Kimble: Come Election Day, students will be readyby Mark Kimble on Oct. 23, 2008, under Elections, Opinion
UA law students to help voters at the polls, where proper attire will be required.
Unless you just emerged from a cave, you know not to wear your Barack Obama “Change We Need” T-shirt when you go to vote.
The same goes for your John McCain “Country First” cap. Or your Ralph Nader whatever.
All that stuff is considered electioneering and is not permitted at the polling places.
But what if you have a shirt with just Obama’s picture on it? Or one with McCain’s name and nothing else?
Or what if your shirt has a picture of you and your spouse and children. Could that be considered electioneering in support of Prop. 102, the constitutional ban on gay marriages?
Would a picture of a house on your shirt be considered supportive of Prop. 100 – Protect Our Homes?
Some of this may seem absurd. But it all is open to interpretation by the people working at the polls. A shirt or a button or something else you considered innocent may keep you from voting.
More than 150 million registered voters are in this country. And in 12 days, an estimated 9 million of them will cast their very first ballots. It is likely to be the largest-ever turnout of first-time voters.
When 9 million people show up on the same day to do something they’ve never done before, there will be problems. And clothing issues may not be the most serious concern.
To help resolve problems, two University of Arizona students in the College of Law are organizing dozens of their classmates to monitor polling places on Election Day. They have no official role, but they are part of a national group that will try to work things out so people who are willing and eligible to vote have that chance.
Emily Kane, a third-year law student at UA, became interested in the effort after taking a class in election law. She talked with classmate Erin Ford, and the two got started more than a year ago.
To make sure the effort was free of political bias, UA chapters of the liberal Federalist Society and the conservative American Constitutional Society were invited to take part.
“We want to make sure there is nothing going on inside the polls that could disenfranchise voters,” Kane said.
There might not be enough pens to mark ballots. Lines could be too long. Equipment may not be working. Voters may show up at the wrong polling places. There might be questions about whether a voter has the proper identification required by Arizona law.
Or there could be a dispute about a T-shirt.
Ford says more than 60 law students and about 15 volunteer law faculty members will work in groups of two, checking polling places around town.
They’ll stay outside the 75-foot electioneering boundary, talking with voters, and will go inside only if invited by workers.
The students will be “trained volunteers who are there to help,” Ford said, and will not be trying to force a confrontation.
The help likely will be welcome and needed, said Karen J. Hartman-Tellez, a Phoenix attorney with Steptoe & Johnson. She came to Tucson last week to help train the law students who have volunteered to work Election Day.
“The T-shirt issue is very hot,” Hartman-Tellez said. She noted that the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona recently wrote to state elections officials, asking that the ban on electioneering at the polls be narrowly defined.
Voters who show up wearing partisan T-shirts should not be turned away if they are “involved in a silent and passive expression of their position,” the ACLU wrote. The state rejected that notion.
“There is no doubt the polling places will be busy and the lines will be very long,” Hartman-Tellez said. If delays keep everyone from voting, lawyers will be prepared to go to court to keep the polls open late, she said, adding, “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
The local effort is part of a nationwide undertaking to make sure people who want to vote can do so. People with any questions about voting from now through Election Day can call a toll-free number (see box) for immediate assistance.
“I’ve always been involved in social justice work,” Kane said, “and I think our greatest changes start on Election Day.”
Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4662.
For any questions about voting – your polling place location, what identification is needed, voting hours – or for any problems on Election Day, call a toll-free number and your question will be answered or a volunteer dispatched to resolve problems. English: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) español: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)