ABA Encourages Attorneys and Law Students to Volunteer as Poll Workers
The stakes are high for the 2020 Election. The nation is deeply divided politically, and a global pandemic is upending daily life. At this time of unrest, a smooth and efficient election process is crucial. The ABA (American Bar Association) is encouraging lawyers and law students to volunteer as poll workers to perform an important civic duty during a difficult time.
The ABA, though the Standing Commission on Election Law, is working with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) to encourage attorneys and law students to volunteer as poll workers. Patricia Lee Refo, President of the ABA:
“Long wait lines at polling places or unexpected delays in getting election results counted can add to a distrust of the system . . .We hope lawyers and law students step up to help make this election run smoothly and efficiently. I have volunteered as a poll worker here in Phoenix, and I hope this initiative inspires others to join me.”
COVID-19 Creates Adds Challenges to Poll-Worker Recruitment
Sylvia Albert Director of Voting and Elections at Common Cause, a watch-dog group focused on ensuring access to the vote and election integrity, points out that poll-workers are usually in short supply. Albert describes the problem of the shortage of poll workers this year as “exponentially larger."
Law students and younger attorneys may have an increased role this year. Poll workers in the United States are generally older Americans. In 2018, 58% of poll workers were 61 or older, according to the Election Assistance Commission, and over 25% are 71 or older. Even without underlying medical conditions, this is an age group that has an increased vulnerability to the Coronavirus. Many in this age group are choosing to sit 2020 out due to concerns about their health and coming into contact with a large number of people at a polling location, and younger poll workers can help undercut a shortage. To this end, the ABA Young Lawyers Division and the Law Student Division have joined the initiative. This could provide many younger attorneys and law students with the opportunity to provide an important civic service and ensure a smooth, efficient election experience for voters.
Law Firm Involvement and Election Day Time Off
Many big law firms are providing a paid day off for their employees and attorneys on election day. Mintz, Jenner & Block, Hogan Lovells and many more firms have announced plans to make election day a paid holiday to encourage employee voting and volunteering in election-related activities. Fenwick & West indicated their voting push will include “volunteer and community service opportunities for people to engage in nonpartisan election activities—including get-out-the-vote letter-writing campaigns, hosting and staffing an Election Protection call center, poll monitor training and support, and supporting nonpartisan organizations working for voter protection, registration and outreach.”
The ABA’s Push for Attorneys as Poll-Workers
To encourage the effort, the ABA has released a video (watch it below) which details the sign-up process. Additionally, a social media campaign on Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook with the hashtag #PollworkerEsq encourages lawyers and law students to volunteer. Work may include staffing polling places, opening ballot envelopes, comparing signatures and helping election officials tabulate the results. The requirements and work vary across the country, as elections are managed by local entities, but attorneys and law students may be particularly suited to the work. Additionally, in some instances, poll worker training for lawyers may be eligible for CLE (Continuing Legal Education) Credit.
With all the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the election process, especially with the challenges created by COVID-19, this year is an election like no other in recent memory. Regardless of the political fights playing out, the ability to cast a vote is a crucial piece, and it is important for everyone. Refo says, “there is no question that maintaining the integrity and efficiency of our electoral process is important to all lawyers.”
Those interested can go to canivote.org, a website set up by the National Association of Secretaries of State, for more information. The importance of voting and active bipartisan civic engagement is crucial to a healthy democracy, so if volunteering as a Poll-worker isn’t an option, it’s important to check your voter registration and make sure you have a voting plan in place. As Thomas Jefferson said, “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”