Celeste LaCroix, center, president of the League of Women Voters of Westport, said that the U.S. needs a nonpartisan group like the league more than ever. League members Nancy and David Bloom recently volunteered to distribute voter information at the Westport Country Playhouse. / Photos by Gretchen Webster
The League of Women Voters provides a range of voter information before every election.

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — With elections right around the corner, the League of Women Voters of Westport — and affiliates around the state and country — are working to fulfill the mission of the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1920.  

Since then, LWV members have advocated for everyone to vote and to better understand the election process that is the bedrock of democracy.

“I believe everybody should have the right to vote,” Westporter Nancy Bloom said as she handed out election information to patrons at the Westport Country Playhouse last weekend. A member of the League of Women Voters of Westport for more than 20 years, Bloom said she likes the group’s nonpartisan message and its goal to increase the numbers of citizens going to the polls nationwide.

Among Westport Country Playhouse patrons stopping by the LWV table was Stephanie Philips a former mayoral candidate in Stratford. Philips said she strongly supports the nonpartisan mission of the league. / Photo by Gretchen Webster

“Everyone should know they have the opportunity to vote,” she said.

She and husband, David Bloom — also a league member — were seated in the playhouse lobby at a table full of LWV information on how and where to vote, and on candidates and ballot questions, as theater goers stopped to peruse the pamphlets and ask questions. The theater hosted the league’s voter-information booth before every performance of “From the Mississippi Delta” through Oct. 30.

Nov. 2 candidate forum, early voting initiative

Each election cycle, the Westport LWV also organizes a candidate forum, which this year will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Westport Library. Candidates for Westport seats in the state House of Representatives and Senate have been invited to participate.

Also this year, the Westport league is part of a statewide initiative encouraging voters to approve a ballot question to allow early voting in Connecticut. This state is one of only four that does not permit voting before Election Day, according to the LWV of Connecticut, while some states allow ballots to be cast as much as 30 days before an election.

“We can vote on only one day, and we want to expand that,” said Westport LWV President Celeste LaCroix. Statistics show that states with early voting record a higher percentage of citizens who vote, she said, adding, “More people vote the more days there are.” 

A full explanation of the early voting ballot question, as well as other election information, is available at “vote411.org,” a League of Women Voters-sponsored web site, LaCroix said. 

In the past the Westport LWV, which currently has 135 members, produced a voter’s guide for prior to every election. But since smaller leagues were unable to prepare guides for every election, the national organization now sponsors the 411 web site, which can provide personalized voting information to voters for state and local elections, including candidate statements, voter registration deadlines, polling locations and more.

Promoting everyone’s right to vote

On a recent Friday, several playhouse patrons stopped by the LWV table before the start of the play. 

Stephanie Philips, a former mayoral candidate in Stratford, said she strongly supports the work of the league everywhere in the state.

“You have to have an organization that is nonpartisan, that is able to represent issues for both parties,” she said.

Joan Kennedy Goldman, a Westport resident for 55 years, agreed with this year’s LWV goal: “I definitely agree with early voting.” 

Also in agreement was former Westport resident, Marie Coppola, a social studies teacher, who said she believes in the league’s mission to get more people to vote. “The more voting, the better,” she said. “Every ballot, every absentee ballot is important … Get your neighbors to come with you.”

LaCroix, who was on hand to supply more of the printed information being disseminated at the playhouse, said that, unfortunately, some people misunderstand the purpose of the LWV. The league was founded during the women’s suffragette movement and continues to believe in women’s rights and the rights of all citizens to vote.

A radical agenda?

Lately, however, the LWV has been criticized as advocating a radical agenda and composed primarily of Democrats, which is untrue, LaCroix said. 

The LWV in Westport — and across the country — welcomes members of all political parties, and both men and women, she said.

“We’ve always believed in women’s rights, women’s health rights and that everyone should vote,” LaCroix said. “We are sometimes accused of being crazy and radical,” she added. “But right now, the idea of nonpartisanship is extremely important — to see us through this rough time.”

The president of the League of Women Voters of Westport said that she remains optimistic, however, that “the pendulum will swing back … It always does.”

To register to attend the League of Women Voters candidate forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Westport Library, click here. To register to watch the program livestreamed, click here.

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Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and currently teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.