Early Voting In Michigan Is Just One Way The League of Women Voters Is Promoting Democracy
As the granddaughter of Hungarian and Polish immigrants, president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan (LWVMI) Christina Schlitt learned to take voting seriously at a young age. Her grandparents, she told Supermajority News, “were proud to be able to vote, and that was instilled in my family. It’s a right and a responsibility.”
Schlitt is no stranger to voter education. In fact, the LWVMI voter guide (which was printed in her hometown Detroit’s newspapers when she was a young voter) largely influenced her path to politics. “As a young woman, when I was starting to vote, I would use the voter guide that the League of Women Voters produced and printed in the Detroit newspapers,” Schlitt said. “I thought that was very valuable.” Decades later, she joined LWVMI in 2000 and in 2019 became president of the chapter. She emphasized the non-partisan nature of her organization, which promotes education and advocacy. “We stick to the facts,” she said. “See our Vote411.org web site, for example. We never endorse or oppose a candidate or party. People depend on that, and our grassroots organization is known for that. People come to us for good, solid information.”
Supporting voting rights is another priority for LWVMI. In 2018, the century-old League of Women Voters, which includes more than 700 local and state leagues and more than 500,000 members and supporters nationwide, partnered at the state level with the ACLU and the NAACP to help secure an important new right for Michigan voters — the passage of Proposal 3. This legislation enabled every registered Michigan voter to vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or in person, for the first time.
Voter participation in Michigan, a battleground state, is critical. In 2016, Donald Trump claimed Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes by a margin of 0.23% (10,704 votes) over Hillary Clinton, representing the smallest margin of victory in any U.S. state that year. Early voting — also known as no-excuse absentee balloting — is currently skyrocketing in Michigan as an option for voters to avoid long lines. The state has seen more than 7,000 COVID-19 deaths and 143,000 cases, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer has jousted with the Republican-controlled legislature and Supreme Court about mask requirements and other anti-coronavirus safety measures.
Supermajority News interviewed Schlitt about the advantages of early voting, the ways LWVMI provides trustworthy information on where and how to vote, and the significance of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
What are the benefits of Michiganders choosing to vote early?
In Michigan, you really have three ways to vote. You can vote by absentee ballot — putting [your ballot] in the mail or dropping it off at a drop box or the county clerk’s office. You can go into the clerk’s office and vote. And you can also go to the polls if that’s what you want. But because of the pandemic, absentee ballot requests have increased significantly, even more than during our state primary at the beginning of August.
[If you vote early,] you don’t have to stand in line. You don’t have to be concerned about using the post office. If you get your ballot in early, you don’t run the risk of it being late or missing the deadline. It certainly has raised the convenience, safety, and security for voters to vote from home.
Michigan has 7.7 million registered voters. I’ve read they’re expecting as many as 5 million to vote — a lot more than in the past. I’d like to think it’s particularly because of Proposal 3 and the voting rights that have made [voting] more convenient. But I think there might be other issues that will get people out as well.
How do you react to false allegations that voting by mail is rife with fraud?
Actually, we have been countering that misinformation not only at the national level, but also at the state level. We encourage our local Leagues to talk to the media, to submit op-eds. [In Michigan], we get our Social Security checks and our medicine through the mail. And our ballots have always been secure going through the mail. There’s a little bit of turmoil in terms of the speed right now, but that’s why we’re encouraging people to vote early.
What tools do you use to provide accurate information on voting?
We received a grant to promote Vote411.org — a Webby Award-winning site [that] helps reach communities that traditionally don’t vote. This way, people have the opportunity to become an educated voter at no charge to them. They can just go there and find out if they’re registered and where their polling location is. They can look at their ballot and plan which way they want to vote. And if they aren’t registered, they can register online.
Also, we printed 100,000 copies of our voter guide, which we’re distributing throughout Michigan. It provides a significant amount of information about the new voting laws, and also candidate information for those candidates who responded to us by the time we went to print. On Vote411.org, we continue to list responses from candidates that are still responding.
The League is a trusted source for voter information. We have been for 100 years, and that’s our goal for the next 100 years.
What other initiatives has LWVMI undertaken recently?
Well, we are non-partisan, and we do not advocate for or against an issue unless we have a position [which the LWVMI comes to “through a process of study and consensus”]. We originally didn’t have a position on redistricting. However, Sue Smith, our former LWVMI president, was instrumental in taking all the local Leagues through that process, and now we have a position.
We’ve started advocating for fair maps in Michigan. Now we have an independent commission, who just got seated and will be developing fair maps. It’s a non-partisan commission: four Republicans, four Democrats, and five unaffiliated [members]. So it’s not going to be up to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party to draw the map. The term “gerrymandering” is fairly prevalent in that world.
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. How would you describe its impact?
Women took the right to vote very seriously. They immediately started educating fellow voters about candidates and then they also undertook the mission of advocacy. They started advocating for improved health and safety conditions, for the rights of children, even 100 years ago. You could have been forced to work as a child at 12 or younger. They got those laws in, so they made a significant impact. We had a number of local Leagues who participated in socially distanced parades dressed as suffragists this year.
I’d like to see more women in elected positions at all levels, especially the higher levels, because I think they have a different viewpoint on the world. I would like to see the power of women have an impact in a positive manner.