UNC Law students advise voters with issues at the polls
The nonpartisan effort engaged more than 50 law students working in shifts throughout Tuesday’s voting. It’s part of a national program known as Election Protection organized by the Lawyers Committee For Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.
Voters with questions about their rights or voting laws anywhere in the country were asked to call 866-OURVOTE. Those from North Carolina were routed to five phone lines that run into a suite of law school offices where students and professor practiced election law fueled by donuts, soft drinks and assorted snacks.
Jeff Lakin, a second year law student from Detroit, said the work was a satisfying way to use and see the power of the law.
“To be able to connect to someone who had their right to vote denied them, either face to face or over the phone, and to inform them of the law and of their rights, there’s just something very direct and empowering about that no matter who they’re voting for,” he said.
Mark Dorosin, senior attorney for the law school’s Center for Civil Rights, organized the local operation that was born nationally after the Florida voting fiasco of 2000.
By late afternoon Tuesday, Dorisin said his team had handled about 140 calls, but calls began picking up at 5 p.m. as working voters came into the polls.
The calls included a few questionable practices. Some voters complained of people campaigning inside the poll’s buffer zone. Others asked if they had to provide identification (in most cases no.)
Emily Wallwork, a third-year law student from Charlotte, arrived at the law school at 5:30 a.m. to set up the Election Protection team. She said voters “had a lot of small things that make a big difference, like voters being asked for identification when they’re already registered, which is not supposed to happen. Also voters getting misinformation and we’re not sure where that misinformation is coming from.”
Wallwork added, “If I’ve taken anything from today, it’s that there is a lot of confusion going on with the voting process. I think that’s unfortunate, because for many people, this is their biggest interaction with the government. It’s a shame that for some people it has to be a hassle.”
Overall, Dorosin said the questions from voters were fewer and less varied than the torrent of calls that came in during the 2008 election. He cautiously took hope that voters, election officials and politicians are learning how to conduct a smooth election eight years after Florida’s vote introduced the hanging chad and thousands of votes were ruled invalid.
“I would say the biggest difference in our reduction in [call] volume is voter turnout,” he said. “It also could be that we’re getting better at doing this.”
Some Republicans contend that voter fraud is rife due to a lack of identification requirements that allow unregistered people and illegal immigrants to vote. Dorosin, emphasizing that he was speaking for himself, doesn’t see it.
“I think reports of voter fraud — like the reports of Mark Twain’s death — are greatly exaggerated,” he said. “I think that’s more of an intent to disenfranchise voters then it is born out of concern of voter fraud. We should be working for is maximizing people’s ability to effectively cast the ballot. That’s what this program is designed to do.”
Josh Patton, a third-year law student from Charlotte, said his day on the phones convinced him that the system works well on Election Day. But he added, “I think the problem occurs before the election in redistricting, gerrymandering and diluting the vote.”
Even if watching the election process found few flaws on Tuesday, Patton said the vigilance is essential.
“The law only works if people believe in it, and in order for people to believe in the political system that makes the law,” he said.
(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/mightyohm; Image by Matt Mahurin)