PolitiFact

League of Women voters vs. Republican Party

 

PolitiFact examines a kerfuffle over a League of Women Voters guide that irritated the Broward GOP.

PolitiFact Florida

It’s not easy being a Republican in Broward County — home to the largest number of Democratic voters in Florida and a county where registered GOP voters are outnumbered two to one by Democrats.

Beyond the numbers, Broward’s liberalism often makes amusing headlines — from a 2002 gay mayoral candidate in Wilton Manors who said he was attacked for not being “gay enough,” to a county commissioner in 2007 who questioned airing emergency warnings on the station that ran Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.

It wasn’t a surprise that Democrats swept Broward and helped reelect President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. But the Broward GOP also suffered the loss of two of its most prominent local Republicans: state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale, who lost after redistricting, and Sheriff Al Lamberti, who lost to Democrat Scott Israel. (They also had the blow of Fox News favorite U.S. Rep. Allen West moving out of Broward to the Treasure Coast and then losing.)

Richard DeNapoli, chairman of the Broward Republican Executive Committee, wrote a memo to the group listing accomplishments of the past year. Most of those accomplishments were unsurprising, such as lining up volunteers and distributing thousands of Romney bumper stickers. But one accomplishment caught our eye:

“We had the liberal League of Women Voters Guide removed from the Broward Supervisor of Election’s website.”

We wanted to know, did the Broward GOP get the Broward Supervisor of Elections to remove a League of Women Voters guide from its website? And was that guide, or is the league itself, “liberal”?

The background

First, some background on the Florida League of Women Voters 2012 voters guide. The guide had short biographical sections and statements submitted by Obama and Mitt Romney. It also included bio information on Senate candidates Democrat Nelson and Republican Connie Mack and questionnaire responses from Nelson. (Mack chose not to answer the questionnaire.) It included a section on the state Supreme Court justices seeking retention, as well as the state’s constitution and a list of voter resources.

The longest section was about the 11 proposed state constitutional amendments. The guide included a synopsis of each amendment and a brief explanation about what a “yes” or “no” vote would mean.

The guide summarized conflicting viewpoints — for example about a question on public funding of abortion: “Supporters say this amendment puts the state on even footing with the federal government. Opponents say it is a pre-emptive strike on a woman’s right to make her own healthcare choices.”

The guide didn’t just include opposing viewpoints — it included analysis, such as noting a “yes” vote on a question about the healthcare law would add language to the state’s constitution that could be found unconstitutional.

“Amendment 1 is more of a political referendum than a meaningful change to our Constitution. Since the Supreme Court has upheld the federal government’s right to impose the individual mandate, the legal standing of Amendment 1 is precarious,” the guide said. “The passage or defeat of Amendment 1 may have no practical implications other than to send a message that a majority of Florida’s voters are either for or against the individual mandate.”

The guide didn’t endorse candidates or tell voters which way to vote on the amendments — but the league did separately come out against the amendments.

The guide, funded in part by Wells Fargo and American Express, was developed in conjunction with experts, including the Collins Center for Public Policy, said Deidre Macnab, president of the Florida league.

League members distributed the guides at events and public libraries. The league did not request that it be linked to on the Broward Supervisor of Elections website, Macnab said.

‘Bury the link’

DeNapoli said he learned the league’s guide was linked to the Broward Supervisor of Elections homepage sometime near the beginning of October. DeNapoli said he called Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for Broward Supervisor Brenda Snipes, to express his concern.

“As soon as you went to the Broward Supervisor of Elections home page it was glaringly right there,” DeNapoli told PolitiFact Florida.

DeNapoli said his goal was to get the guide off the homepage: “If they bury the link [to the league’s website] way into the Supervisor of Elections website, that wasn’t our main concern.”

Within a day or two, the link was moved off the homepage.

“I made a decision to remove the brochure from our website after several calls, one of which was from Mr. DeNapoli,” Snipes told PolitiFact Florida in an email. She also heard from the conservative news website BizPac Review, which reported on DeNapoli’s efforts and then advocated removing the link.

When we searched the supervisor’s website on Nov. 27, we could only find the link to the guide if we typed “League of Women Voters” into the website’s search engine.

Too liberal?

So the executive committee did get the supervisor of elections to move the voters guide to a less prominent spot on its website. But is it accurate to call the guide or the league itself “liberal”?

The national League of Women Voters was formed in 1920 from the movement to give women the right to vote, and it continues to advocate for voter education and participation. The Florida league formed in 1939, with the help of women in St. Petersburg and other cities.

“But being nonpartisan does not mean we lack opinions, or the willingness to express them. Our opinions are formed after research, study and consensus,” states the national League of Women Voters website. “We are passionate advocates — both women and men — who work to influence policy on specific issues by speaking out and putting pressure on our elected leaders.”

The national league has taken stances in favor of expanded early voting, backing the Affordable Care Act and calling on Obama to do more about climate change. The league also has a history of supporting abortion rights.

We asked DeNapoli for his evidence that the league or its guide was liberal. He said he found the guide’s discussion of the amendments “slanted” and noted that the league separately came out against the amendments, and that the Republican Party of Florida supported the amendments (nearly all of them).

Macnab said the league wasn’t the only group to oppose the amendments — the Hillsborough County Republican Party opposed the majority of them. Ultimately Florida voters rejected most of the amendments.

Macnab said the league has been consistent in its support of certain issues, but the parties have changed their stances. “We often get tagged with one name or another,” she said. “We see it as a pretty age-old political tactic to divert voters’ attention.”

Our ruling

The Broward Republican Executive Committee claimed on its website that in 2012, “We had the liberal league of Women Voters Guide removed from the Broward Supervisor of Election’s website.”

The group’s chairman did contact the Broward elections office to complain about the guide, and the link was moved from the homepage. It can now be found through a few clicks by using the search engine, but you have to know to look for it.

It’s more difficult to say whether the league’s voter guide or the league itself is “liberal.”

Some of the national league’s stances on issues — in favor of more early voting, in favor of tackling climate change and supporting the healthcare law — do dovetail with current liberal positions. The league officially considers itself nonpartisan and independent.

But the guide didn’t endorse candidates and gave them an equal chance to respond.

The committee was mostly correct about having gotten the voters guide removed from the Broward website, but the guide wasn’t clearly “liberal.” We rate this claim Half True.

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