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California may not be a battleground state this Election Day, but its lawyers are reporting for duty across the nation to try to make sure things run smoothly. Groups of attorneys — mostly Democrats — flew out over the weekend to serve as poll-watchers today in swing states including Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Nevada. Some San Francisco Bay Area lawyers are already in the fray. Over the weekend, attorneys with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the San Francisco office of Bingham McCutchen won an injunction in Ohio to curb the use of vote-challengers there. Like many attorneys involved in the election, Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Maria Blanco said her group had been getting ready for months. Even so, she said, the issue of challengers came as a surprise when it cropped up last week. “It’s not something that was at the top of people’s lists to look for, but now challenger issues are popping up in a lot of states,” Blanco said. Challengers are people who usually work for either the local Democrat or Republican parties who confront voters regarding their eligibility to cast a ballot. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was already challenging the issue in federal court, but the national arm of the Lawyers’ Committee wanted to file a state court action as well in case the NAACP lost. On Monday, a federal judge upheld the challenge and banned challengers. But as of press time the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was hearing an emergency appeal. Only last Thursday, the national Lawyers’ Committee called its San Francisco affiliate. “This is just where the experts are,” said Claire Reichstein, spokeswoman for the local Lawyers’ Committee. Unfortunately, none of the group’s staff attorneys was a member of the Ohio State Bar, so they, in turn, called pro bono counsel Bingham McCutchen. Bingham didn’t have anyone who was a member in Ohio but decided to take the case anyway, according to Reichstein. What followed was 24 hours of high stress. San Francisco Bingham partner Nora Cregan formed a team with partner William Kissinger and six associates, who spent all night Thursday preparing the Ohio challenge. While they worked, Robert Rubin, a local Lawyers’ Committee expert on voting, flew to Ohio and conferred with local counsel. The team got the filing in at 4:29 p.m. Friday, just one minute before the court deadline, Reichstein said. Rubin argued the case in a special Saturday hearing, and a judge granted his request to allow each party to have only one challenger at each polling place. Republicans are seeking to have more challengers available and have said they will appeal the ruling. The Ohio litigation was fast and complicated. Early today, a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Election Day challengers’ presence was allowed under state law. Acting on his own in a chambers opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens today refused a request to stay the 6th Circuit decision. Editor’s note: Wire reports contributed to this story.

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