By Brenda Hernandez • November 14, 2012•Writers in Residence
We all become lawyers for different reasons. One of the main reasons I became a lawyer was to gain the tools to help people and effect change in the world. On Tuesday, November 6, Election Day 2012, I had that opportunity. Throughout this election cycle I heard about the various states and organization that were making it their goal to suppress the vote on Election Day. I knew that I had to help protect the right that so many had fought to gain and some had died to protect.
My boyfriend and I went to 866ourvote.org to sign up to be poll watchers. There was one section for me as a lawyer and a separate section for him as a grassroots organizer. I then went to training led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. During the training they explained that you did not need to be a lawyer in order to be a poll observer, however by being a lawyer it gives us the unique advantage of understanding laws and the familiarity with explaining laws to others. I felt a sense of pride at being able to not only read and understand these laws but have the confidence to explain them. However, we were told that on Election Day we should not tell people we are attorneys, but tell them that we are non-partisan poll observers. We didn’t want to influence the voters in any way since to some individuals just the title of "lawyer" places us in a position of power.
The organization stationed me in a zone in Roxbury, MA. The opportunity to observe was an amazing experience. The poll stations I observed were run entirely by people of color and the majority of voters were also people of color. It was inspiring to see a community that is often misrepresented as apathetic come together. It was moving to see so many people waiting in line to vote, and, for the most part, not complaining. The staff at each station was very welcoming. At my first station, the workers cheered every time a first time voter submitted her ballot. Luckily, there were no major problems at either of the two polling stations I observed. Although there were no issues for me to report, I hope that my presence gave the voters a sense of security.
Being a lawyer gives us the key to open so many different doors. Participating in election protection was another one of these opportunities. Participating as a poll watcher gave me the chance to combine my civic duty with my lawyerly skills. Witnessing the electoral process from the ground, instead of on CNN, was great and will be one of the reasons I will never forget Election Day 2012.