Attorneys: consider volunteering as a 2016 poll observer

If you can vote this year, please do vote.

But if you’re an attorney, please also consider volun­teering as a poll observer. These observers help make sure polling places are running the way they’re supposed to under state and federal law. More details.

On elec­tion weekend 2008, my wife & I trav­eled to Cincin­nati as poll observers for the Obama campaign. Despite what we hear about conspir­a­cies to rig the vote on elec­tion day—both Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats have advanced these theo­ries—there’s no evidence that this happens.

What does happen, however, is basic chaos. For instance, at our polling place, a state legis­lator running for the US House worked the line, encour­aging people to vote for him. This is illegal. When I asked him to stop, he brushed me off, saying “Ha ha, yes, I make the laws.” Wonderful.

As we discov­ered, polling places can have strange local rules with dire conse­quences. At ours, there were six tables repre­senting parts of the neigh­bor­hood. To vote, you had to go to the right table based on your home address. If you went to the wrong table, your vote liter­ally would not count. Of course, many people were being sent to the wrong table. And that’s all it took to make votes disap­pear.

Based on our expe­ri­ence that day, I formu­lated my own rule of thumb: a suffi­ciently long chain of incom­pe­tence—and there’s always an inex­haustible supply of that—is indis­tin­guish­able from conspiracy.

Poll observers can alle­viate the incom­pe­tence. It’s a great expe­ri­ence. It really can make a differ­ence. This year, the Clinton campaign is sending us to Las Vegas, Nevada, which is conse­quen­tial for both the pres­i­dency and the US Senate.

Volun­teer through the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights

Volun­teer through the Clinton campaign

Volun­teer through the Trump campaign