Proskauer’s participation in Election Protection, through hosting a call center with Firm, client and alumni volunteers across the United States, provides an invaluable service to individual voters ensuring they have an equal opportunity to cast their ballot. This volunteer experience also provides great insight into the current condition of democracy in America. It lays bare some fundamental weaknesses in the US electoral systems of voting, but also suggests a potential roadmap for reform.
One thing becomes clear to anyone who takes part in this effort – the US does not have a system of voting but rather has many systems, each controlled on the local level. From registering to vote to voting itself, including voter ID laws and the ability to vote by mail, elections vary widely from state to state.
Rules change as soon as one crosses state lines and even county lines in some instances, causing widespread voter confusion. The essential and what should be fairly straightforward act of voting in the US has become too complicated.
The Election Protection call center hotline gives us an up-close look at the varying resources available from location to location, as well as the varying degree of competent management. We have heard complaints about broken voting machines; insufficient polling places; long lines; and incomplete or misleading information disseminated by local officials. The sheer number of calls speaks volumes. Acutely concerning is how the local control of elections and lack of uniform standards have facilitated the suppression of minority voters over generations. That concern continues today.
Taking all of this together, there can be little surprise why a lower percentage of Americans vote than those in other democratic countries. Equally troubling is the increasing number of Americans who are losing faith in our institutions of government, the glue that binds us all together in a free society.
So what needs to be done?
- Voter registration should be made easier if not automatic. At the very least, each state should permit registration online.
- Early voting and voting by mail should be expanded.
- In-person voting should occur on the weekend or Election Day should be declared a national holiday.
- There should be a requirement for a sufficient number of polling places and ballot drop-off boxes.
- A new federal voting rights act should be enacted to ensure standards are uniform across the country and to block measures on the local level that may have the effect of voter suppression.
Partnering with our clients and alumni, this year Proskauer has signed up over 250 legal professionals to staff the Election Protection nationwide hotline on and before Election Day. In addition to providing this important service, the volunteers will receive a valuable education that can be translated into data-based recommendations for change.