Awesome Foundation Grant Award Winner: The League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley

Written by: Brandi Malarkey

In a political climate where polarization appears to be the norm and misinformation can spread quickly, it can be easy to look at local, state, and national elections as something to dread rather than a right to be exercised. However, for many in the community, it is a reason to celebrate,


“For many New Americans, getting their citizenship and being able to participate in our democracy, is exciting for them,” Fowzia Adde from the Immigrant Development Center said. “They are so excited to come to this country, to be here to work, to understand, to pass the test for citizenship. It’s an achievement.”

However, having the right to vote doesn’t mean exercising it is easy, especially when you come from another country and don’t speak the same language. The League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley is trying to take that into consideration with a new pilot project meant to enhance the League’s VOTE411.org initiative.

VOTE411.org is the National League of Women Voters’ one-stop shop for election-related information, and where the North Dakota League publishes its voter guide for North Dakota’s June and November elections. In 2020, the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley used VOTE411.org to cover Cass County candidates and some of the state-level races for the General Election. In 2022, the North Dakota League covered all the races in the state, which included over 2,000 candidates in the Primary and 760 in the General Election. The League asks each candidate running for election to answer five questions and publishes the responses on VOTE411. Users can then enter their addresses to see the races and ballot measures that will be on their ballot and compare candidate responses.

“The mission of our league is to make voting accessible for everyone,” League RRV President, Randilyn Dombek said. “So having information about candidates really helps people feel confident about knowing who they are or are not voting for, and helps them feel more empowered to actually go use their voice and vote in the local elections. The main thing for us is that it is nonpartisan. We ask every candidate regardless of party to participate, and everyone has the same opportunity to present their views on things for their constituents.”

“And we don’t touch their responses, so it’s the candidate’s own words,” Whitney Oxendahl who coordinates VOTE411 for the North Dakota League and candidate outreach for Red River Valley said. “Spelling mistakes and all.”

When the 2023 North Dakota Legislative Assembly passed a law creating a requirement for naturalized US citizens to update their ID to vote, the Immigrant Development Center took on the task of trying to translate paperwork explaining the new law into languages other than English.

“The Secretary of State sent over 19,000 letters to citizens just in Fargo,” Fowzia said. “19,000 citizens just in this town need to get a special ID just to vote. But many don’t understand the English in the letter and haven’t changed their ID yet.”

Realizing the language barrier is one of many hurdles New Americans face in participating, the Immigrant Development Center and the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley have teamed up to create a pilot project to translate candidate responses for VOTE411.org into additional languages for the November 2024 election.

With the aid of a grant from the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation, who named the League their January 2024 grantee, the pilot project will begin with state legislative races and focus on Cass County. The League and the Immigrant Development Center will partner to determine which languages will be most beneficial to begin with.

Randilyn Dombek (left) and Whitney Oxendahl (right)

“What we are hoping for from this pilot project is that people will see its value and we can use it to find funding for additional languages in the future,” Fowzia said. “I love sharing the League’s vision statement,” Oxendahl said. “We envision a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge, and the confidence to participate. So I feel this really fits in with the vision of the League—trying to give people everything they need to be a part of our democracy by making candidate information accessible to those in our community who might not otherwise have access.”

“If we believe in the democracy that we live in, believe in America, we have to work hard to make it the best by making sure people have a voice,” Fowiza said.

While the language pilot program is targeting the November election, the North Dakota candidate information will be published in English in mid-May of 2024 for the June primary election. The League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley also hosts local candidate forums prior to both spring and fall elections which they published online, a monthly program called “First Fridays” at noon at the Sons of Norway in downtown Fargo (which includes a digital participation option) and provides a bimonthly newsletter which focuses on community storytelling and city government. Learn more at lwvnd.org/rrv

The Cass-Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a nonprofit. Applications can be made at awesomefoundation.org/en/chapters/cassclay.

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