The League’s overall goal is to encourage all citizens to register and cast informed votes. The LWV-RMA concentrates on the parts of Monroe County that vote least. We crunch numbers to find which legislative districts have the lowest registration and turn-out rates and we focus voter services in those districts. It’s no surprise that the low-voting neighborhoods are high poverty and mainly people of color[, remove comma]. Those demographics are not well-represented in the League, since our origins are in highly educated white women’s activism. One of our goals enunciated in the past few years is that “LWV-RMA strives to have a membership as diverse as the Rochester Metropolitan community.” But it’s a hard ask to go into high-poverty neighborhoods and ask activists at work there to pay our $75 membership fee to join us in reaching them, and the result has been a League of outsiders trying to tell poor black and brown people what to do. Not pretty.
At this year’s convention we took an important step toward eliminating this dynamic. Understanding its significance requires a little background.
Each piece of the League nationwide is separately incorporated, and the pieces don’t always work smoothly together for the good of the whole. For example, sometimes people go to the national website and give the League money. They may believe they’ve joined the League, but the national LWV isn’t a membership organization. They’ll get plenty of email from the League, so they may not notice the difference, but no local or state league will learn of their joining, and they won’t get welcomed to local involvement.
Each local League sets its own dues. In Rochester, the basic dues level is $75. Out of that amount, we send $32.00 to LWVUS, and $23.50 to LWVNY in what are called “per-member-payments” and retain the difference. When we accept members for less than $55.50, our local league loses money. The overall result is that the League is a little pricey and we have a disincentive to recruit low-income members, despite the fact that they might be effective in mobilizing voters in low turnout areas.
This dilemma is about to disappear. The national convention approved a change in the by-laws which eliminates per-member-payments. Members will join nationally and the revenue from their membership will be shared proportionately between national, state and local leagues. Though there will be a suggested amount, membership will be pay-what-you-can afford. We will now be able to recruit members from every economic stratum. No one will have to ask for a discount, and we’ll gain from every new member we recruit. The League is laying the groundwork to expand and diversify and better meet our mission goals of expanded voting. And that makes me very happy.

Barbara Grosh
President, LWV-RMA