October 21, 2008
October 21, 2008 (New York, NY) – More than 75 trained CUNY School of Law students will fan out at polling spots across New York City on Election Day to protect voters’ rights and to ensure that there is no interference as voters cast ballots.
The students will be placed throughout the city by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF); the Voting Rights Department of that organization has trained the students in federal and New York State voting rights laws, as well as the skills of poll monitoring.
“As immigrant communities in New York begin to realize their political power and organize themselves to increase their civic participation, it is crucial that voter suppression and intimidation not thwart their momentum or their belief in the promise of America,” said Ali Najmi, 24, a third-year CUNY Law student who is helping to organize the efforts.
Added Bright Limm, 28, a second-year student who is president of the CUNY Law Student Government: “Today many people fear that our voting rights are easily subject to violation. For communities that historically have been disenfranchised – in particular, immigrants, people of color, and the poor – the presence of poll monitors is not only valuable but absolutely crucial.”
CUNY Law at the Forefront
Limm, who also is helping to organize the polling effort, added, “Law schools and other legal institutions should be at the forefront of protecting voters’ rights. By mobilizing at polling sites on Election Day, CUNY Law students are taking the initiative, and we ask that other law schools join us in this effort to protect the democratic process.”
Unlike candidates’ representatives, CUNY Law students will be stationed inside polling sites to enhance access to voting and to prevent the use of unlawful practices, such as demanding proof of citizenship, turning people away without photo identification when it is not required, or restricting access to language interpreters.
Past Polling Problems
According to AALDEF, such practices occurred in recent elections. For instance, in New York, identification is not required to vote except for a limited group of first-time voters. But, according to AALDEF, during the 2004 Presidential Elections, 23% of Asian American voters surveyed were asked to show ID, 69% of whom were not required to do so.
About half of the CUNY Law students plan to volunteer in the areas of Richmond Hill and Ozone Park in Queens, predominantly South-Asian and Indo-Caribbean areas. The other students will be placed by AALDEF in locations such as Flushing, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst in Queens; Midwood, Kensington and Coney Island in Brooklyn; and Chinatown in Manhattan.
The students have selected these areas, not only because of the national election, but also because of the unusually high turnout that is expected. “These efforts are posed to be very fruitful,” said Najmi, who is a Pakistani-American and a chief organizer of the CUNY Law project.
Work Reinforces Mission
The students’ work reinforces the CUNY Law mission, said Dean Michelle J. Anderson. “Our students’ commitment to protect the democratic process on Election Day expresses the core of our public interest mission. Students are, in a very real way, practicing law in the service of human needs,” she said.
Many CUNY Law students groups have come together to support this effort, including the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, the South Asian Law Students Association, National Lawyers Guild, Latin American Law Students Association, Muslim Law Students Association, Organization of Women Law Students, Third World Orientation, Black Law Students Association, and Student Government.
CUNY School of Law is the premier public interest law school in the country. It trains lawyers to serve the underprivileged and disempowered and to make a difference in their communities. The school has been praised in a study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, “Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law,” for being one of the few law schools in the country to prepare students for practice through instruction in theory, skills, and ethics. The school is based in Flushing, Queens, New York.
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