by Robin Schmidt
President, LWV of the La Crosse Area
The League of Women Voters (LWV) of the La Crosse Area will celebrate 100 years in 2023. As a long-standing, well-respected organization founded on the principles of election protection, democratic reforms, and equal access to the ballot, the League maintains a staunch commitment to nonpartisanship and informing voters.
The LWV has a long history of connecting candidates with voters through candidate forums and voter guides based on candidate questionnaire responses. It is crucial that elected officials communicate and respond to voters so they can make informed choices that align with their values. This year, we are seeing a disconcerting trend where some candidates are claiming in writing that the League of Women Voters is a partisan organization and as such, they won’t participate in our efforts to inform voters on their candidacy or positions. We find this to be not only an inaccurate claim but a disservice to the voters of the La Crosse area, especially during spring elections which by design are nonpartisan elections.
So what does nonpartisan mean and why is it important? As an organization run by volunteers who are committed to the mission of the League, we are passionate about free and fair elections. We are just as passionate about our commitment to our nonpartisan policy.
Nonpartisan as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary means “not partisan: free from party affiliation, bias or designation.” The League has adopted a formal nonpartisan policy included in our bylaws that states: “Being nonpartisan, the League does not support or oppose candidates for public office in any election, nor does it take a stand for or against a political party.”
To ensure that we remain nonpartisan, the League maintains certain restrictions for all Board Members, including that they may not run for, or hold, any partisan elective office at any level of government. In addition, the President, Voter Services Chair and Treasurer are not allowed to actively work for a candidate’s election campaign, attend fundraising events for candidates, display signs for a candidate, circulate candidates’ nominating petitions or engage in any political activity that might reasonably be construed as League endorsement of a party or candidate. Board members may serve as poll workers, sign nomination papers and attend events at which they meet candidates running for office.
Being nonpartisan does not mean that the LWV does not advocate for policies and issues. In fact, it’s that very role of advocacy that helped establish the right to vote for women. Each of our programs includes a statement that “the LWV is a nonpartisan political organization, encouraging the informed and active participation of citizens in government, working to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influencing public policy through education and advocacy.” There are more than 700 local Leagues throughout the country that work at the grassroots level to formally establish League policies at the national level.
Being political does not make us partisan. We advocate for a plethora of issues relating to representative government (fair maps, voting rights, etc.), natural resources (clean water, climate change, etc.), international relations (United Nations, trade, etc.) and social policies (child care, health care and equality of opportunity, etc.). We bring programs to the community to understand these issues and to educate the public. Programs this year have ranged from the Criminal Justice Management System to homelessness to the role of school boards and the security of Wisconsin elections. These are issues that are important to many La Crosse area voters.
To those candidates who chose not to participate in our effort to educate voters, we will continue to broadcast our programs, publish our voter guide of candidate responses, and work to educate voters on the myriad of issues raised by the candidates who do respond. And we will do so in a nonpartisan manner. We invite ALL candidates to our forums and send every candidate our candidate questionnaire, which is entered into the Vote411.org system. We will never endorse candidates or parties, but we will continue to work to get candidate information to voters who rely on and trust us. And to those candidates who do respond and participate, we thank you for your efforts to help inform voters about your positions – a core principle behind a successful democracy.
At a time when partisan politics is ripping apart communities, we encourage all candidates to work with us to educate voters about their vision for the future, their passion for various topics and why they chose to run for public office. Our community deserves to know.