5 Things You Can Do Today to Improve our Democracy

At the League of Women Voters, our work does not end after Election Day.

Here are five things you can do today to influence the future of our democracy. Let’s get to work!five-things

  1. Sign up to receive our emails: You will receive information about taking action locally and nationally, and nonpartisan educational materials designed to increase public participation and civic engagement.
  1. Join the League of Women Voters of New Jersey  because:
    1. You want to be politically informed. League members study, discuss, and debate policy issues and legislation that directly affects their communities.
    2. You want to help others become informed and active. League members provide New Jersey voters with the information they need to get to the polls and make informed decisions on election days.
    3. You think government needs a watchdog. Together we can improve transparency and prevent corruption.
    4. You want to shape policy. Our nonpartisan grassroots membership works to influence public policy at all levels of government.
    5. You want to lead. Through a variety of leadership workshops and other opportunities, the League gives you the tools to become an effective leader and community organizer.
  1. Influence Public Policy: The League will be here protecting voting rights and civil liberties, fighting for women’s rights, protecting our environment, demanding an open and accessible government, ensuring that all of our voices are heard and that your representatives represent YOU. Our six statewide policy committees work on public policy and are looking for new members. If interested in learning more about joining a committee listed below, email jburns@lwvnj.org.
  • Education
  • Natural Resources
  • Women and Family Issues
  • Government/Voting Rights
  • Immigration
  • Fiscal Policy
  1. Get Out the Vote: 2017 is an important election year in New Jersey and we need help improving New Jersey’s dismal voter turnout. We are looking for people interested in becoming League moderators, planning voter registration drives, creating nonpartisan material, and more. Email jburns@lwvnj.org if interested in doing nonpartisan voter engagement work!
  1. Give a Gift. The League of Women Voters relies on donations to carry out this work. Gifts to LWVNJ support our advocacy work and are non-tax deductible. Gifts to LWVNJ-EF support our voter service work and are tax deductible. You can donate online to LWVNJ or LWVNJ-EF or you can mail a check to 204 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08608. Thank you!

 

Know Your Voting Rights!

Election Day is November 8th, 2016! Make sure that you know your voting rights before you head out to the polls!

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You have the right to vote on Election Day if:

  1. You have registered to vote at least 21 days before Election Day. There is no fee to register to vote. You have the right to register at your primary address – this could be college address if you are a student and if you are homeless, it can be any place you usually stay.
  2. You must meet the legal requirements in order to register.

You can register to vote if:

  1. You are a U.S. citizen, you are at least 17 years old (with the understanding that you cannot vote until you are 18), and have been a resident of a New Jersey county for at least 30 days before the election.
  2. A court has not specifically determined that you lack the mental capacity to understand the act of voting.
  3. You are not in prison, on probation, or on parole for a felony conviction. If you are serving time for a misdemeanor or civil matter, you can still vote. You have the right to register and to vote from jail using a mail-in ballot. If you lost your voting rights for a felony conviction, your right to vote is restored once you complete your sentence, parole and probation. You must re-register to vote, even if you were registered before your conviction.

NJ Voters’ Bill of Rights On Election Day

You have the right:

  1. To vote in private without intimidation, threats, coercion, or interference.
  2. To bring your children into the voting booth with you.
  3. To file a signed or anonymous written complaint at your polling place or by mail, telephone, or online if you are dissatisfied with the way the election is being run.
  4. To bring someone of your choice into the voting booth to assist you with voting if you cannot read or write English or have a disability. You can also request special assistance from the poll worker.
  5. To vote by an emergency paper ballot if the machines are malfunctioning. Emergency ballots are counted automatically.
  6. To be given a provisional ballot if you are not allowed to vote on an machine or by emergency ballot. The ballot should have written instructions, including how to find out if it was counted. Your eligibility to vote must be verified by the county before your provisional ballot is counted.
  7. To vote under your original name if you have changed your name since registering to vote.
  8. To ask for assistance from a poll worker.
  9. To maintain a “reasonable” amount of time to cast your vote in the voting booth.
  10. Bring voting materials (such as the sample ballot), but no other campaign materials into the voting booth to help you.

Voting Problems at the Polls?

If your polling location is not open when you arrive, call our hotline at 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) or the Division of Elections at 1-877-NJVOTER to alert officials of the problem. Polls are open 6am-8pm. If your right to vote is challenged by an official challenger, ask the poll worker for an affidavit, which you will sign to confirm your identity or address. The worker will allow you to vote either on the machine or by a provisional ballot.

You have the right to vote by Provisional Ballot if:

  1. You believe you are entitled to vote but your name is not on the poll list of voters.
  2. You have moved recently within your county and have not registered at your new address.
  3. You are a first-time voter and you did not provide the accepted form of ID when you registered to vote and did not bring it on Election Day. You must bring acceptable ID to the appropriate county office within 48 hours of voting for your provisional ballot to be counted. Poll workers must give you a form that tells you where the office to bring your ID is located.
  4. You requested a mail-in ballot but didn’t receive it in time.

If you are not allowed to vote or if you feel you are wrongly made to vote on a provisional ballot when you’re entitled to vote on the machine, you have the right to present your case to an election judge on Election Day who will determine your eligibility to vote. If you intend to appear before an election judge, call our Voter Protection Hotline at 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) for assistance.

 

 

Constitution Day

The following post was written by LWVNJ intern Nakea Barksdale

Today marks the 229th anniversary of the signing of the most influential document in American history: the United States Constitution. On September 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers worked to develop a framework for the U.S. government that not only accounted for federal and state interests, but individual human rights as well. Since then, America has grown tremendously and the Constitution has been able to endure 229 years of remarkable change and growth.

What can you do to celebrate?

  • Read it. What better way to celebrate Constitution Day than to increase your understanding of it? There are even quizzes online for you to test your knowledge, and if you are already familiar with the Constitution, consider learning more about the Framers or discover the ideas behind the document.
  • Spread the word. There are numerous ways in which you can share what you know and learn about it with others around you. Pass out copies of pocket Constitutions. Use social media as your platform and post a blog, or even submit an article to the newspaper. You can also share what you know by participating in discussion panels or forums.
  • Celebrate with your community. Your community may be hosting their own celebration for Constitution Day, such as festivals, displays, exhibits, and tours of government documents.
  • Get involved. One way to get involved in politics is to attend your local city council and board of supervisor public meetings. Then, you can consider at what level of commitment you want to participate in, whether that means running for council, a board position, or even joining a political organization that represents your views and/or concerns. Consider joining a nonpartisan political organization, such as the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, where you can work with others in your community to help improve our government and public policies.
  • And most importantly, REGISTER TO VOTE! Voting matters to the health of the American political system.

Happy Constitution Day!

 

The Paycheck: Still Fighting For Equality

The following is a guest post written by Maggie Kurnyta, LWVNJ spring intern

As a college student, vocal feminist, and future member of the American workforce, I find myself anxious about what is to come. Currently, white women earn 80 cents to every dollar a white man earns, a drastic disparity that is often overlooked or rationalized with ludicrous theories.

What’s even more ludicrous than that is women in minority groups earn close to 80% of what a white women makes. No, you weren’t reading that wrong. Women of color earn even less than white women, a fact that should come as no surprise to anyone with even the smallest bit of knowledge about our country’s history.

I know, it seems like we’re back in 1919 still fighting for our right to vote or in 1963 yearning for bodily autonomy and freedom from the domestic sphere we were pushed into, but we’re not. This is 2016, and while the “equal pay for equal work” motto is one I am proud to support, it’s also one that I have never seen put into practice.

A few days ago, I came across a quote from Maya Angelou, and as an English and Women’s and Gender Studies double major, Maya Angelou is a woman I deeply admire. Her quote was “I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.” More often than not these days, women are realizing the injustice that is the gender wage gap and are actively fighting against it.

Pay equity shouldn’t even be a fight, but the most basic rights are often disputed and debated over as we have seen time and time again. However, if you were to ask me two years ago if men and women were being paid and credited equally for the same amount of work, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Of course.” It is truly amazing what some time, education, and disillusion will do to a young feminist.

I think that would be the word to characterize my emotions best: disillusion. I cannot fathom a society that would enforce and perpetuate a cycle of gender discrimination because I have met some of the most hardworking, ambitious women in my first two years of college. How can I tell them to try their best when their “best” is only going to be worth about 80% or less than what they really deserve? Pay inequality is a reality that we can no longer run from. That’s not to say that people won’t try.

Here are a few ludicrous theories we have most likely heard at least once in our lives:

“Women are more likely to take lower ranking positions because they want to start and maintain families.”

“Men earn more because they are smarter and work harder.”

“Women are not as skilled in negotiating for higher salaries as men are, so they are stuck in a perpetual state of wage inferiority.”

If you aren’t rolling your eyes yet, there are still dozens of other myths used to justify the wage gap. However, the term is “equal pay for equal work,” not equal pay for different fields and quality of work. Some employers may even claim they do not see gender while they are hiring workers, which in my opinion, is just an excuse to hire more men and promote less diversity.

Therefore, while the majority of myths are fabricated, there still lies some truth to them. Why would women be more likely to take off from work for a sick child instead of splitting time with their significant others? Why would women feel uncomfortable negotiating their salaries? How is it that female students can outperform male students, but still earn less than them on average when they enter the workforce?

I think before any work can be done to solve this injustice, we need to reach a consensus about the problem. Women are paid less than men for completing the same type and amount of work. This is not a myth; it is an institutional issue that can only be changed through legislative change and institutional enforcement. As I learn from and work with the League of Women Voters of New Jersey on this particular issue, I am pleased to say that I see pay equity coming to the forefront instead of being on the backburner. By denying women wage equality, we solidify their place as the inferior sex, a notion that is replicated in every other aspect of their personal lives.

Stacey Faella: Leading a New Generation of League Leaders

The following is the final post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN Chair Stacey Faella.
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Stacey Faella (second from left) with members of the Young People’s Network

Election Day in 2004 was an important day for many Americans, and it was especially memorable to me for another reason: it was my 18th birthday. I still remember feeling a sense of pride that I got to exercise my right to vote for the next U.S. president on my very first day of being a legal adult, but I’ll also admit that I was not as clear about the choice I was making as I should have been. While I had learned the basics of government and civic duty in school, I was not very informed at the time about the candidates among whom I was choosing and the issues for which they stood.

Over a decade has gone by, and in my professional life I now run a family foundation in New York City, where one of the projects I’ve been working on has revolved around engaging millennials for social change. I’m also a new board member of LWVNJ and the committee chair for our recently formed Young People’s Network (YPN), which is focused on increasing civic engagement and League involvement among young people in our state. Both in the work that I do and as a U.S. citizen and NJ resident, I feel a sense of urgency about engaging more young people in politics. We’re a huge generation living in a time and place where so many social and political issues are affecting our lives. I’ve gone from feeling proud about exercising my right to vote to feeling that voting is just the beginning of civic responsibility and opportunity.

For me, getting involved in the League has been a fantastic way to learn more about the political system in the state I live in. Through the YPN committee, I’ve had a window into what it’s like to run for elective office in NJ. Through LWVNJ communications and member activity, I’ve learned about grassroots activity and organizing across the state on all kinds of issues, from our environment to immigration to education. I’ve benefited from the knowledge of longstanding members who have decades of experience and a nuanced understanding of NJ politics. And I’ve had so many interesting conversations with other young people about our political system and key issues that matter to them.

Later this year I’ll be voting in a presidential election for the fourth time, and I can say with certainty that with each election I’ve been more informed on voting day than I had been in the past. This year in particular, I not only have a better understanding of national politics but feel more connected to issues at the state and community level. I have the League to thank, and I feel so lucky for it. I highly encourage young NJ residents to take advantage of LWVNJ’s resources. Check out the LWVNJ website to learn about local political issues and find out about events you might be interested in. Download the Citizens Guide to refresh yourself on our state government. Follow LWVNJ and Young People’s Network on Facebook to stay connected. Join the League so that you too can stay informed and in touch with political activity in our state and even your community. And get involved with YPN so that you can connect with other young members and help encourage an informed and engaged NJ citizenry!

S Nadia Hussain: Opportunity and Inclusion

The following is the fourth post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN member S Nadia Hussain.

Nadia-classroomI heard about the League of Women Voters back when I lived in the Bay Area in California almost two years ago, before I moved back home to New Jersey. Back then I knew some incredible activist friends of mine who served on the board of LWV in California but I was too busy with other activities to be involved, though I was interested in finding out more, after all “women” and “voting” are two elements that are very significant within the lexicon of my life. When I geared up to make my big move to New Jersey I will admit that I felt some sense of trepidation of how I would continue my civic involvements. During my five years in California I had become very active politically and civically and though I was happy to be home, New Jersey was a whole new political ball game for me.

Relaying these anxieties to my friend Beth Hyre, she immediately recommended that the League of Women Voters of New Jersey was the perfect place for me. She assured me that there was a great need in the League to engage young people in the civic engagement process in New Jersey and that this could be a great resource for me as I worked to re-establish my activism.

I moved back to New Jersey in August 2014 and within 6 months, the League of Women Voters, particularly the League of Voters of Fair Lawn welcomed me with open arms, enthusiastic smiles and free cookies. I met with senior LWVNJ leadership and the newly formed LWV Young People’s Network, which connected me to new friends who supported me and had my back as an activist from day one, something that is not always easy to come by. Within six months of my return, the LWV Fair Lawn gave me the opportunity to present on youth voting at an open forum. Though my current job sees me organizing college student leaders across the country around voting registration, education and engagement, I had no idea if anyone would actually show up to see me talk. I was delighted and very touched to see that the event was not only packed, but was standing room only as League members and new friends throughout the state came out on a snowy evening to engage on a spirited discussion on young people and voting. It was the best welcome New Jersey could have given me!

Later, I would be given an even more exciting opportunity to present on an esteemed panel on voting with other incredible activists from around NJ at the League of Women Voters “Reclaiming Democracy” Fall Forum. I was able to present to members from throughout the state on how to engage youth and Asian Pacific Islander voters. I continued engaging on the topic of voting by also presenting at local middle schools in Northern NJ on the importance of voting and held mock presidential primaries with the students.

Though these opportunities have been a great experience, the biggest thing that struck me about LWVNJ was their commitment to not only getting more young people involved with the organization but to get more diverse communities involved. Too often, organizations expound a need for diversity and youth but do nothing to promote the people they say they want to involve. The League has done the opposite of that, they have given me forum after forum to share my thoughts and experiences and for that I am very grateful. True democracy is about opportunity and inclusion; this is what the League has shown me. In return, through the League, I hope to help bring more young people and people from diverse communities and backgrounds into the fold.

The League of Women Voters has a most honorable mission, that of upholding the ideals of nonpartisan voting, so that every American has a voice and is heard in our democratic process. Often times this can feel like an uphill battle to activists such as myself, but I realize that the legacy of the League, from its work to engage and educate women voters, to protect voting rights today is not only a noble cause, but it a cause that upholds the very foundation of what makes our nation great. Democracy, freedom and liberty mean nothing without the vote and equal access to the vote.  I look forward to working with the League to help the state of New Jersey live up to its greatest democratic potential through efforts to greatly improve our state’s lowest voter turnouts in history, to improving the voter registration numbers of the rapidly increasing demographics of different immigrant groups to increasing the registration numbers of young people and college students, many of whom do not currently believe that voting or democracy will work for them. It is tough work, but I have faith that together we can make this happen.

Casey Olesko: Feminist and Leader

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The following is the third post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN member Casey Olesko.

It was the summer of 2011, and I was about to enter into my junior year of college at The College of New Jersey, located in Ewing, the city right next to Trenton. I was a Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies double major, and both curricula required me to partake in a semester-long internship at an organization of my choosing. When I discovered a listing for an internship with the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, I was ecstatic: my research showed me that the League’s positions aligned exactly with my values as a budding young feminist, and the breadth of the issues that the organization worked on would allow me to expand my horizons and learn about more pressing topics in today’s society.

At TCNJ, I was involved in reproductive rights work, and it was becoming abundantly clear to me that many – but by no means all – young people on my campus were not well-informed about the political process. When I talked to my peers about feminist issues and the work I did, many expressed that they felt that government was “too complicated” or that nothing they could do as an individual would make change. I knew that this was not true, but it was hard for me as one person to educate an entire community.

After I was accepted for the internship position and I learned more about the League and its educational work, I realized that this organization was doing exactly what I had wished I could do. The League demystified the political process for New Jersey residents; as I worked on the candidates’ questionnaires for that year’s election and as I prepared myself to take calls on the Voter Hotline, I saw first-hand how League members were dedicated to encouraging informed and active participation in government, as our mission statement says.

I was so thrilled with what I saw during my time as an intern that I vowed to stay involved however I could. Several years later, when I was asked to help work on a new initiative to encourage young people to participate in the League and provide education to young people on the issues the League advocates on, I was more than happy to take part. Now, the Young People’s Network is a growing group of young people who are passing along the message that being involved in the political process and advocating for issues you care about isn’t a scary task – it is fully within reach, and it is every young person’s right to get involved and have their voice heard.

I am proud to say that I am a member of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. I have learned so much from the League, and I look forward to passing that knowledge on and continuing to work to educate our communities.