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Protecting the Right to Vote with Election Protection

May 9, 2016

Joi Nelson, Esq.

Election Protection Volunteer

Since as early as I can remember, I was taught that the only way for everyone to be equal is through education and voting. My ancestors shed blood and tears to provide me and my heirs the opportunity to vote. Now, as a number of states have passed laws that make it more difficult to vote, I believe that our inherent rights are being threatened. I had to do my part to try and make a difference.

I volunteered with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (Lawyers’ Committee) Election Protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) on March 15th for the primaries in Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina. Although I attended training the week before, I was somewhat apprehensive because this was my first time volunteering and I didn’t quite know what to expect. From the time that I sat down at 9 that morning to the time that I left at 1 that afternoon, the phone did not stop ringing.  According to the Lawyers’ Committee, we received over 2,100 calls to 866-OUR-VOTE that day. Initially, I was appalled by the number of calls and thought to myself, this is truly sad that so many Americans are not being provided with information on their voting rights and are having a difficult time voting.

Within no time, I received my first truly exciting call. The caller was at the polls in Illinois, which does not require a citizen to show their driver’s license at the polling place as long as they appear on the list of registered voters. Two people in front of the caller, however, were not only asked to show their driver’s licenses, but the poll worker scanned their driver’s licenses into a computer database. When the caller got to the front of the line, she refused to show her license and was still allowed to vote. Fortunately, she called us so that we could investigate. I then thought to myself, I can’t believe this is happening.  What about the people that are not aware they don’t have to show their license? Better yet, what about the people who are in the back of the line and don’t have a license but leave the polls because they see people showing their license and think they can’t vote?

A short time later, I received a call from a man who was at his local polling place. There was a sign on the door stating the polling place had been relocated to a church.  The problem was that the sign did not provide an address. The man searched online and still could not find an address.  Then he called us.  We were able to research further and locate a valid address for the church so that he could vote.  This call, however, left me again wondering, how many people arrived at that polling place and turned around because they didn’t know where to go next?

Not all of the calls were that complicated. Some people simply needed us to check and make sure they were registered or wanted to know what they should do because they had moved. Regardless, I was grateful that the Election Protection hotline exists.  Since many states’ election laws have been changed and disproportionately disenfranchise women, low-income, or immigrant voters and people of color the Election Protection Hotline is needed now more than ever.

I challenge you to join me in performing our civic duty as Americans and protecting ALL citizens’ right to vote.  If you are a lawyer, law student or legal professional, volunteer today to register others, serve on the hotline or take people to the polls…because Every Vote Counts!

 

That same day, students from the University of North Carolina School of Law worked tirelessly answering calls to 866-OUR-VOTE from North Carolina voters at a similar call center set up at their law school. You can read about their volunteer experiences on the UNC School of Law blog.

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