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Civil Rights Organization Develops Election Protection Opportunities

This year’s historic elections have generated an excitement about and interest in voting and produced record voter turnout across the country. The increased interest in voting demonstrated in this year’s primaries is exciting to anyone with a passion for civics, but it also clearly delineated the strains of the United States’ overburdened election systems. With an increase in voter interest and registration, the risk of wrongful disenfranchisement also increases. A prominent civil rights organization has initiated election protection efforts that provide a timely, unique, and civic pro bono opportunity.

In January 2008, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) announced its Asian American Election Protection Project for the 2008 Presidential Primary Elections. Attorneys, law students, and community volunteers covered one hundred poll sites in four states where Asian language voter assistance was provided and where Asian Americans reported voting barriers or intimidation in past elections. AALDEF monitored elections in February for language assistance (ballots, interpreters, signs and voting materials) and non-discriminatory implementation of voter identification requirements. Volunteers speaking Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese were at poll sites to take complaints from voters about election irregularities and other obstacles. AALDEF also operated a toll-free Election Day Hotline and provided an email address for election complaints.

AALDEF has also released a report detailing incidents of anti-Asian voter disenfranchisement in the 2006 elections. The National Co-Sponsors of this report include the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – with whom AALDEF is working on current voter protection efforts, Shearman & Sterling LLP – a Charter Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP – a Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member. Glenn D. Magpantay, AALDEF staff attorney, noted, “In the 2006 midterm elections, Asian Americans had to overcome numerous obstacles to exercise their right to vote. AALDEF will guard against the disenfranchisement of new citizens and limited English proficient voters.”

As mentioned in another story in this issue of the Wire, the Pro Bono Institute also offers a webinar for those interested in participating election protection efforts.