Shawn Bartelt was recently elected President of the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County after six years as a League of Women Voters state board member and vice-president. Shawn started her career in broadcast journalism and eventually became the vice-president and general manager of the WFTV and WRDQ TV duopoly in Orlando. She has served on many non-profit boards and is committed to volunteering and community work. We asked her to tell us about her background and the work she does with the League. (Fun fact: she used to waterski with Sarasota Ski-a-Rees!)

Tell us a little about yourself.

“I’m a Florida native. I was born in the Keys but grew up mostly in Sarasota. In college, I was a science major, then I took some time off, went back to school and got a degree in broadcast news. I worked in that field for quite a few years, then got into sales. I eventually wound up as the vice-president and general manager of [the television stations] WFTV and WRDQ in Orlando. I’ve got a lot of media experience at all levels.”

How did you get involved with the League of Women Voters?

“When I was working at WFTV and WRDQ in Orlando, we had a relationship with the Orange County League of Women Voters. They did an incredible job on all kinds of hot topics and covering all kinds of issues. I attended their lunches and heard about all the things that were happening. When I retired, they needed some help with their communications. I joined the state board and got involved with the communications effort. I’ve been doing that for the last six to eight years. Now that I’m living in Sarasota again, I was asked to work with the Sarasota League and was just elected president.”

What should people know about the League?

“There’s a couple of things. We are nonpartisan; we do not take positions on candidates. Our work is divided into two different components: education and advocacy. Under the education umbrella, we have Vote 411, which is our voter guide. It gives people tons of information about amendments and candidates but is completely nonpartisan. Our Speakers Bureau also does education-based presentations. We’re not taking positions. We’re just educating.

“The advocacy side is based on years of studies and consensus, and we do take positions on major issues, whether that’s education, voting rights, reproductive rights, or the environment and natural resources. We want government to be transparent and for voters to be involved and informed.

“What I think is so unique about the League is that there’s minimal paid staff. This is an organization that gets everything done through the pure volunteer efforts of all the members of our organization. We get grants and donations, but nothing that can ever be tied to any kind of position we might take. We are truly a grassroots organization that’s not impacted by money.”

What are the major issues affecting our region?

“In Sarasota—as well as statewide—voting rights is a key issue. Education is another issue locally and statewide. We have members who attend every Sarasota School Board meeting and create a report card based on how the meeting was conducted. We also attend hospital board meetings and are expanding to other county and city commission meetings, as well.

“I believe that if we’re going to defend democracy, we need to empower our voters. We have to have informed and active participation in our government. As an organization, the League works to increase understanding of the issues, to advocate for legislative changes, and then to make sure that all of our citizens are registered to vote so that they have a voice.”

What events are coming up for the League?

“We have a big event with the NAACP and other organizations called the Stay Woke Florida Rolling Votercade. It’s coming to 15 cities in Florida to empower voters, including Sarasota on June 21 from 9-11 a.m. at Bethlehem Bible Church. We’ll be there registering voters, and there will be entertainment, as well. And on Sept. 19, which is National Voter Registration Day, we’re planning a significant bi-county voter registration effort.”

What do you like to do for fun?

“I have four dogs, so I do a lot of dog walking everywhere, in all kinds of parks. I spend my summers in Asheville and enjoy the mountains, hiking and music, and in Sarasota, I have a boat and like to go boating. Basically, it’s music, food, the beach and the mountains!”