State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Mo’ Money, Less Democracy: Washington D.C.’s Quest for Fair Elections

By: Evan Tucker

“[T]he notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was clear when queried about Citizens United: large spending in elections by a few eviscerates the essence of democracy. Government in America is “by the People, for the People;” it is not “by the few, for the few.” At the seat of the United States government, District Councilmember David Grosso introduced the “Fair Elections Act of 2017.” Councilmember Grosso aims to “reform campaign financing and to provide for publicly funded political campaigns.” Campaign donations are necessary in electoral politics, for modern-day campaigns are incredibly expensive. For Grosso, though, democracy should not be sold to the highest bidder; that is to say, the largest donor having their preferred candidate elected and in turn having that candidate only responsive to the donor. By introducing his bill, he seeks to establish a balance by “establishing a robust public financing program.”

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Are Absentee Ballots as Helpful to Voters as They Appear to Be?

By: Alyssa Kaiser

My experience in voting with an absentee ballot in New Jersey in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, as well as the 2017 gubernatorial election, alerted my attention to flaws in the system. As an active voter, these experiences have left me to wonder if absentee voting is worth it. I am thankful that my home state of New Jersey has an absentee ballot system that allows me to vote as a New Jerseyite even though I go to school in Virginia. Although New Jersey’s absentee ballot rules are arguably less stringent than other states, I learned the hard way that absentee voting can be difficult.

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Are Rhode Island’s Mail-In Ballots a “Gigantic, Illegal Loophole?”

By: Eric Lynch

Ken Block, a two-time former gubernatorial candidate, made headlines in early October 2017 over a provocative tweet regarding voter identification (“voter-ID”) and mail-in ballots. Mr. Block claimed that mail-in ballots violated Rhode Island’s voter-ID law and are effectively a “gigantic, illegal loophole” to performing widespread voter fraud. Block implored the Rhode Island legislature to attend to this matter immediately. In response, Mr. Stephen Erickson, a Rhode Island State Board of Elections member, considered such a measure as “another effort to limit people’s ability to vote.” Mr. Erickson asserted that the Board “regularly rejects mail[-in] ballots where there is a substantial difference between the two signatures or if the witnesses does not provide enough information so that they can be identified and questioned.”

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Maine Supreme Court Declares Ranked Choice Voting Unconstitutional

By: Charles Truxillo

On May 23, 2017, the Maine Supreme Court unanimously identified portions of the State’s initiative to implement ranked choice voting (Question 5 of the 2016 initiative ballot) as conflicting with the State’s Constitution. Although the opinion offers no binding precedent as of yet, the state legislature swiftly moved to implement potential solutions to the impending constitutional concern. After following a party-line vote on October 23, 2017, the legislature’s responding bill ordered the repeal of Question 5 if the Constitution fails to be properly amended by December of 2021.

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Alaska Superior Court Allows the State Democratic Party to Let Independent Candidates Run in Party Primaries

By: Grace Greenberg-Spindler

Creating coalitions between independents and major political parties widens the opportunity for independents to participate in the political process. In Alaska an independent candidate must submit a filing notification and collect petition signatures, the number of which varies by level of office. Additionally, independent candidates are blocked from accessing the tools of state-recognized parties such as the Alaska Democratic Party (“ADR”) and the Alaska Republican Party. Rule AS 15.25.030(a)(16) requires “primary election candidates to be registered members of the party in whose primary they run.”

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The Fate of North Carolina Senate Bill 68: Still Uncertain and Still Causing Issues for Local Counties

By: Hannah Littlefield

As discussed in Part I of this two-part blog series, Senate Bill 68 (“SB 68”) is one of the more interesting election issues emerging from North Carolina. SB 68 merged the North Carolina Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission, forming the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The boards merged in June 2017; however, Governor Roy Cooper has yet to appoint members to the new board.

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West Virginia Campaign Finance Pilot Program

By: Jordan Smith

This blog is no stranger to the judicial election structure in the State of West Virginia.  In 2015, one of our posts discussed West Virginia’s transition from partisan to nonpartisan judicial election.  Today, this blog returns to the West Virginia judiciary to discuss the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Public Campaign Financing Pilot Program (“Pilot Program”).

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The Political Posturing Taking Shape Around Indiana’s Early Voting Rights Litigation: Common Cause Indiana v. Marion County Election Board

By: Evan Fraughiger

Common Cause Indiana v. Marion County Election Board is a case arising out of the region surrounding Indiana’s capital, Indianapolis. Following the 2008 election, Republican members of the Marion County Election Board allegedly engaged in a plan to prevent Marion County (the largest county in Indiana) from expanding its early voting sites. Marion County originally had three early voting locations in 2008 but in every subsequent election, that number was reduced to one solitary site. For a more detailed account of the history of this case and the surrounding context, please read my earlier post here.

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Alabama Ready to Prosecute Crossover Voters

By: Lydia Warkentin

As discussed in my previous blog post, Alabama  passed a law in 2017 prohibiting crossover voting, which occurs when voters vote in the primary of one party and then the primary runoff of another party.  The stated purpose behind the law is to keep members of one party from having an undue influence on the other party’s candidate. “It helps Democrats choose Democratic candidates, it helps Republicans choose Republican candidates,” said Senator Tom Whatley, who sponsored the bill.

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All GAB, No Action

By: George Nwanze

There is an old Latin saying “quis custodiet ipsos custodes” or “who will watch the watchers.” This saying has been invoked countless times over the centuries to suggest that to those who great power is conferred, it must be tempered with oversight. In the state of Wisconsin, however, it is not readily apparent who is behind the wheel of the state’s election process. Starting in 2008, Wisconsin sought to venture in a bold new direction in campaign finance law with its creation of a nonpartisan board, the Government Accountability Board (GAB), that would be tasked with regulation of campaign finance in the state. The GAB had its impetus in the 2001 campaign scandal in which staffers in the state legislature impermissibly used state funds to engage in partisan campaigning. In response to this scandal—in which both sides were accused of misappropriation of public funds–the first act of the 2007 legislative session called for the creation of a state agency, a combination of the state’s ethics and election boards, that would be charged with election supervision.

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