League of Women Voters of Oak Park & River Forest Newsletter September 2023 Volume 11 Issue 2

Presidents' Letter

The forthcoming Fall Kick-Off, Better Choices at the Ballot Box, prompted Vice President Tina Birnbaum to recollect on our long battle for voter’s rights.

Because our Fall Kick-Off—(announcement below)–will tackle the issues of Ranked Choice and Final Five voting, I have been thinking a lot about voting lately. Ranked Choice Voting is a strategy to make elections better reflect the will of the voters. The concepts amaze me because I am old enough to remember when African-Americans living in the South couldn’t vote at all because of Jim Crow laws and other repressive voting practices.

Our journey to voting fairness has a long history. Following the Civil War, Reconstructionists hoped that the 4 million formerly enslaved Black men could pursue the promise of voting and democracy. However, the hopes of Reconstruction were not fulfilled: the dreams of equal rights shifted as state laws moved to preserving the prevailing white-controlled power structure.

Civil rights and voting rights would have a long and arduous path. Black people were repressed and lynched in the era of the Ku Klux Klan. Jim Crow laws effectively barred Black citizens from voting. Historically, in Selma, Alabama, for example, the voting rolls were 99% white even though Black residents outnumbered whites.

Fast forward to the 1960’s, people supporting civil rights engaged in marches and protests throughout the country. Some rode buses down south to register voters at great personal peril, risking getting jailed, beaten, or even murdered. 

Ultimately, President Lyndon Johnson, in a nationally televised joint session of Congress in March of 1965, asked that a national Voting Rights Act be passed. This was successful and voting became more accessible.

In 2013, however, the Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holden, weakened the Voting Rights Act. Some states used that wedge as a way to keep minorities from the polls and to put up a variety of barriers to voting and keeping votes from being counted. Then on July 10, 2023, members of the House introduced the “election integrity” bill that would loosen rules on campaign contributions and make it harder to vote. Some members of the House and Senate fought back by reintroducing the Freedom to Vote Act.

The right to vote is an ongoing issue. This battle is still being fought. It is one of the chief reasons the League of Women Voters exists! 

As we work to expand and extend our civil liberties, ideas such as Ranked Choice Voting can potentially allow greater participation in the electoral process. It can eliminate the “spoiler effect” that can occur when third party candidates participate in elections.

For example, people who vote for a third party candidate, rather than a traditional Democrat or Republican, might be dismayed to learn that their candidate took away enough votes from their second place choice so that their least favored candidate ended up winning. The guilt! The shame! The regret! Ranked Choice Voting may offer a solution to these issues. 

Come to the September 19 Fall Kick-off to learn more!

Thanks to Heather Cox Richardson's Letters From An American newsletter for some of the historical background and for reminding us about the immediacy of this issue.

Tina Birnbaum

Lake Michigan Cruise

LWV Lake Michigan is sponsoring a cruise along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The cruise will start in Michigan City, Indiana to explore and learn about the beautiful Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore. The cruise on Lake Michigan aboard the Emita II is departing from Michigan City, Indiana at 4:00pm CT and will return at 5:30pm CT on Saturday, September 9, 2023. 

On this Lake Michigan cruise, you will learn about the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore through a presentation developed with the National Park Service. There will also be plenty of time to enjoy appetizers and socialize. This outing is the second in a series of state-specific programming in each state. Participants from any state are welcome, including members, friends, and family! Cost of the cruise is $30 per person. Register for the cruise here.

Make Every Vote Count

Ranked Choice and Final Five Voting Systems

On Tuesday, September 19, starting at 6:30pm at the Oak Park Main Library, we will be sponsoring a discussion of how our primary and general elections can be improved through changes in our voting systems. Learn how more candidates on the ballot means more choices for voters. Speakers will be Andrew Szilva, Fair Vote Illinois, and Sylvie Doppelt, Institute for Political Innovation. Make Every Vote Count is free and open to the public. Bring a friend!

Women's Rights

Around the world, authoritarianism is rising and women’s rights are declining—and it’s not a coincidence that both are happening at the same time. On Deep Dish Podcast, Valerie Hudson and Zoe Marks explain how sexism undermines national security, why autocrats are afraid of women, and why progress on gender equality is essential for stability, democracy, and prosperity. Listen to the podcast here.

The Washington Post article "Do Women Matter to National Security" by Joshua Busby and Heather Hurburt reports that researchers have found that nations with higher rates of violence against women also had higher risks of conflict and instability and that when women were part of peacemaking, peace was more durable. Read the full article here.

Voter Service

Read more about our League's participation in the Oak Park-River Forest H.S. Civic Service Fair here in the Wednesday Journal.

Join Senator Don Harmon and Representative Camille Y. Lilly at a Town Hall Meeting on September 27, from 7:00-8:30pm, at Sayre Language Academy, 1850 Newland Avenue, Chicago. Free and open to the public. View the flyer here.

Membership Renewal

Have you renewed your membership? There are still 50 members who haven't renewed yet. If you are one of those members, go online now to renew or mail in a check with this form. We are starting to put together our directory and we want to include you!

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