Since this month is known as Women’s History Month – we believe it is most appropriate to shine the nonprofit spotlight on the League of Women Voters!

Just about six months before the 19th amendment guaranteeing a woman’s right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920, the League of Women Voters (LWV) was formed with the support of the suffragette movement (by the National Women’s Suffrage Association). Having fought long and hard for the amendment, once it was passed the founders turned their attention to educating the 20 million newly enfranchised women about civic engagement and the American political system.

A powerful and lasting legacy

Since its launch in the middle of the Spanish flu pandemic (does this sound incredibly familiar!?) just about 100 years ago, the LWV has functioned as a nonpartisan political organization, encouraging informed and active participation in government, working to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influencing public policy through education and advocacy.

From its inception, the League made it a top priority to fight for fair social policies and to guarantee everyone’s rights in key areas that focused on shorter work weeks, minimum wage, workplace safety laws, child labor laws, housing laws, and social security.

Over the years there have been some impactful milestone successes:

  • In 1946 – at the New Jersey Constitutional Convention, the LWV fought for and won the case to change the word MAN in the NJ Constitution to the word PERSON. 
  • In the 1950s, the LWV advocated successfully for a New Jersey Water Bond Referendum to safeguard the water supply for all NJ residents.
  • During the 1970s and 1980s the League proudly hosted the Presidential debates, stepping away from that role only when the power to set parameters and make decisions about the debate platform was given to the party leaders, diminishing the promise of a fair, open and honest dialogue between candidates.
  • After more than a dozen years of battling, in 2021 the LWV and its partner advocates saw the passage of a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin, protecting drinking water for over 13 million people.

A two-pronged approach

The LWV has always taken a two-pronged approach that enables the group to both educate and advocate for voters.

Advocacy - The League advocates on issues for which they have positions.

LWVNJ has three main advocacy campaigns currently in place that are designed to support free and fair elections in our state and to enable voters to exercise their voting rights:

  • Democracy in a Day –this campaign is designed to enforce same day voter registration, providing everyone with a chance to easily register and easily cast their vote, increasing turn out and supporting a democratic process.
  • New 19th (People Powered Fair Maps) – this campaign involves the redrawing of districts to better reflect the voters’ choices; the LWV believes voters should choose their politicians and not the other way around. Through its Fair Districts NJ campaign, the League is encouraging transparency and fair representation in redistricting efforts. (see FairDistrictsNJ.org).
  • Better BallotsNJ – this is a campaign that focuses on the ballot design for the primary contests in New Jersey. New Jersey is the only state that gives the power to party chairs to position candidates on the ballots so as to potentially skew voter choices. (see Betterballotsnj.org) 

Voters Services – this component includes a wide range of initiatives. 

  • Holding candidates’ forums/debates at all levels of government
  • Maintaining a voters' service hotline
  • Providing Vote411.org – an award-winning online nonpartisan voters’ guide
  • Registering newly naturalized citizens
  • Registering newly enfranchised individuals who are on probation or parole
  • Educating voters on civics, civil civic engagement, and a variety of issues

An impact in court

During 2020 alone, the LWVNJ filed three voting rights lawsuits:

  • The first lawsuit addressed the fact that an amazing one in ten ballots were rejected during the May 2020 primary due to an issue with signatures. Prior to the lawsuit, if election officials couldn’t read signatures or determined they didn’t match the signatures on the voter’s registration, the ballots were tossed. With voting conducted primarily by mail because of the threats presented by Covid, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP New Jersey Chapter went to court to argue the state’s signature-verification requirement was unconstitutional and that voters should be notified about signature discrepancies on their mail-in ballots and given an opportunity to “cure” them.

The League and NAAP prevailed and, soon after, the Legislature passed the Ballot Cure Act, providing a notification and cure process for all future elections.

  • The second lawsuit occurred when one of the major parties objected to the decision to provide mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the state. The LWV joined with the NAACP NJ Chapter and argued that changing the election plans mid-course would confuse voters. In addition, they had spent months educating voters about mail-in voting and were able to argue that their organizations would be harmed by the late change.

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs and the LWV prevailed.

  • The third lawsuit had a different outcome. The League argued that the state needed a remedy for voters displaced by the pandemic who, through no fault of their own, did not receive the mail-in ballots they applied for.

The League lost that case, largely because it was too late in the process to expect the counties to remedy the situation. However, on election day, they were able to help a college student who found herself in that exact situation. They connected her with the ACLU, one of their Election Protection partners and, as a result, she was successfully represented in court. 

The work of the LWV continues. Before every election, they work with a coalition of voting rights advocates who join forces to identify problems and develop rapid response solutions. In addition, this past year they embarked on their largest “voter ed. campaign.” By partnering with the Department of State and the Center for Nonprofits, they were able to reach, and collaborate with, hundreds of organizations that represent diverse memberships and together they were able to combat both misinformation and disinformation!

For over 100 years the League of Women Voters has held fast to its legacy, remaining relevant and meaningful in every decade.