Playing Legal Advocate
- by Georgette Chapman Phillips
Even if you lived under a rock, you could not escape the November election fervor. Well, at least I couldn’t. Every time I turned on the TV or listened to the radio, I heard someone badmouthing someone else, like school kids protecting their playground turf. Even though I ultimately tuned out the name calling, I take the electoral process very seriously. I do my candidate research, I encourage others to vote regardless of their party and I volunteer my time to make sure that everyone has the right to exercise this privilege.
This year was no exception to that rule. I dusted off my law degree, did a little legal refresher on voter rights and was out the door before the sun was up on November 2. I was an official with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Voter Protection Unit, authorized to tour polling stations to ensure they were upholding the law and properly reporting votes. I was proud to be contributing to the democratic process, and I was ready for others to clap me on the back and say, “Welcome! We’re so glad you’re here to help.” Boy was I naïve. From 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. I was yelled at, aggressively questioned and verbally berated by people working the voting locations and by people representing the candidates.
My first experience on Tuesday was a candidate representative screaming in my face after I asked him to please move 10 feet from the building where people were going to cast their vote. It was hard to keep my voice calm as he demanded to see the law stating the mandatory distance. The “fun” didn’t stop there, as I was barked at by a polling official who told me I had no right to look at the working condition of the machines. The good times continued as I dealt with the person who refused to display the absentee ballots as directed by law. After a while the whole day turned into a blur of driving (thank goodness for GPS!) and intervening. All I know is that by 7 p.m., I was exhausted.
Am I going to do this again next year? Absolutely. What would have happened if my colleagues and I hadn’t been pounding the pavement to ensure everyone’s voice was heard? It was tiring to deal with riled up people for 12 hours, but I believe it is essential that we all be educated about the laws surrounding elections. Maybe next time, I’ll work on getting the percentage of Pennsylvanians who vote to rise above 50 percent.