Massachusetts Rules against Ban on Lying in Campaigns

By: David Schlosser

Over the summer of 2015, a Massachusetts law banning lying in campaign ads was struck down by that state’s highest court. This decision mirrors that of an Ohio federal judge last year, a case previously covered on this blog by Sarah Wiley. Like the Ohio law, the Massachusetts law criminalized telling lies about candidates for political office, and was as on the books for several decades before being successfully challenged in court. The lawsuit arose when a Democratic state representative alleged that a right-leaning PAC lied in a campaign brochure. The brochure in question alleged that Rep. Brian Mannal sponsored a bill that would “help convicted sex offenders” because he—as a defense attorney who had represented sex offenders in the past—stood to profit. Mannal maintained that he never provided legal representation to sex offenders. One of the bills in question would make GPS tracking devices optional for sex offenders on parole, rather than mandatory. After filing the bill in 2013, Mannal reported that he received death threats.

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The Fourth Time is the Charm: Ohio Voters Implement a Bipartisan Redistricting Commission

By: Kelsey Carpenter

On Election Day 2015, Ohio voters implemented ballot initiative Issue 1. This initiative creates a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw the state legislative district lines following the 2020 census, as opposed to the current system that allows the majority party to elect five partisan members to the redistricting commission. According to Issue 1, a seven-member panel that includes representatives from both the majority and minority parties will redraw the lines. The redistricting plan will pass for four years if four members of the panel accept the lines, while it will last for ten years if at least two of those votes come from members of the minority party. It is an interesting plan that attempts to eliminate partisan politics by incentivizing bipartisanship and cooperation.

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Ballot Initiatives for Marijuana Legalization Track Public Opinion

By Hannah Whiteker

Fans of direct democracy should be excited about the increased use of state ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana use. Direct democracy  allows citizens to enact and change laws, instead of electing representatives to make important decisions for them. One of the ways that the United States utilizes direct democracy is through state ballot initiatives. If a group of voters wants to get an initiative on the ballot to pass a law in their state (there is no initiative process for federal elections), the group must first get enough voters to sign a petition supporting the initiative. The number of signatures required varies by state. If the group satisfies the signature requirement, the initiative is put on the ballot for the next statewide election to be voted on by the people.

graph 1

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OK: Independents, Welcome to the Democratic Primaries

By: Ajinur Setiwaldi

The Oklahoma Democratic Party is making history this year by opening up their primaries to independent voters. Delegates at the state convention approved (314-147) the change in July 2015 and expect independent voters to participate in the party’s presidential primaries in March 2016. Registered independents will also be able to participate in democratic primaries for all state and local elections.

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Wisconsin: One Wisconsin Institute v. Nichol

By: Lisa Zhang

One Wisconsin institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, and six Wisconsin residents filed a complaint against a series of provisions that Wisconsin has made since 2011 to its voting and election laws.

Interestingly, Wisconsin’s election laws just withstood a challenge that had lasted for four years. On March 23, 2015, the Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari of Frank v. Walker. In Frank, plaintiffs challenged 2011 Wisconsin Act 23, which specifies limited acceptable forms of photo IDs, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the district court found it in violation of both the 14th Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The 7th Circuit reversed the judgement on the ground that Wisconsin’s Voter ID law does not differ in ways that matter under the analysis in Crawford v. Marion.

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Underlying Partisan Bickering in Harris: The Role of the Independent Commission in Arizona’s Current Redistricting Battle

By: Will Cooke

Several legislative districts in Arizona are potentially in flux as the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Rooted in the ongoing debate about the permissible degree of population deviation in state districts, the plaintiffs in the case focus their argument on the strong correlation between political ideology and the population of a district. As the graph below demonstrates, eleven of the thirteen Democrat-leaning legislative districts in the state contain total populations below the “ideal district size” (or the size of a district if drawn with perfect uniformity of population).

Arizona Districts

Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 993 F. Supp. 2d, 1094 (D. Ariz. 2014)

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William & Mary Alum, Washington Post Article

Check out this opinion post by William C. Smith Jr., “The meaning of the vote to an ex-prisoner“.

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Native-Hawaiian Self Determination Election Survives Equal Protection Challenge

By: Mollie Topic

In October 2015, a U.S. district judge sitting in Honolulu denied a motion for preliminary injunction to halt an election that is open only to Native Hawaiians. The litigation in Akina v. Hawaii arises out of the Nai Aupuni election, an election process that is ultimately designed to help Native Hawaiians achieve self-determination.

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Ranked Choice Voting in Maine

By: Emily Wagman

On October 19, 2015, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting delivered 70,000 signatures to Maine’s Secretary of State. While the signatures still must be verified, it is likely that the proposal will make it onto the 2016 ballot. Ranked choice voting is also referred to as instant runoff voting, which allows voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. If a voter’s first choice does not win, the voter’s vote moves to his/her second choice candidate. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting has support from all sides of the political spectrum. Voters in Maine are especially concerned with the idea of majority rule since the current Governor, Paul LePage, won his first term with only 38% of the vote, which is not exactly a ringing majority endorsement. Moreover, voters are also concerned with the issue of spoiler candidates. The most recent gubernatorial election saw a three-way race between LePage (R), Mike Michaud (D), and Eliot Cutler (I). The results of that election show that Cutler was a spoiler candidate – LePage received 48.2% of the vote, Michaud received 43.4% of the vote, and Cutler received 8.4% of the vote. Had the votes Cutler received gone to Michaud, LePage would have been unseated.

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Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus

Check out this University of Pennsylvania Law Review article:

With Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 132 S. Ct. 2334 (2014), the Supreme Court set the stage for litigation challenging state statutes that punish false statements in political campaigns. In its decision, the Court did not decide the merits of whether a state statute (Ohio’s, in Susan B. Anthony List) was unconstitutional. Instead, the Court adjudicated solely the preliminary issue of justiciability: whether standing and ripeness doctrines should prevent courts from adjudicating a political organization’s preenforcement challenge to Ohio’s statute. In the end, the Court’s unanimous opinion held that standing and ripeness considerations would not stand in the way of such preenforcement challenges. The decision paves the way for a wave of legal challenges—challenges that, in light of the Court’s recent decision in United States v. Alvarez, 132 S. Ct. 2537 (2012), may spell the end for state statutes banning false statements in political campaigns.

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