My Commitment to Protect Justice in the Courtroom and at the Ballot Box | The American Association For Justice Archive

My Commitment to Protect Justice in the Courtroom and at the Ballot Box

Author:
Calvin S. Tregre, Jr., Esq.
Date:
Friday, October 24, 2014

As a trial attorney and a member of the American Association for Justice, I am committed to ensuring that all people can seek justice in our nation’s courtrooms.  The right to trial by jury is a fundamental right.  Another fundamental right is the right to vote. 

Every day in Ohio, I see more and more attacks aimed at limiting voters’ access to the ballot box.  In 2012, I witnessed intimidation through billboards with a message of “Voter fraud is a felony.”   In addition, I saw voters’ eligibility being challenged by The Voter Integrity Project, a group claiming to prevent voter fraud but actually suppressing eligible voters’ right to vote.  This year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld restrictions on early voting in Ohio.  It is disheartening to see the constant attempts being made to restrict voting in Ohio and across the country. These constant attempts to restrict voting are disheartening.

I have not been able to sit on the sidelines and watch our voting rights attacked.  During the last few elections, I have participated in election protection efforts in Ohio, both as a poll monitor and as a trainer, and several of my colleagues and partners have joined in this effort. Making sure that voters have the right to vote and that all votes are counted is a very rewarding experience.

I'd like to share one experience in particular with you.  In 2008, I worked with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, as a poll monitor. I had an experience with a young African American voter, John*, that proved to me why election protection is essential. 

John was in his early 20's and had recently become a registered voter in Ohio.  As a new teacher of third graders, he wanted to be able to go back and tell his students about his experience and why voting was important.  He lived with his mother, and upon arriving at his polling location with his mother, who had always voted at this location, he was directed to one poll worker while his mother was directed to another.  The poll worker proceeded to inform John that he was not registered to vote.  After being persistent, he was allowed to cast a provisional ballot. 

When he exited, I was there asking people about their experience and making sure things were going well.  I noticed that John was upset, and I asked about his voting experience.  He explained what happened and was disappointed about his provisional ballot.  What was odd was that his mother had no problem voting, so my team investigated the matter further.  Soon it became apparent that this particular polling location contained multiple precincts, and John's name wasn't on the voting roll simply because he was at the wrong precinct. 

The poll worker should have realized this and should have directed John to the correct precinct, which was in the same building but at a different table.  But due to the large number of people entering this polling location, this particular poll worker was routinely instructing voters whose name did not appear on the voting roll, to cast provisional ballots in the precinct she was covering.  So in addition to incorrectly making John vote with a provisional ballot, she also incorrectly directed John to cast his ballot in the wrong precinct. 

Under Ohio law, provisional ballots are not counted if they are cast in the wrong precinct, so essentially John's vote wouldn't be counted.  To make matters worse, he was not allowed to go back and vote in his correct precinct because he had already cast his provisional ballot. 

As a first time voter in a historical election, John had plans to return to his classroom to proudly report to his students how important it is to exercise your right to vote and that he had done just that.  He wanted to be an example to his students.  Instead, John was discouraged and distraught, and he broke down crying at the thought of his vote not being counted.

But all was not lost. As an election protection volunteer, I was able to work with the Lawyers Committee field team to contact the Board of Elections.  The Board of Elections confirmed that John was registered to vote and was at the correct polling location, just the wrong precinct within the polling location.  We were able to get in touch with the Director of the Board of Elections and explained the situation to him.  After several phone calls, we were able to convince the Director to come down to the polling location to speak with John and the poll worker.  By then, John had already left, but I made sure we had John's phone number.  We called John back to the polling place, and he met with the Director.  After speaking with John and the poll worker, the Director exercised his authority and removed the provisional ballot from the incorrect precinct, and allowed John to cast his vote correctly. 

This was a huge success.  By working as an election protection volunteer, I was able to help a new voter guarantee his vote was counted.  Without volunteers at polling locations making sure everyone can vote and helping voters with issues, how many people would have the same experience that John did?

 Every voter has a different experience, but as attorneys, we can uphold the law to ensure that errors and voter intimidation do not occur.  Not only did we help John, but I firmly believe we helped everyone else whom John may have shared his experience with, including his third graders.

As a trial attorney, I represent injured people who have nowhere else to turn.  I do the same thing when I help as a poll monitor on Election Day.   I encourage everyone to do their part and sign up with the American Association for Justice to protect the vote.  Visit www.justice.org/VPAC today!

 

About the Author: Calvin S. Tregre, Jr., Esq.​ is a shareholder with Burg Simpson.  Mr. Tregre, Jr. dedicates his practice to fighting for justice in the areas of pharmaceutical and general products liability, personal injury, wrongful death, consumer protection, and civil rights litigation.  You can find his full bio here.

 

*John’s real name has been withheld to protect his privacy