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Mass. ACLU Training Thousands Of Nonpartisan Poll Watchers

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ACLU of Massachusetts

As America gears up for Election Day on Tuesday, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says the most important aspect is that voters have faith in the process. WAMC spoke with Carol Rose about the group’s efforts to train nonpartisan poll watchers to ensure that the election is carried out with integrity.

ROSE: A poll watcher, as opposed to a partisan poll monitor who may work for one of the two parties, a nonpartisan poll watcher who's trained up by the ACLU, along with our coalition partners, are nonpartisan. And those partners include League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, ADL, etcetera. And so- and MassVOTE. So we have a whole group of coalition partners who are working and training up poll watchers across the Commonwealth. Almost 2000 people have already taken our training and there's still opportunities for people to sign up for Election Day monitoring. So these nonpartisan poll watchers basically are going to just serve as our eyes and ears on the ground to call into the Election Protection hotline if they see something going on the ground that appears to be voter intimidation, or any kind of problems – there could be a mechanical breakdown of the voting machines or something – so that we can make sure that the local officials on the ground are able to respond and ensure that we have a smooth election.

WAMC: On either side of the aisle, there's been a lot of concern around voter suppression during this election cycle. From your vantage point at the ACLU, are those concerns that you hold personally, or organizationally, speaking? And if so, in what ways are they manifesting?

Oh, my goodness, yeah, there are so many efforts to try to suppress the vote across the country. Not so much here in Massachusetts, we're lucky that way. But in the battleground states, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, because we have an office in all 50 states, we're really involved in the courts right now challenging efforts to intimidate or to depress the vote with things like ID requirements or signature requirements, or how many ballots- you can't drop off somebody else's ballot for them, if they're infirm. Those kinds of things in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, those are the battleground states where the ACLU lawyers have already been in the courts. We've already filed more than 30 lawsuits challenging voter suppression techniques in those states. And then in addition to that, like here in Massachusetts, this national election protection coalition is working nationwide to make sure that there are people out monitoring the right to vote and making sure that every vote counts.

Now, one ACLU undertaking is a “Know Your Rights” campaign for voters this election cycle. What are the key voting rights voters should know going to the polls or voting from home this fall?

Right. So you know, a lot of things is to make sure that you- Right now, we're getting late in the game to be able to mail in your ballot. So if possible, you should go down and vote early in person. Voting early is good, because you'll avoid any lines or anything. If you've received a ballot, because you've requested a ballot and you've received the ballot, you can either take it down to a drop box or you can actually go to your polling place as an early voter. And as long as you haven't already sent in your, you know, mail-in ballot, you can actually turn it in and say, “I've decided instead of mailing it in or dropping it off, I'd like to vote in person.” And that's an option that people have. But also just dropping it off in the drop boxes near your polling place. You can go to the Secretary of State's office here in Massachusetts and find out where a local drop box is near you. And then just go ahead and exercise your right to vote as soon as you can. And that way, we'll avoid the problem of delay. The other thing I just think it's important for everybody to know is that there's a very good chance that at least in some of the states, we're not going to have a total election tally on Election Day. It may be too early to be able to declare the election, but that doesn't mean that there's been election fraud of any kind. You know, we don't really have in this country- You have almost a history of almost no problems with the, you know, voter fraud. That's never really been an issue. Voter intimidation has been an issue, but voter fraud hasn't been. So I think it's important for elected officials to reassure members of the public that voter fraud really isn't a problem in the United States, and that groups like the ACLU and our coalition partners in the Election Protection coalition are taking steps to make sure that everyone is able to vote and no one should be afraid to go to the polls.

There's been a lot of concern about how President Trump might respond to the outcome of the election. Does the ACLU have a game plan for a worst case scenario for democracy?

Yeah, absolutely. So the ACLU has been, across the country, has been working through various scenarios of things that could happen post-election. Again, you know, we're hopeful that we'll have a clean and a free and fair election, there won't be a problem. But in the event that there is, we have attorneys across the country who are prepared to step forward and to make sure that whatever happens, the right- Not only will we want everyone to have the right to vote, we want to make sure everybody is counted, and that the votes that are counted, the people who they, whoever the popular vote, whoever wins that should be able to then assume office without any violence. So that's what we're paying attention to. And there are so many scenarios, as I'm sure your listeners have heard, that are being played out across the country. So, like with other groups, we're playing out all the various potential scenarios in the hopes that we're not going to have to exercise our advocacy work, that we're going to have a free, fair election and a smooth transition of power, whoever wins.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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