Activists hope to reactivate league

September 26, 1997


Staff Writer

Many people were surprised when the League of Women Voters of Washington County disbanded in 1994.

The local organization, formed in 1964, always had maintained a strong political presence in the community, with membership hovering around 100 people, former members said.

"We were one of the most active leagues in the state, that's why it was so shocking when we stopped," said Jeannine Humphrey, who was president of the group from 1983 to 1985.

The group had reached the point where it couldn't get people to assume top spots, including the presidency, Humphrey said.

Now she and a core of former members are hoping changes in the League of Women Voters' national guidelines - translating to fewer demands on local groups and their leaders - will be the key to attracting enough interested leaders and members to reactivate the group.


The nonpartisan organization aims to promote informed and active participation of citizens in their government.

Over the past few years, about 20 former Washington County members have remained active as at-large members in the state and national organizations.

Former member Cookie McDowell attributes the group's problem partly to a general decline in volunteerism, caused to a large degree by changing lifestyles, including more women working more hours.

But she also blames the time demands that came with leadership roles in the organization, which was structured and functioned according to strict nationwide guidelines.

In an effort to re-energize the organization nationally, the state and national groups have "streamlined" the guidelines for local units, said former local president Elizabeth Earley.

Each local group now has the ability to reorganize its structure and narrow its focus to meet members' and the community's needs, Earley said.

She said the new Washington County unit will devote its energy to "voter services," like voter registration, candidate forums and other voter education efforts.

"Get the people out to vote and give them a reason to," Earley said.

It's important to have a nonpartisan organization to educate voters on candidates and issues, said Washington County Commissioner John S. Shank.

The group's ability to put together candidate forums has been unmatched since it disbanded, said County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers.

With so many groups presenting information to serve their agendas, a nonpartisan group like the League of Women Votes is especially valuable in helping voters make informed decisions, said Democratic Central Committee Chairman Rick Hemphill.

The last election highlighted the need for a local League of Women Voters unit, said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

"There was really very little organization around the issues and no means of really trying to get a message out to voters," Poole said.

Anyone - female or male - interested in joining the new group is encouraged to attend an organizational meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 at the Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown, corner of South Prospect and West Washington streets.

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