Pildes and Issacharoff reflect on working as lawyers for the Obama campaign (AUDIO)

Now that the election is over, we are free to talk about our experience.  Since the start of the primary season, we have been working as part of the Obama campaign's legal team on voting and election issues.  On Election Day and the days leading up to it, we were in the "boiler room" at campaign headquarters in Chicago, where we worked with others to monitor voting issues that arose around the country and to respond to any systemic problems that might require legal intervention or a response to legal intervention others initiated.

One striking aspect of this experience was how well organized the Obama campaign was to address these issues.  As has been reported about other aspects of the campaign, our direct experience in our arena was that it would be hard to imagine a more sophisticated and well-run structure for oversight of these issues.  Without giving away any secrets about exactly how this was done, we can say that we were aware of every potential problem at polling places throughout the battleground states.  This awareness ranged from the minor details, such as polling places that ran out of pens, to the more significant, such as challenges to the eligibility of individual voters to vote.  Some of these issues tested the commitment of citizens, as with the long lines in Virginia.  Some had the quality of bizarre melodrama, as with the polling sites in Washington State that ran out of provisional ballots in English and tried to make do with the ones printed in Chinese.  Through it all there was the captivating commitment to democratic values that filled even a room of tired and strained lawyers with admiration and respect.


The professionalism of the campaign's entire culture, from top to bottom, was also impressive.  We were at the top of a pyramid of information coming in, much of it mediated by younger campaign workers, often in their 20s.  It was obvious they had internalized the campaign's codes:  no drama, stay in your own lanes, calm professionalism, and no leaks.  Working within such a culture was a pleasure and made our work as smooth as possible -- even though our physical quarters consisted of five thrown-together card tables for 15 people in a small room on the concrete floor of a building that had yet to be carpeted and that quickly covered our clothes with dust.

As it turned out, we are all fortunate there was no legal confrontation that rose to the level of the 2000 election.  But there was a great deal of legal activity that mostly flew below the radar screen of public attention.  In cases brought either by the political parties or outside groups, there was litigation on Election Day and the days right before in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey (concerning election procedures in New Mexico).  And of course, during Election Day, while the script was still being written, we had to approach every potential issue as if the election's outcome could turn on it.

For both of us, the election's outcome has a surreal quality of closing a circle.  Early in our careers, one of us used to get together with President-Elect Obama to discuss our casebook, The Law of Democracy, from which he taught when he was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.  The other of us began our legal career by being part of a successful lawsuit that led to the first seating of an African-American congressman from Misssissipi in the 20th century.

Being in Grant Park, Chicago on Election Night to witness Mr. Obama's victory address was the most moving experience of our professional lives.

Note:

The audio below comes from a post-inanauguration event at the Law School on 1/21/2009 where Professors Pildes and Issacharoff described their experiences in the 'boiler room' at Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago.

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