Johnson County’s League of Women Voters chapter is official

It’s official — Johnson County has a League of Women Voters chapter.

The local league chapter was affirmed on June 8, a payoff from months of work by a group of local women. It is the 24th local chapter to be recognized in Indiana.

Work started back in August, with a group of three women looking to create a local chapter. To be recognized as a local league, the Johnson County members had to go through processes filling out paperwork and recruiting members in the community. They had to file a non-partisan statement, submit their bylaws and create a diversity, equity and inclusion policy.

The League of Women Voters is a century-old national organization that emerged during the women’s suffrage movements. It was founded in 1920, just months before women won the right to vote with the 19th Amendment. Today, the nonpartisan organization is dedicated to protecting and expanding voting rights.

Now as an official chapter, the League of Women Voters Johnson County has 27 members and counting. The group had its first meeting on June 29, which was a celebration and an opportunity for all of the members to meet.

“We are delighted, and we did a lot of preparation work to reach this point,” said Mary Kooi, the local league secretary and one of the three original members.

Next steps for the league include filling the remaining leadership positions and starting to build relationships with league members and the Johnson County community. The league plans to listen to ideas and questions from Johnson County residents and then identify their areas of interest to focus on, Kooi said.

Any issue the group decides focus on for a project will have to be voted on with a consensus of group members, she said.

“We will have to clearly identify what our goals and objectives are, so that we stay focused on the target,” Kooi said. “You know, it’s much like any strategic plan where you have to have a clear vision of what your goal is, and and then create a plan that identifies all the different components.”

One issue the league will likely work on is getting more residents registered to vote. In Johnson County, just over 115,000 residents are registered to vote out of the roughly 156,000 living in the county, according to data from the 2022 primary election.

Johnson County also had one of the lowest voter turnouts in an election since 2014 during this year’s primary election, with just 12% of registered voters casting ballots. During the 2020 general election, 70% of registered voters voted, according to county data.

The local league could also look into using the League of Women Voters’ VOTE411 program to provide Johnson County residents information about local candidates running each election year.

“The League of Women Voters Indiana, has a lot of information that we can use to help us customize a program for us to get people registered to vote and inform voters about the candidates,” Kooi said.

Karen Lunsford, the Johnson County league’s roster manager, said county residents are in need of a group like the League of Women Voters to help provide them with election information.

“Johnson County residents need to have a source that can give nonpartisan information to voters, and that’s what the primary purpose of the league is — to educate voters and supply them with factual information,” Lunsford said.

Lunsford hopes that the league could also put on information candidate forums for the public to get to know each local candidate. Putting on something like that would depend on if candidates are willing to participate though, she added.

The league could also hold forums with elected state legislators to talk about bills they are working on, for example Kooi said.

Since the league is nonpartisan, it won’t take sides for or against any political issue or candidate. The group’s purpose is focused on informing voters, Kooi said.

“It all boils down to developing information for the voters that will help them make a decision about which candidate they want to vote for,” she said.

The Johnson County chapter is still recruiting members. Despite the name, The League of Women Voters is open to all genders, not just women. Voting members on the league have to be at least 16 years old.