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Remaining Nonpartisan in Hyper-partisan Times

The League of Women Voters of the United States is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public. 

So many issues today are framed in partisan terms that it can feel impossible to communicate at all without being accused of taking a side. “If you believe this, then you must be a progressive.” “If you oppose that, then you align with conservatives.” Being painted into ideological corners because of a stance our organization takes is not a new phenomenon, but it continues to be one that undermines a vibrant democracy: discussion, discourse, and listening to other points of view are what makes democracy work.  

More than 100 years ago, the League of Women Voters of the U.S. was founded to be a nonpartisan voice for American women who wanted free, fair, and open elections, above all else. Our founders believed that voters must always have the facts, no matter how difficult those facts could be to accept, especially when it challenges one’s deeply held beliefs about a candidate or political party. Our founders were attacked for taking positions rooted in fact back then, and today, not much has changed. League leaders continue to face this challenge and often stand accused of being partisan for our efforts to advance democracy. 

ISSUES ARE NOT PARTISAN  

The League’s advocacy work is issued based, and we arrive at our positions based on careful study and input from our members in communities across the country. We never derive our positions from politicians, and even when candidates or parties support the same issue, we never endorse them. Issues may evolve over the years, but our allegiance will always be first and foremost to the voters. If a party changes their position on an issue, that doesn’t mean the League has to change our position to remain neutral. And one politician taking a similar position to the League on any one issue does not make the issue or the League partisan. 

However, in this hyper-partisan environment, political connections and assumption are made that simply aren’t accurate. Supporting the democratic processes of registering eligible voters and casting and counting ballots is seen by some as subverting one political party, even though these are sacred tools of our democracy. Likewise, empowering voters who previously have been left out of the process and supporting the anti-racism movement does not mean we are in alliance with one ideological segment of American government; rather, it means we are doing what we were founded to do: stand up for what is right. 

Wanting every eligible voter to have equal access to the ballot box is not partisan. Wanting a robust democracy in which everyone has an equal voice and equal representation is not partisan. Wanting to see more elected officials that reflect the diverse makeup of our country is not partisan – it is American.  

No party has a claim on any particular issue. Sometimes a candidate or political party agrees with our position—they may even champion them—but that doesn’t make the issue or the League partisan. We have seen an evolution of popular support and public opinion shift on issues over time, and the League has reevaluated and shifted priorities—but we have never compromised our values.  

NONPARTISAN DOES NOT MEAN APOLITICAL 

In the hundred years of the League’s existence, we have endured challenges to our democratic principles, policies, and practices. We witnessed in live video the violation and prevention of rights to American citizens due to racial and structural inequities, and the growing anti-racism movement responding to it. We’ve observed the pandemic obstacles faced and overcome by our election processes, resulting in the secure, effective elections across the country. 

There shall be no barriers to full participation in [the League of Women Voters of the United States] on the basis of gender, gender identity, ethnicity, race, native or indigenous origin, age, generation, sexual orientation, culture, religion, belief system, marital status, parental status, socioeconomic status, language, accent, ability status, mental health, educational level or background, geography, nationality, work style, work experience, job role function, thinking style, personality type, physical appearance, political perspective or affiliation and/or any other characteristic that can be identified as recognizing or illustrating diversity. 

—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policy, passed by LWVUS members in 2020 

League members are not a monolith. We represent opinions and positions that can be found across the American political spectrum. What brings us together is our commitment to voter empowerment—especially empowering women voters—and defending democracy. Standing up for these values is not a partisan narrative but a way to advance inclusion.  

As we do this, we must ask ourselves and others within our election and democratic systems if we are walking the talk and prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion within our own organizations. Are we living our values, and are those values aligned with the ideals that we have as a country? 

This self-reflection may be painful. It’s difficult to acknowledge that actions taken in the past with the best of intentions may have been hurtful or undermined the values we claim to honor. It will require us to be open, transparent, and willing to admit when we are wrong.  

DEMOCRACY IS A CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE 

Webster’s definition of democracy:  

a: government by the people 

especially: rule of the majority 

b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.  

Our mission to ‘empower voters and defend democracy’ has not changed in our 100 years. What has changed is the need to defend democracy, especially in of the face of voter suppression. There is a wealth of misinformation out there that is aimed to divide us as a nation and undermine our democracy. We have to stand up to this attack on our democratic ideals, regardless of what some may say. 

While it may be a challenge, especially at the state and local level, to avoid the appearance of partisanship when publicly addressing racial injustice in this heightened climate, we must. We may be accused of being partisan in those moments, but we must stand on the side of justice. It is our moral obligation to demand a more just and equitable world for people of color in our communities.  

We will continue to uphold our nonpartisan values for fairness, justice, and equity because they form the foundation of a representative democracy. If we don’t strive to dismantle and improve the systems and structures that exclude individuals from their democratic rights to vote and participate, we will never be able to achieve a “democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge and the confidence to participate.” 

Whether you identify politically as a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, conservative, liberal, moderate, progressive or another political perspective, you have a place in this democracy and a place within the League, as long as you are committed to our belief in an inclusive democracy. While we may disagree on how we accomplish it, if you value democracy, then you must also value human rights, social justice, and equity.  

WE CAN BRIDGE THE PARTISAN DIVIDE  

In 2020, we marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which afforded women in the United States the right to vote. However, even then, women of color were largely excluded from the movement that brought about the amendment. It wasn’t until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that people of color could fully exercise their right to vote and our country began to reflect the values of all its people. We’ve made strides in the past 100 years, but we have so much more work to do, especially when it comes to fairness, justice, and equity for all. 

The League will continue to fight for the nonpartisan, anti-racism issues and policies we have worked to advance for a century. We will work to elevate more diverse voices from within our membership and our communities. With our partners, the League will strive to create a stronger, more inclusive, just, and equitable democracy for American voters—a place where everyone has a voice. 

As we move forward, we remain open to conversations about our history and the ways we can improve our democracy. Let’s do this work together and make the next 100 years a century of real diversity, inclusion, and equity in American elections and democracy.