Making Democracy Work Acceptance Speech by Linda Thomas
I want to thank the League for this award. I feel very humbled to be honored while among so many outstanding women and men.
We do what we do because we’re passionate about the work and the issues –and this passion may be born out of love of our work or an anger to change things we see. For me my passion to do voter registration started from being angry at what I saw happening with voting rights.
Seven years ago I found myself a retired teacher, with no grandchildren, and time on my hands - looking for a cause. That can be a dangerous combination – especially if my husband ever wanted to see me again.
I had heard of the Voter ID laws, but didn’t know much about them. Were they needed to prevent voter fraud or was this voter suppression. How was it impacting legal voters? I found that in most states the ID’s are free, but the paper work to prove who you are is not – birth certificates were needed, and for married women a marriage certificate was also required. These cost money. To me this was a new form of poll tax.
I found that states across the country were cutting early voting hours, cutting polling sites, rolling back same day registration. In Florida voter registration organizations like the LWV were required to return registration forms in 48 hours or face fines or jail. For a time no one was doing voter registration drives in Florida until it was overturned. How was this about voter fraud?
North Carolina was the most egregious to me. They were cutting polling places at the colleges, early voting hours and worse they passed a law forbidding polling places to allow anyone to vote after 7:00 even if in line for hours. When a federal judge overturned the law, he asked, and “Why don’t you want your citizens to vote?” How was this about voter fraud? I was sufficiently angry now – I had found my issue.
The question now was who was I going to work with? I started out with a political party to do voter registrations, but it wasn’t a good fit. I wanted to be more non-partisan. Then I remembered the League of Women Voters. I joined the Marietta-Cobb County League 7 years ago. I started registering students at the local college and at the state’s naturalization ceremonies, and I was hooked.
When we moved two years ago we were looking for a college town so my husband could take classes, close to an airport so we could travel, and one that didn’t have too much snow. But for me it also had to have an active League of Women Voters – and oh, my - what a League I found here.
I volunteered with Jane Thompson at some high school voter registration drives which I had never done in Georgia. I was thrilled. Jane saw my enthusiasm and asked me to take her place. I thought that was just to work with high schools, but it turned out she was the voter registration organizer for the League. I didn’t know anything about the city, county, or state, but I took a deep breath and jumped in – and I haven’t looked back. . . or been home much.
I am clearly not alone in feeling the passion to do something – to make a difference. We have 70 people who have volunteered to help register voters this year. I particularly want to give a shout out to Loretta Hogg and Dick Heyman for their knowledge and participation in almost every drive. They have helped me learn what I’ve needed to learn to do voter registration.
I am very excited about what we’re doing this year. We received a $1000 grant to increase voter registration to the youth and follow up with them to remind them to vote with postcards, emails, and texts. We are also going into the Larimer County Jail this fall to hold voting rights workshops and register inmates. I am also thrilled to say that Colorado passed a law allowing those individuals on parole to pre-register to vote like the 16-17 year olds do. Right now it is a class 5 felony to register while on parole. They will automatically receive their ballot once off parole. This law takes effect beginning Jan. 2019.
I’m surrounded by so many smart, knowledgeable women and men who inspire each other to do more. Voter Registration is part of the Voter Service Team and I would be remiss to not mention all they do. The Voter Service Team holds candidate forums, ballot issue presentations, and sets up VOTE411.org. The Voter Service Team is the heart of the League – educating voters and making sure they are registered and able to vote. But it is just one of many teams in our League.
This is such an inspiring League that any one of you could and should be standing here instead of me… or with me... or we should all be up here. I say this because for the League of Women Voters it’s never been about one person. It’s all of us working together in our different roles who truly Make Democracy Work. Thank you again for this award.