Election Day 2000 was the first time Emily Kane and Erin Ford were eligible to vote. The chaos of that election was repeated somewhat in 2004, and in 2008, the two third-year law students at the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law decided to act. The friends started the Southern Arizona Election Protection Team as part of a national program that included the American Bar Association. As a result, more than 100 local law students went out Nov. 4 to observe elections and to answer voter and poll-worker questions. For more information, go to 866ourvote.com.
How did this idea start between you two?
Erin: Emily's background is in social justice, and with me, it's campaigns and politics, so we are very passionate about voting. In early September, Emily approached me about elections protection and (said) that our community is ripe for this kind of program. We started looking for a nonpartisan organization, which was very important to us; the school felt it was able to participate as well if it was nonpartisan. So we started looking for an organization to support us, and the Lawyers' Committee (for Civil Rights Under Law) and the (ABA have) been amazing in supporting us in this process.
What inspired you to care about elections?
Emily: It's interesting that for both of us, the first election we were able to participate in was in 2000, and that's true for most of the people at this time who are in their late-20s. But I think most of us would find it important even if we hadn't seen an example of such problems, simply because we are learning about democracy, learning about access. ... We understand the system isn't perfect, but there is room for people to be there watching it and making sure the system is at its best.
What was it about this election that you were concerned about?
Erin: We knew that a record number of people were heading out to vote. The poll workers would be stressed and would be overwhelmed. We knew that getting 80 to 100 students together would be of assistance in the process and make it better and really be helpful in dealing with issues in this election.
How many precincts did you watch?
Erin: At least 50 precincts with full-time coverage, and then (we) dispatched as calls came out, and we had floaters and people working in shifts.
Pima County was onboard with the project?
Emily: Obviously, it was a very, very busy time for the county, but ... a local law firm bridged the connection between our volunteers and the county. They knew we would be there.
The poll workers responded well?
Erin: I think because we are nonpartisan, they were amenable in a lot of places and referred to us and asked us questions.
Emily: They would proactively come out and ask for someone to ask (a law student) about things like the ID law: "Are we allowed to use passports?" Our volunteers were trained to say, "Passports are not acceptable under the current ID laws."
When you got calls on the phone lines, what were the problems you heard about?
Emily: I think a lot of people were concerned about why they had to vote with a provisional ballot, and if they had been given a provisional ballot properly. We had a number of calls from people feeling that they had been improperly purged from the rolls, and (concerning) change of addresses when they had never asked for an address change. But a lot of the work we did was simply logistical--like people being in the wrong precincts--and we were able to get on the right Web sites and help people figure out where they needed to go.
Will this program continue at the UA?
Erin: At least during every federal (election), so at least every two years.
Why do think it was important to watch polls right now?
Emily: Even if we had 100 percent accuracy, and all voters had unobstructed access to the polls, I think it is still important to have individuals out there monitoring.
How many people do you think you helped? How many phone calls?
Erin: In Pima County, we heard from about 150 people just that day. Outside of that, the line is still open (866-OUR-VOTE), and for the state of Arizona, we got about 1,300 calls. That's pretty great, and I think there were 43,000 calls nationwide.