Law Students Keep Busy on Election Day

Law students spent Election Day 2012 like most Americans did – voting, discussing, volunteering, watching, and partying.

Law School Democrats and Republicans were up well before dawn so they could be at the polls when they opened. They observed voting, helped people who had trouble voting, and went door-to-door trying to drum up more votes for their presidential and congressional candidates. Others made phone calls at campaign offices or from their own homes. At the end of the night, they celebrated, or commiserated, with fellow volunteers at various headquarters in Chicagoland and Wisconsin.

Many less politically active but no less opinionated students spent Tuesday voting, talking about the election with friends in the Green Lounge between classes, and then getting together for watch parties. One student who voted absentee in his home state of Virginia joked about how he should have auctioned off his valuable swing state vote to the highest bidder (of course, he did not). A few 1Ls were following President Barack Obama’s movements throughout Chicago on Twitter all day, and when they heard an ultimately erroneous report that the president was going to play basketball at the Laboratory Schools, they raced up there on foot in the hope of seeing his motorcade. They walked back, somewhat dejected, in the rain.

David Kurczewski’s alarm sounded yesterday at 4 a.m. Kurczewski, ’13, is president of the Law School Democrats and has been active in the Obama campaign, as well as the congressional campaigns of Brad Schneider (10th Congressional District), Bill Foster (11th District), and Tammy Duckworth (8th District).

First, he headed west, to Aurora, to serve as a poll watcher in the 11th Congressional District, where Foster’s office had warned of potential problems with voters finding out at the last minute that their precinct had moved. Kurczewski and other volunteers were on hand to help anyone who had trouble getting a regular ballot rather than a provisional one, or anyone who wasn’t sure where to vote or whether they were properly registered.

Then, Kurczewski headed north to Deerfield, where he and Braden Lang, ’11, knocked on doors and left leaflets in Schneider’s district. After that, he was off to Waukegan to check out another report of voter suppression.

Kurczewski said yesterday he was nervous about some of his congressional races but feeling confident overall. (Ultimately, each of his campaigns was successful – Obama, Schneider, Foster, and Duckworth all won.) He has enjoyed going door-to-door throughout the fall, he said, because it gives him a different, more personal perspective.

“You can tailor the message to the person,” he said. “There were definitely some people who hadn’t heard of the candidate when I got to the door, and when I left, they were leaning toward or definitely voting for the candidate.”

Chris Heasley, ’13, president of the Law School Republicans, was also up bright and early with wife Emily Heasley, ’14, so they could get to Milwaukee’s Franklin Pierce School by 6:30 a.m. The two served as observers for the Romney campaign at the polling location. They were tasked with looking for voter intimidation, misinformation, campaigning within 100 feet of the poll, which is illegal, or other problems, Chris Heasley said.

“The reason I’m doing it is because I think, especially as someone who has some law training, it’s essential to make sure the laws of the state are being upheld at each voting location,” he said. “I think we have more understanding of the process than most people would have.” Heasley spent his fall break in Florida making calls for the Romney campaign; he’s also worked to compile a list of lawyers who were willing to help in the case of legal challenges.

“Throughout the campaign season, lawyers are in demand,” Heasley said, “from poll watching to voter protection, and if there are recounts….it’s also a great way to do some legal volunteering, and you get to see a different way to use your law degree.”

Lang, the 2011 alumnus, is a Democrat but would agree with Heasley’s assessment of the value of legal knowledge in campaigns and elections.

“It probably helps being someone who is used to picking up a lot of problems and working through them quickly,” he said. Lang works at UChicago Tech.

Plus, campaigning is just fun, said Stephanie Gratton, ’14, treasurer of the Law School Democrats. She didn’t volunteer on Election Day because of class but worked this weekend at Obama headquarters.

“What really makes a difference is young people who go out and are passionate about this,” she said. “I think they relate more to people their own age telling them this is important.”

It wasn’t just Law School Democrats and Republicans who got involved. Some members of OutLaw, the Law School’s LGBT group, campaigned for Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, who became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate. Becca Horwitz, ’13, OutLaw’s president, was making calls on Baldwin’s behalf as late as Monday night.

Many law students got together to watch the returns, except for those who were too tense to relax and socialize while the winner was still unclear, like James Kylstra, ’14, who was pulling for Obama and planned to watch at home with his wife.  Yesterday, he and Jay Kumar, ’14, and Kelsey Stricker, ’14, talked in the Green Lounge about how the Law School is a politically diverse place. For example, Kumar said, he is an Obama supporter but planned to watch the returns with a very good friend at the law school who voted for Romney.

Of course, this being Chicago, the two sides get along – but not because they avoid the topic of politics. Instead, they debate and discuss and stay friends anyway.  

Or, as Gratton put it:  “We like to get in good arguments but still respect each other at the end of the day.”

Even one as busy, emotional, and high-stakes as Election Day.