J.W. Wiley (left), director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at Plattsburgh State, with the Plattsburgh League of Women Voters president Sally Sears-Mack, at a recent forum called “A Look at American Elections, Voter Suppression and Bullying.”
PLATTSBURGH — Voters are faced with some big decisions this election season, and the Plattsburgh League of Women Voters wants to make sure every vote cast is well-informed.
The 92-year-old non-partisan, not-for-profit organization has chapters throughout the U.S. and has had a local chapter for about 40 years.
The organization came into being following the women’s suffrage movement.
“At that point it was felt that education and citizenship was needed,” said Catherine Felty, the local league’s second president and one if its founding members. “A logical part of being a citizen is understanding the issues that affect the country and your locality.”
To get the information out, the league distributes pamphlets called voter guides, which have information regarding candidate’s stances on important issues like education, the economy and the environment .
Their website also provides information and links to other- non-partisan fact-check websites like Factcheck.org.
Utilizing technology has been paramount for the league to inform voters.
“Everything has followed in a very natural way by people who felt then, as we do now, that we want to be educated, and we also want to have an organized voice when it comes to responding to issues,” Felty said.
At its most basic, the League of Women Voters is a one-stop organization for voter information, but it is not just for women—the organization accepts men into its ranks, too.
To help further its cause of informing voters, the league has study groups who examine various issues and take a stance on those issues.
“We do not take position for or against candidates or issues unless we have first studied and voted and come to a consensus,” said Sally Sears-Mack, president of the League of Women Voters of Plattsburgh. “And we don’t just take up any item. The item has to be of overall importance to people everywhere in the country, and certainly in the state.”
Some of those include environmental issues, voter’s rights and transparency in government.
Betsy Metz, the Plattsburgh League’s secretary, is head of the environmental study committee.
The committee is responsible for a Think Green Brochure, which is a free resource people can use to learn about where they can take things, like televisions and old car batteries, to be recycled.
“While there are multiple environmental issues, we generally support a balanced, safe environment,” Metz said. “Hydro fracturing is a major study right now, it is a significant issue in southern New York.”
The league works with scientists and experts to study issues, whether they are environmental, economic or social.
Metz emphasized the importance in changing what she sees as a major hurdle in getting people active in their government.
“It’s very difficult for voters to get correct information,” Metz said. “People are not participating as much because they’d rather not vote than have an uniformed vote.”
Recently, proposed voter I.D. laws have been a major concern of league members.
“It is an intentional way to make it more difficult for some to vote,” Sears-Mack said. “Voter fraud is almost non-existent, and there seems to be a lot of evidence to support that it is an effort to suppress the vote.”
To help other league members explore issues, the league sponsors monthly speakers, which oftentimes evolve into full-blown discussion sessions.
“We don’t invite speakers just because they agree with us,” Sears-Mack said.
The league’s most recent guest speaker was J.W. Wiley, director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at Plattsburgh State. He spoke at the group’s “A Look at American Elections, Voter Suppression and Bullying” forum in September.
“The reason people bully is because of the differences that exist in the power dynamic,” Wiley said. “I can’t see what’s happening in this country, with this voter’s rights issue, in any way other than bullying.”
Wiley referenced a statement Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai made at a GOP state committee meeting in June: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” Turzai said.
Wiley told the forum about how he watched Turzai make this statement on MSNBC with his daughter, Autumn.
“We saw this guy, and she said: ‘Dad, can he do that?’ How do I explain to my 12-year -old daughter that he can, and he can get away with it?” Wiley said.
The point Wiley made over the course of the forum was that actions like these are happening in front of all of us, and that the only way to combat them is through education, understanding and tolerance.
He also applauded the Plattsburgh League of Women Voters for becoming part of that discussion, and added that he’d like to see more young people get involved with the league.
“There is a very dynamic group of voices here who are passionate about social justice,” Wiley said. “Anybody who hits the regional and national stage came from a local community. What they’re doing here is going to have an impact on a national level.”
The league is holding an event to allow voters to meet the eight State Supreme Court candidates at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at the American Legion Post 20 in Plattsburgh.
For more information, visit plattsburgh.ny.lwvnet.org