Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom. This editorial was written on behalf of the board by Star Tribune Opinion intern Noor Adwan, a 2023 graduate of the University of Minnesota.
As the frenzy of election season draws to a close, we'd like to take a moment to recognize the tireless work that many do to facilitate civic engagement, educate voters and uphold the integrity of our elections.
League of Women Voters of Minnesota (LWVMN) is one organization doing work that is crucial to strengthening our democracy. League members attend naturalization ceremonies to help register new American citizens to vote, show up to high schools, colleges and community events to educate and engage with voters, assist in postelection audits, and host candidate forums for races across the state to inform voters about where their candidates stand on the issues — this year, they've held nearly 70.
"We're always in motion," LWVMN Executive Director Michelle Witte told an editorial writer. "From helping to preserve voting rights at the Capitol, then educating about voting rights, and then engaging people and empowering them, getting them registered [to vote]."
The flurry of legislation related to voting that passed last session has LWVMN busier than usual this year with voter outreach and education, Witte said. These policy changes include voter preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, the restoration of voting rights to those who have been convicted of a felony (provided they are no longer incarcerated), automatic voter registration upon the issuance of a state ID, and several other items.
Another development that has kept the organization busier than usual is the prevalence of election disinformation, which has led LWVMN to up its education efforts in recent years, Witte said. Now, the group offers the resource Elections 411, which contains a number of explainers about the electoral and ballot-counting processes, as well as references to studies certifying the results of the 2020 election.
"The way to keep weeds out of your yard is to keep good soil, right?" Witte said. "We're trying to keep good information flowing about our elections so people really see and understand how many checks and balances are in place."
LWVMN is nonpartisan, and does not endorse or support any particular party or candidate. Instead, it works to advance public understanding of major issues and empower voters. Right now, it has about 2,300 members at the state level and across 35 local leagues, an overwhelming majority of whom are volunteers.
"They really are the face of democracy," Witte said of the group's volunteers. "Being civically engaged in your community, working on issues of local concern and educating people on issues is just part of what we need people to do."
The organization's nonpartisan bent is especially evident in its candidate forums, which, in smaller races, might be the most comprehensive guide voters get to their candidates' stances on the issues. Witte said forum moderators undergo extensive training in order to make the forums as fair as possible, and are instructed to stay away from "gotcha" questions.
"We really do specialize in local races. People forget about school boards, county boards, townships, special elections and referendums," Witte said. "So we do a lot on that."
To support LWVMN, Witte encourages interested individuals to become members. While the organization's name honors women voters, Witte stressed that anyone older than 16, regardless of gender, is welcome to sign up. The group also accepts donations, which Witte said would be especially helpful now as LWVMN looks to expand operations in 2024 and host forums in areas where there aren't local leagues.
Witte said she also recommends that voters familiarize themselves with the workings of local government and elections.
"The big message is: Get involved in your government, your local government and your community. Stay informed. Get to know the candidates," Witte said. "Take advantage of the great privilege of being able to vote."
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