CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former leader of a national political organization is spending this week at the University of Charleston and speaking to classes about the United States electoral system.
Nancy Tate, who was executive director of the League of Women Voters from 2000 to 2015, spoke to around 90 people Tuesday evening about the multiple factors that can affect election results, including the voters themselves, how congressional districts are formed and the power of political parties.
Tate currently serves as co-chair of the 2020 Women’s Voter Centennial Initiative, which is aimed at recognizing the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
Her visit is part of the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program, which allows leaders from various fields the opportunity to visit institutions and take part in a week’s worth of classes and workshops.
“It offers people like me who are not academics but have expertise in various fields that various of the smaller colleges and universities might want to bring to campus,” Tate said.
“People think they know how (the election system) works, but mostly they think about the candidates they see. There are a lot of factors that impact the outcomes that are much less well known.”
According to Tate, the League of Women’s Voters has focused its attention in recent years on gerrymandering and voter suppression. She explained to the audience Tuesday evening how gerrymandering — when congressional and state legislative districts are drawn to favor one party — shifts the focus from the general election to the primary as the minority party has little chance to win the seat in the general election and may not even put up a candidate.
“You draw the line so all the people around you are people just like you,” she said. “So many House of Representatives seats are not competitive for that reason. It’s mostly all Republicans in a district or all Democrats.
“Then you send people to Congress who are at the far edges of their parties, and then you should not be surprised that they don’t get along at all.”
Tate said regarding voter suppression, there are multiple efforts made to stop voters from certain groups from successfully voting.
“Whether you can register online or not, which some states do not,” she noted as one way states limit the number of voters.
“How many days of early voting for people who can’t take off a lot of time on Election Day. Some states have started limiting it or they’ve taken it where it’s only on a weekend.”
She added West Virginia would be in “somewhere in the middle” in allowing voters to register, noting the availability of online registration as a positive.
“Some states have clearly made it harder for some groups, who consistently are younger people, people of color and low-income people,” she said. “(States are) coming up with procedural practices that actually makes it harder for them to register. If you’re not registered, you can’t vote. It’s easier if you don’t let people into the process.”
Tate said people need to vote in elections, but also understand the election process.
“Here we are at a university where students will decide where they are going to vote to get registered,” she said. “It’s important to know what you’re doing and what these laws are. Of course, you also need to know about the candidates and the issues.”
Tate will be speaking to students through Thursday, and will attend a University Builders breakfast that morning.