The League of Women Voters Encourages New Yorkers to Make a Plan to Vote


Madison Square Garden, one of the early voting locations, had a line that stretched for several blocks on the afternoon of Oct. 27.

Though its staff has to work remotely because of the pandemic, the League of Women Voters’ New York City chapter is able to reach more voters than ever before.

“We’re getting a wider range of people than we would have in the past because our events are usually held in Manhattan,” said Lesley Sigall, the league’s co-president. “And, when we do them remotely, people from all the boroughs are able to dial in.”

Her co-president, Diane Burrows, zoomed into three different classrooms in different parts of the city, in one day, for instance.

The message that the league is pushing this year is to “make a plan,” said Burrows. New Yorkers have three different ways to vote this year: on Election Day, through absentee ballot or by early voting.

More than 800,000 New Yorkers have taken advantage of early voting this year, as of Friday evening, according to the New York City Board of Elections.

Educating residents about early voting has become important for groups like the League of Women Voters due to the pandemic and smaller number of voting places said Kelly Dittmar, director of research and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

For the last 101 years, the league has sought to educate the public about elections, tailoring its message for different communities, said Premilla Nadasen, a Barnard College professor who studies social policy. Its outreach is especially important to try to boost typically low voter turnout rates – though this election benefits from a surge of interest, she said.

The league is using particular issues, like climate change and Black Lives Matter to encourage people to vote, said Burrows. The issues vary by community so in lieu of its usual in-person programming in different areas, the league has capitalized on internships. Its 14 interns, who are mostly students at various City University of New York colleges, use polls to understand better what their communities care about and tailor the campaigns to those interests. An intern involved with a faith-based community would focus a campaign around religion, for instance, Burrows said.

“We want our reach to resemble the City of New York,” she said. “Nobody knew their community better than they do.”

The league reaches out to communities in multiple ways, including through social media accounts such as Instagram or Facebook. But since many New Yorkers don’t have sufficient broadband, they can also call for help. Callers have told the league that when they reached out to the city Board of Elections for help, the agency directed them to the group.

There’s also a lot new about this year’s presidential election in New York City. When league staffers began this election’s outreach, very few New Yorkers had heard of early voting, which began last year. The group had set up tables, luring residents with masks instead of candy to register voters. Most of their conversations focused on asking if they knew about early voting. The league has been taking over 20 phone calls a day to answer questions.

Now, with lines stretching for hours at early voting stations in the city, the league considers the outreach a success. Burrows blocked off four hours for her own early voting, and her octogenarian mother had waited in line for about three hours.

“I think we did a good job on that one,” said Burrows, smiling.

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Jemma Stephenson grew up in southern Virginia and recently graduated from Smith College
with a degree in English language and literature.
Twitter: @JK_Stephenson

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