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Rutgers Law Students Offer Pro Bono Help to Voters on Election Day

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Prof. Alexis Karteron helps student volunteers who are working with the Voter Assistance Project.

If an Essex County resident goes to vote on Election Day and gets turned down at the polls, that voter can get free legal assistance from students at Rutgers Law School in Newark.

In a tradition that’s gone on for at least a decade,  Rutgers Law students will assist voters on Election Day, November 8, by accompanying them to court for free to plead their case before a Superior Court judge.

“I think it’s important for a law school to offer this kind of service,” said Rutgers Law Professor Alexis Karteron, who directs the Constitutional Rights Clinic. “It’s important because the right to vote is sacrosanct.”

Essex County residents who are not permitted to vote at their polling site have two choices, explained Rutgers Law Professor Charles Auffant, of the Community and Transactional Lawyering Clinic. That voter can vote with a provisional ballot –which may or may not be counted-or that voter can appear before a judge and request a Court Order that he or she be allowed to vote at a polling place. Auffant added that help may also be available for voters who are not registered but should have been, including those who visited the Department of Motor Vehicles but were not offered the opportunity to register.

Rutgers Law students who are part of the Voter Assistance Project, will assist voters for free, a service that the law school has been providing to local residents for nearly a decade.

“When it comes to making a difference in policy, legislation, and even the daily lives of citizens there is no right more fundamental than the right to vote, and having an opportunity to ensure individuals feel empowered to make that difference is critical to democracy,” said Annabel Pollioni, a third-year law student volunteer. “This project allows law students, like myself, to foster a greater responsibility for our community by engaging with our neighbors to protect their ability to cast a vote on election day.”

Auffant recalled that there were so many people seeking to vote in the 2008 General Election, that students worked from 9 a.m. until the polls closed at 8 p.m. With this year’s contentious presidential election, students may also find there is a strong need for advocacy for voters seeking to exercise their right to vote.

And to make it easier for frustrated voters, Rutgers Law students will be located at the Essex County Court Complex in Newark where voters have to go to make their appeal. “We will represent voters, go before judges and make applications for court orders allowing people to vote,” said Karteron. The law students will be accompanied by a Rutgers Law professor throughout the day.

Citizens denied the right to vote who elect to appear before a judge must proceed to the Superintendent of Elections Office at the Hall of Records to be heard by a Superior Court Judge. The appeals are heard in the Veterans Courthouse and the Historic Courthouse in Newark.

Leslyn Moore, a third-year law student, will be one of the election volunteers this November. She said, “As a third-year student in the clinic, I receive the rare opportunity to stand before a judge and argue on behalf of a voter on Election Day. I believe it is an absolute privilege to assist residents in protecting their right to vote in this manner. The voter assistance project is also unique because it empowers voters to raise their political voice and lawfully challenge a denial of the fundamental right to vote. It is important for residents to know their rights on Election Day because there are situations where election officials erroneously conclude that voters are ineligible to vote. There are relevant federal and state statutes, as well as judicial opinions, that uphold the right to vote in a number of circumstances.”

This legal service is provided through the Voting Rights Project, which was started by the Constitutional Rights Clinic to educate and assist residents of Essex County. This year, law students from the Constitutional Rights Clinic will be accompanied by law students from the Community and Transactional Lawyering Clinic to represent voters.