The League of Women Voters
With the 2016 election around the corner, students at Santa Fe University of Art and Design have already started voting, taking advantage of the campus provided shuttle that ran throughout the day on Nov 3, 2016 (shuttles also are scheduled to run on election day, Nov. 8). New Mexico ballots have nearly 30 sections of various candidates, as well as county and state propositions, which to some voters may be overwhelming without unbiased information on the significance of each selection. Jackalope Magazine spoke with Suzanne Schmidt, current President of the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting informed and active government participation without endorsing any candidate or party.
Jackalope Magazine: How did you become involved in the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County?
Suzanne Schmidt: As is the case in many organizations staffed totally by volunteers, I was [recruited] by a friend with whom I had worked on a statewide board. I was new to Santa Fe and wanted to become a part of a community within the broader community. The League was a natural fit for me because of my early professional experience as a high school American Government teacher… An invitation to join was tantamount to an outstretched hand of welcome from my friend.
JM: What is the importance of such an organization, especially in a town like Santa Fe?
SS: As our country becomes more hyper-polarized, a nonpartisan organization such as the League becomes a vital, pivotal source for clear information that is not slanted by ideology. For smaller towns, groups such as the League are critical purveyors of information to the public. The Voter Guide, likely the League’s most easily identifiable work product, is the primary source of information for many voters. Absent the presence of the League, voters would be left to ferret out facts while operating primarily within their own information bubble.
JM: How has the organization personally affected you?
SS: Being a part of a mission that I think is so vital to the maintenance of a healthy democracy has been energizing. My involvement has also been a natural extension of my lifelong commitment to feminist ideals. As with any group activity, the energizing part is offset somewhat by the challenges inherent in working with a group of highly committed, highly opinionated, highly vocal volunteers. Typical of life in general, the act of finding balance is critical to healthy participation.
JM: Is objective knowledge valued within the organization even in the face of personal bias?
SS: Not only is objective knowledge valued, it is the cornerstone of League operations. All members of the League leadership team agree to present neutral information to the public despite personal values and opinions. Although the League does have public policy positions that move into the arena of advocacy, they are developed after a painstaking process of consensus building and only then publicly declared.
JM: What do you think the organization has to offer college-aged voters?
SS: Remembering how my college years were a time of pushing the boundaries of control exerted by my family and community, I think the League offers college students the chance to exert some measure of influence, and hence control, over their own lives. In my world as a mental health professional, we call that developing a sense of mastery over your own world. To not participate is to leave other people in control of your life.
JM: What is your personal message to potential voters with the election right around the corner?
SS: When teaching government, I used to say to my students, ‘There are two things that people across the centuries and across the planet have been willing to fight and die for: Clean, accessible water and the right to vote.’ In our country, we tend to take the right to vote for granted, although it is an incredible treasure…To stay away from the polls is to throw away a gift that many are never given and will never know.
Despite the fast approach of election day and early voting already in progress, there is still time to check out The League of Women Voters’ voting guide to answer any final questions or to ease any general reservations about the voting process.
This interview has been edited for clarity.