A group of Hofstra University law students represented Nassau County voters who were turned away from the polls on Election Day at the county’s Supreme Court in Mineola on Tuesday.
One of the students, Roxanna Thomas, who emigrated from Trinidad at age 4, found helping a recently naturalized citizen’s petition to vote the most rewarding part of the night.
“One woman from Colombia recently became a naturalized citizen two years ago and she wasn’t registered to vote,” said Thomas, 31, who became a U.S. citizen at age 8. “When a person becomes a citizen they want to enjoy all the privileges that come with it, and one of those is the ability to vote.”
Thomas was one of 10 students from the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University stationed at the courthouse to assist people petitioning to vote in this year’s presidential election.
Groups of law students did the same in 2008 and 2010, which had been organized with the help of 1976 alumni Steven R. Schlesinger, a law partner at Jaspan Schlesinger, LLP in Garden City.
Stefan Krieger, law professor and director of the school’s Center for Applied Legal Reasoning, supervised the students and was surprised by how many clients, with near empty gas tanks due to the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, made it to the courthouse.
“Students are able to on-the-fly interview clients, draft papers and argue before a judge and they keep doing it over and over again,” said Krieger, also director emeritus of Hofstra clinical programs. “There are students that might sign up for a two-hour stretch and they’ll end up staying the whole day. In the course of the day, you see the development of the student into a lawyer.”
Thomas fondly recalls helping the Colombian woman petition to vote, after not being registered.
“We sat in the judge’s courtroom for only 15 seconds,” Thomas said. “It was the quickest petition that I did that night. She looked at me and said, ‘Is that it?’ and I said, ‘We won.’ She was ecstatic and ran out of the courthouse to vote.”
Another law student, Jeff Weiner was one of the students who got the chance to help clients who missed the voter registration deadline a month ago cast their ballot, some for the first time.
“I had a person who only registered to vote the day before the election,” said Weiner, 51, of Lynbrook, who is in the school’s law reform clinic. “His mother, who was a U.S. citizen, had died and he was out of the country for several months because of it and returned to New York after the deadline had passed. He wanted to vote for his mom’s candidate and he was able to do that.”
Thomas, who was involved in seven of the 51 cases handled that night, developed even more of a respect for the democratic process.
“What I love about a project like this is respecting a person’s right to vote regardless of who they’re voting for,” said Thomas, who is in the school’s juvenile justice clinic. “At the end of the day, you want to respect the Democratic process and that to me was the best take-away from the project.”
Hofstra University law students represented Nassau County voters who were turned away from the polls on Election Day at the county's Supreme Court in Mineola. First row, from left: Students Brittany Reiner, Roxanna Thomas, Prof. Stefan Krieger, Theo Liebmann. Second row, from left: Camille Tucker, Steve Schlesinger, Jon Lewis, Jeff Weiner and Siobhan Klassen (Nov. 6, 2012)