Students Apply Legal Knowledge to Protect Voters' Rights

Students and faculty at American University Washington College of Law teamed up during the 2012 election season to inform and protect voters as they exercised their fundamental right at the polls. 

As experts predicted a tight presidential race, faculty members and students stood ready to educate the community about voter identification laws.  

“The Center’s interest in this is that anyone who is eligible to vote is able to vote for any candidate they choose and that their vote is duly counted.”

The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law and the Program on Law & Government hosted a lunchtime panel discussion entitled “Human Rights Perspectives on U.S. Elections: Free and Fair?” The non-partisan event featured Patrick Merloe, senior associate and director of electoral programs of the National Democratic Institute, and Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The panelists spoke about the universal right to political opinion, fairness of the political process, discriminatory voter identification laws, and efforts to disenfranchise voters.  Hadar Harris, executive director of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law and moderator of the discussion, said the Center is interested in ensuring that people understand that there are international standards on free and fair elections. 

“Our hope and desire is that the U.S. will abide by those standards in the upcoming election,” Harris said.  “The Center’s interest in this is that anyone who is eligible to vote is able to vote for any candidate they choose and that their vote is duly counted.”

“Misinformation is the big issue—many people are unaware of what types of ID they need.”

Students at the law school have organized several two-hour election protection trainings so that participants will have the necessary information to inform voters of the current voter identification laws at the polls. This year law students are headed to Virginia to poll-watch because it has been identified as a state with the highest need. 

Virginia recently changed its voter ID laws requiring voters to now show a form of ID before they cast their ballot.

According to Jay Shannon, 2L and co-director of American University Washington College of Law's election protection effort, some voters do not know what forms of identification are acceptable. 

“Misinformation is the big issue,” Shannon said.  “On election day a lot of voters will come to the polls and not understand the intricacies of the laws that were passed in the last two years.  Many people are unaware of what types of ID they need.” 

“We hope that by learning about election protection, students will be connected to voting and will share that with their peers.”

The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also provides nonpartisan election protection training at the law school. Meredith McCoy, election protection legal fellow at the Lawyer’s Committee, said students at the law school are great resources because they are willing to go above and beyond to assist voters.

“This year, more than years in the past, we’re seeing an incredible number of barriers to voting for students and other members of the community,” said McCoy.  “We hope that by learning about election protection and the importance of voting that students will be connected to voting their entire lives, and will be able to share that with their peers.”

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