As students head to the polls today to cast their ballots in an election that is expected to draw record turnout levels, a group of University of Southern California law students is working to ensure everything runs smoothly at polling sites.
Students have teamed up with Election Protection, a nationwide nonpartisan organization that aims to protect voters rights, to help monitor area polling stations on Election Day.
We thought this would be a great way to get involved because this election is so important, said Jessica Hewins, a second year law student who helped organize the effort. So many more voters are expected to come out, and old problems in the past are going to be exacerbated.
Hewins, along with second-year law student Naomi Ages, helped organize about 50 volunteers after Los Angeles law offices affiliated with Election Protection approached the USC Gould School of Law asking for student volunteers.
We were in touch with the USC law school and they gave a seminar that was open to all law students to explain what Election Protection is, what it does and how they could get involved, said Joshua Upin, a USC alumus who works with Dewey and LaBoeuf, a law firm that has partnered with Election Protection.
Student volunteers spent two-and-a-half hours learning the basics of voting law and how to deal with a variety of anticipated problems on Election Day, including long lines, confusion over provisional ballots and people campaigning too close to polling sites.
There are so many problems with elections, Ages said. Intimidation, people not knowing the laws, people being told they have to go home when sites close. ... There are always problems on Election Day and especially in this one.
One of the biggest concerns surrounding young voters, Hewins said, was that new voters dont always know their voting rights.
If they are new voters, they dont really know what to expect when they do go to the polling sites, she said. Whereas people who have voted in the past know what to expect.
Voters who experience problems at their polling sites can call the Election Protection hotline at (866) 687-8683. The call will be forwarded to the appropriate regional team, which will then either address the matter via phone or, if the issue needs direct attention, will send a team of volunteers such as the USC students to the polling site to address the concern.
Hopefully it will be a minor thing that we can speak to the complainant or the poll worker about and fix it right there, Ages said. Were not trying to make anybodys job any harder; were trying to diffuse immediate problems and have people there keeping voters happy and willing to vote.
Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obamas campaign has also worked to alleviate polling problems on Election Day by sending lawyers to college campuses to ensure voter rights are protected. Bret VandenBos, president of USC Students for Barack Obama, contacted the campaign and was able to secure two non-partisan lawyers to come to USC.
VandenBos said problems that arose for student voters in the February presidential primary were part of the reason he contacted the campaign.
A lot of that is on Students for Barack Obama and other organizations that didnt do good enough of a job in the primary to recognize the problems and complexities of voting in the area students vote in, VandenBos said. Its just very important to the entire politically active student body at USC that were going to be able to solve these problems and do it in a nonpartisan manner. All we want is for students to be able to go and vote in their correct polling place and make that as easy as possible.
Whil student volunteers for Election Protection will be located throughout Los Angeles to monitor stations, the lawyers from the Obama campaign will stay at USC polling sites.
Jennifer Urban, campus counsel for SFBO, said it was very important to have lawyers on hand at college campuses to help address concerns of new voters.
Its important for any election to have a volunteer available who can help voters understand what their rights are, Urban said. They need to have ways for students to have their questions answered.
Law students said they are eager to work on Election Day, and look forward to helping new voters cast their ballots.
Everyone Ive talked to who has taken a shift in the past walked away knowing they directly helped someone, Hewins said. Its instant gratification, knowing that you helped somebody vote.
Ages said student participation in Election Protection shows how dedicated young people are to the political process.
This is a really important election, and a really important election for young people, she said. Youth participation in politics gets a really bad rap. People say we dont participate and dont care, and thats not true anymore. Not only are we voting, but were making sure other people can get out and vote as well.