Making Democracy Work

Helping to Make Democracy Work Since 1920!

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy.

Come Help Plan the Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

The fight for women's suffrage in the U.S. began in 1848, when women marched, protested, lobbied, and even went to jail for the right to vote. Seven decades later, their tenacity paid off. The U.S. Congress approved a bill to amend the U.S. Constitution to grant women suffrage in 1919.

Michigan proudly became one of the first of three states to ratify the 19th Amendment. The amendment, however, would be effective only when 36 states had ratified the amendment. That happened on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify it.

Thus the nineteenth amendment was adopted and added to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. "The greatest thing about the story of suffrage here in Michigan," according to Caitlyn Perry Dial, executive director of the Michigan Women's Historical Center & Hall of Fame, "is that they persisted".

LWVBCC plans on hosting several events this year and next to celebrate ratification of the 19th Amendment. We need your help! Just as women before us toiled for the right of women to vote, let us honor their work by celebrating these extraordinary 100-year anniversaries.

A planning meeting will be held soon. Bring your ideas, your enthusiastic spirit, as we move forward to walk in our sisters' footsteps.

Good News on Voter Turnout

Voters really do care. They proved that by turning out in record numbers to cast ballots in the 2018 Midterm Election. According to MLive, the Michigan turnout was 58 percent of registered voters--the highest for a midterm election since 1962. An increase was seen throughout the state, with all Michigan counties experiencing double-digit increases over the 2014 midterm.

That includes the counties in LWVBCC's area. According to the November 8 edition of Leader Publications, 50.1 percent of Cass County's registered voters (20,346 of 40,605) cast ballots, and so did 50.4 percent of Berrien County's registered voters (63,213 of 125,395).

That's good news for sure. Still, though, half of the people in LWVBCC's area who could have voted did not do so. Moreover, the disparity in turnout from precinct to precinct was stark: from a high of 63.7 percent in one precinct to a low of 28.4 percent a short distance away. (See http://www.electionreporting.com.)

Clearly, then, much work remains to be done for future elections. The good news is that work on election turnout really can make a difference. Kudos to everyone who helped make a difference in 2018.

59th Michigan House District Forum

Voters in the 59th District have an opportunity to hear from candidates for the Michigan House from their District at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 18 in the Mathews Conference Center West at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac. The candidates are Aaron Miller and Dennis B. Smith.

The forum will begin with the moderator asking questions prepared in advance by LWVBCC, followed by questions submitted in writing by the audience. Candidates will not receive any of the questions in advance.

This will be an excellent opportunity for voters to learn about the candidates' positions on important issues. LWVBCC appreciates both candidates' willingness to participate so that this service can be made available to voters in the 59th District.

Ballot Proposal Discussion in Benton Harbor

From 1:00 until 3:00 p.m. Saturday, October 20, LWVBCC and several other nonpartisan community groups will provide an opportunity for voters to discuss issues of interest to them in the upcoming election, including the statewide ballot proposals. The discussion will be at the Benton Harbor Arts & Culture Center, 275 Pipestone Avenue.

Co-sponsors of the event are the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Voters Not Politicians, the OutCenter, and Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship's Social Justice Committee.

Hot dogs and other refreshments will be provided.

Great Source of Information for Voters!

An excellent source of information about contests, candidates, and issues is the website maintained by LWV: vote411.org.

By simply entering your home address, you will be able to see what contests will be on your ballot and to access information provided by candidates (if they have responded to our invitation to do so) about their background, qualifications, and positions on issues. If you wish, you can select candidates two at a time to compare them side by side. You also will see other matters (such as millages) that will appear on the ballot when you go to the polls.

Vote411 has this type of information for primary elections as well as general elections. If you haven't used it before, give it a try. If you do, chances are good you will go to it again and again for subsequent elections because it is such a valuable and easy to use resource. It also has links to other valuable information about election process and procedures.

You do not need to be concerned about entering your address into this website. It does not store your information after you exit the site. You will simply enter it anew each time you open the site.

Retired Michigan Elections Admin. Visits League

As Michigan's Director of Elections, Chris Thomas helped shape our state's election policies and procedures. Although he retired from that position last year, he remains involved in election issues through his work with the Bipartisan Policy Center based in Washington. His vast experience and valuable insights into election issues were evident at LWVBCC's forum on May 15 in the Lincoln Township Library.

According to Thomas, Michigan has one of the least centralized election procedures of any state in the country except Wisconsin, and the process rests heavily on elected officials: the Secretary of State as chief election officer and under him or her, clerks of counties, cities, and townships. The Director of Elections, though, is a civil service employee who will not be out of a job when the office of Secretary of State switches from one party to another.

Election security, Thomas said, is a big concern. The Russians have interfered with U.S. elections since 2014-though not in Michigan, where election records are kept behind a centralized firewall. They clearly were involved in the 2016 election, targeting eighteen states, gaining some access to records in six states, and making their way into the systems of some states, including Illinois.

Claims that millions have voted illegally, however, are "bunk" according to Thomas. Claims of voter fraud and voter suppression, he maintains, are used as fund-raising ploys.

Nonetheless, Michigan will use a new voting system in 2016-a paper-based system that offers a good degree of security. Moreover, vote tabulators are isolated, and not connected to the internet. Further assurance of election integrity comes from post-election audit.

All in all, we can conclude from Mr. Thomas's remarks that when we vote in Michigan, we can do so with confidence that our votes will be counted and reflected when results are made known.

Many thanks to Chris Thomas for an informative and reassuring message about election integrity in Michigan.

Forum on Specialty Courts in Berrien County -- Hon. Charles LaSata

On October 5, LWVBCC sponsored a public forum by Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Charles LaSata on "Specialty Courts in Berrien County--Healing Victims and Offenders." The forum was held at Berrien RESA in Berrien Springs.

Berrien County has four specialty courts -- Drug Treatment Court, Drug Court, Domestic Violence Court, and "Swift and Sure." For the past three years, Judge LaSata has presided over all four.

Swift and Sure, in particular, has generated considerable interest. It targets felony offenders with a history of probation violations who are at high risk of winding up back behind bars because they fail to follow the rules of their probation. The program is designed to help probationers develop personal responsibility and accountability through additional monitoring and support.

This was a good opportunity to learn about innovative programs in our local court system, how they work, and how they are related to the broader legal system. An opportunity to ask questions followed Judge LaSata's presentation which can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9QAewbXpAY&list=PLNnlEE_tTzmQXEPBoITCn-nu22gUUGxKm&index=1&t=2s

Access to Justice -- Carl Macpherson

The presumption of innocence is the bedrock of our criminal justice system. According to Carl Macpherson, it also is the guiding principle of Berrien County's new Public Defender's Office--a service that has been in place only since December 15, 2016. Mr. Macpherson, the county's Chief Public Defender, spoke at an LWVBCC luncheon at Coach's restaurant. His presentation may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_vtStUeYf0.

A Michigan native, Mr. Macpherson has spent virtually his entire legal career in indigent defense--from one coast to the other, and now in between. The Berrien County Public Defender's Office is staffed with nine attorneys, two secretaries, an office manager, and a part-time investigator. Mr. Macpherson, who said the organizing principle of the office is collaboration and teamwork, hopes to add staff as funding becomes available. The case load now is heavy--partly because 77 percent of felony charges, he said, are against indigent individuals.

With the advent of our Public Defenders Office, an indigent client now may have access to an attorney at his or her initial court appearance, the arraignment, at which important decisions such as pleas and the setting of bond are made. This, according to Mr. Macpherson, is a particularly important component of his office's work. Without access to legal advice at an arraignment, a defendant can make decisions that prove disadvantageous in later proceedings--decisions that may have been avoided with timely access to legal advice.

Berrien County is one of only eight counties in Michigan that have offices for indigent defense. Elsewhere, legal services are provided, as they were here until last December 12, only by attorneys in private practice working under contracts with the court system to provide specified services. Because the cost of incarceration is high--about $28,000 per incarcerated person per year--improving outcomes for indigent defendants is not only just and fair; it also can be cost-effective in the long run.

More information about the Berrien County Public Defenders Office and principles and practices that gave rise to it can be found at https://www.berriencounty.org/PublicDefender.

Michigan Taxation: How it Affects Local Government

Our Meeting on Michigan Taxation and Budget Explored Many Issues, Enlightened Details of Great Interest to Citizens. Both Treasurers from Berrien and Cass Counties were present. During discussion, everyone had an opportunity to express their viewpoints, and multiple issues were examined from all sides. Members discussed the pros and cons of 22 issues.

Nonpartisan Yet Political -- The League

The League and Nonpartisanship by Susan Gilbert, 45-year League member

It is not uncommon for outsiders, and even some members, to question how the League can be nonpartisan yet advocate on positions that, in the slice of time that is now, appear to be partisan. In the highly partisan climate that has developed in recent years, the League is one of the very few political organizations that is not in either the liberal/Democratic camp or the conservative/Republican camp. And we have members of all political persuasions and encourage them to get involved in politics.

So, members may be partisan, but the organization is not. All this is hard for many to wrap their minds around. The League is nonpartisan in that we do not endorse or support any political party or candidate for office. We don't rate legislators, we don't track their votes, and we don't threaten them if they don't vote our way.

Voter service is one of our main missions, and we publish nonpartisan voter guides and hold candidate forums to help voters educate themselves beyond TV ads. Education is an important League function, and we try in our meetings and in this newsletter and on this website to inform our attendees/readers and stimulate them to think about issues in our world.

However, the League is also an advocacy group, and we have positions on issues that have been developed over the years since our founding in 1920 and are the result of study and consensus of the local Leagues nationwide. These positions are updated from time to time, but are basically consistent.

The positions and platforms of the political parties, on the other hand, do change and at times they resemble our League position, or not. But the League doesn't change or drop its positions because they are currently those of one party or the other.

And we do speak out! An example is healthcare. The League has a position on comprehensive healthcare for all Americans. President Truman liked that idea, too, and President Eisenhower delivered a special message to Congress on January 31, 1955, recommending a comprehensive healthcare program for Americans. Lyndon Johnson got Medicare passed and that took the pressure off for a while. But President Nixon encouraged HMOs as a way to rein in costs and provide healthcare for more people. Then President Reagan came along and decided the free market was the best way to manage health care, and the Republicans have basically supported this idea since.

But clearly both parties have been on both sides of the issue. The key is not to confuse politics with position advocacy.

LWVBCC Newsletters

View our informative e-newsletter, published almost monthly. Links to past newsletters can be found here. The newsletters are copies of an e-newsletter and do not have the same professional appearance as the originals. If you would like to join our mailing list email webmaster.