Why I Volunteer for Election Protection
My parents always taught me that voting was an important fundamental right. I remember being so excited to vote in my first presidential election the year I turned 18. I learned over the years that being black and a woman meant something important with regard to voting. I knew that the struggle to vote was historic and often painful, and that the right to vote was something to be cherished, exercised, and protected. For these reasons, I take pride in volunteering each election to protect the vote for my fellow citizens.
The first time I volunteered was in 2004. We were still stinging from the Bush v. Gore "hanging chad" debacle where thousands of people were denied their right to vote. I wanted to help make sure that did not happen again, so I signed up to work with Election Protection. That Tuesday in November, I stood outside a polling location in St. Louis City. It was cold and dreary, but people were lined up all day to vote. That day, I helped dozens of people with voting-related issues. Some were told they didn’t have proper identification, others were told they were at the wrong polling location, and others were told they couldn’t vote at all. I was initially afraid that I wouldn’t know how to help people, but the devastation and frustration on their faces when they faced these issues was heartbreaking and empowered me to make a difference. Ultimately, they were grateful someone was there to help, because all they truly wanted to do was vote.
I have volunteered to protect the polls since then, and have found each instance to be a very rewarding experience. Whether I was outside in my own neighborhood, or on a campus in Iowa, the energy surrounding the election was exhilarating. Each time I volunteered, I knew my presence made a difference in the way the election was conducted, in the way voters were treated, and in the experience voters had when they were faced with a problem.
AAJ's Voter Protection Action Committee is where members can go to find ways to help protect voters' rights. Volunteering for VPAC is so easy, and walking away when the polling location closes knowing you made an impact in someone’s life is the best feeling ever. People rely on us lawyers to protect their rights every day—their right to trial by jury, and the right to bring a lawsuit when they are injured. The right to vote is no different. We have a duty and a fundamental obligation to protect the right to vote.
Join me this Election Day by signing up to work the polls with VPAC at www.justice.org/vpac. I promise you won’t regret it.
Jackie Olinger is an attorney based in St. Louis, Missouri. She co-chairs AAJ's VPAC committee, is a member of AAJ's Board of Governors, and is the past chair of the Minority Caucus and the New Lawyers Division.