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Hundreds Of Mass. Volunteer Poll Monitors Ready For Election Day04:24
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A voter marks his ballot inside a voting booth at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary February in Nashua. (David Goldman/AP)
A voter marks his ballot inside a voting booth at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary February in Nashua. (David Goldman/AP)

A nonpartisan Boston-based organization is training election protection volunteers to monitor the voting process across the country on Election Day.

Given the heated political rhetoric ahead of Nov. 8, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice says it's seeing increased desire from folks wanting to get involved, including here in Massachusetts.

At a recent packed, all-ages training session at Harvard Law School, Sophia Hall detailed volunteer poll monitoring.

Hall is a staff attorney with the Lawyers' Committee and is coordinating the volunteers in collaboration with local partners like the ACLU and the Women's League of Voters.

The groups are banding together to help monitor polling places for issues like voter intimidation and access to translators -- basically anything that could prevent someone from being able to cast their ballot.

Many of the volunteers at the training will be deployed into 11 cities throughout the state on Election Day — including Boston, Springfield, Lawrence and New Bedford.

Hall says the focus is on places with a combination of past voting issues and diverse demographics.

"As we've seen nationally with litigation about voter ID laws and early voting, we know that the group that's most likely to be disenfranchised is going to be people of color and low-income individuals, as well as students and elderly people," Hall said.

Protecting the voting rights of these groups in Springfield is a priority for the city's election commissioner, Gladys Oyola, who says she welcomes the election protection volunteers at the polls.

"In Springfield we definitely have a very diverse electorate in terms of who's registered to vote, both economically and racially," Oyola said. "Our voters are also very transient, we have a lot of multi-dwelling units so, we have issues that do arise on Election Day."

More than 500 Lawyers' Committee volunteers -- that's twice as many as in the last presidential election -- will be answering a tip-line for complaints and monitoring the voting process at Massachusetts polling places. Volunteers are permitted inside the polling place and may observe as people check-in and as completed ballots are cast. They also serve as an on-site resource for people who show up with questions about their voting rights.

The group says the big jump in volunteers this year is a result of heavier recruitment as well as the public's increased interest in getting involved this Election Day, after what's been a long, heated campaign season.

Cameron Clark is one of those new election protection volunteers.

"I think that definitely this year, people have been galvanized and they feel that they need to go and vote," said Clark, a second-year law student at Harvard and co-chair of the Black Law Student Political Committee. "So we want to make sure that we use whatever momentum has been caused by political debates to get people out and voting and talking about these issues and engaging in the civic process."

This isn't the first year the committee has dispatched volunteers in the state, and it won't be the last.

But there is something different about this presidential election, Hall admits.

"I think the election rhetoric has certainly opened a door and opened a conversation for people," Hall said, "and that's been a fantastic sort of silver lining."

The state's first foray into early voting this year has also helped generate interest in volunteering. Hall says the new early voting has not been without its blips.

She says reports of illegal ID checks in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood surfaced the first days of early voting and have since been resolved. Town officials in Whitman received a letter from a person saying he planned on checking IDs on Election Day; the officials say those concerns have been addressed as well.

Hall says reports like these just go to show that even in a progressive, non-swing-state like Massachusetts, the right to vote still needs protection.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Justice is partnering with ProPublica's Electionland on Election Day. WBUR is also a Electionland partner, and will be covering voting issues at the polls on Tuesday. You can get involved by texting WBUR to 69866.

This segment aired on November 4, 2016.

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Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is a reporter representing WBUR on a team of public radio station journalists in the New England News Collaborative.

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