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North Hills Monthly

League of Women Voters Educates on Issues, Promotes the Vote

Oct 31, 2018 08:24AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

The League of Women Voters was established in 1920, commensurate with the passage of the 19th Amendment, in which women finally were granted the right to vote after decades of fighting by suffragists. We spoke with Maureen Mamula, president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, which is one of more than 700 state and local leagues, about the organization and its commitment to the election process.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): What is the League of Women Voters, and what is your message?

Maureen Mamula (Mamula): We’re a volunteer organization that has both men and women as members. We’re the largest league in the state of Pennsylvania. Our biggest thing is voter registration and informing voters. Our message is that your vote is your voice. You can talk all you want, but if you don’t vote, nobody is hearing you.

NHM: Why is it a necessary organization, even today?

Mamula: I think we’re just as important today as we were 100 years ago. Voting is our main focus, of course, but we’re also an issues organization. We conduct studies where we take a look at issues and come up with positions by consensus. If you’re looking at an issue and wondering what the league feels about it, you will find a whole lot of information about the league’s positions in a booklet that we have, and that information is also on the national website. That is where we work from.

NHM: What are some issues or initiatives that the league has engaged in locally?

Mamula: The consolidated library system in Pittsburgh is something that the league advocated for years ago, and helped to bring about. We also have a grant to look at issues surrounding shale—the league is sponsoring a conversation on that topic on Nov. 14 at the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers are the speakers, and it is free to the public.

NHM: What do you do on a local level to help voters prepare for upcoming elections?

Mamula: We conduct voter forums, particularly in areas where there is a contested election. The forums are for the public to be able to come, meet and hear candidates and to ask questions. For a lot of people, this is their only chance to see and hear the candidates. We are doing more of those in the last couple years than we have done in the past—part of that is because we’re getting requests from the public.

We also have voter registration events, and we have an online voter’s guide at www.vote411.org. We’ve also prepared a printed copy of the guide that is distributed to all libraries in Allegheny County. 

NHM: The league is nonpartisan—why is this important?

Mamula: We neither support nor oppose any party or candidate. We are all people who believe in the political process; we’re all united for the same thing.

NHM: What is the league’s position on election hacking?

Mamula: We should all be worried about the possibility of hacking in the machinery that we use. It’s not like when we first started voting, which wasn’t a secret ballot—you’d tell them your vote, they’d mark it down, with all of your neighbors and friends listening to you.

The issue is, how do you make something hack-proof? One of our members is looking at what kind of machinery we should have; our machines are old and technology keeps leapfrogging, so what do we do to make sure we have a system that is secure, that no one is coming in and changing our votes or putting in votes? I think that is something we all need to be aware of and think about.

NHM: Election fraud at the polls has been in the news in the past several years. Earlier this year, the national president of the league issued a statement in response to President Trump’s claims of voter fraud—can you give me a little background about that, including what is meant by voter fraud?

Mamula: Voter fraud is when somebody registers to vote and perhaps is not truly a citizen; that is one type. Or somebody goes to vote and says that they are John Brown, when it’s really Harold Smith. There are different ways to work around this—for instance, here in Allegheny County, when you go to the polls we ask what your name is, rather than people looking at a book to find their name. Voters also have to sign a card and then we compare that signature with what is in the book.

We know that when you look at any study done about voter fraud, it is so minimal; it does not change the outcome. We’re in favor of the Automatic Voter Registration Act—the bill was introduced in 2017—and it would improve the accuracy of voter records, modernize outdated registration systems and support implementation in states across the country.

NHM: Does Pennsylvania have a voter ID law?

Mamula: When Pennsylvania came up with a voter ID law, it had holes in it; there were issues at the time that were found to be a problem. For example, if you had a college ID, it had to have an expiration date. At the time, college IDs for the state-owned colleges did not have this date, so technically they were no good for voting. But if you vote for the first time at a polling place, that is one of the times that you can be asked for your identification.

Other exceptions can be found at Pennsylvania’s online voter portal, www.votespa.com, along with information about absentee voting.

NHM: Why is it important that everyone who is eligible gets out and votes? Why does it matter?

Mamula: It matters because we’re a democracy. It matters because our country works best for all of us when all of us participate. And that includes voting in the primaries, helping to elect who is going to run in the general election. 

Some people don’t vote in the primary because they say it doesn’t matter; that their vote isn’t important. It sure is important. Primaries usually decide who is on the ballot in the general election. We elect people who make decisions for our communities at all levels. Who decides the property taxes, the curriculum in your schools, whether your street gets plowed? 

I have known people over the years who didn’t vote, and I point out that they’ll have to live with whatever decision I and other people make because we’re the ones who vote. You’re making decisions not just for yourself but for other people. There are times when an election is decided by one vote—more often than you might think.