Lawyer Coalition Pulls Out All Stops to Make Every Vote Count

Still wondering if her vote counted in the 2004 presidential election, southern Florida native Jennifer Bacon is looking forward to working with a national coalition to ensure that everyone’s vote will be counted this time around round. As the chair of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s National Black Law Students Association (NBLS), Bacon is making sure that area law students are at polling sites to provide what she feels voters need the most – confidence.

NBLS is part of a group of national lawyer organizations working on Election Day to ensure election protection. The National Bar Association (NBA), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, among others, are working together to hold the country accountable.

“It will give voters confidence to see us there,” Bacon said. “They will be comforted to know that there are people out there who care about their interest and making sure that their vote is counted.” Bacon, a third-year law student at William & Mary School of Law, said. She will be based in Virginia on Tuesday. “I don’t think lawyers have really mobilized until this year,” she said.

On Election Day, the coalition of lawyers, attorneys and law students will staffing the voter hotline, poll watching and serving as attorneys on call to address serious voter suppression.

“We must ensure the integrity of the process and prevent disenfranchisement,” said Harold Franklin, chair of the election protection initiative for the NBA.

Franklin explained that the voter hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, was set up after the 2000 presidential election where millions of voters were lost. With about 10,000 volunteers on hand on Election Day, Franklin is hoping that anyone who may feel disenfranchised at the polls will call the hotline so that the trained lawyers and law students can advise them on how to make sure their vote gets counted. If it’s a serious enough issue, they are prepared to take up litigation on the matter.

While Franklin is manning the election protection operation for the NBA, President Rodney Moore will be in Florida with syndicated talk show host, Michael Baisden. “I’ll be updating him and listeners on election issues, problems and resolutions across the country,” Moore said.

Both Bacon and Franklin are anticipating a chaotic day on Tuesday, to say the least. “It will be an extremely busy and hectic day with exceptionally long lines,” Franklin said. According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, 14 states have reported a record number of registered voters. With about one-third of the voting population casting their ballots early, Franklin noted that a record-breaking number of newly registered voters in the system will make for a long, emotional day.

Even before Election Day, the NBA has fought for voter rights in Michigan where the state purged voters based off of home foreclosures. He was also involved in making sure that other states like Georgia acted in line with the Voting Rights Act where no state can institute changes in election procedures without being cleared by the Department of Justice. It also states that no person can be purged from voter rolls less than 90 days before the election date.

Since August, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has been working to make sure that voters are equipped with the knowledge needed before heading to the polls. The Prepared to Vote program was established to educate voters on their rights and send attorneys to Alabama, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Just one day before electing the first female vice-president or first African-American president, Bacon predicts that the 2008 election will serve as a lesson to the nation on how to perfect a democratic voting system. “I don’t think that after this, states will ever be unprepared,” she said.

Vanessa Rozier is editor-in-chief of The Hilltop, the campus daily at Howard University.