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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

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Fighting voter suppression of minority groups

Counsel Patrick Jackson discusses how the firm is partnering to protect the rights and interests of ethnic minorities in the US.

The 2020 US elections demonstrated how widespread and systematic the problem of racial exclusion can be. These elections, and the political maneuverers leading up to them, are increasingly being marred by accusations of widespread, targeted and disproportionate suppression of the votes of Black Americans and other ethnic minorities. The concerns expressed are that any such suppression of minority votes can and does compound the inabilities of these minority groups to attain legislation that helps reflect their interests across all areas of American society.

It was with this concern in mind that we encouraged the Firm to support the Election Protection (EP) programme coordinated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a civil rights organisation that aims to secure equal justice for all through the rule of law. Since 2004, the programme has provided voters – regardless of their political affiliation, ethnicity, gender, religion or identity – with comprehensive information and assistance, directly from volunteer lawyers, at all stages of voting. This includes issues ranging from registration, to absentee and early voting, to casting votes at the polls, to obstacles they face in participating.

We pushed for this effort in part following the brutal killing of George Floyd and the increased visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, which reemphasised the importance of making sure the rights of all Americans are included in and protected by the law. In the end, we were able to enlist more than 30 legal and non-legal colleagues, who together contributed over 800 pro bono hours. Historically, volunteers would sit in law-firm conference rooms across the country to answer calls from concerned voters with questions about state-specific voting laws or complaints about any voter suppression they’re suffering. This has included barriers such as intimidating police and armed protester presences at polling stations, disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities being denied the right to vote, because their registrations or IDs are invalidated, and any number of other barriers.

This year, the pandemic added an extra layer of complexity. Not only did voter concerns and potential suppression tactics increase because of a significant increase in mail-in votes, EP’s legal volunteers were unable to sit together to coordinate in person the more than 1,000 lawyers who answered over 230,000 calls from voters around the country. Not only were our lawyers under huge demand to assist voters through the remote caller software, our Americas IT team volunteered invaluable time and energy to apply the lessons learnt from working remotely. We were required to work collaboratively to help route inbound calls to the relevant legal volunteers, as well as making large quantities of information accessible to volunteers across the country to highlight specific laws, rules and issues.

As the US turns its attention to the next Presidential term, we should be proud that we’ve taken this step towards helping protect the interests and rights of minorities in the US. Our work with EP serves as a great example of our commitment to inclusion and the impact our Firm can make across the globe. We must stand behind what we say and continue to champion minority rights to ensure all voices are heard, whether within the firm or more widely in the communities where we operate.