Pro Bono Lawyers Work in Service of Democracy
By Ceridwen Cherry, Esq., MPP VoteRiders Legal Director – October 24, 2023
October 22-28 is the American Bar Association’s 2023 National Celebration of Pro Bono. For the past 15 years, legal organizations across the United States have participated in the National Celebration of Pro Bono to draw attention to the need for pro bono participation and to thank the attorneys and legal staff who have volunteered their time pro bono in the last year.
This year’s theme is “Voices of Democracy: Ensuring Justice for All,” which fits perfectly with the work our many pro bono legal volunteers do each year to help support VoteRiders’ mission to ensure that no eligible voter is prevented from casting a ballot that counts due to voter ID laws.
One of my favorite parts about serving as VoteRiders’ Legal Director is getting to work with the attorneys and law firms who donate their time to VoteRiders. Since its founding in 2012, VoteRiders has benefitted from extensive pro bono legal support, developing partnerships with more than 15 law firms. So, in honor of this year’s Pro Bono Celebration, I wanted to share some of the incredible work our pro bono partners have been doing this year to help support our mission.
Since joining the VoteRiders team in April of this year, my largest focus has been on updating and expanding our website resources and Voter ID Information Cards to ensure we can continue to provide accurate and up-to-date information to as many voters as possible nationwide. This large-scale project would not have been possible without the extensive legal research support we’ve received from a number of firms.
- Willkie Farr & Gallagher has researched the specific identification requirements under the Help America Vote Act that all first-time voters must satisfy, even in a non-voter ID state.
- Brown Rudnick is researching and preparing materials on both the history and impact of voter ID laws so we can better educate both journalists and the public.
- Baker McKenzie is working on a 50-state survey of all the relevant statutory provisions that govern voter identification laws.
Another area where pro bono legal support has been invaluable this year is in submitting public record requests. One of the best ways to find voters who don’t have the necessary ID to vote is to request lists from election officials of either voters who had a provisional ballot rejected due to lack of identification or who did not use an accepted ID at the time they registered. We can then contact those voters through our phone banking, text banking, and letter-writing efforts. However, submitting and processing these requests can be complicated and time-consuming. This year, both Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Goodwin Proctor have provided tremendous support for our public records requests and allowed us to reach voters in a wide range of our priority states.
Several firms have also welcomed their attorneys and staff to train and serve as VoteRiders Voter ID Assistance Volunteers. These in-person and virtual volunteers devote 1-3 hours per week, working one-on-one with individuals who need help tracking down documents, making and getting to appointments, navigating confusing and complicated bureaucratic processes, and covering the fees required to secure a voter ID. In fact, as a part of the firm’s National Celebration of Pro Bono Week, Brown Rudnick has organized a Voter ID Assistance Volunteer training to occur this week for its attorneys and staff.
And finally, this year and every year we are incredibly grateful to our longtime partner Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe, who generously enabled partner Marc Bauer to dedicate a significant portion of his time to supporting VoteRiders’ on a pro bono basis as our Outside General Counsel.
Even though some may consider 2023 an “off” year, at VoteRiders, we don’t believe in “off years.” As far as we’re concerned, every year is a major election year and there is still a lot of work to do and a lot of voters to reach! As we gear up for major local elections taking place next month around the country, we are incredibly grateful to all of the firms and attorneys who have donated their time, which has allowed us to provide free ID assistance and information to as many voters as possible. We are excited to see what our ongoing pro bono partnerships will help us achieve for voters in 2024 and beyond!
Ceridwen Cherry has extensive experience litigating voting rights cases throughout the country, including challenges to voter identification and voter registration requirements. She is also a subject matter expert on the DMV and public assistance provisions of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Most recently, Ceridwen served as Senior Staff Attorney in the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.