Embracing a renewed purpose

The county's League of Women Voters returns in time for the political season

Maryland Votes 2006

September 10, 2006|By David P. Greisman | David P. Greisman,special to the sun

Just three months after Janet Foote joined the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, the group disbanded.

After 37 years in Carroll County, the League of Women Voters met its demise in 2003 since most of its elderly members who had worked as leaders no longer had the time or motivation to do so.

Three years later, Foote -- whose name was left on a list of the organization's members -- received a letter inviting her to help the newly-reformed group as the 2006 elections approached.

Determined to revive an organization that she had admired, Elaine Hanratty started recruiting members and planning events.

"[The state League of Women Voters] said there was no league, but if I wanted to work on bringing it back they would give me a hand," said Hanratty, 59, of Eldersburg, president of Carroll's League of Women Voters. "They've given us a lot of support."

Two months after forming again, the Carroll league has held candidate forums and compiled a voters' guide with information on the candidates in Tuesday's primary election.

With its leadership actively recruiting contributors, the group's revival has inspired its members to play a role in the electoral process.

"Everyone feels that the work we're doing is important," Hanratty said. "There's a common interest in that the ladies working on this effort are really dedicated to a nonpartisan, unbiased effort to educate the voters."

Since holding its first meeting in June, the group has grown to approximately two dozen members.

The league held public forums for primary election candidates last month that were aired live and rebroadcast.

Last week, the league helped publish information about candidates and issues in a 12-page voters' guide.

"People really look forward to the voters' guide because it gives an unbiased background on the candidates that will be running and the voters will see on their ballots," said Patricia K. Matsko, director of the Carroll County Board of Elections. "After they [the league] disbanded, we received numerous calls asking if we were going to publish one."

People who attended the candidates' forums said they were glad to see the League of Women Voters had returned.

"I wondered where they were," said Diane W. Jones, 59, of Westminster. "It's needed in the county. With more growth and more candidates, this preserves a non-partisan forum for us."

The group no longer faces the problem of finding leaders. With Hanratty's direction, the league has a full roster of officers who recruit members in and near their hometowns throughout Carroll County.

"Times are changing, and young women are holding down full-time jobs and trying to keep homes running at the same time," said Foote, 74, of Westminster. "These women are women whose children have matured at least to the point where they don't need the attention they did when they were younger."

Hanratty said the surge in interest in the league comes from people having more time to contribute.

"There are reasons that some of us could not work on this several years ago, and now we have the opportunity and time to do it," she said.

Before moving to Mount Airy in 1991, Carol Blackburn had been a member of the League of Women Voters in Montgomery County for approximately 17 years. Blackburn, 64, said her recent retirement gave her the opportunity to join the Carroll organization as its vice president.

"It's everything that I remember, which was that when you had something that needed to be done, there was always somebody or two or three that said, `I can do it,' " Blackburn said. "The people are willing to take on whatever tasks they can possibly do, and that's exciting."

Janet W. Neslen, who spent 10 years with the league and once served as its co-president, said she was saddened when the group disbanded.

"We had really reached the limit," said Neslen, 81, of Westminster. "We went through several years before we gave up, but we really could not recruit enough people to do the job. People kept giving and giving. There just comes a limit to what you can do."

Neslen said the work by the league is "very time consuming and requires a lot of effort on the part of a lot of people. I hope that enough people get interested in doing it that it'll keep going for quite some time."

After rejoining the league, Foote said she was assigned the task of retyping answers from candidates who sent information for the voters' guide in handwritten form.

"I would be happy to work in any capacity," Foote said. "I'm looking forward to working with this group. They're very intelligent [and] enthusiastic."

Sun staff writer Laura McCandlish contributed to this article.

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