Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, is expecting a record turnout for the organization’s annual meeting this weekend in Door County.
“Until just last year, 70 to 80 was a good turnout. Last year we reached 90 up in Ashland. Now this time for our Friday evening program we have 96. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes over 100,” she said.
Part of the reason may be the location – the Landmark Resort in Egg Harbor is the center of the weekend activities, which include a Sunday trolley rode and lighthouse tour.
“The weekend is pretty businesslike, but I expect we may have a really good turnout this year partly because people want to go to Door County,” Kaminski said. “I know a number of people will probably add a few days to their visit. I’m certainly doing that with my husband.”
But it could also be that more people want to get involved in the political but nonpartisan work the league does. Restrictive new voting laws in Wisconsin have been a recent concern of the league. This year’s gathering is titled A Matter of Perspective: New Viewpoints, New Voters, New Election Environment.
“I think there is a sense that people have that voting has become more difficult for some people and that it’s not fair. A lot of folks have come to the league or are asking, ‘What can we do to help?’” Kaminski said. “We’re just in such a polarized situation.”
This annual gathering is the only time representatives from the 18 local leagues in the state get together to learn from expert speakers and each other about important political issues in the state.
“We also have our business meeting, during which the delegates who are there from the local leagues do things like electing the board of directors and officers and adopting a budget,” Kaminski said. “They also select a program for the year to come, what will be our program priorities, and sometimes we update a position we have. This time we’re looking at our urban policy position.”
The speakers include Robert Atwell, chair and CEO of Nicolet National Bank, speaking on “The Economic Case for Improving Water Quality”; LWV-Green Bay member Colleen Gruszynski, voter registration data specialist, speaking on “Engaging the Emerging Electorate”; and LWV-Whitewater member Anita Loch in a workshop program titled “Building League Capability in Our New Environment.”
“One thing that is our priority is to strategize and plan for the months ahead as we approach the fall election,” Kaminski said. “There have been some new election laws. There is one that will introduce online or electronic voter registration, which will do away with the current way the league registers voters, so we’ll have to plan for that.
“We have to be ready for whatever,” she continued. “The league’s plan is to just keep registering voters or helping them to register, or whatever we can do under the law for as long as we can. We want to encourage people to participate in elections. And we want to help them comply with the restrictive new voting laws. We’re very concerned that some of these laws make it harder for some people to vote. We want to help them comply with it, so this will be a time when we are able to come together on a statewide basis and think about the changes we have ahead of us and how we’re going to continue to do our work to serve voters.”
At nearly every league event, including the candidate forums the league has held in Door County, it is stressed that the League of Women Voters is not just for women. Though it grew out of the women’s suffrage movement and was formed for newly enfranchised women with the imminent passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, since 1974 the league has also included men. Kaminski said 15 to 20 percent of its national membership is of the male variety, and several men have served on the national board or as state or local directors. Three men – Jim Ebbeson, Mark Moeller and Seth Wiederanders – serve on the board of directors of the LWV of Door County.
“We say, it’s not for women only,” Kaminski said. “There have been conversations at our national convention in the past, why don’t we change our name to the League of Voters or League of Concerned Voters or whatever, and it’s been not acted upon mainly because the league has a long and strong reputation for its nonpartisanship and we don’t want to give that up.”