Fulbright Lawyers Help Ensure that Every Vote Counts

In the weeks leading up to the Presidential election, Fulbright lawyers—Alison Plenge, Anna Skubikowski,  Erin Close and Kara Petteway—volunteered to act as advisors at The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a member of the Election Protection coalition, staffing it's national, non-partisan voter hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote.

Fulbright's volunteers elected to serve during the earlier, lighter sessions as well as the two most hectic final days, clearing from 1,000 to 100,000+ calls per day.

With voters desperate for advice, information and support, phones rang constantly with requests from callers making a last minute scramble to find voting locations and get ID requirements. Volunteers Plenge and Close were struck by the tenacity of callers who spent hours voting after being wrongfully turned away at their local polling location because their driver's license address did not match their current address, forcing them to drive to their old address and wait in line a second time to vote.

In some cases, state rules prevented the advisors from assisting callers as much as they would like. For example, if a caller from Florida wanted to know where to vote, an advisor was only allowed to give them a website address where the information could be found because, in Florida, polling place lookup is only permitted on an individual voter-by-voter basis.

Fulbright advisors heard complaints about voting places closing early, ballots not being cast because they were purposely incomplete and even a mentally disabled woman being unjustly turned away from a polling place for allegedly electioneering—she was wearing an Obama shirt.

Advisors noted all complaints, even after polls were closed, in an effort to improve the next election process. Fulbright associate Erin Close said, "This experience certainly highlighted the work we have to do as a country to ensure that everyone who wishes to vote is able to do so."

The release of the voting numbers revealed the difference that the hotline was making. Volunteers also had the experience of seeing the voter complaints and questions they were fielding become national news, such as the long lines in Florida, polling places with minimal machines and the false Twitter rumor that posting a picture of your ballot on Facebook would invalidate your votes.

Perhaps Anna Skubikowski summed up the value of this experience best, "I'm looking forward to doing it again."