Law experts called to work election polls

The National Bar Association and National Association of Secretaries of State collaborated to mobilize law students and experts and volunteer at the polls on election day.


Larry Phan

Poll workers help voters on Election Day at the Visual Arts Building in Iowa City on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

Iowa Bar Association and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate are calling on attorneys and law experts to work at polling locations during the election.

The Iowa State Bar Association’s Executive Director Dwight Dinkla said the American Bar Association is encouraging all attorneys nationwide to become involved with elections. Attorneys appreciate the Constitution, he said.

“I think most attorneys are instilled with a sense of civic duty … And if the attorneys don’t step up and help do their civic duty, well, then who will?” Dinkla said.

Dinkla said the call to action is intended to increase the number of poll workers at precincts across the state and the country. He said this is the first time the bar association has officially called for law experts to volunteer at the polls.

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said the county isn’t as low on poll workers as other counties but could always use more Republicans and No Party voters on the list of poll workers.

The need for poll workers isn’t new, Weipert said. Every year the county needs to replenish its list of volunteers because people move away, or voters go to their winter homes out of the state, he said.

Weipert said having attorneys at the polls won’t necessarily make the voting process easier, but they are people that have more insight into the law and voting.

“I just think having people that have been through law school sitting there, realizing what happens with each voter and understanding and interpreting the law like auditors and the other poll workers have to I think is a positive,” Weipert said.

On March 8, 2021, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 413 into law, which changed election laws in Iowa. Voting time was limited by decreasing the absentee voting period and closing the polls an hour early on election day. There are also specific requirements for ballot drop boxes and higher penalties for election misconduct.

From a previous interview with The Daily Iowan, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said the changes were intended to strengthen election integrity in the state.

Weipert said there is no fear of fraud among Iowans because there’s no proof of fraud ever taking place. 

“Having lawyers at the polls would be great. It’s just another step without having to go through the legislature to make sure that our elections are safe,” Weipert said.

Dinkla said one facet of the Iowa Bar Association is to help the general public, and volunteering at the polls is one way for attorneys to do that.

Many of the founding fathers were attorneys, Dinkla said, so the election process is ingrained in the brains of law experts. He said lawyers have a greater interest overall in voting, so that makes them good poll workers.

“It’s not that we think that there’s anything sinister taking place among the elections quite candidly. The problem is, I know it’s probably nationwide but statewide, the number of poll workers is really scarce,” Dinkla said.

Dinkla said the Iowa Secretary of State reached out to the State Bar Association because of the audience they could reach. He said there are roughly 7,000 attorneys who belong to the association, and they make a great platform for Pate to get his message out.

In an interview with the DI, Pate said higher election officials, such as himself, are not only calling on barred attorneys to work the polls but law students as well. 

“We’re looking for people who are just committed to doing what’s right for our community and making sure we have good elections,” Pate said.  “We do something similar when we reach out to, say, veterans, because they’ve demonstrated a strong civic commitment.”

Pate said over 10,000 volunteers are required to execute a smooth election and the bar association’s offer to help is an asset needed to staff those positions.

Election integrity and participation are not mutually exclusive because people want to know their vote counts, Pate said. He said it’s the responsibility of his office and county auditors to demonstrate that they are supporting their community by making sure election integrity is solid.

“That takes one concern out of the equation and now they can focus on ‘Hey, I gotta make sure my voice gets heard,’ and they can get out there and vote,” Pate said.