Professional 'Duty' Prompts Attorney to Supreme Court Poll Worker Program
By Csaba Sukosd | October 1, 2020
For attorneys, their profession is one of purpose, for themselves and society. This election season, those legal principles will be on display as more lawyers work at the polls.
"I really think that the skills that lawyers have, and the professional responsibility and oath that they take, lends itself perfectly to serving as an election official," said Beth Weinewuth, a Cincinnati-based attorney, who has signed up to be a poll worker.
Sensing the potential shortfall for the 35,000 volunteers needed to handle voting due to COVID-19, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor felt the state's approximately 44,000 licensed attorneys could play a pivotal role when the program was unveiled in July.
Attorneys can sign up on the secretary of state's website.
As elected officials themselves, judges cannot serve as poll workers and neither can magistrates. But attorneys can and the need is there.
"The opportunity for attorneys to be poll workers is just one piece of the puzzle. It could turn out to be a big piece, and be very helpful on Election Day," Chief Justice O'Connor said during an interview with CBS News as she explained her plea to Ohio attorneys to sign on.
"It's a presidential year. It's a big election. People who do show up to the polls are processed quickly, and they don't have to linger at the poll site. They can get in and out," she said.
According to the Supreme Court order, lawyers who volunteer at polling sites on Election Day will receive four hours of continuing legal education (CLE) credit. Licensed attorneys must complete 24 hours of CLE every two years.
This election will mark Weinewuth's third time volunteering at the polls. The previous occasions also were prompted by social concerns, and ensuring everyone who had a right to vote could do so.
"In 2012 and 2016, I was worried about voter intimidation, and I served in a primarily Black precinct," she said. "I think it's more important than ever that there's public trust and integrity in the election process."
Among the frequently asked questions to receive CLE credit is the time commitment.
All volunteers must take an online and an in-person training class, and work from when polls open before 6:30 a.m. to when they close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. For Weinewuth, those hours are a small sacrifice for such a significant cause.
"I could be doing a lot of other things on November 3, but I could think of nothing more important than helping ensure the integrity of the process," she said.
The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, which the Supreme Court adopted in 2007, specifically references civic responsibility as part of the preamble describing a lawyer's responsibilities:
A lawyer should further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.