A New Approach to Election Protection

October 22, 2020
Carrico Center continues partnership to connect students with opportunities to support voters

In a more traditional election year, the first Tuesday in November would bring a frenzy of energy and activity to the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition command center in downtown Richmond. Students, lawyers, and volunteers would gather to support the statewide poll monitor program (run by the Virginia Civic Engagement Table (VCET)), and the national voter protection hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE (run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law). The command center team would be equipped with laptops and phones at the ready to support voters encountering problems at the polls and challenges with the election process.

Amidst this year’s pandemic, the scenario will be a bit different. Most of the Election Protection efforts are taking place virtually, and an influx of calls are coming in to the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline in advance of Election Day as citizens navigate early and absentee voting processes. But one thing that won’t change this year is the Carrico Center for Pro Bono & Public Service’s partnership with the Lawyers’ Committee, VCET, and Election Protection to connect students with service opportunities surrounding the voting process.

The Carrico Center first joined with the Lawyer’s Committee to support election protection efforts in 2012. “No matter where you are on the political spectrum, voting access and rights are important, and we should protect them,” explained Tara Casey, director of the Carrico Center. And as future lawyers, “we are viewed as being defenders of our system of government, and we need to protect it,” she added.

Kyle Durch, L’22, is one of the students volunteering through the project. After going through an online training process, Durch volunteers to work four-hour shifts, during which he answers calls to the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, are routed to his computer. Typical questions involve registration status, voting deadlines, requests for absentee ballots, and reports of long lines or voting machine failures.

Durch was first drawn to volunteer for the program because he wanted to get involved in the election, and appreciated the Lawyers Committee’s non-partisan approach. “The goal is to protect the right to vote, whether the threat is an obscured process, rapidly-changing laws and requirements, or simply innocent ignorance of the process,” he said. On a recent call, Durch connected with a Vietnam War veteran who didn’t have transportation to his polling location. “I talked him through how absentee ballots worked, and I think we solved his problems,” said Durch. “For me, personally, as a veteran myself, it’s nice to have that conversation,” he added. “It does feel pretty rewarding, [to be able to help someone] on the spot.”

That call to be of service is a common trait when it comes to Richmond Law students. As Casey put it, “Our students are still showing up for service, and I’m just heartened by that.”