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Making life easier for state voters

Though she’s more well-known locally for her involvement in the fight against the spread of aquatic invasive species, rural Detroit Lakes resident Terry Kalil is making a name for herself statewide as a result of her work with the League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV-MN).

Kalil was elected last month as the organization’s first vice president, which basically means that she will serve as “second in command” to League President Stacy Doepner-Hove, taking on the president’s duties when she is unavailable.

In addition, Kalil will continue to serve as chair of voter services, which involves training moderators for candidate forums, welcoming new citizens by helping them fill out voter registration forms, and generally engaging people in the voting process.

“The League has three main areas of focus,” Kalil said — to educate voters, advocate for them, and initiate reforms in the election process where needed.

Sometimes, however, its role may include helping to defeat election reform initiatives that League members believe may actually be detrimental to the voting process — such as last year’s much-ballyhooed “voter ID” legislation, which failed to pass muster with Minnesota voters at the polls in November.

According to the League’s definition, “reform is about (establishing) open, transparent elections, and making elections accessible,” Kalil said. “Voting is a fundamental right, and we should do everything we can to make it easier for people to vote.”

One of the ways that the League has helped do that, Kalil said, is by advocating for recently-enacted changes in absentee voting.

“It used to be that there were very few reasons deemed acceptable for people to vote absentee,” Kalil said. “But the new law just passed by the Legislature has ‘no excuse absentee voting’ —you can now vote absentee without having to use an excuse.”

Kalil’s focus, meanwhile, is already on the 2014 elections, which will involve all current representatives serving in the Minnesota House, U.S. Senate and state constitutional offices, including the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and auditor.

She believes that with ongoing changes in the political climate, League-trained forum moderators likewise need to “grow their skill set” to deal with new challenges in the political arena, where candidates and audience members alike are increasingly using tactics such as gamesmanship — for example, showing up for a forum at the last minute, and failing to notify fellow candidates that they will be there — less-than-civil dialogue and unruly, disruptive behavior to skew the forum process.

“My vision for voter service is that our members who organize or moderate these events need to be better prepared to handle such situations, be more responsive to the changing political climate, so we continue to live up to our mission,” Kalil said — the mission of providing unbiased, non-partisan information to voters about political candidates and election issues.

At last month’s League convention in Blaine, Kalil made a five-minute presentation on voter service, where she presented a training “road map” for moderators.

“Part of my ‘road map’ talks about leadership development through voter service,” she said. “The League is a good place to develop your skills, so you can take them and transfer them into other areas of your life.”

In other words, moderating forums for battling political candidates or controversial election issues is a good way to prepare a person for leadership in their local service organizations, school boards, city councils — and other areas of government as well.

“I’m really excited for the role I have in the League, and the work we’ll be doing,” Kalil said. “I think it’s going to be a blast.

“I will be doing (moderator) training all over the state, in places I’ve never been to, working with 34 local Leagues all across Minnesota,” she said.

Kalil is also excited for the League’s future.

“Our membership is up 11 percent over last year,” she said, noting that the organization has added many new, young, enthusiastic members, many of whom will be taking on leadership roles in the future.

Kalil herself has been a member of the League of Women Voters since 2004, when she was recruited by the late Carolyn Engebretson — someone whom she credits with being a mentor, as well as a close friend that she misses dearly.

“I think of her almost every day,” Kalil said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454