Thoughts on being a poll watcher on election day 2012

I have been a lawyer for over 25 years. I have been blessed with representing any number of clients who have a special place in my heart. I have had clients whose financial picture changed because of the results I obtained. I have had clients whose lives have changed because of what I was able to do for them. I thought that these kinds of results would be all that I would see.

Then Election Day 2012 came. Obama v. Romney. Patrick Murphy v. Allen West. I had volunteered for the 2008 and 2010 elections as a poll watcher. My job was to ensure that the election laws were complied with and to assist the poll workers in enforcing or complying with those laws. My 2008 and 2010 duties were pretty boring. In 2008, I was in a fairly large precinct in Lake Worth, Florida, and it had very few problems. In 2010, I was in my home voting precinct in Jupiter.

This year I was assigned to a precinct in Riviera Beach, Florida, a primarily African-American neighborhood. I had a feeling that this assignment was going to be much more interesting because these precincts can be targets for voter suppression or voter challenges. My experience this time was much more rewarding.

First there was Marcus (names have been changed). He was having a communication problem with the poll workers. They told him that his registered address was not in the precinct, therefore he couldn’t vote there. The communication issue came up because he did not explain himself well enough. The workers did not understand that he had moved to the precinct. The workers seemed unsure about the address change policy at the polls. (This was early in the day). In Florida, a voter who moves is permitted to change their address at the polls and vote a regular ballot.

I worked with Marcus and the poll staff to get the address changed. He voted a regular ballot.

There was Lynn. She had the same problem as Marcus, an address change. She had been waiting a very long time and did not seem to be getting an answer. She went out to the parking lot where I talked with her. But before I could do that, I had to answer to Mary (her real name), a local activist who wanted to make sure I was not trying to trick Lynn. (I would later meet Mary’s husband and grandson.) I assured her that I was not and showed her what I was doing.

When Lynn went back to the poll, she knew to ask to change her residence address. The address was changed and she voted a regular ballot.

There was Andre and Linda. They were both registered voters, but the system said they were “ineligible.” Neither one had an disqualifying history. In the parking lot, I explained to them what their rights were. They, like Lynn, waited a long time before they could vote, but they voted a provisional ballot. Their ballots would then be examined, along with the county’s records, and would be counted if found to be valid.

There was #23 (his real number, I think). He was an ex-convict who thought his civil rights were restored many years ago. He remembered that he voted about 10 years ago, but didn’t have any information with him. We encouraged him to have the workers look up his information and, sure enough, he was a registered voter. After he was done voting, he danced. He literally danced.

There was Guy. Guy seemed like a really nice guy. He was being told that he was ineligible to vote. He had a conviction. When I interviewed Guy, I learned that he was arrested before the 2008 election and voted in November. But he was then convicted and did jail time afterwards. He was out and wanted to vote. He didn’t know that his civil rights were not restored. He was disappointed that he couldn’t vote. I felt badly for him.

There was Sheryl. She was told by the Supervisor’s office that they would look into her voter registration issue and call her back if they could straighten it out. I never saw Sheryl again after she left. I hoped that the Supervisor’s office called her.

There was Demi. She had all of her ID stolen except for her Social Security card, she said at first. Without a picture ID, the voter would have had to vote a provisional ballot. I explained to the Deputy Clerk that if Demi had a picture ID with her name on it, along with an ID with her name and signature, she would be able to vote a regular ballot. Demi then produced a school photo ID that had a picture and her name. The Deputy Clerk pieced that together with her Social Security card, with signature, and was satisfied as to her ID. Demi voted a regular ballot.

Some people view voting as a chore. Everyone knows it’s important. But for this neighborhood where I spent the day, it was a joyous occasion. One where neighbors saw neighbors. Teachers saw grown-up students. Families voted together. Parents brought their kids. It was unlike my prior two experiences.

For me, it was a chance to help people exercise their civil right to vote. Several of the people would not have voted if I hadn’t intervened. Through the training I received and my legal training, I was able to recover something for several people that money literally can’t buy, their vote. I wasn’t paid. There was no contingency fee. Just the satisfaction of knowing that my presence in a neighborhood far removed from my own made a difference. I want to keep going back to this neighborhood and do it again.

And if you think for one moment that your vote doesn’t make a difference, think again. The Murphy/West race, as of this post, was separated in Palm Beach county by 11 votes. The other two counties in the race had greater differences, but 11 votes in our County is not much.

That’s the view of one lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida (home of the hanging chad). I’m Marc Dobin.

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