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

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Rutgers Law School Professor Penny Venetis, left, trains students Emma Pallarino '20 and Shayan Mirzahaidar '19 about how to help voters on Election Day.

NEWARK, N.J.‑‑ 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 a tradition that’s gone on for decades, Rutgers Law students will assist voters on Election Day, November 6, by accompanying them to court for free to represent them before a Superior Court judge.

Students from the Constitutional Law Clinic, International Human Rights Clinic, and other clinics, are providing this service as part of the Voter Assistance Project, a service that the law school has been providing to local residents for around 30 years, ever since the Constitutional Rights Clinic was established at the law school.

“The Voter Assistance Program has a nearly 100 percent effectiveness rate.  Students and faculty members have been successful in making sure that voters who are entitled to vote can cast their ballots on Election Day, using methods that ensure that their votes will be counted,” said Professor Penny Venetis, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic.

“Helping others exercise their right to vote is our civic duty. This is an invaluable opportunity to engage with members of the community and defend their constitutional right to vote,” said student Maryanne Abdelmesih ’20.

 “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. 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.

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.

“The students that we train through the Voter Assistance Project learn how to use the law as a tool for social change.  When they obtain a court order allowing a voter to vote, they see what a huge difference lawyers can make in the lives of individuals whose civil rights and human rights have been violated,” said Venetis.

With heavy attention on the midterm elections, students may also find there is a strong need for advocacy for voters this fall.

Venetis said, “Voters are being disenfranchised at record levels throughout our country.  It is critical for all of our law students to be trained to represent voters who have been wrongfully turned away from the polls, and have been improperly told that they cannot cast their ballots.  Students that we train can continue to represent voters in this way for their entire professional careers.”

And to make it easier for frustrated voters, Rutgers Law students will be located at the Essex County Court Complex in Newark. “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.

“I believe people should vote because the current political climate continues to illustrate the crucial need for a reshaping of the American political landscape. I’m happy to help people exercise their right to vote because the results of this midterm election will play an important role in helping make this change possible,” said student Vivan Isaboke ’20.

To speak with any of the clinic students or professors before Election Day, reach out to Rutgers Law School Director of Communications Elizabeth Moore at 973-353-5553 or e.moore@law.rutgers.edu