Law school students staff VOTEline during election

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November 7, 2008

3:20 AM

Voters facing difficulties at the polls Tuesday had a lifeline, Marshall-Wythe School of Law students.

Law students were available to answer voters’ questions via phone all day Tuesday, but the calls were not as plentiful as expected. The all-volunteer effort designed to help young and first-time voters was used sparingly by the community and not at all by students.

In total, VOTEline received 10 calls.

VOTEline organizer Kevin Pickens J.D. ’10 said he was not concerned with the lack of calls; because for him it meant people didn’t have questions and that everything at the polls was going well.

“I don’t think it was a lack of getting the number out there,” Pickens said.

The VOTEline number was distributed to students by Student Assembly President Valerie Hopkins ’09 and was displayed on Channel 13 News and the College and Law School websites.

“If there isn’t a call that means things are going smoothly,” Chris Versfelt J.D. ’10 said. Versfelt volunteered at VOTEline for an hour and the phone never rang.

Most volunteers worked one-hour shifts, but some worked for as long as three hours at a time.

VOTEline was established in 2007 prior to the Williamsburg City Council election because a group of undergraduate students were skeptical of the legitimacy of voter turnouts and were concerned about young or first time voters not knowing how to vote, according to John Calabrese J.D. ’09.

Law students decided to set up VOTEline to inform people of their rights. As stated in the VOTEline training manual, volunteers do not offer legal advice or tell people what they should do. It is exclusively an informational service and does not provide legal counsel.

Pickens was expecting more calls this year than during last year’s city council election given the fact that it was a larger election. However, last year a polling place was moved just before the election which resulted in 20 calls, mostly from the community.

This year, the few calls that came in varied in their location and topic.

Pickens described one call about a convicted felon’s voting eligibility. The caller was not a convicted felon but was considering challenging another’s vote. A felon can vote upon following a certain process, and the caller was told to contact state authorities.

Another call involved a person distributing candy and flyers outside of a polling place. Virginia law requires campaigners to be at least 40 feet from any polling place. The caller estimated that the campaigner was about 100 feet from the building; as such, the action was deemed legal.

A caller from Norfolk who was using a special large print ballot, there is typically provided to voters who are visually impaired, claimed Obama’s name was on a page all by itself in font much larger than that of the other candidates. This caller was told to report the incident to the Norfolk registrar.

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