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Ohio attorneys to man the polls in exchange for CLE credit

Secretary of State Frank LaRose greets poll workers during the election in 2018. In July the Ohio Supreme Court issued an order allowing Ohio attorneys and judges to receive up to four hours of general CLE credit for serving as a poll worker on Election Day. It’s all part of a statewide effort to recruit new volunteers to help solve an impending poll worker shortage created by concerns over COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose's Office)

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 25, 2020

Some Ohio lawyers will be stepping away from their legal practices on Election Day to serve as poll workers at voting locations around Ohio, and they’ll be able to earn continuing legal education (CLE) credit for their assistance.
It’s all part of a statewide effort to recruit new volunteers to help solve an impending poll worker shortage created by concerns over COVID-19.
According to a press release from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s Office, historically, the 88 Ohio county Boards of Elections have relied on over 35,000 residents to assist fellow voters in casting their ballots.
However, with more than 65% of Ohio poll workers being age 61 or over, officials are concerned that many may decide not to serve this year because of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on older populations.
To help address the deficiency, in July the Ohio Supreme Court issued an order allowing Ohio attorneys and judges to receive up to four hours of general CLE credit for serving as a poll worker on Election Day, which falls on Nov. 3 this year.
The decision supports LaRose’s “Ready for November” initiative by helping to ensure that Ohio has enough poll workers to carry out a secure and fair election.
“Safe and accessible in-person voting is essential, and that requires large numbers of dedicated poll workers who will deliver accurate, accessible, secure elections for their fellow Ohioans,” LaRose said in a press release. “The smart, hard-working, patriotic men and women who practice law in our state are ideally suited for this crucial public service.”
“Ohio attorneys have a long record of public service,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said in a press release. “I can think of no greater opportunity for lawyers in Ohio to give back to our state than to get involved on Election Day and help fill the urgent need for poll workers.”
Spearheaded by the Elections Division at the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office and the Ohio Association of Elections Officials, LaRose’s office petitioned the court for this change beginning last year.
The Ohio Supreme Court action required a one-time rule change to Ohio’s CLE rules.
Dubbed “Lawyers for Liberty” by LaRose, officials believe it’s the first time a state has offered attorneys the chance to earn CLE credit in exchange for working the polls.
To earn the credits, lawyers must complete Precinct Election Official training at their county board of elections and work the entire day on Nov. 3.
Currently there are over 49,000 licensed attorneys in Ohio and the hope is that a large number of them will sign up for service.
“Ohio requires over 35,000 poll workers to run any given election,” LaRose said in an email. “This is one of the biggest challenges, but I know that with programs like Lawyers for Liberty and many other various programs we will hit the goal and be able to operate a safe and secure Election Day.”
In Summit County, Brennan Manna Diamond partner Hamilton DeSaussure Jr. said he plans to volunteer his time on Election Day.
“I felt that it would be a learning experience,” said DeSaussure, who registered in early September. “I think the plan by the Ohio Supreme Court is a unique and innovative way to respond to the need for poll workers.
“While assisting as a poll worker is not a traditional form of legal education, I believe it is a public service function and it does have some educational value,” said DeSaussure, who currently serves as president of the Akron Bar Association.
Four Brouse McDowell attorneys have also signed up to serve as poll workers, including Cleveland partners David Sporar and Jennifer Himmelein, of counsel Suzanne Bretz Blum and Akron associate Hanne-Lore Gambrell, who made the commitment in early August.
“I’ve always wanted to serve as a poll worker and I never had the opportunity to do so,” said Gambrell, who focuses on real estate and corporate law. “This is a great opportunity to do so since I can get CLE credit and help out in the community at the same time.
“As a child, I used to go to the polls with my mom and everyone there was very nice,” she said. “They would give us donuts and make it a positive experience. I’m looking forward to doing the same thing so I can inspire another child to want to participate in the voting process.
“I believe attorneys have an obligation to perform public service whenever possible and I am excited to do my part.”
Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease partner Jacinto Núñez will be spending his day as a poll worker as well.
“I signed up on the Secretary of State’s website because I know that a lot of the people who usually participate as poll workers are not going to feel comfortable doing that this year because of COVID-19,” said Núñez, works out of the Akron office and focuses on real estate matters.
“I think it’s a good idea to offer CLE credit in exchange for attorney participation in lieu of payment,” he said. “When you consider that attorneys are committing to a full day away from their practices and other obligations, I think it’s reasonable to offer some type of compensation in return.”
However, in his case, CLE credit was not the motivating factor.
“My family is from Cuba. Although in Cuba there are elections, it’s a one-party system, so folks don’t really have a choice when voting,” said Núñez. “As flawed as our system may be, or appear to be, it’s still a better system than many others, if not most.
“I think it’s important for us to promote fair elections and encourage participation in the political process through voting. Without participation, Democracy will wither.”
Roetzel & Andress shareholder and immediate past president of the Akron Bar Association Karen Adinolfi is also considering signing up for service.
“I think the election process is fascinating and I would like to try it, provided that I can make the full-day commitment,” said Adinolfi, who focuses on employment law matters.
“I think receiving CLE credit in exchange for service is a very creative idea,” she said. “I believe lawyers will bring a unique perspective to the voting process in terms of how they resolve any potential disputes, deal with voters and provide instructions.
“For example, if a voter sent in an absentee ballot, but now wants to vote in person instead, there is a process for addressing that issue, which I believe lawyers would have an easier time communicating to a member of the public.”
Since bar associations do rely in part on the revenue generated by CLE, Adinolfi said the Ohio Supreme Court action could have some impact on the bottom lines of the organizations.
“Given that it is only four hours of CLE, I hope and expect the effect will be minimal on local bar associations. I think this move fits in with the overall trend at the Ohio Supreme Court of allowing multiple options for attorneys to earn CLE without payment or attendance at a traditional seminar,” said Adinolfi.
“I do think the upcoming general election provides the perfect intersection of need and want to warrant this action,” she said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there which needs to be clarified and the election itself has taken on heightened importance because of the pandemic, racial tensions and overall divisiveness that exist.”
Any attorney interested in signing up can go to VoteOhio.gov/DefendDemocracy.
According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, those who make the commitment should expect to work from about 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., although hours may vary from county to county.