American Express rep Maryann Burtt advocates a politically active populace as a board member for the League of Women Voters.
Voter apathy upsets Maryann Burtt. That's why she liked the idea when, over lunch, a newspaper editor suggested she start a local chapter of the League of Women Voters in Walterboro, S.C., to boost community involvement in elections.
She founded the group nine years ago, but didn't stop there. Burtt expanded her “campaign,” becoming the president of South Carolina's League of Women Voters. And since 1998, she's been on the league's national board of directors. Burtt is chair of the development and finance committee, helping raise and manage the organization's funds.
“I've always felt very strongly that people should be involved in their own government,” says Burtt, an American Express Financial Services rep in Walterboro, S.C. “The problem is that people are preoccupied with their own affairs and so busy. The league strives to make it easier for people to be informed voters.”
While working for the league at the local and state level, Burtt helped raise voter awareness by organizing candidate debates broadcast on radio and television. And on the national level, she touts the league's DemocracyNet, an Internet-based service that offers online access to local ballots and statements from candidates.
The political arena has always fascinated Burtt. Before becoming a broker five years ago, she had a career as a public policy consultant to business and government. She also has a master's degree in public administration.
Her most interesting experience on the league's board has been serving as liaison to the Florida state group. The role gave her a close look at the presidential election “debacle,” as she calls it. “The problems that surfaced in Florida are not something you can wave a magic wand over and solve quickly,” Burtt says.
She's hopeful, however, that a reinvigorated electorate will forge change. In May, she attended the league's Florida state convention. “I saw a number of long-time volunteers, but also many new, very committed young people,” she says. “I see my job as encouraging participation by those younger people.”
Burtt likes to correct the perception that the league is just for women. Yes, women who worked to pass the Women's Suffrage Act in 1920 founded it, but now the group welcomes both genders. And it is strictly nonpartisan. “We don't support candidates,” she says.
American Express, however, supports Burtt's work. In November 2000, the firm presented her with a Great Citizen Award for her civic involvement and commitment. The prize included $1,500 to donate to the organization of her choice — naturally the League of Women Voters.
Burtt's clients don't perceive her as a politico, just someone dedicated to the political process. “I provide excellent service to clients in my business, and the extension of that is excellent service to my community, whether it's the town, state or country where I live.”
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