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.

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:

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.

Annual Dinner Meeting

We are delighted to announce that the site for the LWVBCC Annual Meeting will be the Buchanan Art Center, 117 W Front St., Buchanan. Join us on Thursday, June 14th at 5:30 pm. in this beautiful setting in Buchanan, Michigan. Stroll thru the Art Center, meet new and old LWVBCC friends, enjoy a glass of wine and revel in elegant and savory hors d'oeuvres. Please BYOB.
At this event we will elect a Board of Directors and approve a budget for the coming year. Because LWVBCC bylaws require that both a Nominating and a Budget and Finance Committee have a member who is not now a member of the Board, please consider participating in this process. If you wish to volunteer, please contact Mike McCaffrey, John Ripley or Chris Zilke regarding the Budget and Finance Committee, or Karen Ristau regarding the Nominating Committee. Their contact information is in the LWVBCC Directory.
The cost for the event is $25 payable in advance--either by check made payable to LWVBCC and mailed to LWVBCC, P.O. Box 1032, Niles MI 49120; or through PayPal by clicking here or on our website, Won't you join us on June 14th for an evening of business, friendship and art appreciation? -- Judy Scully

The Women's Hour

The Women's Hour
"Anyone interested in the history of our country's ongoing fight to put its founding values into practice--as well as those seeking the roots of current political fault lines--would be well-served by picking up Elaine Weiss's The Woman's Hour."
-- Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller "Hidden Figures."
And indeed we, the LWVBCC, are just those interested people. Elaine Weiss tells the incredible story of one of the greatest political battles in American history: the fight to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote.
Interested? LWVBCC is partnering with Robin Allen, owner of Forever Books in St. Joseph, to bring Elaine Weiss to Berrien County to talk about women's suffrage. We are delighted that the author has agreed to visit sometime in September 2018 (date to be determined shortly).
What an event this could be! College students, high school students, Forever Books patrons, LWVBCC members- the League registering voters! We can't begin planning this event any too soon. Won't you join me March 29th at 5:00 pm at my home in Lakeside to begin planning this exciting event? I promise a reminder closer to the planning date, a glass of wine or a cup of tea on the day of our meeting.
FYI: "The Woman's Hour:The Great Fight To Win The Vote" will be our April Book Group selection. Consider giving Robin Allen your business by ordering "The Woman's Hour" from Forever Books:(click here to order). -- Judy Scully

Agriculture Consensus Issue

At the 2017 state meeting of the League, delegates decided to conduct a study to update LWVMI's position on Agricultural/Seasonal Workers in Michigan.
The result of the study could revise Section 1. B. of the LWVMI Agricultural/Seasonal Worker Position from "Should allow a lawfully present, qualifying person to apply for or secure and renew a driver's license or obtain identification card" to "Should allow a person to apply for or secure and renew a driver's license or obtain an identification card regardless of immigration status."
The LWVBCC has been asked to study the issue and send our local league vote to LWVMI by April 1, 2018. We will hold our Consensus meeting on this question from 1:00-3:30 in the Niles District Library Community Room on Wednesday, March 21. Please put it on your calendar and plan to attend. Resource materials on this topic can be found by clicking here.
Panelists for this event will be drawn from the legal, law enforcement and migrant worker services communities. Look for more information in next month's newsletter.
-- Kathleen Fleming

Documentary Film Presentation: "This Changes Everything"

On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, 6:00pm, at the Vickers Theater in Three Oaks, the League presents: "This Changes Everything."

Here is a brief synopsis: "A purposefully unsettling but ultimately encouraging global overview of efforts by activists to push back against corporate polluters and ameliorate climate change, 'This Changes Everything' plays very much like the cinematic equivalent of a pep rally. Working from the book of the same title by journalist Naomi Klein, who serves as narrator and onscreen interviewer, director Avi Lewis casts his net wide, from rural Montana to smog-choked Beijing, to illustrate that, yes, climate change is a demonstrably real and increasingly dire threat, and no, the situation isn't entirely hopeless. His documentary isn't likely to convert unbelievers -- assuming, of course, that any climate change deniers would ever watch this film in the first place -- but it could find receptive audiences in a variety of platforms, especially on the eve of a U.S. Presidential election, and eventually serve as a fund-raising tool for environmental groups." -- Variety

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

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

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

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.

Maintaining our Wonderful Watershed in Berrien and Cass Counties.

At a recent luncheon we watched a detailed presentation by Marcy Hamilton, Senior Planner with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission on the Importance of Maintaining Septic Systems and the impact on our watersheds along with other important programs at the SWMPC. She works with communities and non-profits to facilitate land use planning, advance sustainable development, foster collaboration, increase citizen participation, develop grants and implement projects around the Southwest Michigan region. A video recording of her fascinating presentation is available on our YouTube website.

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.