Electing to Get Out the Vote
Lawyers should be involved to ensure that the rule of law prevails at the polls
Posted Oct 1, 2008 9:20 AM CST
By H. Thomas Wells Jr.
As my family and I prepare to vote in November, I think about the days of going with my mom and dad to the polling place. We used large, mechanical voting machines back then, long before anyone had heard of hanging chads—or even of the Voting Rights Act.
Today, I reflect on the blessing of living in a society where changes in government leadership are made by citizens at the polls; and when election disputes do arise, they are settled by lawyers and judges in courts of law—not by force or by mobs in the streets.
Elections are a core component of the rule of law. Lawyers play a prominent role in ensuring our elections are free, fair, accessible and accurate.
The American Bar Association is active in election-related matters. Our Standing Committee on Election Law—whose members represent a balance of bipartisan, nonpartisan and independent views—develops ways to bring integrity to the electoral process.
Through this committee, the ABA promulgates standards on how elections should operate. One element of the standards is especially worth noting, particularly for those of us who don’t specialize in election law. It calls on bar associations to encourage all lawyers of all practice areas to lend their legal expertise, time and talent to the public service of election administration.
How can we make a difference in this area, to be the “public citizens” Thomas Jefferson encouraged lawyers to be? For one thing, there is a large, unmet need for official poll workers on Election Day, and lawyers and law students are perfectly suited for this task. By nature of our legal training and expertise, we are practical and analytical, attentive to detail and able to craft solutions to disputes. If your community is recruiting poll officials, please consider volunteering and encouraging your colleagues to do so.
Lawyers also can serve as public citizens with the Election Protection Project, a program of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law co-sponsored by the ABA. Volunteers from both large and small law firms nationwide are staffing voter-assistance hotlines and doing other valuable work to protect and expand the right to vote. To offer your services, visit abanet.org/2008election.
PRESERVING JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE
We must be mindful that judges can be a ripe target during election seasons. Lawyers are ideally positioned to respond to election-inspired political attacks on legally sound judicial decisions and to the erosion of public confidence in our courts caused by judicial campaign politicking and fundraising, as well as to other challenges to fair and impartial courts. For helpful community educational resources on these issues, visit abanet.org/judind/toolkit/impartialcourts.
These materials and more are brought together on the ABA’s voter website—abavoteinfo.org—produced by the ABA Division for Public Education and by the Standing Committee on Election Law. Resources for the public include information on how to register to vote and the ABA’s downloadable “voter rights and responsibilities” palm card.
Resources for lawyers include public educational materials such as sample letters to the editor that encourage voting. Training materials also are available for trial judges who, perhaps for the first time, may preside over election disputes in their courtrooms.
Finally, let’s not forget the simplest way we all can make a difference: by voting and setting an example for others. If there are children in your life, bring them along to witness this awe-inspiring exercise of the rule of law. If you know any elderly or disabled individuals, give them a ride to the polls or otherwise help them to vote.
Regardless of who receives the most votes in November, the ABA will build bridges with the new administration and Congress and advocate on our core positions. But first, we will ensure the election is governed by the rule of law. With your help, lawyers again this November will fulfill their role as public citizens and make a difference.