In an effort to prevent the confusion and mistakes that marked the 2000 election, a group of Harvard Law School students has launched a project to ensure that 2004 presidential election voters are given proper access to the ballot. The new group, Just Democracy, plans to recruit and place more than 1,000 law students with expertise in election law at what they believe could be high-risk polling places around the nation.
“Whatever one’s politics, seeing eligible, motivated voters wrongly denied their right to participate is an offense to democratic principles,” said Becca O’Brien, a second-year HLS student who will direct the project along with
Law students interested in starting or joining a chapter of Just Democracy, or anyone interested in contributing or in learning more, can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
second-year student Micah May. “Our vision for Just Democracy is of a completely nonpartisan network of law school chapters. Each will be deeply rooted in its own community, and the chapters will be connected to each other through a national network and a commitment to supporting the rights of every voter.”
Though most of the media attention in the 2000 presidential election focused on the difficulty of attaining an accurate count of the ballots, student organizers contend that a more disturbing problem arose when eligible voters were denied access to the polls. According to a recent study by the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project, between 2.5 and 4 million voters were wrongly excluded from the last presidential election. Problems and mistakes that led to the exclusions included voter registration errors and confusion at polling places. Other problems identified in the 2000 election were voter intimidation and improper operation of polling places.
“Just Democracy could make a real difference during the next election,” said Assistant Professor of Law Heather Gerken, an expert on election law. “These students are trying to make the promise of democracy a reality. As someone who teaches election law and cares deeply about democratic rights, I believe this is an important step in the right direction.”
Over the next several months, Just Democracy will establish chapters and training programs throughout American law schools. These local organizations will work with community groups to identify specific problem polling places and the appropriate volunteer deployment strategy. On election day, these volunteers will assist poll workers with any questions or problems they might encounter, will hand out state-specific voters’ rights information, and will work to ensure that people who turn out to vote are not wrongly turned away.