When Pima County residents head to the polls this Election Day, a team of University of Arizona law students and other volunteers will be on hand to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Students from the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law once again are leading Pima County’s Election Protection effort, part of a nationwide non-partisan initiative to ensure voter rights are protected on Election Day.
UA law students started the local Election Protection effort in 2008, and the program has remained based in the law school since.
About 50 trained volunteers, including UA law students, two retired judges and 14 professional attorneys from Arizona and California, will be deployed throughout Pima County to act as poll watchers at more than 200 polling locations.
The volunteers will be looking for any inconsistencies or confusion in the voting process, such as questions related to voter eligibility or voter suppression.
All volunteers have received training on Arizona election law.
“Election Protection is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization made up of lawyers, paralegals and law students, and the idea is to make sure that when people go to the polls, they have everything they need to be able to vote,” said Nate Wade, a third-year UA law student. “It’s to make sure the process works and that whatever happens, there’s someone there to make sure that people can vote and any issues get solved.”
Wade co-chairs the local Election Protection effort along with Danielle Roberts, a third-year UA law student and certified election officer in the state of Arizona.
“This is truly a nonpartisan effort. We’re only interested in ensuring that everyone who has a right to vote has the ability to cast their vote in a fair way,” Roberts said.
As volunteers travel throughout the county checking in at the different polling places, Wade and Roberts will remain at the Election Protection command center in the College of Law, which will operate under the direction of an attorney from Washington, D.C. There, they will field calls from volunteers and track reports of issues made to the national Election Protection hotline from Pima County.
Election Protection volunteers are available as a resource to poll workers, as well as voters, to help clarify election law complexities, Wade said.
“Especially over the last three or four years, it’s become increasingly confusing as to what you need to be able to vote, where your precinct is – these things are changing all the time,” he said.
Volunteers also will be on the lookout for any attempts to suppress voters.
“We’ve gotten word that there are some groups that are going to go out and as people are going into the polls they’re going to make voter challenges to their eligibility,” Wade said.
These groups, according to Election Protection reports, may particularly be targeting Latino and college student voters, Roberts said.
“As these groups are being mobilized with a partisan goal, it is especially important for us to be there, helping to make sure that everyone’s rights are protected,” Roberts said.
Volunteers will rely on their legal training, along with an Election Protection mobile phone app, to help voters and poll workers address any Election Day concerns. Larger issues will be directed to the Election Protection National Hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
Wade and Roberts first volunteered with Election Protection as first-year law students in 2010.
The experience, they say, is valuable to students preparing to work in the legal field.
“As we are going to eventually graduate law school and go on to defend laws or create laws or create policy, I think it’s important to come from an experience where you have seen how those laws and how those policies actually affect people on the ground,” Roberts said.
Wade said those involved in Election Protection should be proud of their efforts.
“I felt like I was making a difference in the process, helping to make sure the election was run fairly, that people had a chance to vote and that people’s questions were answered,” he said. “In an increasingly divided culture, something like this that cuts through that division is hugely important, and it’s hugely rewarding to feel like we are able to help with that."