Big Law attorneys by the hundreds are staffing phone lines and fielding complaints in pro bono efforts to ensure voters’ rights are upheld in tomorrow’s midterm elections.
Latham & Watkins and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison are sponsoring fellows to work on voting-rights issues. Reed Smith, Hogan Lovells, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, Troutman Pepper, and Blank Rome lawyers, in addition to attorneys from many other firms, are hosting or staffing call centers that field complaints about voting difficulties.
“This election is unlike any other midterm I’ve seen,” said Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith counsel Jeffrey Wilhelm. “There are higher levels of interest, concern, and angst.”
The activities show firms are going beyond campaign donations to have an impact on tomorrow’s election. Lawyers gave $130 million to candidates and groups so far this cycle—down about 30% from the 2018 midterms—with more than three quarters of it to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Reed Smith will host a call center geared toward voters in western Pennsylvania, a state where US Senate candidates John Fetterman, a Democrat, and Mehmet Oz, a Republican, are in a tight race, polls show.
Volunteers will field calls on everything from finding voting locations to allegations of voter intimidation. The call centers are a project of nonprofits including Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to fight racial discrimination.
More than 20 large US firms will host, or help staff, Lawyers’ Committee-backed call centers, both in-person and remotely. Hogan Lovells, Troutman Pepper and Blank Rome are participating in Pennsylvania centers, said Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union branch, which is also backing the effort.
“It’s really important to have lawyers to staff the hotlines and command centers,” she said.
Big Law firms have committed to other types of voting rights-related pro bono efforts, and sometimes paid work, on voter turnout efforts.
Latham has sponsored two fellows through Equal Justice Works, a group formed by law students in 1986 to promote public service and access to legal services regardless of income. Their fellowships are with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice respectively.
The group has seen increased interest from firms in recent years “to ensure every eligible voter is able to meaningfully access and exercise their right to vote,” said Kristen Uhler-McKeown, vice president of fellowships at Equal Justice Works.
Paul Weiss is working with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to respond to potential voter suppression in a number of southern states, the firm said in a statement.
Pro bono leaders from several firms said they were overseeing from about 60 to more than 200 volunteers during 2022 elections.
Lawyers said there is particular need for their services this year. With political extremism on the rise, voters and election officials could be subjected to boosted levels of harassment and intimidation—spurring the need for legally trained monitors and advocates.
There are certain recurring questions lawyers field on hotline calls, said Harlene Katzman, pro bono counsel and director at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, which is is hosting election protection call centers. Those include queries about broken voting machines and long lines, she said.
Reed Smith’s Wilhelm said, “What we’re concerned about is that individuals get into the voting booth and get to vote their conscience, no matter who they’re voting for.”
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