The Utah League of Women Voters: Stimulating Political Participation for Almost a Century

The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization that is passionate about protecting democracy and voters’ rights, and works hard to encourage political participation and inform voters of major public policy issues. The Utah chapter of the League of Women Voters formed in 1922, when 18 women gathered at the Hotel Utah for the first chapter meeting. Today, the Utah League of Women Voters is passionate about legislation related to climate change and voter suppression, and works hard to keep Utah voters informed. In honor of International Women's month, Her Campus Utah sat down with Katharine Biele, the current president of the League of Women Voters Salt Lake, and asked her how today's college women can become more engaged in the political process. 

HC: What is your organization, and what function does it perform in Utah politics?

LWV: The League of Women Voters is a 99 year old organization nationally…and we started with the suffragette movement. It was, of course, all about women voting, [and] that has been our main thrust in Utah. We are still about voting, and we are still about women. We have partnered with Voterise, another organization, and they are all about registering voters for the upcoming elections. One of our mutual goals is registering the 300,000 women in Utah who are eligible to vote but are not yet registered.

Members of the Utah League of Women Voters, April 1955

HC: Is your organization just for women voters in Utah?

LWV: Definitely not. Of course, because we’re 99 years old, most of our members are women. In the last decade, we’ve opened it up to men, and many of our finest members are men. The men who belong to the LWV are of course focused on empowering women. 

Our thrust this year is Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI). I think it’s incredibly important for all of us moving forward in the next century is to realize that we are not monolithic. We have many faiths…many genders…everyone is part of America.

HC: How has your organization increased political engagement in Utah?

LWV: A few years ago, we got involved with the Salt Lake City Council on Money and Politics. We partnered with Move to Amend, trying to change their focus on how much money a candidate could get in contributions and spend. And we were able to change those…we didn’t get everything we wanted, but you never do if you believe in compromise. We would like to [do more], but it’s a long haul.

Last year, the LWV in Salt Lake City sponsored a 5K fun run called the “Gerrymeander.” The focus of this event was to educate people about gerrymandering and the redistricting effort, but also to educate people about the LWV and to have fun!

Every month, the League has what we call unit meetings, which are small group discussion meetings held around the valley, open to the public to discuss various issues we are interested in. This month, we are discussing the ERA. Recently, our national organization released a statement at this last national meeting in Chicago, in support of the ERA. We are one state away from the 38 required, but we do have to get the deadline extended.

Runners at the 2018 Gerrymeander 5K Fun Run

HC: In Utah, the state legislature just wrapped up its 2019 legislative session. What issues did the League of Women Voters focus on during the 2019 Legislative Session?

LWV: We had 20 volunteers up at the Legislature as part of our Legislative Action Committee. We are very concerned about the legislature making the citizen initiative process more difficult. We lobbied for almost all of the climate change bills, particularly those proposed by Rep. Joel Briscoe. We are active in anything to do with voter suppression, and I think Utah has been particularly good with voter engagement. Utah has actually been ahead of the wave in engaging voters – we’re nothing like Florida (laughs). 

The Utah State Capitol, 2019

HC: How can college women become more involved in the political process?

LWV: That’s a really great question. First of all, we would like you all to join the LWV. The national league decided last year that they would make all memberships free for any college student. If you go online to become a member of the LWV, it’s free. You will have access to all of our studies – we can’t lobby on anything unless we’ve studied it. We have many of our studies listed on the website.

One of our strategies and goals for this next year is to increase the number of unit meetings that we have. We would love to find someone to sponsor a league unit at the U. All we need is a leader and a location. You could invite anyone on campus to participate in these discussions.

HC: What advice do you have for today’s college students?

LWV: I think today’s college students are fanatistic to start with, but I think they need to be more involved, and I think they need to vote. Always vote. Unfortunately, many of our younger people think there’s no reason to vote, particularly in Utah where we are a one-party state. But that’s not true – even in a one party state. And we get the same people in office year after year only because people have decided they’re not going to vote.

Get to know your neighbors, and get involved with groups like the LWV. Groups like Represent Me, Indivisibile – these are non-partisan groups that are politically active. We don’t need to be so polarized.  

Next year, the LWV will celebrate its 100th birthday in tandem with the celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Until then, the League will continue working tirelessly to protect fairness and democracy wherever it is active in the United States. 

Check out the Utah chapters of the LWV here

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4