Columbia Students Road Trip to Pennsylvania

A group from the Law School traveled to Philadelphia on Election Day to serve as poll observers. 

Samuel Fishman
November 05, 2020

Before dawn at 5:00 a.m. on November 3, 2020, we, a group of Columbia Law School students and members of the Columbia Law Democrats, set off to Pennsylvania to help ensure that votes were counted in Philadelphia polling places. We decided to go to Pennsylvania because it is, if you haven't noticed, turning out to be a crucial state in this presidential election. The 2016 presidential election was decided by 44,292 votes, so it was critical that every Pennsylvanian was able to cast their ballot and that every vote was processed correctly.

I had been planning for this trip for most of October, coordinating with the Pennsylvania Democrats and student leaders from other law schools. Since most of us served as outside poll observers in previous elections, we did not have to officially register. However, we did have to complete an extensive virtual training session on Pennsylvania voting laws and regulations.

Here's what we saw when we arrived in the City of Brotherly Love.

Each of us was assigned to a different polling location in the city. Our mission was to monitor the polling sites and to ensure that every eligible voter was able to cast their ballot.

An image of a line of people outside a red brick building on a sunny day.

When we arrived at our polling places, we encountered long lines of excited voters. We worked with local officials to assist with check-in to ensure everything went smoothly. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Philadelphia made changes to voters’ assigned polling locations, so we helped voters confirm their correct polling locations in order to cast their ballots.

A photo of a stuffed animal lion with sunglasses on a pole

It was a beautiful day in Philadelphia—perfect voting weather. The Columbia Law School mascot, Leon, was even able to do some “pole” observing of his own.

A photo of six girls with masks holding a sign saying "Comfort Station"

As afternoon came, things continued to proceed smoothly, with lots of enthusiasm from voters. Philadelphia was excited to turn out to vote. Lots of volunteers came to drop off snacks and supplies for voters in line, including a group of future voters.

By the end of the day, we were feeling a little tired, but the energy of democracy kept us going. 

A photo of a sunset and a red brick house

Votes in Pennsylvania are still being counted, but back in New York City, we have classes to attend.

Samuel Fishman is a J.D. candidate at Columbia Law School and the president of the Columbia Law School Democrats.