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May 1 was Law Day, a day sponsored by the American Bar Association to reflect on the role of law and its importance to American society today and in our founding. This year’s theme – American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters – was particularly relevant to the work of the League. As President Obama said in his proclamation on Law Day, “this Law Day pays special tribute to the right to vote, the cornerstone of democracy.”
Like past year’s Leagues across the country participated in numerous events marking Law Day. In fact, I traveled to Washington, DC to take part in the national roundtable on voting rights. Imagine how delightful it was to walk into a room of nearly 40 other leaders in civil rights, legal and voting advocacy organizations, and to immediately be greeted by the chair of the Law Day activities, Pauline Weaver, who also happens to be a local League member in Freemont, California! I was proud to learn she’s been a member since 1968.
The national roundtable on voting brought together these leaders to speak about the various issues currently facing our elections system within the framework of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) report that was released earlier this year. I was honored to be one of the keynote speakers and was tasked with explaining the recommendations set forth in the report, as well as the League’s reactions to it. While the Commission’s report did not address the political or legal issues facing the voting process, it did take a refreshing look at the experience of the voter. In our testimony before the Commission, we made five key recommendations, including secure online voter registration, expanded early voting and improved polling place management. We were pleased to see these recommendations, along with many others, adopted into the final report.
I closed my remarks by speaking to what everyday lawyers who are not steeped in voting rights issues could do to improve our voting process. As we were reminded following the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, the greatest barrier to participation is the diffuse nature of our election laws and customs, which can widely vary between jurisdictions. I encouraged lawyers to become well-versed in the local election laws and customs in their communities in order to help educate members of their community regarding changes to election laws. Additionally, lawyers (as well as other interested citizens) should consider volunteering as poll workers and poll watchers in their communities or to field calls with a voter information hotline to assist voters who are experiencing difficulties when casting their ballots.