UNC Hotline Fields Record Number of Calls on Election Day

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Election Protection

More than 40 volunteers at UNC School of Law fielded 928 phone calls on Election Day, Nov. 4, as part of the national, non-partisan Election Protection Hotline. The UNC Center for Civil Rights coordinated the effort to answer questions and address concerns from voters and poll monitors for the 13 hours that polls were open. The UNC office is the only N.C.-based hub for the Election Protection Hotline.

Through the program, trained law students and staff provided voters with information to help them understand their voting rights. Statewide calls were routed to Chapel Hill through the national Election Protection system. The call volume was high for a mid-term election, according to Jennifer Marsh, a staff member at the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

“The number of calls this year was higher than the number we received during the last mid-term election and comparable to the call volume during the last presidential election,” Marsh says.

Mark Dorosin, lead attorney at the center, attributed the increased call volume to the recent change in voting laws in North Carolina after the passage of N.C. House Bill 589.

“Since the last election, voting laws have changed regarding provisional ballots and the ability to vote in a different precinct,” Dorosin says. “There was a combination of factors: in some cases people showed up to vote at the wrong precinct and stood in long lines before being told they couldn’t vote at that particular location. Additionally, some polling places were understaffed and overwhelmed by voter turnout, which led to miscommunications and misunderstandings.”

Dorosin added that another result of seemingly understaffed or under resourced polling locations was an uptick in calls to the hotline regarding accessibility for voters with disabilities. “We had multiple reports of inadequate signage and significant delays related to voters with disabilities,” Dorosin says.

Hotline volunteers participated in a two-hour training program run by UNC Center for Civil Rights staff. The training is a basic primer on national and N.C. election law and also explains the logistics of taking a call and entering information in a national database to be monitored for trends. Volunteers are supplied with resources for answering questions related to polling places, voter registration status, and even what kind of voting machines are being used in different counties. For more complicated questions, center staff and other volunteer attorneys advise students answering calls from voters.

Students from the UNC Pro Bono Program and the Black Law Students Association help with the complicated logistics of planning and staffing the hotline. Shifts are two hours each, and many volunteers work multiple shifts. The hotline is one of the law school’s most popular pro bono opportunities.

"Out of all of the pro bono projects I have completed, Election Protection was a fast and easy way to provide instant assistance," says Hillary Dawe 2L. "On a day that was already so exciting for the community, I loved being a part of the excitement at UNC and developing my legal skills at the same time."

The UNC Center for Civil Rights has coordinated the hotline every election year since 2004. Dorosin says it is an enduring and important priority for the Center.

“The ability to participate in the political process is one of the most fundamental civil rights that we all share,” UNC Center for Civil Rights Director Ted Shaw says. “Ensuring that everyone who is eligible to vote can cast a ballot that will be counted is foundational for ensuring equal protection in our community.”

Election Protection is a coalition of state and national allies working to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Voters anywhere can call 1.866.OUR.VOTE (866.687.8683) or 1.888.VE.Y.VOTA (888.839.8682) with questions about their rights and the voting process.

-November 14, 2014

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