Rutgers Law students are supporting voters this election season by helping people register to vote, serving as poll watchers, and representing voters in court who have been turned down at the polls.
To encourage New Jersey residents to vote in the upcoming midterm elections in November, some Rutgers Law students in Camden, who participate in the Law School’s Voter Rights Project, held registration drives at the Rutgers‒Camden Campus Center and in the surrounding Camden community, registering nearly 100 voters.
At the Camden County Correctional Facility, students assisted people who have gone through the criminal justice system to register to vote. Eligible voters include people who’ve been charged with a crime, but haven’t been convicted; individuals who were convicted of a felony and have completed their prison sentence, probation and/or parole; and anyone serving a sentence for a misdemeanor. Some 130 people attended the voter registration information session, with 29 people registering to vote.
“I strongly believe in the importance of people being aware of their right to vote,” says Mark Tambussi, a 2L from Haddonfield, N.J.
And law student efforts will continue into Election Day.
Clinical students at Rutgers Law School in Newark will support voters at the Veterans Courthouse at the Essex County Court complex, who have been turned down at the polls. The students will represent them for free before a Superior Court judge.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.
Students from the Constitutional Law Clinic, International Human Rights Clinic, and other clinics, are providing this service as part of the Voting Rights Project, which was started decades ago by the Constitutional Rights Clinic to educate and assist residents of Essex County.
“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.
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.
“We will represent voters, go before judges and make applications for court orders allowing people to vote,” said Alexis Karteron, Director of the Constitutional Rights Clinic in Newark. The law students will be accompanied by a Rutgers Law professor throughout the day.
Professor Penny Venetis, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic 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.”
Students from Rutgers Law School in Camden will also work closely with the Camden County Board of Elections as nonpartisan polling observers while some of the upperclassmen students are officially recognized by the local Board of Elections as election "deputies," who will help resolve issues at polling places in the City of Camden. The student poll observers and workers are members of the Rutgers Association for Public Interest Law.
Jill Friedman, Associate Dean for Pro Bono and Public Interest in Camden, said, "Never in modern history has it been more important to protect every American’s right to vote. Our students’ efforts to register voters – particularly voters in jail, most of whom have never registered before and often aren’t aware that they can vote – are critical. Likewise, our unique partnership with the Camden County Board of Elections, which credentials our students as poll observes and deputizes some to resolve voting issues on the spot, provides a fuller measure of democracy for Camden voters."
The Rutgers Law Library has also created an online voting guide for New Jersey voters that gives basic voting rights information for the public.