President of the League of Women Voters of Nevada Janice Browne and First Vice President Sondra Cosgrove attended the League of Women Voters US 2015 Council June 19-21 in Leesburg, Virginia. The main theme was “Celebrating the past, embracing the future.”
We attended presentations on how to guide the League into the Twenty-First Century to improve our viability as an organization, while staying committed to our mission of promoting and protecting democracy. The presenters were experts who reported on research in the field of civic engagement and strategic change for non-profits.
Matt Leighninger, the Executive Director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, presented on what he called “Thick” and “Thin” engagement. Thick engagers willingly attend in-person meetings, take on tasks, and become involved in administrative duties. This group is shrinking and many organizations are actively recruiting them; because they are in high demand, each can pick and choose from different offers. They therefore need good reasons to join one particular organization; many are looking for opportunities for leadership and/or the ability to be truly effective.
Thin engagers are socially aware, sign petitions, send messages in response to action alerts, attend a few in-person meetings, and stay engaged mainly through social media and word of mouth. These type of people are in the majority and interact with many different types of organizations; they will join a group or provide a donation if they are not required to make an extended in-person time commitment.
Mr. Leighninger stated that League has traditionally geared outreach and recruitment exclusively at the Thick type of engagers, but as their numbers dwindle, it is now necessary to also appeal to the Thin engagers. For Thin engagers it is important to see an organization working on goals and activities that align with their values. Thin engagers also need consistent opportunities to engage with or on behalf of the organization both in-person and electronically.
Mr. Leighninger, therefore recommended, and LWV President MacNamara concurred, that local and state Leagues put Mission Fulfillment above Membership Recruitment. League activities and strategic plans should focus on actions and activities that fulfill the League’s mission. In doing this each League’s public profile will be enhanced, which will attract both Thick and Thin engagers.
We heard from Nancy Tate, LWVUS, about the need for strategic change in how local and state Leagues function. We need to adapt to how people currently generate and receive information by having a stronger online presence and by re-imagine administrative functions and how we deliver services. While keeping a focus on the League’s mission, local and state Leagues should begin examining processes, functions, and services.
In a session with Cheryl Graeve, Senior Director of Membership and Field Support, we discussed ways to recruit and develop “Bold and Effective New Leaders.” To recruit new leadership League should be thinking in terms of “skill-sets” and “talent.” Local and state boards should have position description written for each role in League that includes not just responsibilities, but also the skills necessary for the role.
These role descriptions should then guide the Nominating Committees in its selection of candidates. Each League should also have a leadership development process to bring new people into leadership roles; this should include an orientation to League’s practices and rules. This new way of recruiting and developing leaders helps to capture remaining Thick engagers who are not current League members and is necessary to ensure League’s vitality based on current best practices for non-profit, volunteer organizations.
There were also presentations on top League issues. LWVUS Chief Lobbyist, Lloyd Leonard, did a presentation on the current redistricting cases before the Supreme Court.
The first is Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission challenging the constitutionality of Arizona’s initiative-created, independent redistricting commission. The US Constitution states that it is the function of state legislatures to manage federal elections, so a group in Arizona filed a case against the initiative-created redistricting commission stating it unconstitutionally stripped the redistricting power from the state legislature in federal races. This case hinges on whether citizens have direct legislative power through the initiative process. If the Court rules against the commission, it would only be barred from redistricting for federal offices. It would still have power to redistrict for state offices.
In a separate workshop on redistricting, the League’s working group on Redistricting Reform encouraged local and state Leagues to vigilantly monitor all proposed changes to redistricting processes. Any time a governing body recommends changing how redistricting is done, Leagues must ensure the process is transparent and compliant with federal laws and court rulings.
The second redistricting case is Evenwel v. Abbott from Texas. In this case a Texas group wants the Supreme Court to rule that the traditional method of counting raw population when creating election districts should be replaced with a new method of counting only eligible voters. As states have used the raw population method since the founding of the country, it is highly unlikely the court will rule to change the method states currently use to one that only counts eligible voters.
Professor Erin O’Brian, Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston University, presented on state legislative interest in Voter ID. She noted that, based on statistical analysis, the states most likely to see Voter ID legislation proposed have seen increases in voting among minorities and the poor. While there is no statistically significant proof of voter impersonation in these states to justify Voter ID, there is statistically significant evidence of voter disenfranchisement in states that adopt Voter ID.
Emily Shaw, Deputy Policy Director at the Sunlight Foundation, presented on publicly available resources to track campaign spending, government contracts, budgets, and expenditures; as well as issues related to corruption and ethics violations. She recommended the website www.openstates.org for reliable information.
Professor Daniel J. Tokaji reported on the repercussions of the Citizens United ruling and possible remedies to the large influx of money into American politics. Under Citizens United federal rules limiting individual contributions directly to candidates and political parties were upheld, while federal rules limiting expenditures on behalf of a candidate or issue were thrown out.
The result has been the rise of Political Action Committees with the ability to aggregate individual contributions to spend on behalf of candidates and issues without being required to report the source of the contributions. The court did not say that the money must be kept anonymous, so Congress could require greater disclosure.
Consequently, candidates and political parties have lost control over the quantity and quality of political advertisements, events on behalf of candidates, and the number of staff working for or against a candidate. This shift away from the parties running campaigns to private groups running campaigns has distorted all existing checks on spending in the elections process; this is causing the political parties to veer more toward emulating the PACs by not following accepted rules of engagement.
Professor Tokaji and the League’s working group on Money In Politics both recommended against pursuing a constitutional amendment as the means for overruling Citizens United. Once the constitutional convention process begins any group can hijack it to push through their own amendment.
Instead, both recommended looking to Congress to create stricter disclosure laws to force PACs to divulge the source of contributions; to limit the number of days candidates can campaign; and for League to be purposeful in promoting good candidates for future openings on the Supreme Court. Professor Tokaji noted that the American public, especially millennials, is growing very weary of constant campaigning, which may cause the PAC phenomena to eventually reach a point of diminishing returns on its own.
Lastly, all the “buzz” at Convention was about Vote411.org. More and more Leagues are using Vote 411 not only as an electronic voter guide, but also as a tool for membership outreach and community engagement. As Vote 411 embodies the League’s Mission it is a prime way to “show” League doing good work.
Leagues using Vote 411 statewide reported an increase in members and an increase in community awareness of League’s role in promoting voter registration and civic engagement. During the Action Planning sessions Jan and I talked with LWVUS staff knowledgeable about Vote 411; I attended a Vote 411 “How To” workshop; and we discussed among ourselves not only using Vote 411, but how to engage with community members throughout Nevada who reach out to our Leagues after using Vote 411.