Utah County’s chapter of the League of Women Voters of Utah disbanded in the 1990s as younger generations got less involved with the group. Now, at the start of a new decade, the Utah County chapter is back.
In Utah and nationally, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters aims to get women involved in politics at all levels of government and to be a voice in their local elections.
The local chapter celebrated its relaunching on Saturday at the Community Presbyterian Church in American Fork by discussing the importance of women participating in local, state and federal politics, and what issues in Utah will be pertinent to women this year.
“We are not starting a new chapter,” said Tay Gudmundson, who serves as chair of the Utah County league. “We are igniting what was left of our old chapter.”
Gudmundson told the group of about three dozen attendees, mainly women, that the recently passed state tax reform and a citizen referendum filed in response are things civically engaged Utahns should pay attention to this year. She also said women in the state and county should focus on air quality and what the state Legislature is doing about it.
“It’s a big deal to see that you’re not alone” as a politically involved woman in the county, said Gudmundson, who ran for Vineyard City Council last year.
Saturday’s event happened just a month before the 100th anniversary of the launch of the League of Women Voters, a national organization with thousands of local chapters. This year is also the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees women the right to vote.
Sharlee Mullins Glenn, founder of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, pointed out that women in the country have only had a voice in politics for a fraction of human history. Glenn said women should vote and engage civically not only for future generations, but also for women worldwide who didn’t have these rights for thousands of years.
Recently, there has been a “groundswell of activism and engagement” in the world, Glenn said, “much of it led by women.”
“There’s something happening worldwide,” Glenn said, mentioning the #MeToo movement and other recent feminist pushes across the globe, like Liberia electing Africa’s first female head of state in 2006, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who finished her second term in 2018.
Susan Madsen, founder of the Utah Women and Leadership project at Utah Valley University, said governments operate more effectively when a variety of perspectives are represented.
States with more women in office typically place greater emphasis on education, health care and social programs that address poverty, Madsen said.
Being represented politically “matters so much for women,” Madsen said. “And it starts with voting.”
The group of women also addressed voter apathy and Utahns feeling like their votes don’t matter.
“As a citizen in a democracy, it is our moral duty and our sacred responsibility and right to vote,” Glenn said.
Tara Gregory and Madeline Beck told the group about Girls Lobby, a group started by Brigham Young University students, including Gregory and Beck, that helps high school-aged girls in the state get connected to their local representatives and teaches them how to lobby and track bills.
Now that the Utah County chapter is active once again, Gudmundson said she and others will work with women in the county to gain a better sense of what local and state issues deserve attention this year.
Vickie Samuelson, who is co-president of the state league, said it is a “big deal” that the county relaunched its chapter.
“It’s going to be a movement down here to get (women) involved in their local politics,” Samuelson said.