August 9, 2008
THE NEW YORK TIMES
EDITORIAL: The Right to Vote
Much about the presidential election is up in the air, but one thing is certain: voters will have trouble casting ballots on Election Day. In a perfect world, states and localities would handle voting so well that the public could relax and worry about other things. But elections are so mismanaged — and so many eligible voters are disenfranchised — that ordinary citizens have to get involved.
Since the meltdown in Florida in 2000, a large, nonpartisan coalition called Election Protection — made up of civil rights groups, good-government organizations and major law firms — has been doing critical work in standing up for voters. It is an effort that anyone who cares about democracy should get behind.
The civic books say that any eligible voter who registers in time can cast a ballot on Election Day. The reality is not so simple. People file registration forms that are not properly processed, or their names are wrongly purged from the voter rolls. They are required to present photo ID even when the law does not require it. They arrive at polling places and find machines that do not work properly or lines that take hours to get through.
A major reason for these problems is that states and localities are stingy about paying for elections, so election officials do not have enough workers, training, computers and voting machines.
Frequently, though, the driving force is partisanship. Some political interests benefit from low turnout, particularly among minorities, the poor, students and the elderly. Campaigns and parties often use dirty tricks to suppress the vote, such as circulating leaflets in particular areas giving the wrong date for the election. In other cases, the obstacles come from election officials.
In 2004 in Ohio, the Republican secretary of state made so many anti-voter rulings — including an infamous one disqualifying registrations filed on less than 80-pound paper — that it seemed as if his goal was to keep turnout low.
Groups that are committed to the right to vote have begun to fight back. Election Protection did invaluable work in 2004. It was a powerful advocate for voters when it counted the most — while the polls were still open.
This year, Election Protection is already working with election officials trying to eliminate obstacles to voting. In November, it plans to have 10,000 lawyers, law students and other volunteers working around the country to help voters whose names are not on the rolls when they should be, to get polls to stay open late when there are long lines and generally to see that everyone gets to cast a ballot who is entitled to.
Jonah Goldman, a lawyer with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law who works on Election Protection, notes that “if there were the investment in voting infrastructure that there should be, we would be totally unnecessary.” Until that happens — and until elections are run entirely by people who want every eligible voter to be able to cast a ballot — smart, wellcoordinated volunteer efforts are crucial.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
What is Election Protection?
Election Protection was founded after the 2000 election by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other civil rights groups dedicated to ensuring that all voters have the opportunity to participate in the political process. We are a non-partisan, volunteer-based coalition that is best known for operating the 1-866-OUR-VOTE voter services hotline on and before Election Day to help voters through the election process.
During the 2004 election cycle, Election Protection mobilized 25,000 trained volunteers across the country, including 8,000 legal volunteers, to monitor polling places, educate voters, facilitate a dialogue with local and state election officials, provide legal support to poll monitors, and answer the 1-866-OUR VOTE hotline.
This year, during the Super Tuesday primary on February 5, Election Protection was up and running in Chicago and several other cities. The Chicago coalition handled Midwestern voters’ calls to the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline at the Chicago law offices of DLA Piper, coordinated with local election officials to resolve voters’ problems, and distributed voter education materials.
The Chicago Coalition’s Plans for the General Election
The Chicago coalition will be helping area voters again on November 4, 2008. The 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline again will be hosted by DLA Piper and will be staffed by dozens of legal volunteers who will handle calls from voters across the region. Additionally, Chicago-based lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis LLP will organize a field program consisting of mobile field attorneys and poll monitors who will be deployed on Election Day to respond to problems experienced by voters. Litigation teams also are prepared to go to court to vindicate voters’ rights. For more information visit www.866ourvote.org.
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Election Protection 2008