September 1, 2012

Lawyer As Citizen: The Senior Lawyer’s Pollworker Public Service Project

By: John Hardin Young

The hours are long, the pay is low, but the work is critical to this November’s elections. The job? Official poll worker. Poll workers are also known as “election officials,” “elections judges,” “precinct officers,” and “polling officials.” Their job is ensure that on Election Day the election machinery is up and running, voters are checked in and permitted to vote, and, at the end of the day, the results are counted and accurately reported. The problem is that there are not enough volunteers to act as poll workers. This shortage of poll workers is not a new phenomenon. In 1934, it was observed that, “The greatest single problem of election administration is that of securing honest and capable precinct officers, who are essential to a satisfactory election administration.” Joseph p. Harris, election administration in the United states (1934).

Heeding Thomas Jefferson’s reminder that all lawyers are also “public citizens,” the ABA is responding to this unmet need for public service through its “Lawyer as Citizen” imitative. Lawyers can play an important and necessary role in the administration of elections. The concept of lawyers as public citizens is grounded squarely in the preamble of the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility. The Senior Lawyers Division (“SLD”) began the advocacy within the ABA for the recruitment of senior lawyers as way to improve our electoral process. See Senior Lawyer as Citizen: Making Our Electoral System Work, 19 Voe 16 (2007):

Senior lawyers have the experience and mature judgment to make the voting process work. Many senior lawyers are leaders in their communities. Many senior lawyers have the time. Many senior lawyers can recruit other lawyers and mentor younger mem- bers of the bar and community.

The closer we get to the 2012 presidential election, the more local election administrators around the country call for additional poll workers. Encouraging lawyers to serve as official, nonpartisan poll workers can only enhance the public’s understanding of, and confidence in, the rule of law as it pertains to elections. As ABA President Laurel Bellows states in her President’s Message in the October ABA Journal:

The ABA is nonpartisan and supports fair and open elections that empower the American people to have a meaningful voice in shaping our country’s future. Let us, as lawyers, do our part by voting on Election Day, by volunteering at the polls and advancing the rule of law that sustains our democracy.

At the 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago, the SLD, along with the Standing Committee on Election Law (“SCEL”), the ABA Division for Public Education, several other ABA sections and divisions, and local bar associations (notably the Fairfax (Virginia) Bar Association), introduced the “Lawyer as Citizen Project ”and website. SCEL Chair Ben Griffith (also an SLD member) stated at the project’s unveiling:

Lawyers have an opportunity to provide critically needed volunteer help to their local communities on Election Day by serving as official poll workers, aided by a user-friendly website. The Lawyer as Citizen Initiative, started by Jack Young, has given birth to the ABA Vote website, providing a quick and easy means for lawyers to register and be qualified to serve in this capacity in compliance with the specific requirements of their local jurisdiction. Jurisdiction-specific, easy access and convenient—let’s give real meaning to service and take an active role in election administration on Election Day this November.

Elizabeth Yang, Public Service Division deputy director and SCEL staff director, demonstrated how easy it is to use the new webpage, www.ambar. org/vote, by describing the four steps to becoming a poll worker.

  1.  Use the map to select your state or locality.
  2. Select Poll Worker Resources by County and City.
  3. Select your county or city. Step 4: You will now be at your local election website and can register as a poll worker.

The Lawyer as Citizen project is just one example of the ways the ABA Senior Lawyers Division serves the public interest. Future columns will explore other ABA programs that offer senior lawyers opportunities to serve in pro bono and public service capacities. 

John Hardin (“Jack”) Young (young@sandlerreiff.com), counsel to Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb in Washington, D.C., is co-chair of the SLD Pro Bono and Public Service Committee.