League of Women Voters of Nebraska
Our members are working every day to make sure that Nebraskans have the tools they need to be educated voters as well as the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. They inspire us and we hope they will inspire you too. Read about their interesting adventures and experiences across the state.
We believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy. That’s been our vision since 1920, when the League of Women Voters was founded by suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt just six months before the 19th Amendment was ratified as part of the U.S. Constitution.
Our founders embarked on a “mighty political experiment” to empower women at the polls through grassroots advocacy and nonpartisan voter education.
We aim to inspire women and men to fight for voter empowerment and election accessibility for all. We fight against all forms of voter suppression.
Leaving her position at Creighton University in 2020 to juggle her sons schooling from home during the pandemic also led Rachel M. Gibson to the League of Women Voters of Nebraska, where she now serves on the state board as director of education policy.
“Although I enjoyed the time with my kids, I missed engaging with people, collaborating as part of a group, and working to make the world a better place,” she said. “I began exploring options of what I could do next.” Gibson studied for the Law Schools Admission Test, took online classes, and volunteered on a campaign – “but none was quite the right fit,” she said.
“As I began researching the candidates for local office ahead of the 2020 election, I found myself thinking ‘I just want a nonpartisan place that tells me what these folks think and their background without all the spin!’ Through the magic of Google, I found the League’s VOTE411. I fell down the rabbit hole of all the things the League did locally and nationally and I was hooked.”
Gibson began her volunteer work with the LWVNE as a member of its Social Policy Action Team, researching and writing letters to legislative committees on such issues as limits to property tax revenues, paid family and medical leave, and broadband in the first session (2021) of the 107th Legislature. She was elected the LWVNE’s director of education policy at its April 2021 annual meeting.
In 2022, during the second session of the 107th Legislature, Gibson has already testified at four committee hearings for the LWVNE to support bills that would include early childhood programs in the Nebraska Farm-to-School program, change the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act, and adopt the Student Loan Repayment Assistance for Teachers Act and to oppose the Adopt the School District Property Tax Limitation Act
Serving as the LWVNE’s director of education policy is a great fit for Gibson’s background and interests. “I am a learner and educator at heart,” she said. “Whether it is learning about history, national trends, policy, or people, I love gaining new information and find a particular joy in using that information to make folks lives better.”
Driven by this curiosity, Gibson earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in higher education administration. Over the next 10 years, she worked as an academic and career counselor, program director, and data coordinator at Wichita State University and Creighton University. “My partner’s medical training brought us to Omaha seven years ago and we loved it so much we not only stayed, but also convinced my parents to move up after they retired,” Gibson said, noting that “they also probably wanted to be closer to their grandkids, our sons who are five and nine years old.”
The couple quickly became active in the Omaha community. “Whether it is through my partner’s work as a pediatrician and public health advocate at Methodist or our volunteering through Westside Schools, the Open Door Mission, and Lutheran Family Services, we have made Omaha our home and being part of the League of Women Voters is one the most important ways to keep our community one that we love,” Gibson said.
She left her job at Creighton University in fall 2020, “shortly after the world turned upside down with the pandemic. When the entire country shut down in March 2020, my job at Creighton moved online as I tried to juggle my two sons’ schooling from home,” Gibson said. “After the last month of the semester online, I knew it would not be possible to juggle it all for another school year and left my position at Creighton.”
Over the next few months, Gibson repurposed their “basement to be a school room and attempted to create a slew of preschool lesson plans. I have always known we do NOT pay educators enough, but this really drove home that point,” she said. Her work with the LWVNE provides another outlet for her interest in education.
“Education, especially K-12 public education, is something that is so engrained in our collective experience that sometimes it is easy to forget how important and foundational it is,” she said.
“Even as a civically engaged parent who deeply values my kids’ school experience, when I started working in this area with the League, I realized how little I actually knew about how the system worked. Couple this with the complexity of the system; sound bite culture warfare; and most people’s lack of time and ability to tune in due to work, kids, caregiving, etc. and the success of kids in our system can easily get lost,” Gibson said.
The goal of the LWVNE’s Education Policy Action Team is to “become a trusted source of nonpartisan, factual, timely, and Nebraska-focused education related information,” she said. “We hope to do this through Schools 101, a public awareness campaign, both social and traditional media presence, and engagement with policy makers and advocates.”
Reflecting on her work with the LWVNE, Gibson said one of her favorite things is that “how, how much, and when you contribute is completely self-driven. Even more, when you decide to jump in, the support and encouragement from such a great group of folks makes the work a joy.”
Gibson adds that she tweets a lot, “almost exclusively about the #NELeg. Honestly, it has been one the greatest ways to stay up to date and meet folks across the state working on these issues. You can find me at @RachelMGibsonNE or sometimes driving the @lwvne account. Join the conversation – it’s an important one.”
She uses “M” in her name “because there are a lot of ‘Rachel Gibson’s in the world – one of whom is a romance novelist. I hope you won’t be disappointed to find out that I am not her.”
It is with much sadness that we share the news of the passing of our friend and former League of Women Voters of Nebraska board member, Caryl Guisinger. She was suffering from an aggressive form of cancer and passed away on October 23, 2021.
Remembrance ceremonies have not yet been scheduled, but will likely take place between March and June of 2022. A notice will be posted in Caring Bridge and also shared via a LWVNE communication platform.
“Caryl was so stoic about her diagnoses and so positive about living her life to the fullest,” according to LWVNE co-presidents, MaryLee Moulton and Toni Monette. “She approached her work for the League in the same way.”
Both Moulton and Monette met Guisinger when she served on the 2019-21 LWVNE board as co-director of voter services. “I was so impressed by her enthusiasm,” Moulton said. “Caryl’s work for the League was important to her, and even with everything going on in her life, she prioritized making sure Nebraskans had the right to vote and the information they needed to make their decisions.”
She added that Guisinger was the “force” behind the LWVNE’s new website, which was launched in August 2019. “She committed to creating the website and immediately got to work even though she was undergoing cancer treatment,” Moulton said.
“I was her apprentice and she taught me so much about web design and how to create a first-rate site. It was a COVID partnership – we met mostly over Zoom, but I grew close to Caryl and we became friends in spite of the circumstances,” she said.
“I was lucky enough to see her in person while she was in Omaha for treatment, and I went out to her lovely home in the country and got to have a nice visit with her after she left the board. She taught me so much about grace and I will miss her terribly,” Moulton said.
Monette worked with Guisinger when they served as co-directors of voter services in 2019-21. “Working with Caryl could not have been a more fulfilling experience, as we had a similar work ethic and go-getter attitudes about the League’s work,” Monette said.
“While our ideas for enhancing voter education and accessibility most likely seemed daunting to others, we made a plan during a pandemic to update the Know Your Voting Rights information and most significantly produced the first statewide guide TOGETHER. And I mean that wholeheartedly,” she said.
“Caryl taught me many things about budgets, websites, and design, but taught me many things about myself as well,” Monette said. “She always believed in me and I cherished her friendship. I will miss her and hope to institute an LWVNE award or scholarship in her honor in the near future for all the tireless and selfless work she did alongside me.”
If you would like to send a card to her husband, Roy Guisinger, his address is 45150 State Highway 52, Belgrade, NE 68623. He said she would like any memorials to support research for liposarcoma. The Sarcoma Foundation of America provides grants to study the treatment of liposarcoma. Information on donating to this organization in Guisinger’s memory can be found here.
Inonge Kasaji, an international student pursuing a master’s degree at Doane University, joined the League of Women Voters of Lincoln-Lancaster County in March 2021. She now serves as its president.
“For some time now, I’ve been very interested in civic engagement and education and that’s what drew me to the League,” she said. “Our mission to create a more informed and active participation is something that I am passionate about. I believe that our future relies on a civically engaged community that is knowledgeable about the issues that affect us all and especially marginalized communities.”
Kasaji immigrated to the United States (southern California) with her parents and younger sister in 2003 when she was 10-years-old. After graduating from high school in California, she attended Union College in Lincoln and decided to make Nebraska’s state capital her home.
“During my time over the last decade in Lincoln, I have tried to be an active volunteer in my community,” she said. “After volunteering with organizations like The Friendship Home, The People City Mission, and Nebraska Appleseed, my interest in advocacy increased, which led to grassroots activism and work as a campaign staffer first on Patsy Koch Johns’ campaign for the state Board of Education, then four other races afterward.”
Kasaji has been a member of Lincoln YWCA and an alum of Leadership Lincoln’s Project A.L.L. Class of 2015. She has served on boards and committees for various organizations including Bridges to Hope, Lincoln Community Foundation, and the YWCA.
Her top priority as president of the LWV-LL is to “create a civically engaged Lincoln and Lancaster County, especially among younger voters including high school and college-age students. I think we’re in a time where we have the opportunity to build engagement around issues within that population,” Kasaji said. “I would also like to expand on the diversity and equity work that the League has been embracing and put a renewed focus on advocacy and education in minority communities.”
Kasaji has a wide range of interests that include, but are not limited to, the criminal justice system, poverty/economic/justice issues, immigration, voting rights, and reliable access to education for all students. “I hope that my current degree in management and leadership will help me develop skills which will allow me to continue to be an advocate in my communities and other communities in need.”
Outside of work, Kasaji enjoys “reading just about any book I can get my hands on as well as listening to far too many podcasts. Feel free to ask for a recommendation.”
Shortly after moving to Seward in 2008, Ellen Beck joined the local League of Women Voters as an opportunity to serve the community while not conflicting with her career in journalism.
“I was looking for a way to contribute to the Seward community, and the larger state community, that did not conflict with journalism,” she said. “Journalism often is called the Fourth Estate because of its watchdog function in democracy and in reference to its relationship to the three branches of government – legislative, executive, and judicial. The League’s mission to educate voters and its nonpartisan structure to fit within that framework,” said Beck, who has been a professional journalist for more than 40 years.
“Presenting both sides of an issue and letting people decide is important to me; it’s what I’ve done professionally for more than four decades. I have known for years that voting and voting rights are foundational to democracy, so it is a big issue for me,” she said.
Beck began her career in journalism in 1979 working freelance for the Milwaukee Journal covering the state Capitol while in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked in newspaper, radio, wire service, and online media throughout the years and, for a time, had her own company, Capital Health Care News, with a colleague in Washington, DC.
“I worked the longest in wire service, at United Press International in Pierre, SD; Milwaukee; Chicago; Miami; and Washington, DC, where I was a senior editor and covered federal agencies and the White House, mostly in the area of health care,” Beck said. “As we transitioned to Seward, where my husband was going to teach and finish a Ph.D., I began working for SmartBrief Inc. in Washington, DC, where I am now a health care editor.”
After moving to Seward and joining the League in 2008, she quickly became involved in its leadership. Beck was elected president of the League of Women Voters of Seward County in 2009 and served in that capacity through April 2021. She also has chaired the League of Women Voters of Nebraska’s Budget-Finance and Endowment committees and served on the Education Fund Committee. Beck was the liaison to the LWVNE state board for the Seward League.
Beck said she is “proud of the accomplishments of the Seward League and that has to be shared with all of its members. Seward is a small League but it gets a lot done” – leading LWVNE member Peggy Adair to refer to the local League as “Mighty Seward.” The Seward LWV sponsors a “hugely successful” Candidates Night event during election cycles (now on Zoom as well as in person), Beck said, and has “tackled important issues, such as the Keystone pipeline.”
The Seward LWV also holds voter registration and informational events. As a nonprofit member of the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership, it participates in community events, such as contributing to new Christmas decorations for the downtown business area. The Seward LWV also sponsors the Priscilla Lawin Memorial Scholarship that is awarded each year to a graduating high school senior to put toward college expenses.
Beck chose not to run again for Seward LWV president in 2021. “I look forward to the new ideas and inspiration that newly elected Seward LWV president Emily Hemphill will bring to the job,” she said.
“I will have more time to spend on League projects, such as the forums we are planning on the First Amendment and Journalism,” Beck added. “Now, more than ever, when democracy and voting rights are under attack, the League has a critical role to play in ensuring truth is known and accepted, that everyone is able to exercise their right to vote without fear or intimidation, and that people have a better understanding of the important issues of our time.”
From omahabar.com website In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the necessary 36th state legislature, Tennessee, by one vote, enfranchising 26 million women that had previously not been allowed to vote. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, was founded in 1920 as a direct result of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Education of the new large group of voters was the mission from the start; League members worked to help all voters become educated about current issues so they would be informed and active participants in democracy. Today, there are over 900 state and local Leagues in all 50 states, in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. League of Women Voters membership is open to any person who subscribes to the purposes and policies of the League.
Over the League’s 100 year history, the organization—in addition to its role of educating voters—has continued the push for greater access to voting rights and fighting against voter suppression, gerrymandering of legislative districts, and the influence of money in politics. The League’s Nebraska chapter works to register voters, coordinate debates among candidates for public office, and release a nonpartisan guide to candidates’ positions on key issues. To obtain the guide for your voting district, go to www.vote411.org.
The OBA Public Service Award is presented to a non-attorney person or organization. The criteria under consideration for the award includes: (1) The public’s knowledge of the law or the legal system has been enhanced in some significant way by the recipient’s efforts; (2) The recipient has focused on providing service to the community for purposes other than pecuniary profits; and (3) The recipient has demonstrated long term commitment to the enhancement of the public’s knowledge of the law.
In a video interview posted on the OBA’s social media accounts, the current leaders of the League of Women Voters of Nebraska made it clear that work is still left to be done, and the League is up to the challenge. The OBA is grateful to Dr. Dianne Bystrom, Linda Duckworth, and MaryLee Moulton for chatting about the work of the League here in Nebraska. Watch the video below:
Normally, League members would be attending community events to register voters. However, the coronavirus has cancelled many in-person voter registration opportunities. In Omaha, local League registrars have shifted to phone banking to encourage registration and vote by mail. They also have begun registering voters at protests, with LWVGO member and administrator Candide Villard taking the lead to bring voter registration to these important events.
LWVNE co-presidents Linda Duckworth and Dianne Bystrom organized a road trip to Iowa on Feb. 13-14, 2020, to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the national League of Women Voters. The group had lunch with members of the National 19th Amendment Society, toured suffrage leader and LWV founder Carrie Chapman Catt’s Girlhood Home and Museum in Charles City, and stayed at the Historic Park Inn in Mason City. They also participated in the Iowa 19th Amendment Centennial Commemoration Committee’s kick-off events at Iowa State University in Ames. Members got to know each other better and had a great time!
The Library of Congress is asking for volunteers to help transcribe more than 16,000 historic papers related to the women’s suffrage movement. It has launched a crowdsourcing platform, “By the People,” to ask the public to help type up written documents word-for-word, which will make it easier to find and read original sources. This program will make the papers of suffragist leaders virtually available to the public and will bring the words of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Church Terrell, Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna E. Dickinson, Lucy Stone and Alice Stone Blackwell available to a new generation.