Philly voters have questions ahead of the 2020 election — a lot of them. There are several online resources (see Billy Penn’s vote by mail guide), but sometimes it helps to ask an expert directly.
Good news: Voting rights experts are ready to help.
On two separate nights, young attorneys with the Philadelphia Bar Association will run a legal hotline to answer any and all legal questions about the November general election.
The first session is Wednesday, Sept 16., and the second Wed. Oct 8. Each runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Call 215-238-6333 to get connected.
Hillary Ladov, chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association, said it’s important that both sessions happen before Pa.’s Oct. 19 voter registration deadline.
“There’s a lot of confusion right now,” Ladov said. “Understandably so.”
Philadelphia election officials have been inundated with calls, too.
Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custudio said callers routinely ask about the status of their voter registration application and/or the status of their mail-in ballot application. You can go to votespa.com to easily look up the status of both, but for those who may not have internet access, calling is the only option.
“Yesterday we came in and there were over 100 voicemails,” Custodio said, referring to Monday morning. “We kept the office open over the weekend and still had that many.”
The volunteer lawyers at the bar will be trained ahead of the hotline sessions. Community organization partners have provided them with feedback on the common anxieties and questions from voters all over the city.
“We anticipate a lot of questions about how to register to vote,” Ladov said, “but also how to apply for mail-in or absentee ballot, what to expect on Election Day, what to do if they have difficulty voting on Election Day or see somebody else who has difficulty voting.”
The Philadelphia Bar has hosted pro bono hotlines in the past. Sometimes they offer free legal advice on general topics, but those with a niche focus like landlord-tenant issues or employment law tend to the most popular, Ladov said.
It’s not just older people or those without an internet connection who call, she added. Age range and demographics of people ranges from session to session.
“It’s easy to click through a website, but it can also be difficult if you get lost in the rabbit hole of information,” Ladov said. “Sometimes it’s easier to have someone walk through it with you.”