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Is the League of Women Voters “undemocratic”?
Sean Parnell • Mar 08, 2022

One of the most fervent opponents of the Electoral College is the League of Women Voters (LWV). In state after state, I have seen representatives of the LWV testify in favor of the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV), touting it as the next-best-thing to abolishing the Electoral College (which the national organization has favored since 1970).

Virginia Kase Solomon, CEO of the national LWV organization, explained in a late 2020 magazine interview what its main gripe with the Electoral College is:

“The Electoral College is not reflective of a true democracy in which people directly decide their leaders.”

A related complaint about the Electoral College I have heard from LWV representatives over the years is that it violates the idea of “one person, one vote.” A 2020 op-ed supporting NPV from the head of a LWV chapter in Colorado begins “One person should always equal one vote in every election no matter where that person lives. It makes sense that the candidate who gets the most votes wins. This is a fundamental principle of our democracy….”

So why does LWV use an Electoral College–like process for selecting its national leadership?

Rather than allow the LWV’s roughly 400,000 members (as of its most recent available annual report from 2018) to vote directly for its national leadership, which would be consistent with what it says about the Electoral College, the League instead elects its national leadership by delegates sent to a national convention by each of its local, state, and other affiliates.

According to the League’s bylaws, delegates to the national convention are allocated as follows:

A. Delegates chosen by the members of local Leagues; each local League shall be entitled to at least one delegate; when local League membership reaches 50 voting members, the local League shall be entitled to one additional delegate; thereafter one additional delegate shall be authorized for each additional 50 voting members;

B. Three delegates chosen by the board of each state League; when state member-at-large membership reaches 50 voting members, the state League shall be entitled to one additional delegate; thereafter one additional delegate shall be authorized for each additional 50 voting members-at-large;

C. One delegate chosen by the board of each recognized ILO [“inter-league organization,” created by two or more local or state organizations to cooperate at a regional level]; and

D. The members of the national board.

Under this system, a local League with 20 members would have one delegate, while another League with 140 would have three delegates. And a state League with only 60 members-at-large would have four delegates, chosen not by the members of the state organization but by a board that might have fewer than ten people (Vermont’s state board, for example, has eight).

This looks more like an Electoral College–style way of choosing the LWV’s national leadership than the “one person, one vote” direct election that LWV insists is a “fundamental principal” of democracy.

Another way in which the LWV’s national leadership election process looks a bit more like the Electoral College is its quorum rule for the national convention:

Sec. 5. Quorum. Twenty percent of the possible number of voting delegates other than members of the national board shall constitute a quorum provided that local Leagues from at least 25 states are represented.

Getting elected to a national leadership position in the LWV doesn’t simply require a candidate to muster a majority of votes to win, there must also be representation from a broad, national cross-section of the organization – being the favorite of just a handful of states with the most votes isn’t enough.

And it isn’t just the national leadership of LWV that is elected in this fashion. For example, the League of Women Voters of California (LWVC) has a similar process – each local organization gets at least one delegate to the state convention, in addition to the president of each local being a delegate. For every 50 additional members, each local gets another delegate. The quorum rule for the LWVC state convention stipulates that a majority of all registered delegates constitutes a quorum for conducting business, “provided that not less than a majority of local Leagues are represented.”

Local Leagues do seem to have direct election of their leaders, such as the one in my own backyard, the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, although only those who attend the annual meeting area allowed to vote – the League’s bylaws specifically forbid absentee or proxy voting. The national and LWVC conventions also forbid absentee and proxy voting, and I’d guess most if not all state and local Leagues do as well.

There’s good reason for LWV at all levels to adopt this sort of system for electing its leadership. It ensures that every League has representation and a voice in the process while reducing the likelihood that a handful of the largest Leagues can dominate the organization. It recognizes that there are other fundamental principles of democracy. It turns out that “one person, one vote” majority rule isn’t the only democratic principle after all. And that’s why we have the Electoral College.

Photo credit: "Women's March California" by League of Women Voters of California LWVC under CC 2.0.