Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the national League of Women Voters, is coming to Memphis Monday, Oct. 14, to sound a warning.
The league sees a collective and growing threat to voting rights, especially in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that undid key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Within 24 hours of that ruling, MacNamara said, a handful of states moved forward with tighter voting measures – including states where the League of Women Voters had previously won fights to block voter restrictions.
The warnings MacNamara’s organization are sounding now – over things like voter ID laws, cuts to early voting hours and restrictions on same-day voter registration – are part of the same fight the group has been waging for decades.
MacNamara is speaking in Memphis during a discussion titled “Voting Rights Under Attack” at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar Ave., Monday at 6 p.m.
“The league has been involved with protecting voting rights since we were founded over 90 years ago,” MacNamara said. “And we recognized early on that a constitutional amendment alone is not enough to make sure that all those newly enfranchised women and of course every voter in the U.S. can and will turn out to vote.
“So the league has always been very interested in non-partisan information on state election laws, which are really where the action is in terms of understanding how to register and where to find your polling place, and of course most of the issues we vote on are at the state level.”
MacNamara, an attorney, is the league’s 18th president. She joined the organization in 1983 and has served in leadership roles at the local, state and national level. The group was founded in 1920 and operates through more than 800 state and local leagues.
The league sprung out of the movement that secured for women the right to vote. In addition to spreading the word about and advocating for voting rights, the league also conducts broad educational campaigns related to things like candidate views, ballot initiatives and a range of public policy issues.
“We’re focused on things like making sure that voters are protected and understand their state laws and understand how they need to get – for example, in Tennessee – the requisite photo ID in order to be able to come out to vote,” MacNamara said. “We’re focused on things like whether the states are providing the ID the way they’ve promised and that we’re pursuing more of a proactive agenda in pushing for more uniformity across the states in terms of early voting periods, polling place resources and, within states, online voter registration and permanent and portable registration around the state. Because we believe those are the kinds of reforms that are going to best protect the integrity of our system, while at the same time making sure that every eligible voter has free and fair access to our polls.”
Earlier this month, the league released a statement in which MacNamara called on Congress to “swiftly end” the government shutdown and return to work on issues like voting rights and passing comprehensive immigration reform.
“There’s always something going on with the league,” MacNamara said. “We’re working very hard in a lot of states right now, including Tennessee, to educate voters and educate citizens on the Affordable Care Act as it’s rolling out. We’re always working very hard to make sure we get good nonpartisan information to our voters this year and in every election year to make sure our elections are always free, fair and accessible to every eligible voter.”