November 10, 2015
Library of Congress
It’s great to be here in this evening. Thank you all for joining us as we welcome Wylecia to the League.
In just 5 years, the League of Women Voters will mark its 100th anniversary. Our centennial was very much on our minds as we moved through the search process after Nancy told us she was leaving, because we knew we have to make some changes. I think you can see that Wylecia gets it and is truly committed to getting us there. Change is never easy, but I know we are in excellent hands.
Wylecia mentioned something in passing that I really want to emphasize. She said that some voters view the lack of reliable information as a deterrent to voting. In our current political environment, which I sometimes seems to me to be a fact-free zone, I understand where they’re coming from.
The League was founded, 95 years ago, because leaders like our founder, Carrie Chapman Catt, understood that more than 20 million new women voters were going to need reliable information in order to carry out their new responsibilities as voters.
What those new women voters needed in 1920, every voter needs in every election and for all of our progress, we still have so much work to do.
If voters don’t have reliable information…
If the process of voting is shrouded in mystery…
If there are road blocks and voter suppression and technology problems…
If people stay home because they’re intimidated by the process, or don’t register because they don’t think they can make a difference, our democracy isn’t working.
But that’s why we’re here. All of us in this room—the League and our partners—are the answer. Every day and every election, we’re Making Democracy Work®.
Leading into the last federal election, we hosted more than 650 forums and debates around the country so that voters could hear directly from the candidates and have access to unfiltered information.
We provided nearly 1.5 million people with up-to-date election information through VOTE411.org, taking some of the mystery out of the voting process and making sure that voters felt confident when they arrived at their polling places.
We helped defeat more than two dozen anti-voter laws across the country, and worked with countless election officials to make sure that polling places were available and accessible.
If 2014 was busy, 2016 will be more so.
And just as we didn’t do this work alone in 2014, we plan to work closely with our partners in 2016.
In 2016, our goals are very simple. We plan to:
- Grow the vote – by registering a quarter of a million voters, educating them about voting procedures, and preparing them to arrive at the polls with everything they need to cast their ballots;
- Protect the vote – by working with local elections officials, organizing poll watching programs, and continuing to fight voter suppression efforts at the state and local level; and
- Empower six million voters with information, through our nonpartisan voters’ guides and candidate forums and debates, and through our online tools—espeicallyVOTE411.org,
These three priorities stand on their own, but are they are also inextricably intertwined.
We can register people to grow the vote, but unless we empower them with information, and ask them to vote, we’re going to have trouble getting them to the polls on Election Day.
And if we get them to the polls on Election Day and they have a bad experience—because their polling place has moved or their identity is questioned or the machines are broken so they have to vote provisionally, we’re going to have a harder time getting that voter to come back next time.
Growing the vote is the greatest weapon we have if we want to combat the influence of money in politics. It’s how we take the power from the few and put it back in the hands of the many.
2014 was the most expensive election in our history. Outside groups spent more that $700 million on that election, and just 42 individuals contributed more than a third of that money.
We know that 2016 will shatter that record—we have seen news accounts of individuals who have already pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to influence next year’s elections.
We know a handful of donors have provided almost half the campaign funding for Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates this cycle. Just 159 families have contributed more than $176 million already to the presidential race.
This is why voter registration and voter turnout—growing the vote—matters. I never thought, when I joined the League in Georgia that I would be speaking out here and in every other venue that will have me about the importance of voter registration. But nearly one in four eligible Americans is not registered and that matters. It matters because if those Americans don’t exercise their vote — their voice, someone else will be only too happy to speak in their stead.
Imagine what would happen if every eligible citizen showed up at the polls. Imagine what would happen if candidates had to be more responsive to the people they represent than to the donors who fund their campaigns.
Imagine how campaigns would be different.
Imagine how governing would be different.
Imagine how empowering that would be.
It is a fact that each voter who shows up at the polls diminishes the influence of every dollar spent trying to swing an election. The only remedy for the flood of money in our elections is a flood of voters at the polls.
This is why some of those same political donors are pushing for laws that make it harder to vote or, frankly, to keep people from voting. And it’s why we need to protect the vote by continuing to fight those laws at every turn.
And even in places where there’s no coordinated effort to decrease the vote, there’s not a single city, state or county in America where we can’t make the voting laws better.
I often wonder what Carrie Chapman Catt would say if she could see the state of our democracy today. Sadly, she’d see much the same situation she saw in 1920. But she would refuse to be disheartened.
She would roll up her sleeves, size up the situation and get to work.
That is what we must do in 2016. That is our collective mission.
The League of Women Voters was founded to finish the fight that is never finished. The fight ensure that every eligible has free and fair access to the polls because we all equal on Election Day. That is why we must fight to the many and resist the influence of the few. That is how together we continue Making Democracy Work®.