Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Margaret Williams and Rebecca O’Brien have a secret weapon to help preventthe chad chaos of the 2000 election from recurring this November. It’s calledlaw students. Last year Williams, now a third-year student at Columbia Law School, andO’Brien, a third-year student at Harvard Law School, separately came up with thesame big idea. As they looked ahead to the 2004 election, both realized thatthey were surrounded by an untapped resource that could help preventirregularities at U.S. voting places. “We have access to thousands of lawstudents who have specific legal skills and flexible schedules,” saysWilliams. Throw in some training, and students become perfect poll watchers. Thechallenge was to get students to the polls. At Harvard, O’Brien teamed up with classmate Micah May and election lawprofessor Heather Gerkin to organize Just Democracy, a nonpartisanelection-monitoring organization. At Columbia, Williams founded a similar group,named Impact. By late summer 2004, the two organizations had more than 100chapters in law schools ranging from Alabama to Oregon. Their aim: to dispatchthousands of students to guard polls all over the country on Nov. 2. According to the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project, which has studied thereliability of U.S. voting systems, problems with polling places caused between500,000 and 1.2 million votes to go unrecorded in the 2000 presidentialelection. In 2002 Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which establishedminimum election administration standards for state and local governments.Congress also founded the Election Assistance Commission to research and createthe new regulations. In practice, however, the well-intentioned law might cause confusion, saysJonathan Katz, a political science professor at the California Institute ofTechnology and a member of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project. The newlaw “is a good thing but the first election or two is sort of a trial runas people learn,” says Katz. “There’s going to be some cost ofchange.” Individual poll workers work in polling places for just one dayand may not fully understand all the complexities of the new law. One commonmisconception, for example, is that all voters must show identification. Thelegislation actually only requires first-time voters to show identification. That’s where the law students will come in. The two law student groups areplotting slightly different Election Day strategies. Just Democracy, which nowhas 47 chapters in 27 states, is sending students to monitor their local polls.If questionable situations arise, they will contact local officials and anetwork of volunteer firm lawyers recruited by Just Democracy to provide legalassistance. Impact is focusing on states where it believes voters are most at risk ofbeing disenfranchised. “Instead of having a diluted effort, it made senseto concentrate our work,” says Williams. Based on research by the ElectionProtection Coalition and their own analysis of minority disenfranchisement andvoter intimidation, Impact has targeted 13 high-risk states, includingWashington, Missouri, and Florida. On Election Day, Impact plans to bus lawstudents from all over the country to these districts. Impact volunteers willstand outside the polls, passing out a state-specific voter’s bill of rights toeach voter. As state law permits, others will work inside polling places asmonitors to watch for errors. Instead of formalized local chapters, Impact has coordinators on over 70campuses. The group has also formed alliances at about 50 different law schoolswith the American Constitution Society, the National Black Law StudentsAssociation, and the National Lawyers Guild. “We want to use existingnetworks and established groups,” says Williams. The key to success for the law student initiatives is good preparation, saysRice University sociology professor Chandler Davidson, who studies minorityvoting rights. When properly trained in state election law, Davidson says,”[law students] should be useful and help protect peoples’ votes in caseswhere they might otherwise find them blocked.” MIT professor Ted Selkin, a member of the Caltech-MIT Voting TechnologyProject, applauds Just Democracy’s focus on training students as poll workers.But he’s not convinced that there’s a big need for poll monitors like thosefielded by Impact. Selkin says that most of the election problems that he’s seen”are caused by poll workers having a hard time being organizedenough.” To ensure fair elections, he believes, better poll workers areneeded, not just more supervision. The difficulty is that poll workers usually have to meet local residencyrequirements, Impact’s Williams says. Since Impact’s goal is to concentrate onthe highest risk states, the group decided to field law students as pollmonitors instead. Just Democracy had originally hoped to train law students ascombination poll assistants and legal troubleshooters, but did not have thefunding to do so, says Just Democracy spokesman Ariel Neuman. After Election Day 2004, Just Democracy and Impact plan to issue separatereports designed to help future advocates prevent voting mishaps. Moregenerally, they hope to raise the profile of election law issues on campus andcreate a continuing dialogue about voting rights. “The whole point was tomake it about voting and not about a particular election,” says JustDemocracy Northeast coordinator Matthew Benjamin.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.