STEVENSVILLE — It’s been 100 years since white women were granted the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.
Right along with that came the League of Women Voters to educate those women who were newly voting.
Even after 100 years, educating voters on the issues is still the league’s mission.
Locally, the new president of the board for the League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties (LWVBCC) said she’s sticking to that mission.
“I just provide a service,” Anita Rutlin said.
The group selects a new president every other July and Rutlin said this time it is her turn.
Rutlin, of St. Joseph, moved back to the area recently and has been involved with the league, this time, for about a year. She was involved with the league for many years when she used to live in Berrien County.
She said her management and leadership experience comes from her years as a teacher and school administrator.
In fact, the St. Joseph High School graduate said, once upon a time she worked at Lakeshore Middle School and High School, Lake Michigan College, Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University.
Rutlin said what she enjoys about the league is that it’s really the only place to get nonpartisan, factual information about candidates, issues and ballot proposals.
“Really anything you have to know to be an informed voter,” she said. “You see names on a ballot and those people are going to make decisions for you. You need to know who’s going to make your decision, and it’s a decision you’re going to have to live with.”
Rutlin used the example of an issue on a ballot about school funding.
“You need to understand what you’re voting for and how it will change things into the future,” she said. “That’s why voting is so important to me.”
The LWVBCC puts on forums and events each year to help people understand the issues. All of the events are nonpartisan.
John Ripley, treasurer and communications manager for the LWVBCC, said it’s just a matter of voter education.
“It’s not a matter of taking sides on those issues. It is a matter of having people think about the decisions that are made,” he said.
Rutlin said it’s also important for the league to get young people involved. That’s why they have a table at Lake Michigan College each National Voter Registration Day to get them registered to vote.
The league also welcomes anyone from age 16 and up to join, and membership is free for students.
“If they learn to study the issues, learn about the candidates, then that becomes a habit,” Rutlin said.
Rutlin and Ripley stress that while some of the league’s members are involved in partisan politics, everything the league does is nonpartisan.
“So when we talk about issues like gerrymandering or no-reason absentee ballots, we talk about what it’s like now and what it could be like and the impact it could have on the community,” Ripley said.
Rutlin added, “It’s not that we’re apolitical personally, we just come at it like, what should we be thinking about? What should I learn about? And that’s why it’s so important to get young people involved.”
The league also compiles information for vote411.org, a national database on the local, state and national candidates each election.
Voting and technology and how they work together has been a huge item of discussion recently. Some states are going back to paper ballots because of it.
Rutlin said technology, in its different forms, is wonderful until it isn’t.
“We’ve watched it make counting easier,” she said. “And social media has certainly influenced people; however, there’s a difference between the league’s 411 and what people understand from social media.”
Ripley said the league believes the recent proposals in Michigan that have made it easier to register to vote and vote absentee for no reason is good technology.
“It’s issues beyond the control, when you’re hacked or a social media influence, that you have to raise a question,” Rutlin said. “How else do we get good information to voters?”
Ripley, said with the change to more automatic voter registration, what the league is really focusing on now is voter turnout.
“Not enough people vote and I wish we could do something about that,” he said. “There are a variety of reasons why someone might not vote, but they probably haven’t done the research, so we try to provide it for them to give them better knowledge about the candidates, the races and what’s at stake.”
Rutlin said the workload leading up to the 2020 election is going to be huge. She said the league will try to put on as many forums and debates as possible.
Ripley said they try to cater to what people ask them for.
“We respond when people ask us to explain an issue. Then we organize a meeting so they can ask questions and we can have a speaker,” he said.
The LWVBCC is working right now to obtain a grant from the state league to put on a town hall about the 2020 Census or voter rights.
Rutlin said they’re also working on putting together a forum on gun reform.
“A year ago we did a program about using civil discourse to interact with elected officials past and present and talk about the issues,” she said. “And now, using our skills with civil discourse, we can have a pretty lively conversation about gun reform. It’s a nice hot button that everyone has to think about because there’s no one way to think about it.”
Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman