League of Women Voters Helps Public with Issues, Candidates

Oct 9, 2012

For close to a century, the League of Women Voters has aimed to inform voters objectively about political issues and candidates.  With the 2012 election now four weeks away, WKAR’s Mark Bashore checked in with the organization’s Michigan President, Susan Smith.

She says that information is at the website, vote 4-1-1 dot org.

SUSAN SMITH:  And if you go to that site and put in your zip code, your ballot will come up.  It will list the candidates and also the information that the candidates have supplied to the league.

MARK BASHORE:I think it’s widely agreed there’s more misinformation and confusion about issues and candidates than ever before perhaps. I imagine you could argue pretty persuasively that there is more justification for what the league does now do than ever before.  Would you agree?

SMITH:  I certainly would.  I think there are a lot of groups out there that are trying to convince the voters to vote certain ways on candidates and especially on the ballot proposals.  We’ll have those ballot proposals listed as well as the pro and con arguments that various groups have given for each of the six.

BASHORE:Your conversations with the Governor’s staff had an impact recently in his veto of a package of bills that the league views as making it more difficult for Michigan citizens to vote.  Can you talk to us about that?

SMITH:  Yes, this was part of a package of bills that the Secretary of State was interested in having introduced.  There were 11 bills introduced into the legislature and three of those bills we were very concerned about because the league viewed them as creating unnecessary barriers to voter participation.

One of them would have required people who vote absentee at the clerk’s office to show a photo ID.  A second one would have put new requirements on organizations who register voters: organizations like the league as well as churches and other groups---that would have required special training by the Secretary of State and certification, even though the league has been registering voters for about 90 years.

And the third one would have required eligible voters to check off whether or not they were a citizen when they filled out their application to receive a ballot, whether absentee or at the voting booth.  And the governor, fortunately, was persuaded by the league and other groups to veto those three bills.

BASHORE:  Now I understand the league has been criticized for not being non-partisan enough for what we’ve just talked about, for your conversations with the governor’s staff on this cluster of bills.  What do you say to those critics?

SMITH:  I think sometimes people are surprised because they don’t expect us to get involved in discussing legislation and yet that’s a very important part of our mission in addition to voter education.  What I often try to point out is that when we started out talking about some of these issues, we had bi-partisan support.  And so it’s not that the league has changed, it’s just that in some cases a political party has changed (its) philosophy and moved away from where they were previously. What I often say to folks is (that) the league does not support a party or a candidate but we do support the voter.  We’re for the voter and for voter rights.