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Election Focus 2004

No Single Set of Issues for U.S. Women Voters
An interview with Kay Maxwell, President of the League of Women Voters

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?

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, 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 to vote.

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 emphases.

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
or geography?

Maxwell: 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?

: 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 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
"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.