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.