BigLaw hosts election hotlines while students and lawyers monitor polls
Updated: Nearly a hundred of the nation’s top law firms and corporate law departments are volunteering for an “election protection” program run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. One law firm reported Tuesday afternoon that its call center is receiving several calls about election irregularities.
Lawyers are serving as nonpartisan poll monitors while law firms are hosting 866-OUR VOTE hotline call centers, according to a Lawyers’ Committee press release and coverage by the American Lawyer. More than 4,000 lawyers are participating in the effort, along with law firm staff.
The hotline locations are at the Lawyers’ Committee offices and at 18 other sites nationwide.
A Kirkland & Ellis spokeswoman said in an email to the ABA Journal that its call center in Chicago has been flooded with calls since 5 a.m. on Tuesday. It is hearing about machine problems in the city and suburbs, and it’s causing some would-be voters to leave.
Kirkland’s New York call center is also hearing about “unusual voter registration issues” in Pennsylvania, including registrations paired with improper and sometimes nonexistent polling places.
The San Francisco call center is receiving a large number of calls from Arizona voters reporting issues with polling places being closed and equipment failures, the spokeswoman said.
Other large law firms participating in the Lawyers’ Committee’s election protection program include Venable; Dorsey & Whitney; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; Drinker Biddle & Reath; and Reed Smith.
Law students also are serving as poll monitors throughout the country, Law.com reports. Students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School took another tack. They helped patients at two Philadelphia hospitals fill out absentee ballot applications. The students then took the applications to city hall, obtained the absentee ballots, took them back to the patients, and then took the filled-out ballots to the election office.
The Department of Justice announced Monday that it is sending lawyers from the Civil Rights Division to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states, where they will be monitoring compliance with federal voting rights laws. Complaints about violations of federal voting rights laws can be made by calling 1-800-253-3931. Complaints about voting fraud can be made to the local U.S. attorney or the local FBI office.
“Fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the press release.
The DOJ’s latest announcement produced skepticism from the Lawyers’ Committee. Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the group, said in a press release that Sessions is “using this moment to further promote a false narrative about voter fraud.”
“As the record makes clear, this Justice Department has been and continues to remain silent on voter suppression efforts unfolding in Georgia and elsewhere,” Clarke said. “We will be watching the actions of the Justice Department’s personnel with great skepticism.”
Litigation over voting rights is unfolding in 17 states following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The decision struck down a formula in the Voting Rights Act that is used to determine which jurisdictions have to get advance clearance before making changes to voting practices. The decision spurred states to enact voter ID laws and other measures criticized by voting rights advocates.
Clarke told the American Lawyer that more law firms are volunteering amid the current climate.
The participation of BigLaw “speaks to how central the right to vote is in our democracy,” Clarke told the American Lawyer.