Adjunct Professor Jerry Goldfeder, along with NYU Law Professor Myrna Pérez, discusses the ongoing battle to protect the right to vote in their column on election law for The New York Law Journal.
Efforts to advise voters as to how to navigate procedural obstacles has been going on for several presidential cycles. The aggressive recruitment of poll workers by nongovernmental organizations is relatively new, however. The reason is simple. Under normal circumstances, there is increased turnout during presidential elections. Americans from across the country have experienced at times long lines, less-than-optimal polling place conditions, and the frustration with overworked poll workers. During the pandemic, these inefficiencies are exacerbated by the fact that many elderly poll workers at risk are declining to fill their usual roles. As a result, there is a real need for additional poll workers for early voting and Election Day. And because of the huge numbers of mail-in voting that will surely occur, election administrators will need extra personnel to process applications, mailing absentee ballots and canvassing these votes.
Voting rights advocates are, unfortunately, used to having to defend a free and fair electoral system. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, various states have enacted restrictive voting laws. And jurisdictions are still purging voters from the rolls. Accurate voter list maintenance is obviously important, but the possibility that eligible voters are removed from the rolls needs to be minimized. Poll workers need to ensure that if a purged voter shows up to vote, they must be allowed to cast a “provisional ballot,” per federal requirements (it’s called an Affidavit Ballot in New York). Although this process is an important failsafe, it does not always function as such for a variety of reasons.