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Elections: League of Women Voters sees ranks thin

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

With membership dwindling, the League of Women Voters of Georgetown County is trying some new things.

“We are in hibernation and transition,” said League president Elizabeth Weems.

Membership has fallen from a high of 60 to just 12 in the organization’s 34th year. The national League of Women Voters is celebrating its 95th anniversary on Saturday.

“If you want a democracy,” Weems said, “people have to be involved. We get the government we deserve. People have thrown up their hands and said government is dysfunctional. We are doing what we can, holding voter forums and registering people to vote.”

The Georgetown County League is known as an advocate for the environment, said Amy Armstrong, executive director and general counsel for the South Carolina Environmental Law Project. “When I was in law school,” she said, “we read environmental cases and one of the biggest advocates for trying to protect the environment was the League of Women Voters of Georgetown County. Their name is on cases setting precedents in environmental law.”

The Georgetown County group received an award in 1989 for its work with Georgetown Steel and the Environmental Protection Agency in addressing the mill’s brown fallout in Georgetown. League members are better known for a case they brought after dioxin was found in the Sampit River. Jimmy Chandler, the founder of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, represented the League in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Armstrong said. She represents the League today in a suit to block construction of a groin at Pawleys Island.

“Groups have identified the Georgetown County League as the one to stick its neck out and stand up for what’s right in protecting the environment,” said Armstrong, a member of the group herself. “Considering the historic role the League has played, I would hate to see that go away.”

Weems said the League is not throwing in the towel but is reorganizing as an at-large chapter because it no longer has the required 20 members. Formerly president of the Horry County League of Women Voters, she has lived in Georgetown County for three years. “I’m just getting my feet wet,” she said, “learning how things work over here.”

Though the League is non-partisan, some Republican women dropped out over its opposition to Voter ID in the state. Judy Clarke, president of the Georgetown County Republican Women’s Federation, said quite a few local Republicans joined the organization. “We tried to become active in it,” she said. “They didn’t want to hear any ideas except ideas that came from the national group. We should have the right to say we are personally against it. So that was it.”

Politics is not the problem. It’s age, Weems said. “We need younger members,” she said, “but so far we haven’t gotten that yet. The issues are different and the way you go about addressing them with all the social media is different.”

The League has scheduled a meeting in the Burgess community Feb. 19 about the upcoming Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Department tax vote.

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