Winter Park's Deirdre Macnab regularly travels across Florida to talk to groups about her organization's mission. Sometimes she dresses as Susan B. Anthony, the fearless leader of America's women's suffrage movement.
The costume is a good fit for Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
She has needed Anthony's 19th-century qualities — persistence and courage in the face of hostility, along with dedication and skills as an organizer — in 21st-century Florida.
After all, this is a state where legislators have at once tried to roll back the clock on voting advances and erect new obstacles.
Where voter-registration volunteers were threatened with fines while felons who have paid their debt to society are told their right to vote is subject to the whim of the Cabinet.
Where legislators pack the ballot with verbose and unnecessary constitutional amendments, and then feign bewilderment when voters are left to wait in lines for hours.
A state where legislative leaders were willing to spend whatever it took from the public treasury to battle a fairer system for drawing voting districts, a system overwhelmingly approved by voters.
These are the forces Macnab faced down as head of the League. For her determination on behalf of Florida's voters, Macnab is the Orlando Sentinel's choice for 2012 Central Floridian of the Year.
Advancing the cause
Florida's League of Women Voters, founded in 1939, has been on a roll since Macnab took charge in 2009.
It spearheaded the coalition that persuaded voters in 2010 to reform the state's hyperpoliticized and often profoundly unfair process for drawing legislative and congressional districts.
The League and its allies convinced a federal judge to strike down part of a 2011 state law that severely restricted voter-registration drives.
And the group fought alongside others for extra early-voting hours last year. Gov. Rick Scott rejected their request but now apparently has seen the light.
The League's chapter in Orange County, which Macnab led before becoming the statewide president, is now the second-largest local chapter in America, with more than 400 members.
Macnab is quick to point out that the League's priorities are chosen by its members across the state. She insists that any credit for its accomplishments under her presidency be shared among its 30 local chapters. But those who have worked with her — in and out of the organization — say Macnab's leadership has been crucial.
"Deirdre's done an incredible amount with the League," says Linda Chapin, who was a county president herself before going into politics and becoming Orange County mayor. "She really has advanced the cause."
"She's done a phenomenal job in making sure the League is always at the table," says Seminole County Elections Supervisor Michael Ertel.
In November, Macnab was recognized with an achievement award from the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.
Wrote the commission: "Due to Ms. Macnab's remarkable ability to attract and grow the league's membership in diversity of age, ethnicity and political parties, the League of Women Voters of Florida is more vital than ever before and with the highest regard of credibility."