By Greyson Steele
With its focus fixed at the local level, the Kalamazoo League of Women Voters is making a widespread effort to educate voters in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election.
The organization, rooted in the Women’s Suffrage movement and founded in 1920 in Chicago, is sponsoring candidate forums as well as distributing voter informational guides in an effort to actively engage voters and highlight the importance of their participation in the upcoming election.
“It’s about civic engagement, so that you have some kind of say in the resources that belong to all of us,” said Denise Hartsough, president of the Kalamazoo League of Women Voters. “So you’re connected, you’re engaged. Not just letting the world act upon you.”
Hartsough, 58, is currently serving in her third year as president of the Kalamazoo LWV. The 26-year resident of the city has helped maintain the League’s focus on action over attention.
“We don’t do any publicity like where we say, ‘Hey everybody you have to be an informed voter.’ By doing things, that’s how we try to show people that it’s important to be informed about the election,” Hartsough said.
The League has held candidate forums at the township level, for the county commission, as well as for state representatives from the districts around Kalamazoo County according to Hartsough.
The League has also published and distributed its annual voter guide throughout Kalamazoo, which provides nonpartisan information about the candidates for the national, state and county races.
“It’s a huge project in doing this voter guide and it costs a lot of money to get it printed, but we feel like it’s important and we know that people look for it,” Hartsough said. “We’ll get people asking ‘Hey where’s that voter guide? I just got my absentee ballot, I want to look at that’ so we know that people use it.”
The efforts of Hartsough and the entire Kalamazoo LWV have not gone unnoticed.
“I think it’s very effective when they’re out participating at local colleges and businesses, providing details about what voting is all about and how it affects the community,” said Alisabeth Shigwadja, a freshman at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. “A lot of college students are uninformed and unregistered. It’s great to have the organization around.”
Austin Slack, a 25-year-old Kalamazoo resident, particularly appreciates the League’s annual distribution of its voter guide.
“Because of the LWV publishing its voter guide, I have become increasingly more informed every election,” Slack said. “I use the voter guide and hold it so highly because I believe I can trust the LWV to truly be nonpartisan. In addition, I appreciate the many candidate debates and forums they have put on over the years. I will always pick up extra copies of the voter guide to hand out to friends and family to help them become better informed as well.”
Overall, Hartsough emphasizes the need for individuals to become informed and to vote in the upcoming election.
“It matters, for example, who represents you in Congress, in the Michigan State House, or in the Kalamazoo County Commission,” Hartsough said. “Their decisions affect your life and the lives of your family and friends. It is our responsibility as citizens to exercise our right to vote.”