On the most recent episode of Amicus, Dahlia Lithwick spoke with Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and professor Samuel Bagenstos of the University of Michigan School of Law about the unique voting rights landscape of 2020. They focused on the key lawsuits making their way through the courts as we count down to November, but they also discussed what the average voter can and should be doing to prepare for this messy election season. Their advice has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Dahlia Lithwick: Kristen, how do folks plan? I’ve heard you saying all spring, “You need a plan. You can’t think of this for the first time on Nov. 2.” You’re doing the work in the trenches of filing these suits and fighting for voting rights, but what should individual voters be doing different this year? What should the plan be and what are the resources they can look to if they don’t have a plan right now?
Kristen Clarke: So the first thing is making sure that you’re registered to vote and everyone around you is registered to vote. Making sure that you are active, that you’re getting all of the mailings from your local election official. And you can do that by calling your local elections office. You can also do that by calling our Election Protection hotline. But what we’re really trying to get people to do is to not see Nov. 3 as Election Day but to really view October as election month. This is the time where people should really be activating and making a plan for how they intend to vote. Do you want to vote absentee in your state? What are the rules and requirements? What are the timelines by which you’ve got to request your ballot? When do you have to return the ballot? Figure all of that out.
Is early voting available in your state and when? Make a plan for when you’re going to go out and safely and securely cast your ballot during early voting. And if you’re somebody who’s going to wait to vote on Election Day, well, that’s fine. Do you know where your polling site is? Because there’ve been a lot of changes and a lot of polling site consolidations. In a couple of cities, there are actually plans to use sporting arenas for voting, which is neat, but it means that people need to do some work in advance to just know what the game plan should look like on Election Day.
At the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, we are working every single day to help people overcome the barriers they face. We’re fighting voter suppression, we’re answering questions about absentee voting, you name it. Our goal is to make sure that everyone has a voice in our democracy. And the program came about in the wake of Bush v. Gore. It came about when we realized there are a lot of breaks in the system and we need a nonpartisan space where people can bring forth complaints and get access to accurate nonpartisan information. And here we are in a season where I think that again rings true.
Sam, do you have anything to add in terms of how people can just do the nitty-gritty work of getting their vote counted?
Samuel Bagenstos: I would just endorse everything Kristen just said. The idea of not an Election Day but an election month, and vote as early in the month as possible. I also think for those people who are comfortable doing it, volunteering to work as poll workers is going to be really important. There are, as Kristen said, going to be socially distanced polling places, often using stadiums and sports arenas as polling places. But we know a lot of people are still going to show up and vote in person, and we need to make sure that those people don’t have to wait in lines forever. And so if there are folks who can and feel comfortable with volunteering to work as poll workers to enable that process to happen, I think that’s super important as well.