Women-led organization seeks new members to empower voters

HARLINGEN — Less than 100 years ago, women were given the right to vote.

Now, the women of a local organization are working to make sure people take advantage of that right.

The League of Women Voters-RGV wants to change the mindset of voting in the Valley and it goes beyond just registering eligible voters.

Founded in 2011, the organization is a league-at-large of the national organization that predates the 19th amendment.

One of the oldest non-partisan national political organizations, the League of Women Voters was created to highlight the importance of voting among women and minorities.

Madeleine Sandefur, head of the organization, said registering voters is the easy part, it’s everything else.

According to the Texas Secretary of State website, only 46 percent of Cameron County registered voters actually voted.

“I’m looking to the new members on what we can do to increase voter turnout because that has to be our priority,” Sandefur said. “You register these voters, but how do you get them to the polls.”

Kathy Bussert-Webb, a professor with UTRGV, is a new addition to the local chapter and joined the organization after reading “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a popular dystopian novel that focuses on the loss of power among women and minorities.

“Reading it, I would just get so upset and thought I really need to do more to protect our liberties and get more people involved in the voting process,” Bussert-Webb said. “With what’s going on politically in our country, I just needed to get involved.”

Bussert-Webb became certified as a deputy voter registrar for Hidalgo and Cameron County.

Time for change

“My whole purpose is to try to help people become more aware of the issues and encourage people to vote and register to vote,” Bussert-Web said.

She heard about the organization from a friend living in another state.

At first, the idea of the organization wasn’t appealing to her and she thought it was a club for older white women, an image the local chapter is still trying to shake.

The organization began with a lot of interest and held fundraisers, regular meetings and hosted speakers for the meetings.

Despite the initial 40 members who made up the organization at the beginning, Sandefur said there are currently not enough members to create a full-fledged chapter.

“Initial interest sort of dwindled,” Sandefur said.

Possible changes

Bussert-Webb said a possible reason could be the annual dues and costs of joining the organization and suggests an increase of fundraisers to give out scholarships for younger members might help.

Because the organization isn’t a stand-alone chapter, dues are sent to the state and the club does not have access to the funds for local use.

Bussert-Webb said the organization could also look into a student chapter and use the younger generation to keep the organization going long-term.

“I can, as a professor, talk to my students about this, but having those students involved speak to the class, they can influence their peers,” Bussert-Webb said.

What’s next

Now in addition to combating apathy among voters, the group is working to add more members to become a stand-alone chapter.

“We’re holding out great hope that we will have some people join,” Sandefur said.

The group is currently busy with local primary elections and has been working to get people registered to vote and educating those voters on the candidates and their issues using their vote411.org website.

Sandefur said once the elections are over the group will look into meeting to figure out ways to revive and rejuvenate the organization so they can continue their mission.

“Empowering voters and defending democracy,” Sandefur said. “I like that word, empower. Oh, so many times we hear, ‘oh my vote doesn’t count.’ Their vote does count.”

Know who you’re voting for?

Vote411.org is an online voter’s guide that contains information about issues and candidates needed before an election.

The League of Women Voters-RGV is open to all residents, female and male. To join, visit lwv.org or email lwvrgv14@gmail.com for more information.