This past year has been both challenging and rewarding for voter service committees and Leagues throughout the state. With our country becoming more polarized than ever, all our candidate events needed to not only be nonpartisan but perceived as nonpartisan. At the July 2017 board meeting the new board adopted two policies. The policy on” Open or Empty Chairs in Candidate Events” that had been discussed and contested at the June 2017 LWVNYS convention was adopted. It was decided that it was extremely important for Leagues to speak with one voice and have a clear, consistent and nonpartisan policy. An “open or empty chair” candidate meeting will not be allowed for any level of government for any reason. Any League sponsored event that invites a candidate will be considered a candidate meeting and must abide by this policy. Also adopted was a revised policy on holding candidate events for primaries. When a League is sponsoring a primary candidate event for a race in one political party, the League must now OFFER to sponsor a primary candidate event for any party that is holding a primary for
that same race.
In the fall of 2017, Leagues had many questions about these new policies and some Leagues resisted. Change is often slow and it is often difficult to give up old ways of doing things. However, most Leagues in the end did comply with the new policies. Most Leagues did run successful candidate nights. In fact, of the 27 Leagues that responded to the November Voter Service Survey, only two did not hold any candidate event and only 2 Leagues had not complied with the no empty chair policy. Some followed this policy for the very first time with good results. Although many of the Leagues who had argued against the policy feared it would lead to many cancellations, the surveys indicated only 4 were cancelled because of the new policy. Many Leagues also feared that cancelling especially if it is the incumbent who would not attend, gives the incumbent control. LWVNY advised the Leagues to keep the public informed about the cancellations, i.e.,why and because of who. Leagues did use press releases, candidate guides, social media, and letters to keep their communities informed. Interestingly an incumbent, who refused to attend
a candidate event resulting in it being cancelled, lost his election. We will never know if results would have been different if he had agreed to debate.
The fact that local Leagues followed recommendations in the past from the LWVNYS and now have a clearly written debate and video taping policy has decreased problems Leagues have had especially regarding taping and airing. More and more Leagues are including their policy with invitations to the candidates and requiring them to sign and return them. Leagues continue to have questions about write-in candidates this year. It is recommended that only the candidates who appear on the ballot be invited but this is being left up to each League. However, the policy regarding candidate selection must be in their written policy. As early as December 2017, Leagues were encouraged to review their policy and make any needed changes. At that same time, LWVNYS began looking at Road To The Voting Booth and looking at revisions we needed to make. During the next couple of weeks, we will have a one page list of “Essentials for Candidate Events.” Within the next two months, we will have a revised Road to the Voting Booth Part II with more details helping you from the beginning planning stages, to the running of and then evaluation of your event, including a tool kit (something many Leagues have requested in their surveys responses.)
The LWVNY voter service webpage will also include a tool kit for voter registration drives. As usual, in the summer and fall of 2017 our Leagues did a wonderful job reaching out and registering voters. The women’s movement and more people being engaged and interested in politics resulted not only in increased membership but increased requests for voter registration drives. The number of drives Leagues held ranged from 1 to 25. This year, the February 14 shooting at Parkland High and the March for Our Lives movement that followed has sparked student activism. The requests for voter registration drives, especially by students for students is a new phenomenon. What can we do to meet this demand? At our LWVNY training workshops this spring, we discussed the opportunities and challenges we face. Of primary importance is our being extremely careful to be and be perceived as non partisan. Leagues need to have visible signage at all their voter registration tables station clearly stating “LWV does not support or opposed and party candidate or party.” We are the gold standard and cannot allow this to be tarnished. We also cannot meet all the demand ourselves. We can train volunteers, but if they cannot be totally nonpartisan when they do voter registration, they certainly cannot do it under our banner even if they are willing to be League members. However, we need not only train volunteers for League-run voter registration drives. Some Leagues have already been holding voter registration workshops where they not only train League members but train people from other organizations how to run a voter registration drive. We are seeing that students in particular are looking to hold their own drives and we know that youth can certainly engage youth. Our job is to give them the tools and knowledge to run an effective voter registration drive. The tool kit for voter registration should enable you to not only help your own
volunteers but others run effective drives.
In the responses to the 2017 survey, it was clear that most Leagues were struggling with Vote 411. The effort and time VOTE 411 took, the fact that most Leagues who participated only got responses from less than 50% of their candidates, the fact that many Leagues did not participate at all and those areas of the state where there were no Leagues were not covered at all, resulted in LWVNY looking for an alternative to Vote 411. After careful evaluation, we contracted with Ballot Ready, which is now on-line and available for voters all over the state to read about their candidates running in primaries for congress. This is new to us all but promises to offer more information to voters in NYS and easier for our Leagues to use.
The area where Leagues have been in the past and were in 2017 the weakest was in getting out the vote. A few Leagues did PSAs last year on tv, radio, and also college campuses. Some Leagues had visible signs in their communities. Some League sent emails reminding newly registered voters right before Election Day. They got contact information from people who wanted to be reminded to vote and sent them emails. This year Leagues need to decide if they are going to do follow up. Before they hold drives they need to decide how contact will be made, what they need, and who will make it. Leagues need to explore new ways and possibly network with other nonpartisan groups who may be better at getting out the vote than we.
The upcoming election season promises once again to be challenging and rewarding. The voter service power point presented to those who attended the 2018 council meeting by teleconference was prepared to help Leagues meet the challenges. The upcoming revised Road to the Voting Booth and tool kits for candidate events and voter registration drives should also help Leagues meet the challenges and continue to maintain the gold standard and our excellent reputation.