Voting advocacy group not only for women

Bringing in the vote

Posted: Monday, October 02, 2000

In sharp contrast to citizens whose absence from the polls produces those staggering record lows in voter turnout is the League of Women Voters.

A nationwide organization of concerned voters, the league encourages informed, intelligent discourse among its members on a wide range of public issues. And it's not just for women.

Any citizen of voting age may join the league. It currently has 250 members in Alaska. Twenty of them live on the peninsula and are also members of the League of Women Voters of the Central Kenai Peninsula, which formed in 1980.

The league aims to educate its members through debates, issue and candidate forums and thorough studies, according to state league president Diana McKenney.

The local league chapter holds Third Thursday Community Forum, on the third Thursday of each month. Most recently, peninsula league president Sue Caswell spoke on welfare reform. The topic is different at each forum.

This month, the league is presenting a candidates forum in place of its regular Third Thursday gathering. It will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 in the Kenai Peninsula College Commons. Legislative candidates running for House seats in Districts 7, 8 and 9 and the Senate seat in District E all have been invited to participate, Caswell said.

Topics for future Third Thursday Community Forums have yet to be announced, but Caswell said the group hopes to find a permanent home for them in the Borough Building in Soldotna.

"We don't have a set agenda or topics," McKenney said, adding that league members are responsible for the discussions.

Like the national organization, the peninsula league focuses on getting unbiased information to voters, McKenney said.

Last year she visited Soldotna High School and gave a presentation to students in government classes on candidate question-and-answer sessions. The students then organized and moderated a session for school board candidates.

"I thought that was kind of profound -- the students doing a question and answer with the school board," she said. "I was blown away with the questions those students came up with."

McKenney said she hopes to do another Q-and-A with the students in the future.

Although the league does not at any level endorse any candidate or political party, it adopts positions based on lengthy studies. Members choose a topic, study it, then submit the results to the league. All members then review the study and comment on it. They return their opinions to the league, which compiles and reviews all of the information. Members then vote on whether they will adopt a position.

Studies focus on important and timely issues, McKenney said, and give members an opportunity to have an active voice in the formation of policy.

"A Native Alaskan woman has taken it upon herself to do hours of research on subsistence," McKenney said, emphasizing that the league provides a rare chance for individuals to present their research to a large network of voters.

At the national level, the league has positions on a wide variety of policy topics, ranging from campaign finance reform and public disclosure to natural resources.

"The league is the only organization that does this, that takes on these kinds of investigations on these types of topics that are controversial," McKenney said.

A study is under way to assess the drug war and the costs and effects of adding to swelling prison populations, McKenney said.

Another way the league provides voters with information is through its online Democracy Network, or DNet. The Web address is Voters can type in their zip code to get information on elections at the national, state and local level.

"It's a one-stop shop where you can check out the candidates and the issues," McKenney said.

The DNet site does not currently have any information on local races.

Membership in the league costs $40 per year. Anyone interested may write the peninsula chapter at P.O. Box 2381, Kenai, AK 99611.

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