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
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
"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