The nonprofit Election Protection maintains a hotline where trained legal experts and volunteers are on hand to answer questions about registration, absentee ballots, polling and other information. If you have questions, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
In getting to know one another, University of Arizona students Emily Kane and Erin Ford began to realize that they shared many of the same thoughts about fundamental voting issues.
Both third year students in the James E. Rogers College of Law, Kane and Ford were each concerned about voter engagement. The two expressed the same intense passion for democracy. And both were hopeful that some of the complications that arose during the 2000 presidential election would not be repeated.
“We saw what happened when we weren’t at our best,” Kane said about the 2000 election. “We want to push our democracy to be its best; to bring the process to its best place.”
It was then that she and Ford decided to initiate an effort that has resulted in about 80 UA law students training to become Election Day poll watchers.
And because the group of law students, called the Election Protection Team, have partnered with Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights – a nonpartisan organization that runs the Election Protection programs – and are being trained by lawyers in the field, the UA college will be designed as southern Arizona’s only command center during the Nov. 4 general election.
This level of activity in Election Day processes is particuarly important now, said David J. Bodney, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Phoenix who helped train the UA students.
“There will be more new voters in this election than ever before,” said Bodney, who helped train the UA students and who also heads up Election Protection program efforts across Arizona. Election Protection is the largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition in the nation.
The work is not about swaying the vote, but ensuring that voters’ rights are protected.
“We’re trying to get the message to new voters, no matter their stripe, to avoid any problems arising,” he said.
Misinformation about voting potentially gets out of hand, particularly because of two laws, said Karen J. Hartman-Tellez, also a Steptoe & Johnson attorney and trainer.
The first is Arizona’s voter identification law, which is stricter than federal law and has tended to create some confusion in the past, Hartman-Tellez said.
The other is the ban on campaign material within 75 feet of a polling station. Still in question is whether a voter who wears clothing, caps, buttons or other campaign paraphernalia would be breaking the law, she said.
Leah Lussier, president of the Native American Law Student Association at the UA, said the voter registration law in Arizona is of particular concern to some within the American Indian community.
“We are aware of some problems that have happened at the polls,” Lussier, a second-year law student, said noting that some are unaware that tribal identification is a valid form of identification at the polls.
Some in the Hispanic community share those same concerns, said Melanie Fontes Rainer, president of the Latino Law Students Association and a second-year law student.
“I think that going to vote can sometimes be a scary process, so it is important that voters are knowledgeable," she said.
“We’re not telling people who to vote for,” Rainer added.
Leading up to Election Day, students will find out who they will be partnered with and which precincts they will patrol.
On Nov. 4, the command center will serve as their central location – the site to check in and out, to seek consultation and to report to the county and national office if any violations are witnessed.
“Democracy is the cornerstone of our society, and the cornerstone of democracy is the election,” said Kane.
“To be here is to know the law and to crave it. And part of that love for the law is a desire to making sure democracy is happening," she said.
In the end, the students hope that this year’s effort will continue.
“We want to create this with longevity so students and the law school continue doing something like this every election year,” Ford said.
“This shows what the students of Rogers are all about,” she said. “This is an amazing opportunity and there is a real chance to make a difference in those 13 hours when the polls are open.”