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20121104_votebuttonB_photocom78485468_150We in the United States have collectively witnessed events in the past 12 years that were previously unimaginable. An attack from the air, a break in the levees, and now a flood from the beaches have shaken us as a nation and left those not directly affected agonizing over how to provide immediate help to those who were hurting and how to prevent similar events from happening in the future.

There was another historic event, back in 2000, which had the same effect on me as the other three: the 2000 presidential vote. There were weeks of outcome uncertainty due to Election Day irregularities in the state of Florida, settled only by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision divided along the lines of the political parties of the presidents who appointed the justices.

Following that event, some attorneys on the sidelines decided to become actively involved in election law on the side of one or more campaigns. And it certainly looks like 2012 campaign lawyers will be playing prominent roles once voting is concluded ...

Personally, I decided after 2000 to play a neutral but vital role in all future votes close to home by serving as an elections official at my polling place. The work is long (I report before the polls open at 7:00 AM and stay after the polls close at 8:00 PM) and the pay is low (I currently make $105 for the day, which is a fraction of my hourly rate for rendering legal services to clients). But I have had no regrets serving twice a year as an “inspector,” even when the work is much more demanding during a presidential general election that in the other elections.

 

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james steidl /Getty Images
One of the extra demands during presidential general elections is the full complement of registered “poll watchers” that hang around voters and elections workers. They are legally permitted to be within 10 feet of a polling place entrance, unlike reporters and photographers (that was the November 1 ruling of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a lawsuit brought by the Post-Gazette). I just hope this year that they don’t disrupt our work and cause delays for voters.

 

Unfortunately for voters in Pennsylvania, it was almost impossible to avoid having to enter a polling place on Tuesday in order to cast your ballot. It is true that, following the 2000 presidential elections, the percentage of states which legally permit citizen-friendly voting before Election Day has increased dramatically. But for the November 2012 election, Pennsylvania remains 1 of only 15 states which allow neither in-person early voting nor postal no-excuse absentee voting.

That is not to say that the General Assembly hasn’t been busy recently on the subject of election law. You see, Pennsylvania is also one of only 9 states which passed strict voter identification laws. If this law were in effect on November 6, it would have the effect of not only requiring some long-time voters to cast provisional ballots but also lengthening the lines for all voters by slowing down the check-in process.

But Pennsylvania’s strict voter ID law will not be implemented on November 6, thanks to a successful legal challenge brought in state court by attorneys advocating for maximum enfranchisement. So now -- as per the training session I attended last month -- we election workers are supposed to ask voters if they have “an acceptable form of Photo ID” without requiring them to show one before stepping over to the voting machine. By the way, the Post-Gazette unsuccessfully argued that their lawsuit for access was particularly important because of this voter ID “dry run.”

Following the suspension of the voter ID law for this election, Republican governor Tom Corbett’s Department of State continued to run an advertising “educational campaign” that prominently starts out with a series of “voters” loudly proclaiming “Show it!” and holding one photo ID after another into the camera. On November 1, Commonwealth Court found this misleading advertising permissible.

 

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Comstock/Getty Images
Here is my unofficial Pennsylvania voting survivor tip sheet for November 2012:

 

• If you were issued an “excuse” absentee ballot but have not mailed it in, you may still have time to vote. In Allegheny County, a judge extended the deadline to Election Night at 8:00 PM, and Governor Corbett extended the deadline in counties affected by Superstorm Sandy to Election Eve at 5:00 PM. If you can deliver your ballot to the elections office before your new deadline, you should.

• If you vote at a polling place, the old election law photo ID requirement remains in effect for first-time voters. If you have voted previously at the same polling place and cannot locate at home, or realize in line that you forget, your photo ID, no worries: you will be able to vote on Tuesday using a regular ballot.

• If you show up at a polling place and you are certain that you are registered to vote there but your card is not in the registered voter box, make your best case to the elections judge for the issuance of a regular and not a provisional ballot.

• If you moved since the last time you voted and you have not reported a change of address to the elections office, your card may be at your old polling place.

• Decide who you are going to vote for before stepping in front of the machine. It’s OK to vote for only a presidential candidate, but there other office positions up for grabs on November 6, and the long line of people behind you will greatly appreciate it if you make up your mind ahead of time.

• Allow enough time in your schedule. At our polling place in November 2008, the average length of time a voter had to wait in line was one hour. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes, bring along smartphones and MP3 players with earphones for entertainment, and don’t show up hungry, thirsty or tired.

• Also, since all politicking is verboten once voters enter the polling place, leave all candidate hats and signs outside and cover up candidate clothing.

 

2021104_votethink_photocom153811483_150 Cienpies Design/Getty Images
Although the approach of Superstorm Sandy caused a mini-panic by forcing the closure of state liquor stores, Pennsylvania plans to celebrate a win/drown sorrows on Election Day with the responsible consumption of alcohol will not require an advance purchase (unlike in Kentucky and South Carolina).

 

Speaking of win, my polling place on November 6 is Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, located in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. On October 27, Soldiers & Sailors was the venue for Bruce Springsteen’s “special appearance” on behalf of President Obama’s reelection campaign. My final tip is for voters in neighborhoods, town, cities and counties who feel that the candidates you support are in the minority where you are registered. Remember that it is the statewide vote that determines both the Electoral College winner for President and the winner for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. So cast your vote, privately but proudly, and sing to yourself the final words in the final song that Springsteen sang at his October 27 appearance:

It’s a town full of losers
And I’m pulling out of here to win

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Bruce Springsteen in concert, Oct, 27, 2012 at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall.
Jay Hornack photo

(Top image: Comstock/Getty Images )


The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer.

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