With important and impactful elections, from down the street all the way to Washington, it’s important that voters are educated on the issues, agendas, personalities and experiences of all the candidates running for office.
In October 2006, the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) launched VOTE411.org, a “one-stop-shop” for election related information. The web site provides nonpartisan information to the public with both general and state-specific information including general voting information and candidate profiles.
“One of the League of Women Voters core missions is voter education,” says Lynne Kochmanski, Vice President/Vote411 Coordinator for the LWV. “Vote411 is precisely focused on this. Local candidate information is often overlooked in election cycles and it is vitally important for voters to have the tools necessary to make educated decisions about their representation. Vote411 is a non-partisan easy tool for them to use toward this end.”
Voter information on the site includes absentee-ballot information; ballot measure information (where applicable); early voting options (where applicable); election dates; polling place locations; registration deadlines; and voter qualifications. It also includes more in-depth resources including factual data on candidates in various federal, state and local races; and general information on such topics as how to watch debates with a critical eye.
An important component of VOTE411.org is the polling place locator, which enables users to type in their address and retrieve the poll location for the voting precinct in which that address is located. The League has found that this is among the most sought after information in the immediate days leading up to, and on, Election Day.
Voters in the city of Ann Arbor have used Vote411 since it first launched in 2016. In the November 2018 election, 63,391 of the 140,334 registered voters in Ann Arbor accessed VOTE411, which is an impressive 45 percent.
But other areas (Dexter and Chelsea only 3 percent of registered voters) are simply not aware of this amazing resource. The League of Women Voters is trying to change that.
“This is one of the main reasons we are doing the digital ads and yard signs for areas beyond Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County, to help build awareness,” says Kochmanski. “Due to Covid-19, our in-person outreach events have been non-existent, sadly. We also hope to increase the percentage in the city of Ann Arbor.”
Kochmanski says the response from candidates has been tremendous. They see the importance of a one-stop location to help them get their word out and message heard.
“Candidates are extremely positive about participating in Vote411,” she says. “The League of Women Voters has a reputation for integrity, non-partisanship, and fairness, so candidates recognize the value in participating. They want to get their message out to voters in a non-partisan way, and in their own words.”
The LWV does not edit responses from candidates.
“We reach out to all candidates who are running by email invitation and reminder invitations three different times, in addition to making personal phone calls to any candidate who has not responded leading up to our publishing date which was in mid-June,” Kochmanski said. “Our purpose is to inform voters about candidates, so we want to get as much information uploaded as possible by election day. We invite candidates to upload information and ask them to respond to several pertinent questions for the office they are seeking.”
Candidates also are able to edit responses up until election day. After election day, the process begins anew for the next election. The publishing date for the November election is mid-September.
Kochmanski, who joined the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area in 2017 after retiring from teaching, has worked on Vote411 since 2018. She is one of many local, state and national coordinators across the country who volunteer their time to be sure voters stay informed. She has a team of five local volunteers.
“Our busiest times are during publishing season leading up to the elections, particularly in big election years like this one,” she says. “There are 250 plus candidates for the primary and more for the general, so we are very busy for several weeks before publication, making sure as many candidates as possible include their information for voters.”
Kochmanski says the League of Women Voters does not support particular candidates or parties. “We are very careful to maintain this,” she says.
Their mission statements says: “The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.”
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