Making Democracy Work

History of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County

History of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County

History of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County

This account is based on a history written in early 1968, probably by then-president Pat Russell, and found in the LWV/LAC permanent file by Jean Berger. Quotations included below are taken directly from that document. Other material has been paraphrased and supplemented by Sally Seven (July 23, 2000).

Inter-League Organizations

According to the history written in January or February 1968, there were at that time approximately 70 InterLeague Organizations in the United States. Among the oldest were the Cook County ILO, dating to about 1923, and the Westchester County ILO, dating to about 1918, before the formal founding of LWV. "It wasn't until the Chicago convention of 1968 that National Bylaws were amended to include mention of Inter-League Organizations." In 1993, ILOs were invited to attend LWVUS Council for the first time. In 2000, as this is written, there are only 21 ILOs still in existence.

Los Angeles County ILO Evolution

About 1954, the Los Angeles County Council was first formulated by Local Leagues within the county wishing to study issues and to take action at the county level. By 1957, all sixteen local Leagues in the county belonged to the Council. Each League had one representative on the Council; a chairman was elected by these representatives. All proposals of the Council had to be taken back to the local League boards for decision. A majority of the local Leagues decided what would be studied at the county level.

By 1960, two difficulties ("grave faults") were limiting League effectiveness at the county level. "First, since each League had an equal vote, the larger Leagues with a greater membership could be outvoted by a number of smaller Leagues. Secondly, since all local League boards met at different times, two or even three months sometimes passed before a Council proposal could be ratified." In 1961, new Bylaws were formulated and permission obtained from LWVUS to form a new county League. The bylaws established annual conventions to determine program and budget and to elect officers. The number of voting delegates permitted each local League was based on the membership of that League. The Bylaws also empowered the board to make decisions about county issues that would apply to all local Leagues.

In 1962, the first LWV/LAC ILO convention was held. Officers were elected and the Continuing Responsibilities (CRs) of the County Council were adopted as a single-list program. They were to be restudied by all local Leagues. "From this review came positions of support for County Juvenile Facilities, increasing the number of the Board of Supervisors, giving charter status to the County Administrative Officer, and opposing the quasi-judicial functions of the Board of Supervisors."

By 1968, there were twenty local Leagues in the county. By 2000 there were thirteen: Beach Cities (1955), Beverly Hills (1937), Claremont Area (1938), Downey Area (1958), East San Gabriel Valley (1958), Glendale/Burbank (1941), Long Beach Area (1924), Los Angeles (1920), Palos Verdes Peninsula (1956), Pasadena Area (1936), Santa Monica (1934), Torrance (1962), and Whittier (1954).

How We Operate

We hold an annual convention late in March. Delegates are the local presidents plus a number of additional delegates based on the membership of the League; even the smallest League has two delegates. Officers' terms are two years, about half elected each year. A new budget is brought to the delegates each year. Program adoption is in even years. Suggestions for program are solicited from all local Leagues.

In consideration of the size of the county, conventions and monthly board meetings are moved about the county to try to balance accessibility and time on the road. Presidents of local Leagues are invited to attend board meetings when they are nearby, and, of course, board meetings are always open to members interested in attending. In recent years the board has also held an annual two-day retreat somewhere within the county. A board meeting typically is held on the second day of the retreat.

LWV/LAC Voter

LWV/LAC publishes a Newsletter ten times a year. LWV/LAC board members, local League presidents and Voter editors are on the distribution list, in addition to state board members and members of the Board of Supervisors. Any League member may purchase an annual subscription for $10.00. The Newsletter carries an announcement of the next board meeting.

We also publish a county Voter irregularly, usually three times a year. It is intended to be included with each local League's own Voter, but because they are published at various times throughout the month, finding a way to include timely information that will not be irrelevant by the time it arrives is a challenge.

We sometimes try to use it to publicize future events, but are experimenting with using it to cover county-relevant information from presentations at county events so that those unable to attend will not miss the information. For example, the 1999 Summer League Day (our traditional "Popovers in Pasadena" luncheon) featured a United Way state-of-the-county report, "A Tale of Two Counties - the Haves and the Have-Nots." Over 75 members attended, but there are about 2,500 members in the ILO and all needed to be aware of the information, so one issue of the LWV/LAC Voter was devoted to that report. We usually have a Winter League Day in late January. In January 2001, the conduct of elections and the election systems available were featured. Training on specific aspects of League work is often the focus for the January meeting.

Voter Service

Our role in voter service has several aspects. We publish a wrap-around for the state Pros and Cons when there are county-wide elections or ballot measures.

Before each state-wide election we provide training for speakers who will be presenting the pros and cons in their communities. Some Leagues conduct their own training for their local speakers, but even the ones who do, often attend the county briefings. We hold our training on a Saturday. The Los Angeles League usually holds an evening ballot-measures briefing.

In recent years, we (both) have encouraged local League members of any of the county Leagues to attend whichever briefing they found most convenient; some attend both.

County Studies

County studies are usually two years in length. The county study chair coordinates the study meetings, interviews, study guide preparation, etc. We make every effort to have at least two people from each local League on the study committee. These committee members then take responsibility for presenting the study material to their own Leagues, for being sure responses to consensus questions are turned in, etc. Workshops on county study topics are usually included in the program for Summer League Day.

Additional Information

In addition to activities noted above, county League also considers what responsibilities local Leagues face and plays a role in minimizing duplication of efforts when it appears helpful. At meetings and between, the ILO tries to facilitate interaction between members of the various Leagues within the county, feeling that League members often learn as much from one another, whether sharing experiences or ideas, as we do from more formal training.

Since there is a county government in Los Angeles, a county League seems entirely appropriate and the area preordained. If we had one wish, I believe it would be to know better who among our League members has the latent interest, public spirit and willingness to travel to take on a county League role.

Our By-laws

The League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County is run in accordance with its By-laws.