Washtenaw United: The importance of making informed voting decisions
WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'
ABOUT LYNNE KOCHMANSKI:
"I am a retired middle school teacher. Taught in Milan Area Schools for 36 years. I currently live in Lodi Township between Saline and Ann Arbor. Joined the LWV in 2017 after retirement. Initially focused on registering eligible high school students to vote, then got involved with Vote411 and candidate forums. Became Vice President in 2019 and President this year."
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're a week and a day away from the August 2nd primary elections. I'm David Fair, and welcome to Washtenaw United. It's our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. And today, we're going to talk voting and the importance of being an informed electorate as we begin to fill out those absentee ballots were headed to the polls. Our guest today is Lynne Kochmanski. Lynne is president of the League of Women Voters of Washtenaw County. And, as you'll find out, they've been working hard to help give you what you need prior to voting. Lynne, thank you so much for making time for us today.
Lynne Kochmanski: Oh, you're very welcome.
David Fair: Well, before we dive into elections and voting, I do want to take a minute or two to get to know you. While you've been a member of the League since 2017, you only recently became president. Going back a few years, why did you decide that the League was the best way to dedicate your time?
Lynne Kochmanski: Well, as in my background, I was initially an educator for 36 years for Milan Area Schools, and I also was active in political grassroots things since the seventies, since I was at the University of Michigan as a college student, to varying degrees. So, when I retired from teaching, the League of Women Voters seemed like a very good fit for both my interest in political activism and voting and also my interest in education. It was a perfect blend between the two, and because of its nonpartisan focus, it made for a broader engagement with all voters. And it wasn't so partisan and candidate oriented.
David Fair: So, you mentioned 36 years teaching in the Milan Area Schools. That's a long time, and it covers a span of changing attitudes and social mores. So, when it comes to politics and election, did you see a change in the interest and level of engagement among your students?
Lynne Kochmanski: I did. Being in middle school, of course, the kids are--
David Fair: Too young to vote.
Lynne Kochmanski: Sure. But, as they grew into their high school years, especially, I would say probably in the last ten or 15 years of my career, students became much more in tune with what was going on in their communities, what was going on politically in the state. They, in fact, were much more interested in being registered to vote, which is one of the reasons that, when I retired, I wanted to go back to the high schools in Washtenaw County and really work on registering high school students to vote, because many of them had mentioned to me that they didn't really know the process. They didn't know how to get involved in government and in voting. And so, that was a major reason for becoming part of the League of Women Voters. It was that high school voter registration piece.
David Fair: 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United continues with Lynne Kochmanski, who is president of the League of Women Voters of Washtenaw County. And, as you mentioned, the League is a political, grassroots network and membership organization, and it believes the freedom to vote is nonpartisan. Now, as we've gone through redistricting in this election cycle and we see some other legislative efforts in voter suppression, voting and the manner in which we do it has become decidedly partisan. How have you been rolling with those changes?
Lynne Kochmanski: Well, the League has been actually very consistent in what we feel about voting. Our organization is...the purpose of it is to advocate, serve, and educate voters. And we want everyone to be able to participate in our democracy. So, in terms of voting, our focus has always been to make voting available and easy to every voter, regardless of their political party or, you know, where they live, their race, abilities. So, that's not really changed. What we have seen is with voter suppression. We've been pretty active in terms of trying to make voting as easy as possible. The redistricting changes that have happened in the state recently have changed the way the districts have been drawn. So, we want to make sure that voters understand what the new districts are. Every voter should have received a voter registration card from their clerk recently, which tells what the new US Congress is for Washtenaw County, what the state Senate is, what their state representative number is. All of those have changed for citizens in Washtenaw County. Also, it gives where their polling location is on one of the sides of the card. So, that's one place that voters can find information. Another thing that we have available to voters is we have our Vote411 dot org website, which gives information about all of the candidates who are running for office in a nonpartisan way. We put the questions out to the candidates. The candidates then upload their own responses in their own words. And we also upload our candidate forums that we hold for any contested races in Washtenaw County. So, those are available to citizens to look and watch and get to know the candidates in, you know, in a visual sense. So, we find that that piece of that resource for citizens and voters is very helpful. We also want our League of Women Voters website have all of these candidate forms available to voters as well.
David Fair: It is a great resource to check that out, and all the various links can only help to inform. But I'm glad you brought up your website, because, just to set a baseline here, when we look at how Washtenaw County voted in 2020, the high population centers were decidedly Democratic. Pretty much the rest of the county appeared red on the voting map. I'm quite sure a number of that part of Washtenaw County's population might find your website partisan--specifically, right on the front, you have a position piece you wrote in support of reproductive rights. When approached by someone who favored overturning the Roe versus Wade decision, how do you respond that this still falls within the guidelines of a nonpartisan organization?
Lynne Kochmanski: Oh, I'm glad you asked that question. Partisan is a party. It's a Democrat or Republican, you know, approach to something. An issue is something that we feel is for the benefit of people in the democracy. So, the way that the League of Women Voters has positions on issues that are set by the National League of Women Voters US and are also taken up by the state and then the local. It's kind of a top-down approach to issues. One of the issues is on health care, and under health care, reproductive decisions are left up to the individual. So, it's really doesn't have anything to do with being a Democrat or Republican or independent or Green Party. This is purely a political issue. The League of Women Voters does have positions on issues that we put out, but it has nothing to do with being partisan.
David Fair: Once again, we're talking with the president of the League of Women Voters of Washtenaw County, Lynne Kochmanski, on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. Between now and primary election day next week, what work will the League be doing in the community?
Lynne Kochmanski: Well, we will have a printed voter guide--local voter guide--which we'll be distributing to libraries, to clerk's offices, to other public spaces. So, people who do not necessarily have Internet access will be able to pick up the information. That's on Vote411 in this printed voter guide. League of Women Voters of Michigan will also be putting out a printed voter guide for the state races--Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, some of the judges. So, that will also be distributed throughout the county. Then, there we'll also be having some forums on information for some of the proposals that will be on the ballot in November. So, we will be very busy.
David Fair: Sounds like it. Well, as we approach both of the upcoming elections, the primary and then the November general election, in your most nonpartisan voice, what do you want us as voters to consider most?
Lynne Kochmanski: Well, what I would like to see is to really become informed about the candidates who are running. Look at what they write in their answers to the questions that the League of Women Voters pose, because we try to pose questions that are nonpartisan. And this is a good place for voters to look to find out information. Watch these forums that we have. They will all be recorded and posted on our website, on Vote411, on the cable news channels, because then you can see visually who these people are, and you can listen to their responses there and also make sure they know where to vote. At this point, you need to register in person at your clerk's office. The deadline has passed to register online.
David Fair: But you can do so right up to Election Day in person.
Lynne Kochmanski: That's right. Also, the Secretary of State recently has put out a notice encouraging people who voted absentee, if they haven't yet sent their ballots in, to deliver those in person either to a drop box or to their clerk's office just to avoid any delays that the mail service might have. So, that's something to keep in mind as well.
David Fair: Well, Lynne, thank you so much for the time and the information today. I appreciate it.
Lynne Kochmanski: You're very welcome, David. Thank you for having me.
David Fair: That is Lynne Kochmanski, president of the League of Women Voters of Washtenaw County and our guest on Washtenaw United. To find out more about the League and the resources it provides, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and we bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
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