The League of Women Voters (LWV) describes itself as a “non-partisan” group that encourages citizen participation in the political process.
Carrie Chapman Catt, the onetime President of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and later the President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, founded LWV in 1920 during the Women’s Suffragette Convention. Maud Wood Park was LWV’s first President, and the group identified itself as officially non-partisan at that time. Catt took on a pacifist role after LWV’s founding, becoming an avid supporter of the League of Nations and founding the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War. The League itself began working for disarmament in 1923. LWV established itself as a political interest group by lobbying for the Sheppard-Towner Act, which expanded the welfare state to include maternal aid and support for children by the federal government.
Through the 1930s, LWV supported the League of Nations and the development of the World Court. It sought enforcement of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1929, a treaty which led the increasingly isolationist United States to ignore Hitler, the rising tide of Japanese aggression in China and the rape of Nanking, and the aggression of Mussolini in the Balkans and Africa.
In a study of LWV’s Timeline (as posted on the group’s website), 1956 merits particular attention. In that year, the Soviet Union brutally suppressed a rebellion in Hungary. LWV’s entry for 1956 states merely that the U.S.S.R. “announces new party line.”
In 1961 LWV began full-fledged support of environmental initiatives, including programs aimed at curbing water pollution. Four years later the League started holding environmental seminars and supported the Water Resources Planning Act. In 1969 LWV began to support the recognition of Communist China and the disenfranchisement of Taiwan.
In 1983 LWV solidified is pro-abortion stance. Six years later it began work on “motor-voter” registration, an effort to allow anyone with a driver’s license to become a voter, regardless of citizenship status. The first President Bush vetoed motor-voter registration in 1992; in 1993 President Clinton signed a re-authorized bill.
LWV identifies the following as its current “Issue Priorities”:
(a) Campaign Finance Reform: “We need your help to pass the new McCain-Feingold–Durbin Free Air Time legislation [which] will require … broadcast stations to provide free air time to candidates and political parties for political debate before elections.”
(b) Civil Liberties: LWV states that the USA Patriot Act gave the federal government expanded powers that “run counter to constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.”
(c) Lobby Reform and Ethics: “We want Congress to enact lobby reform legislation that sets new contribution and fundraising limits on lobbyists and lobbying firms.”
(d) Election Reform: “When the 2000 election exposed the many problems facing the election system, the League … argued for improved voting systems and machines, provisional balloting and other safeguards …”
(e) Redistricting Reform: “[T]oday, with the advent of modern computers and intensifying partisanship, it is possible to create legislative districts where the results of an election will be known before any votes are cast or tabulated. … It is time to stop partisan redistricting and develop mechanisms to ensure fair results …”
(f) Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: “Unfortunately, proponents of oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge are attempting to open it, citing the need for energy security as justification for drilling in this pristine environment.”
(g) Voting Rights Act: “In 2006, Congress will consider the reauthorization of the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. … [LWV] believes that the Voting Rights Act should be reauthorized and not weakened in any way by amendments.”
(h) Clean Air: “The Bush Administration unveiled a plan late last year that would substantially weaken public health and environmental protections under the Clean Air Act, while doing nothing about global warming.”
(i) DC Voting Rights: “Citizens of the District of Columbia have no representation in the U.S. Senate and only a nonvoting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives. … U.S. citizens living in the capital of the free world deserve to have full voting representation in the bodies that make their laws, tax them and call them to war.”
LWV also supports a national health insurance plan financed by higher taxes; stricter handgun control; increased UN authority over American foreign policy decisions; the elimination of the electoral college; and increased environmental legislation.
A member of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, LWV was also a Cosponsoring Organization of the April 25, 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” which advocated unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. The League opposes the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, an April 1, 2004 law that recognizes unborn children killed during the commission of a crime as victims.
LWV’s current President, its sixteenth, is Kay Maxwell, a pro-abortion activist from Connecticut and a League member since 1976.
LWV is heavily funded by the American Express Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, the Open Society Institute of George Soros, the Sara Lee Foundation, the Target Foundation, the Verizon Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Woods Fund of Chicago, and many others. Moreover, according to the Census Bureau’s Federal Assistance Award Data System, the LWV Education Fund received $2,329,328 in federal government grants between 1996 and 2000.
LWV membership reached its height at 157,000 in 1969, and today, according to the group’s website, stands at about 130,000. Annual membership fees are $50 per individual and $75 per household.
In 2017, LWV and three individuals sued the state of New Hampshire in an attempt to block a voter-registration law that required people to provide a driver’s license as proof of their primary residence. The lawsuit was supported by Priorities USA.