Citizen’s Right to Vote - Protect the right of all citizens to vote; encourage all citizens to vote.
DC Self-Government and Full Voting Representation - Secure for the citizens of the District of Columbia the rights of self-government and full voting representation in both houses of Congress.
Apportionment - Support apportionment of congressional districts and elected legislative bodies at all levels of government based substantially on population.
Redistricting - Support redistricting processes and enforceable standards that promote fair and effective representation at all levels of government with maximum opportunity for public participation.
Money in Politics - Campaign finance regulation should enhance political equality for all citizens, ensure transparency, protect representative democracy from distortion by big money, and combat corruption and undue influence in government. The League believes that campaign spending must be restricted but not banned. The League supports public financing, full disclosure, abolishing SuperPACs and creating an effective enforcement agency.
Selection of the President - Promote the election of the President and Vice-President by direct-popular-vote. Support uniform national voting qualifications and procedures for presidential elections. Support efforts to provide voters with sufficient information about candidates.
Citizen’s Right to Know/Citizen Participation - Protect the citizen’s right to know and facilitate citizen participation in government decision-making).
Individual Liberties - Oppose major threats to basic constitutional rights.
Constitutional Amendment Proposals - In addition to League positions, consideration should be given to whether a proposal addresses matters of abiding importance, makes our political system more democratic or protects individual rights, could be achieved by less difficult legislative or political approaches, and is more suited to a constitutional and general approach than to a statutory and detailed approach .
Constitutional Conventions - Concerned that there are many unresolved questions about a Constitutional Convention. Certain conditions must be in place: limited to a single specific topic, full transparency, delegates selected by population, and voting by delegates not by state.
Public Policy on Reproductive Choices - Protect the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices.
Congress and the Presidency
Congress - Support responsive legislative processes characterized by accountability, representativeness, decision making capability and effective performance.
The Presidency - Promote a dynamic balance of power between the executive and legislative branches within the framework set by the Constitution.
Ensure transparency, accountability, positive community impact and preservation of the common good when considering the transfer of governmental services, assets and/or functions to the private sector.
Founded by the activists who secured voting rights for women, the League has always worked to promote the values and processes of representative government. Protecting and enhancing voting rights for all Americans; assuring opportunities for citizen participation; and working for open, accountable, representative, and responsive government at every level—all reflect the deeply held convictions of the League of Women Voters.
In the 1950s, the League worked courageously to protect fundamental citizen rights and individual liberties against the threats of the McCarthy era. In the 1960s, attention turned to securing “one person, one vote” through apportionment of legislative districts based substantially on population. In the 1970s, members worked to reform the legislative process and open it to citizen scrutiny, and to balance congressional and presidential powers. The League also sought to reform the campaign finance system to reduce the dominance of special interests, affirmed support for the direct election of the President, and fought for full voting rights in Congress for the citizens of the District of Columbia. In the 1980s and 1990s, the League worked to break down the barriers to voting, first through reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and then through a campaign for passage and implementation of the landmark National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Campaign finance reform, with a focus on public financing and on closing loopholes, again was a major activity at the federal and state levels, with the goal of enhancing the role of citizens in the election and legislative processes. In the late 1990s, the fight for DC voting rights was reinvigorated.
During that same period, the League worked to ensure the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices and opposed term limits for legislative offices.
In the mid- to late 1990s, the League launched its Campaign for Making Democracy Work®, focusing on five key indicators of a healthy democracy: voter participation, campaign finance reform, diversity of representation, civic education and knowledge, and civic participation. The 1998 Convention added “full congressional voting representation for the District of Columbia” to the campaign. State and local Leagues measured the health of democracy in their communities, reported the results, and worked with other groups to seek change. The LWVUS report, Charting the Health of American Democracy, took a nationwide measure and made recommendations for change.
In the 2000s, this campaign continued. Convention 2002 decided to update the position on the Selection of the President, focusing not only on the electoral process but on the other factors that affect the presidential race, e.g., money, parties, and the media. The position was expanded and formally approved at Convention 2004.
In the second half of the 2000s, the League supported legislation to reform the lobbying process and to rebuild public confidence in Congress. In 2008, the House passed new ethics procedures, including new ethics rules, disclosure requirements for campaign contributions “bundled” by lobbyists, and a new ethics enforcement process. The League also continued its work seeking full enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act.
In late 2010 and again in 2012, the League and coalition partners urged the Speaker to preserve and strengthen House ethics rules and standards of conduct.
Campaign Finance in the 2000s
The five-year fight for campaign finance reform paid off in March 2002 when President George W. Bush signed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) into law. The League was instrumental in developing this legislation, pushing it to enactment, and remains vigilant in ensuring the law is enforced and properly interpreted in the courts.
In the late 2000s, LWVUS was involved as a “friend of the court” (also known as an amicus brief) in two pivotal U.S. Supreme Court cases: Caperton v. Massey and Citizens United v. FEC. In the latter case, the League argued that corporate spending in elections should not be equated with the First Amendment rights of individual citizens.
In 2010, the League reacted swiftly and strongly to the Supreme Court’s adverse decision in the Citizens United case, which allowed unlimited “independent” corporate spending in candidate elections. The League president testified before the relevant House committee on the key steps that can be taken to respond, focusing on the importance of including tighter disclosure requirements. The League continues to urge passage of the DISCLOSE Act to ensure that corporate and union spending in elections is fully disclosed.
With the explosion of supposedly “independent” spending by outside groups in the years since Citizens United, the League is pushing for tougher rules on coordination, since much of the outside spending is not independent, and instead is coordinated with candidate campaigns. In addition, the League continues to push for legislation to protect and refresh the presidential public financing system, and to institute congressional public financing as well. The League also is working to reform the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission (FEC), which has refused to enforce the law.
Election Administration in the 2000s
When the disputed 2000 elections exposed the many problems facing our election administration system, the League leaped into action. Bringing our coalition allies together, the League worked to ensure that key reforms were part of the congressional debate. In October 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was signed into law, authorizing funds for each state to improve the operation of elections according to federal requirements.
The League continues to fight to ensure that the requirements of HAVA are implemented in ways to assure voter access. The League created a public awareness campaign in 2004, 5 Things You Need to Know on Election Day, designed to educate voters about the new requirements and the steps each voter could take to protect access. The campaign was highly successful and has continued in subsequent election seasons with a particular emphasis on providing quality voting information to first-time voters and traditionally underrepresented communities.
Convention 2006 clarified the League’s stance on voting systems to assure that they would be secure, accurate, recountable, accessible, and transparent.
Voter Protection in the 21st century
In 2006, the League launched its highly successful Public Advocacy for Voter Protection (PAVP) project and by the early 2010s, the PAVP project had expanded to more than 20 states as the League engaged in targeted state-based advocacy. LWVUS collaborates with state Leagues to enhance their public education and advocacy campaigns to fight barriers to voter participation and to ensure election laws and processes are applied in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner.
Since its inception, the PAVP project has helped to remove or mitigate barriers to voting by underserved populations, and to advance the capacity of state Leagues to become even more effective advocates in five focus areas identified by the League as essential to protecting the votes of all citizens and improving election administration overall: (1) Oppose photo ID and documentary proof-of-citizenship; (2) Improve administration of statewide database systems; (3) Guard against undue restrictions on voter registration; (4) Improve polling place management; and (5) Improve poll worker training. League work includes advocating for compliance with existing laws and regulations, such as the National Voter Registration Act, and advocating for key reforms through education and advocacy, and litigation when necessary. League action has been directed toward legislators, state/local elections officials, other policy makers, the media, and concerned citizens, as appropriate.
One of the most major threats tackled by Leagues through the PAVP project is onerous and restrictive voter photo ID requirements. As late as 2008 as many as 21 million Americans did not have government issued photo identification, with communities of color and individuals with limited income disproportionately less likely to have photo ID showing a current address. The League’s efforts to combat voter suppression require issue monitoring and action by League advocates, often over multiple state legislative sessions, countless articles and opinion pieces placed in national and regional media, and multiple steps in the state and federal courts. League leaders and their partners have worked every step of the way to ensure all eligible voters have the opportunity to participate and have the tools necessary to overcome the confusion that results from these drawn-out battles.
During the 2011-2012 cycle, the League’s efforts resulted in the defeat of five strict voter photo ID bills during state legislative sessions (CO, IA, ME, MO, and NC); successful court action to block restrictive ID laws from implementation in four more states (SC, TX, PA, and WI); and success of the “People’s Veto” in ME in protecting same-day voter registration.
On Election Day 2012, Minnesota voters were the first in the country to soundly reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required government-issue voter photo ID and eliminated election day registration in future elections. The League and its partners were instrumental in securing this success for voters.
In the late summer and fall of 2012, the League was also a leader in pushing back against illegal purging of voters from voter registration lists in Colorado and Florida. Finally, through additional court action, the League succeeded in overturning onerous restrictions on, and quickly moved to fill the gap created by, limits to independent voter registration in the state of Florida.
2013-2014 brought renewed attempts to restrict voting both nationally and in state legislatures. LWV staff assisted 31 state League affiliates as they encountered voter suppression issues, Leagues were instrumental in advocating against approximately 25 strict voter photo ID bills during the 2013-2014 state legislative sessions.
LWVUS and state Leagues across the country undertook court action to block restrictive laws in Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and many other states, with several major victories prior to Election Day 2016. Multiple legal challenges are still ongoing. An updated “ID Toolkit” was distributed to ensure that a unified, comprehensive, and sustained message was disseminated by Leagues across the country. The toolkit includes: national overview of photo ID laws, overview of major court cases across the country, and a host of useful advocacy suggestions and templates.
The Ohio League received support in a challenge to reinstate the “golden week” of early voting that overlapped with open voter registration following the legislature’s action to cut it. In Georgia, a Leagueled coalition successfully stopped legislation that would have significantly reduced the early voting period.
In early 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two important cases challenging the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), jeopardizing key voting rights safeguards that have been in place for decades. LWVUS submitted an amicus brief in each case, and the Arizona state League was a plaintiff in the NVRA challenge. The League strongly supported the enforcement mechanism in the VRA and, in support of the NVRA, continued its opposition to a documentary proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration.
During the 2014-2016 biennium, LWVUS with state Leagues successfully challenged purging rules in Florida and sought to reverse a decision by the new Executive Director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to allow documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements in Kansas, Georgia, and Arizona, which, if allowed, could set a precedent for other states to impose this restriction.
State Leagues in Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin were active participants and leaders in a variety of lawsuits seeking to block voting restrictions in those states.
During the 2016-2018 biennium, LWVUS partnered with state Leagues in challenging illegal purging practices and strict voter ID laws in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida.
Preventing Election Day Barriers
In the lead-up to Election Day 2016, League volunteers worked around the clock to protect the rights of voters. They staffed English and Spanish language hotlines answering voters’ questions and troubleshooting for them. They set up poll observing programs, worked as poll workers, and reported challenges to the national Election Protection Coalition. All of this was carried out with the goal of ensuring votes were successfully cast and counted. In states where restrictive photo ID laws had passed and were implemented, the League actively sought out and provided assistance to individuals who could have difficulty getting the required ID. Assistance included education about the requirements, transportation to DMVs, and help in obtaining—and in some instances paying for—underlying documentation (e.g., birth certificates). As part of this effort, LWV printed tens of thousands of statespecific voter education materials in the lead-up to Election Day 2016. In 2016 alone, the League’s work to protect and mobilize voters was featured in more than 35,000 news stories.
Leagues also regularly met with elections officials to encourage Election Day preparedness, poll worker training (especially in states where changes have been made), and fair distribution of resources so that all polling places are staffed and prepared for voters. In all, Leagues had over 1,000 meetings with elections officials. Across the country hundreds of League volunteers staffed hotlines and worked as election observers to ensure voters’ rights were protected on Election Day itself.
In 2018, LWVUS along with a legal partner worked with state Leagues in Alabama, Indiana, and Maine to successfully combat purging practices in violation of the NVRA. Letters were sent to each Secretary of State specifically asking for a commitment in writing that these purging practices would not be implemented during the midterm election cycle.
LWVUS staff also renewed its activity within the Election Protection coalition, serving as lead for states with a history of voter suppression. The work done on Election Day influenced lawsuits that were filed and successful in keeping polls open for disenfranchised voters in the South. In all, the League protected over 4.2 million voters through various advocacy, litigation, and education efforts throughout 2018.
When possible, Leagues also worked to improve voter registration database matching criteria; students’ right to vote using their campus address; increasing the effectiveness of public assistance office voter registration; and, fair and equitable implementation of early voting and vote centers. Since 2013, LWVUS has promoted five key proactive election reform priorities: secure online voter registration, permanent and portable statewide voter registration, expansion of early voting, improvement of polling place management, and electronic streamlining of election processes.
Key Structures of Democracy
At the 2014 Convention, delegates voted an ambitious program to examine Three Key Structures of Democracy: redistricting reform, amending the Constitution, and money in politics. Through League studies, new positions were developed on Money in Politics, Considerations for Evaluating Constitutional Amendment Proposals, and Constitutional Conventions under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. A League task force recommended a new position on Redistricting to Convention 2016, and it was adopted by concurrence.
Based on these new positions and the positions on Voting Rights, LWV launched a Campaign for Making Democracy Work® for the 2016-2018 biennium. Voter registration, education, mobilization, and protection are key parts of this campaign, which extends to legislative reform at the state and local levels as well as the national level.
The 2018 convention reaffirmed the League’s commitment to the Campaign for Making Democracy Work® and updated the program to include advocacy of the National Popular Voter Interstate Compact as resources allowed. LWVUS initiated an NPV task force in early 2019 to assess viability of this reform. In November 2019, the League signed on to a report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCR), Vision for Democracy, which details the massive, systemic reforms needed to protect and better our democracy. These reforms include preventing barriers to the ballot box, ending felony disenfranchisement, expanding voter registration, increasing voter participation and access, strengthening election security, and creating structural reform (addressing gerrymandering, D.C. statehood and money in politics).