental right.

The case involves an appalling anti-voter law, H.B. 589, that North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature passed in a duplicitous maneuver only weeks after the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling. The law rolled back 15 years of voting rights measures, including same-day registration, which 90,000 North Carolinians used in 2012; a week of early voting used by 900,000; out-of-precinct registration; and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

If North Carolina were under federal supervision, as much of the state had been before the Supreme Court's ruling, H.B. 589 would almost surely have been blocked for its disproportionate impact on black voters, who tend to vote Democratic. But because of the ruling, the state's legislators were free to impose a raft of restrictions based on bogus claims of electoral integrity and efficiency. The legislators refused to testify at trial.

Powerful voting-rights advocacy groups -- including the N.A.A.C.P., the A.C.L.U., the League of Women Voters and the Advancement Project -- sued immediately upon the law's passage, claiming that it intentionally targeted minority voters, and yet more than two years and one federal election later, it remains largely in place and may well survive the current challenge.

This demonstrates the need for the Voting Rights Act's supervision scheme, which the Supreme Court eliminated. If there was any question that the court had misjudged the reality on the ground, it was answered by the speed with which North Carolina, Texas and other states moved to impose discriminatory new voting laws.

State officials complain that it is not fair to keep punishing them for the sins of the past. But as the plaintiffs' lawyer argued during the North Carolina trial, "the fight for equal voting rights is not ancient history." Rather it "has been an arduous, slow effort to overcome one barrier placed in the path of African Americans after another."

In North Carolina, as in many places around the country that are determined to undermine the right to vote, the past is far from over.

Message from LWVUS President on Voting Rights Act

On Feb, 27, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, a case which will ultimately decide whether millions of voters could face new barriers when trying to exercise their right to vote. The Voting Rights Act is an essential part of American democracy. It ensures that very American citizen, regardless of race, has an equal right to vote.

If the Justices overturn the Voting Rights Act, it would be the single biggest setback for voting rights in history. Join with us in pledging to protect the Voting Rights Act and the right to vote.

The VRA is indispensable to the League's work. The League protects and defends voting rights across the country in order to ensure that our elections are fair, free and accessible to all eligible citizens. The VRA has helped the League work to defeat restrictive state voter photo identification laws, block such laws where they have already been passed, and fight laws designed to curb organizations like ours from registering voters.

The thought that the Supreme Court might take away voting rights should send a chill down the spine of every American. We're working with our partners to ensure that the justices of the Supreme Court understand what is truly at risk if the VRA is overturned + join us and take a stand to support the Voting Rights Act.

Rooted in the movement that secured the right to vote for women, the League of Women Voters has always been committed to registering and turning out voters, and we're not stopping now. The VRA remains critical to ensuring that every American can cast a ballot and have it count. Join us in defending the VRA and ensuring all Americans have the right to vote!

Thank you for helping make our democracy work.

Sincerely, Elisabeth MacNamara President, League of Women Voters

Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee

In 1991 the League of Women Voters of Westchester established the Westchester Fair Campaign Practices Committee as a separate and independent entity. The League plays no role in the Committee's deliberations or decisions; the League does provide support services and administers the funding. The Committee is comprised of community leaders who represent a wide range of public interests and are recognized as being independent and fair minded. Members representing recognized political parties serve ex-officio without vote; they contribute political perspective and experience to the discussion.

Report on Campaign Finance Reform in NY State Forum Held Mar. 13, 2013

Forum on Campaign Finance Reform Mar 13, 2013

Laura Ladd Bierman and Barbara Bartoletti presenting

On Wednesday, March 13th the League of Women Voters of Westchester County, New Rochelle, and White Plains sponsored a forum on Campaign Finance in New York State at the White Plains Public Library. The lively Powerpoint presentation and discussion was presented by Laura Ladd Bierman, Executive Director, and Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director from the New York State League. This was their thirtieth presentation on the topic to raise awareness on this important topic, as well as to promote support for specific reforms, although they emphasized the reality that it is unlikely that all the reforms will be passed at once. However, they did say that this was a good time because Governor Cuomo has promoted reforms. In a recent phone conference in Syracuse, Cuomo even referred to the power of "small donors" in President Obama's successful campaign last year and then urged the various groups and individuals on the phone to engage in a big grassroots campaign to raise voter awareness and pressure the politicians into supporting campaign finance reforms. This mirrored the message from the NYS League.

The presentation illustrated how weak the current campaign finance laws are in New York State. The presenters noted that once third of the financing for the last election of state officials came from 127 people. They also pointed out that the State Board of Elections has no staff to carry out any investigations. The NYS campaign contribution limits are higher than any other state and there are many loopholes to allow corporations, businesses and special interests to contribute even more to candidates. One of the worst loopholes are the contributions to "housekeeping accounts' which are used to put on parties for donors, among other uses not exactly related to housekeeping. To learn more about these problems, take a look at this New York Public Research Group site(http://www.nypirg.org/goodgov/), a recommended source of research on this topic by the presenters.

The overall effect is a system in which wealthy individuals, corporations, unions, lobbyists, and other organizations can buy influence and access to elected officials. This leaves office holders spending too much time raising money to run again instead of working on constituent interests and leaves out many people who would like to run for public office but are prevented from doing so by lack of access to funds.

The NYS State League has put together a list of specific reforms. One of these includes enacting Fair Elections, which increase the impact of small donors. The League would also like to have a reduction in all contribution limits as well as a closing of loopholes. They would also like to see an increased and timelier reporting of contributions and expenditures, especially before an election. Finally they would like to see the State Board of Election actually have the staff to investigate campaign finance violations. State Senator George Latimer was in the audience. He noted all the changes made by the League over the last 20 years in response to member of the audience who doubted that much chance was really possible. White Plains mayor Tom Roach also showed up at the beginning of the program to offer his support to the League.

You can read more about this in a comprehensive report Preserving Our Democracy(download pdf) The NYS League encourages all members to become informed on this topic and to write a personal letter to your state Assemblyperson and state Senator to tell them that you support campaign finance reform and Fair Elections. They would also like you to encourage five friends to do the same as part of this grassroots campaign. The format for a letter is available at the end of the Preserving Our Democracy report.

Campaign Finance Reform Would Restore Public Trust

The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has allowed millions and millions of dollars to flow unfettered and unchecked into the election system in New York, eating away at the public's faith in government. To educate the public about the weight of special interests in elections and to advocate for campaign finance reform, members of the League of Women Voters of New York State have been holding a series of forums around the state for the past few months.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself has made overhauling the state's campaign finance laws a top priority once the state budget is completed this month.

So many of us have felt pessimistic about the state of politics in New York state, particularly when it comes to countering "big money" lobbyists. This is our opportunity for a breakthrough.

For the past 20 years, New York City's reforms have enabled candidates to finance successful campaigns through a system of publicly financed matching funds that essentially increases the value of a citizen's small donation at a 6-to-1 ratio. This means that a $125 donation turns into a $750 donation.

A publicly financed campaign system not only reduces the effect of money in politics, but has helped to level the playing field for qualified candidates who otherwise could not have afforded to run because big donors are not backing them. It also enables a diverse pool of candidates to run.

Encouraging small grassroots donors to participate in their government will make a significant difference. Candidates would not be beholden to "big money" donors. This is how democracy is supposed to work. Since publicly financed campaigns work in New York City, there is no reason why they can't work in the rest of the state.

Currently, legislators are forced to spend inordinate amounts of time raising money to finance their campaigns, taking them away from serving the public's needs.

In addition to setting up a system of public financing, loopholes must be closed, disclosure improved, and enforcement put in place.

Right now, campaign contribution limits are sky high.

Public trust for our state government is at an all-time low, for good reason.

Enforcement of present laws is lax and ineffective. More transparency is needed.

We need an independent, non-partisan, adequately financed enforcement body, separate from the Board of Elections. Personal use by elected officials of campaign funds needs to be banned.

Call, write, or email your state Assembly member and state senator and tell them to support campaign finance reform. We must not let this opportunity pass.

By Madeline Zevon, published in the Community View section of the Journal News of March 20, 2013

The writer is president, League of Women Voters of White Plains.

Witnessing the Solemn and Joyful Rite of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

A Privilege of League Membership: Witnessing the Solemn and Joyful Rite of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

How does it feel to touch exuberant joy, to embrace pride? My recent experience is one I'd like to share with you.

Every few years it is my privilege to represent the League of Women voters at Naturalization Court, to watch as people from all corners of the globe magically become part of the diverse fabric which makes up the citizenry of the United States.

On December 7th, a wet and very windy day which was the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor I entered the ceremonial courtroom of the Westchester County courthouse in White Plains and were immediately engulfed by the excitement and anticipation of those occupying almost every seat -- people of all generations several who were about to become citizens, many of whom were about to become citizens, many of whom were accompanied by friends and family.

We We were joined in our reserved front row seats by representatives of the Daughters of the American Revolution. War

We all were struck by the impressive milestone which was to occur momentarily. And then the Court opened by proclamation and the ceremony began with Deputy County Clerk Susan Kiernan announcing to Supreme Court Justice Gerald Loehr, "Your Honor, I would like to introduce 121 new citizens who have been examined by the Immigration Services and have been found to comply with all the regulations."

We all stood and watched as County Clerk Timothy Idoni administered the Oath of Allegiance, and then we joined the new citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag -- now also their flag!

And it is at this moment that we felt the transcendent joy and pride surrounding everyone in the courtroom and, also, deep inside ourselves.

Both Tim Idoni and Judge Loehr spoke movingly to the audience, welcoming them to "our democracy." The Judge referred to the history of the day, and to the responsibility of those who enjoy liberty, freedom and equality and how "we must not take these privileges lightly."

The new citizens came to the podium and received their certification, and then we greeted and congratulated each of the 121 new Americans, giving them first Voters Guides, flag pins and small U.S. flags.

They could now go into the entrance hall and apply for passports and register to vote -- and most did so!

They came from every continent, and from so many countries: from Canada and Mexico; from Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana and Latin America; from eastern Europe, Belgium and the U.K.; from Morocco, Pakistan and India; and from the far East and the Philipines.

As Tim Idoni said, "America is the sum total of all her people and the object of our government is the well-being of all the people." An idealistic statement, perhaps, but one that we still believe after 235 years.

Representing the LWV at this ceremony was a wonderful experience and I urge you to go if you have a chance. It is here that one can feel the optimism for our future. How precious is this thing called "citizenship," and how special that each of us can use it to make our democracy strong

Susan Weisfeld

Remembering the Long Road to Women's Suffrage

It is easy to get cynical or discouraged about the slow progress on issues like health care, education or economics. But a historic health care law eventually passed. Even more contentious has been the long struggle for women's rights. This year is the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. That simple step took 72 years from the day that Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood before the first women's convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 and shocked many people by suggesting that women should have that right.

At the Seneca Falls gathering, Mrs. Stanton, speaking publicly for the first time, read her Declaration and Resolutions supporting basic women's rights. All were adopted unanimously except the final one calling for women's right to vote. Many thought it was too extreme and would endanger the success of achieving other rights.

Editors writing of the convention used terms such as "the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womankind" and attacked women's rights as a "monstrous injury to all mankind" that would "demoralize and degrade" women. Women's rights would end in the destruction of home and family, some argued.

In the 1850s, Cady was joined by Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker, one of the few religious groups that supported women's rights. Anthony had cut her teeth in the temperance movement, aware of how drinking and gambling left mothers and children defenseless. Cady and Anthony effectively shared leadership of the women's movement for decades and complemented each other's skills.

Their immediate goal was to persuade the New York State Legislature to extend the Married Women's Property Act of 1848 so that women would have the right to keep their own earnings, to use or invest them in her own name, and to bargain, sell, and carry on any trade or perform any services on her own account. They argued that women should be able to enter into contracts, sue and have joint guardianship over their children. As a widow, she should have the same property rights as the husband would have at her death.

Against much opposition, these rights were extended in 1866, but suffrage, the right to vote, was still beyond reach. Cady proposed what was then considered radical steps to make it easier for women to dissolve unhappy marriages. This came from her broad vision of all the ways women's lives were hampered. Under the law of that time, she said, a wife who divorced would lose her home and children even if her husband had caused the breakup.

During the years that followed, women supported other causes, too. The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was passed in 1865. The 14 Amendment in 1868 gave all men born or naturalized in the United States the right to vote. Women, who trusted the promises that they would be next, were bitterly disappointed as the male reformers became reluctant to press for women's right to vote.

Stanton and Anthony continued to give hundreds of speeches across the country. Anthony focusing on the suffrage movement -- the right to vote -- and Stanton on a broader vision that encompassed "the complete development of every individual."

Stanton died in 1902; Anthony in 1906. Carrie Chapman Catt took over the leadership, following a conservative path supporting women's suffrage state by state, and helping elect sympathetic representatives and senators.

But a younger generation led by Alice Paul started the more aggressive National Women's Party and wanted a constitutional amendment. When Paul and her organization picketed the White House, they were jailed for obstructing traffic and some were manhandled and force fed when they refused to eat (They were dramatized in the HBO movie "Iron Jawed Angels").

Both groups worked toward progress in their different ways. Women argued that several states had already granted women's suffrage. Both Houses of Congress passed the amendment in 1919. The final hurdle was getting 36 states to ratify the amendment. This was achieved on Aug. 18, 1920, when the Tennessee legislature, by one vote, became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

Getting the word "male" out of the Constitution took generations. Stanton had written, decades before, that "We little dreamed when we began this contest, optimistic with the hope and buoyancy of youth, that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. ... There is an army of them where we were but a handful."

Catt, a New Rochelle resident at the time, founded the League of Women Voters in 1920 to help women become educated voters and to fight for equal rights. Many groups now share that goal.

The battle for equal rights is not over yet. While we measure the headlines in days, real change can take generations.

The writer, who lives in New Rochelle, is communications director of the League of Women Voters of Westchester. It was written with research assistance from Sydelle Herzberg, New Rochelle, LWV historian, and with assistance and support of Adelaide DiGiorgi, Tuckahoe, president of LWV of Westchester. For further information, a recommended resource is: "The Ladies of Seneca Falls. The Birth of the Women's Rights Movement," by Miriam Gurko.

By Ina Aronow * March 27, 2010