Lawyers can play a key role in safe, fair and accessible elections by volunteering as poll workers
Our world has been upended in 2020. The way we have always gone about our business has been completely altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawyers have not been immune to these sweeping changes. The American Bar Association has adjusted, acclimated and accommodated. Our annual meeting in August was completely virtual. The association pivoted and produced an informative and effective meeting. It is a testament to my predecessor, Judy Perry Martinez, and the dedicated volunteers and staff who worked quickly and tirelessly to pull it off. And we even had a significant increase in attendance.
Now as we move forward, we must assess our situation and recognize the challenges and opportunities ahead. Our country will hold a national election next month, and the ABA wants to make sure every eligible citizen in every corner of this nation has a safe and fair opportunity to cast their ballot. Americans must be able to exercise their right to vote in a way that is secure and accessible—especially vulnerable populations such as the elderly, disabled and homeless, as well as military serving abroad.
We cannot allow cyberattacks by foreign nations and disinformation campaigns to weaken or undermine our sacred election process. Nor can we permit long lines and wait times due to broken voting machines and the closings of polling places to make our election less accessible. This year, health concerns may keep people from the polls as they turn to absentee voting or vote-by-mail instead. The pandemic could also limit the number of poll workers, since many tend to be older Americans who are in risk groups for COVID-19.
But lawyers and soon-to-be lawyers can—and should—help. Poll workers are integral to ensuring a free and fair election, and lawyers are especially suited to assist. This is an opportunity to step up and serve.
The ABA has partnered with the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors to issue a rally cry aimed at mobilizing lawyers to serve as poll workers. The Poll Worker, Esq. initiative encourages lawyers, law students and other legal professionals to safely help with the November election to ensure that the process is safe and efficient.
Interested individuals can go to canivote.org and click on the “Become a Poll Worker” link to see how to serve in their respective jurisdictions.
Tasks range from staffing polling places to opening ballot envelopes, comparing signatures and helping election officials tabulate results. Poll worker training for lawyers may be eligible for CLE credit.
Being a poll worker is one productive way to give back. Unfortunately, the pandemic also has created great need and many opportunities to help in other areas, including providing legal assistance to those facing evictions, victims of domestic violence and those needing help obtaining benefits. Oct. 25-31 is this year’s National Celebration of Pro Bono. The ABA offers many opportunities to help our fellow Americans. Go to www.abaprobono.org to find out about pro bono opportunities.
This year also marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed and protected women’s right to vote, enabling women to fully participate in American democracy. This anniversary reminds us that the struggle to ensure voting rights for all Americans continues. We should never take our voting rights for granted.
We support fair and open elections because voting is the most basic right in a democracy. Especially in these times, when we must each demonstrate our commitment to anti-racism and equity, one of the simplest ways to do so is to help people exercise their right to vote. I have signed up to be a poll worker. Why don’t you join me?
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This story was originally published in the October-November 2020 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Poll Positions: Lawyers can play a key role in safe, fair and accessible elections by volunteering.”