More than 60 members of the Darien League of Women Voters and guests held their annual meeting and luncheon at the Tokeneke Club on June 14.

The featured speaker was Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

She spoke on the topic "Civic Engagement in the Next Generation." Specially invited guests were nine students from the Darien High School. One of the goals of the LWV is that citizens, especially new voters and the younger generation, become involved in their government and the political process. In her presentation Merrill expressed her concern that political participation is dropping off and there is a great need for the younger people to take the place of the World War II generation.

She felt that there were several explanations for the decline in interest including the negativity of political advertising and general lack of civility in political discourse in Congress and the Connecticut Assembly and that early civic education is vital and most schools emphasize a multi-cultural curriculum rather than basic U.S government, law and history. Thus many young people graduating from high school are not knowledgeable on civic matters and their responsibilities as citizens.

The secretary of the state suggested several ways to improve citizen participation. First, all high schools students should be required to take a civics course. At Darien High School, the student guests pointed out, all seniors are required to take the law and government course. Second, voting laws should be modernized. For example, Oregon has no official Election Day and voter participation is 75 percent. In 35 states early voting is permitted. In Connecticut, which has about a 50 percent participation record, voters must appear at the voting booth on election day unless they can prove their inability to be there and have voted absentee.

Many questions were raised by the audience after Merrill's presentation including the possibility of a president being elected by national popular vote instead of the Electoral College procedure.

Also suggested was the shortening of the time between the primaries and the election. Merrill pointed out that the political parties govern primary rules and she was not optimistic about the system changing soon.

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Prior to the luncheon and Merrill's presentation, the LWV held its annual meeting, at which the Board of Directors for 2011/2012 was elected These include: Co-presidents Nora McIlree and Gwen Mogenson, who will assume the co-presidency after the November election; vice president for voters service Mary Genco; treasurer Stephanie McGraw; secretary, Kathy Monro; programs, Kiki Karpen and Kate Larsen; candidates' night, Molly Myers; voters guide, Martha Yaney, Adele Conniff and Enid Oresman; government guide, Martha Banks; finance drive, Carolyn Bayne and Gail Matthews; Food for Thought, Carla Coe; hospitality, Mary Ellen Moore and committee; membership, Liz Bacon and Kristen Nelson; newsprint, Joan Davis; nominating, Sue Okie and Fran McGovern; spotlight, Laurie Williamson and Fran McGovern; and technology support, Deepika Saksena and Nora McIlree. Directors at large will be Elmerina Brooks. Nancy Cahoon, Autumn Howard, Dot Kelly, Evonne Klein, Robin Salmans, Barbara Thorne, Arlene Tulacro and Priscilla Wong.

As Merrill suggested in her talk, "Democracy is not a Spectator Sport."

For information on how you can get involved email lwv.darien@gmail.com.