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Poll Position

What Iván Resendiz Gutierrez did during the 2020 election

Published in 2022 Oregon Super Lawyers magazine

Iván Resendiz Gutierrez could see that the man was agitated and maybe looking for trouble. It was election day 2020 and the polls were minutes away from closing in Las Vegas, where Gutierrez was volunteering as a poll watcher. Nevada was considered a battleground state, which is why Gutierrez wanted to be there.

“We thought that if there were going to be any shenanigans, any chance of someone trying to prevent someone else from voting, it would be one of those [battleground] states,” says Gutierrez, a partner at Miller Nash in Portland, who volunteered along with several other members of his firm.

The man accused Gutierrez of using his cellphone inside the voting area, and of being one of “them.” He started to get confrontational—probably not the best idea: Gutierrez is an occasional pugilist who claims legendary boxing ref Joe Cortez’s prefight credo, “I’m fair, but firm,” as his own personal mantra.

“The guy demanded I be evicted,” Gutierrez says, “but the supervisor handled it well. She took us outside, and when it seemed as if he wanted to instigate something, to get some attention, she defused the situation. And when he threatened to complain to the county office, she calmly encouraged him to go and do that.” Nothing came of it. 

“I don’t care what party you belong to, it’s important that people are allowed to vote, and that the election process be fair,” he says. “I thought if I could do anything to help with that, with just making people feel safe about going to the ballot box, especially during a very charged time for this country, then yes, I wanted to do that.”

The son of Mexican immigrants, Gutierrez was born in Santa Ana, California, before the family moved to Malott, Washington. “My parents worked for Johnny Appleseed, an apple orchard,” he says. “My dad picked apples and my mom sorted them. We moved to West Linn, Oregon, after my dad had a serious work accident—he was run over by a tractor and broke six bones in his back.”

Gutierrez is proud of being a product of Oregon’s public school system. And his stint as a poll watcher has reaffirmed his conviction that election day should be a national holiday. In Vegas, he saw too many voters rushing to the polls after work. That image was on his mind when he worked as a poll watcher in Savannah, Georgia, for the pivotal Jan. 5, 2021, runoff election that ultimately gave control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats when Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock defeated their Republican opponents.

On election day, the poll that Gutierrez was watching opened 45 minutes late without explanation. So Gutierrez insisted the poll stay open an extra 45 minutes to accommodate anyone who might be running late. “I’d seen that 10 minutes could make a difference in Nevada,” he says. “I didn’t want that to be an issue in Georgia. We had to file an affidavit through a local lawyer, and we stayed open late.”

Gutierrez came back to Portland re-energized and hopeful. “I felt proud of our country, of our system,” he says. “Not that we still don’t have plenty of work to do.”

A litigator and appellate attorney, Gutierrez has donated hundreds of hours of pro bono work to a wide range of people and organizations. This includes filing a successful motion challenging former President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from entering the U.S., and an appeal restoring a former felon’s right to own a gun.

“On the surface, those are two completely different cases,” says Gutierrez. “At the core of both are people who felt like they weren’t being heard.”

In each case, Gutierrez thought back to when he was 7 years old and felt voiceless. It was a little thing that left a large impression: a mock election in second grade at a time when his family was living back in Mexico for a couple of years. “Everyone got to vote except for me, because I wasn’t a Mexican citizen,” Gutierrez says, chuckling about it now. “Technically, they were right, of course, and it’s silly to think about now. But I remember how it felt, not being allowed to participate. It didn’t feel fair, and that has always stuck with me.”

For this year’s midterms, he’ll be poll watching again in Nevada, where Catherine Cortez Masto, the first woman in that state’s history to be elected to the U.S. Senate—and the first Latin American woman ever elected to the upper chamber—is running for re-election. 

“I think it’s important to be there,” Gutierrez says. “As a Mexican American, the significance of her re-election bid is not lost on me.”

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