As local elections approach, League of Women Voters can help
The political stage is not just on the national level and the people of Illinois know it. Illinois voters care about the politics and issues in their own back yard, especially those on the municipal level, like their school board and municipal elections, that affect their children, neighborhoods and livelihoods.
Enter the League of Women Voters, one of the nation's oldest and most respected civic engagement organizations. For the last 99 years, the League has remained steadfast in the belief that informed and active participation of citizens in government is the hallmark of democracy. Its members build on this mission today through continued grass-roots and nonpartisan work to educate the electorate with well-researched positions that aid voters in making sound decisions when they cast their ballots; an invaluable resource to combat the hyper-partisanship that can come from ill-informed voting constituencies.
The League has created some straightforward ways for voters to keep up to date on the latest issues, including the newly launched Illinois Voter Guide www.illinoisvoterguide.org, a comprehensive tool that empowers voters across the state to access candidate information, up and down the ballot, and in every precinct. This guide includes detailed information on each candidate including experience, education and, most importantly, their position on key issues such as economy, education, taxes and criminal justice, to name just a few.
State League and local chapters also serve as a much-needed resource. Most chapters conduct numerous candidate forums for contested races on the local level, giving hundreds of community members the chance to directly engage incumbents and contenders seeking office.
This information is housed on the League's website, www.lwvil.org, as a resource for all voters, regardless of political affiliation, to become or remain an educated voter.
For example, the Naperville League has spent the upcoming months and weeks compiling information on local issues important to their municipality, including the April referendum to consolidate Naperville Township Road District into Naperville Township. The referendum asks the township to dissolve its road districts, eliminate the position of highway commissioner and absorb the responsibilities into the rest of the township government. This issue is not new to the community but could be in direct contradiction to previous votes and forge new law that may create implications that no one can predict. It is through the Naperville chapter's dedicated board and membership that voters will have needed information to find out more and wade through possible scenarios and ramifications.
The work of the League continues throughout the year, even in the absence of elections. For example, this past November, the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Area chapter of the League of Women Voters, held a four-panelist, two-hour forum on gun violence and the community impact. The forum created a much-needed dialogue and discussion from opposing perspectives on an issue that is on the minds of voters.
The panel included the local executive director of student services for a Lake Forest school district, the executive director of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, a Lake County Sheriff's Office deputy and the organizer for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, a variety of voices that culminated in a thorough and unbiased discussion.
The League of Women Voters of Illinois has and continues to be committed to creating a space and stage for engaging voters and combating misinformation, as well as modeling robust yet civil discourse. Bringing together educated and sometimes divergent partners to share best practices for meaningful, sustainable engagement of diverse citizens and their opinions has been at the core of its mission.
So long as there are Illinoisans who are willing to exercise their most basic civil right, the League and its tireless members will continue to "fight the good fight" because democracy is not a spectator sport.
Audra Wilson, of Chicago, is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, a 3,000-member branch of the national League of Women Voters. The League is a nonpartisan, civic engagement group that seeks to influence public policy through education and advocacy.