Women will play
a significant role in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, many political
analysts believe. In a recent interview, Kay J. Maxwell, who is president
of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters and chair of the league's
Education Fund, spoke with Washington File staff writer Darlisa Crawford
about the participation of American women voters in the election campaign.
Following is a transcript of the interview:
Question: How critical is the women's vote in the 2004 election?
Maxwell: Well certainly the women's vote can be quite
critical because as you probably know women register and then vote in
larger numbers than men. So for example, if every woman who's eligible
to register did register and if every female who was registered to vote
went out and voted, they could have a significant impact.
Q: What are the most important issues for women?
Maxwell: There are a number of organizations that have done
research on this. I think just as with men there is no single set of
issues on which all women agree. The League of Women Voters focuses
on issues that are of importance to all citizens, not just some that
many call women's issues. However, some of the research has shown that,
for example, the economy and jobs are of considerable importance to
women today as more women are working outside the home. It's been determined,
for example, that the subset group of unmarried women has a particular
interest in jobs and the economy.
Q: How does your organization mobilize women to vote?
Maxwell: We don't specifically focus on mobilizing women as I said.
Our mission is to mobilize all citizens to vote, male and female. Our
basic mission is to encourage everyone, every citizen, to become engaged
in his or her community and in this country. So we encourage everyone
to vote, but there are lots of different ways we do that. Mostly, it
happens in our local communities. We do coalition work with other partners.
We're doing a couple of interesting different ones this year. For example
we are in a coalition, called Smackdown Your Vote that is led by World
Wrestling Entertainment. It is focused particularly on young people;
trying to find young people, get them registered and get out the vote.
So as I say, we look at all kinds of ways to do it, but this year we're
placing a particular emphasis on young people.
Q: Are there special voter education programs and voter
registration drives for women this election season?
Maxwell: Our local leagues across the country certainly
all are engaged in their communities in doing voter registration drives.
With the Internet you can go to the League of Women Voters' website,
http://www.lwv.org. If you are not registered to vote, you can download
a registration form. So it has become much easier to register. The League
of Women Voters was instrumental in passing the Motor Voter law (The
law requires states to provide uniform registration services through
drivers' license agencies, through public assistance and disability
agencies and through mail-in registration.) a few years ago. Our goal
is to make it as easy as possible for citizens to register and then
Q: What are some of the differences in the way men and women
vote? Will those differences hold true in 2004?
Maxwell: I think that most of the research shows that
a lot of the issues are similar. But women in particular may be perhaps
focused a little bit more on health care, education, their children,
jobs and the economy. Certainly, for everyone this year security issues
are important. Civil liberties issues are important. So there may be
slightly different areas of emphasis between men and women, but broadly
speaking I think that sense of which issues are important covers both
genders. In addition, the research that has been done on young people
this year concerning their key issues indicates that jobs and the economy,
security and the war in Iraq, and the cost of education are most important
to them. So broadly speaking, there are similar issues with different
Q: Does your organization have programs aimed at particular
sectors of the women's community?
Maxwell: We don't have a specific project focused on
that. Although I know of at least one. It's called Women's Voices, Women's
Votes. It is an organization that is specifically focused this year
on trying to encourage unmarried women to register and then of course
to vote. So there are lots of different organizations that focus on
different segments of the population to try to encourage them. We also
are working this year especially with the Latino community. For example
in Washington, D.C., we are working jointly with Telemundo to broadcast
some public service announcements in Spanish, encouraging that community
to register and vote.
Q: Can you identify voting patterns among women in terms
of ethnicity, religion
Because we are a non-partisan organization we don't focus or
do basic research on those types of questions. The Center for American
Women and Politics at Rutgers University has some of that kind of research.
Lifetime television also has done research on the issues that are important
to women. They found that issues of childcare, equal pay and violence
against women were important. I think many different groups decide whether
or not to vote based on whether or not they feel that candidates are
speaking to the issues that matter to them. Whether it is young people,
or women or men, if they find candidates that are speaking to the issues
that matter to them, they will get involved and they will register and
vote. If they don't feel the candidates of whatever party it is are
concerned and addressing the issues they care about, then they won't.
Q: In a recent poll conducted by Lifetime, 50 percent of
the women said that the presidential hopefuls weren't talking enough
about women's issues. Can you offer any suggestions to the candidates
about engaging women this election season?
Maxwell: I think that all parties recognize the significance
of the women's vote and they understand that women do vote in larger
numbers than men. I believe we are seeing candidates pay a little bit
more attention to that, but I think it's important that the candidates
talk about many different issues. We get so much focus on the horse
race, if you will, that sometimes the issues get lost. One of things
that the League has operated for several years is another web site called
dnet.org. It stands for democracy network. That's a site you can go
to and find out where the presidential candidates, as well as congressional
and statewide candidates, stand on the issues. You can go there and
you can ask a question of a candidate about a particular issue. We have
long felt that broad civic engagement is essential. And people get engaged,
and pay attention to candidates and elections when candidates speak
to the issues. So my advice to any of the candidates is to speak to
the issues. That is what is going to resonate with American women and
men as well.
Read More About It:
League of Women Voters
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages
the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works
to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences
public policy through education and advocacy.
Democratic Voices—Women's Vote Center
Founded in 2001 under the leadership of Democratic National Committee
Chairman Terry McAuliffe, and led by National Chair Ann Lewis, the DNC
Women's Vote Center is dedicated to educating, engaging, and mobilizing
women voters across the nation to help elect more Democrats to office
at all levels of government.
"Winning Women: Leadership for the New Century" is an initiative
of the Republican National Committee to work with and for women. "Winning
Women" is an attempt to build on the Republican National Committee's
outreach efforts and win increased support from the nation's women.