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A series of tubes: Transmitting ballots via the Internet

by Anthony Balady

The Internet is a strange and unpredictable place, filled with cats playing keyboard and Rick Astley videos. It’s the kind of place you wouldn’t want your ballot floating around without protection. So, ever since the widespread adoption of electronic voting machines, voters and election administrators alike have feared for the safety of votes traveling through the Internet tubes.

Five voters in Hawaii, concerned about the accuracy and safety of electronically transmitted ballots, filed suit against Chief Election Officer Kevin Cronin to prevent the use of electronic voting machines in the 2010 elections. The suit, Babson v. Cronin, resulted from the Hawaii Office of Election’s decision to use Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines in the 2010 elections. DRE voting machines eliminate the need for paper ballots by storing the vote electronically. In some DRE machines, the vote is stored on a physical device, like a flash drive, and then physically taken to a central vote tabulation machine.  In other DRE machines, like those used in Hawaii, the vote is transmitted electronically through an Internet style network. Continue reading

HI (ballot access): Gotta be in it to win it: Ralph Nader loses Hawaiian ballot access challenge

by Anthony Balady

Ralph Nader may be accustomed to losing elections, but it takes a special kind of talent to lose before the first ballot has been cast. But that is just what happened back in 2004, when Hawaiian election officials kept independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader off the state ballot for failing to meet that state’s ballot access requirements.

Ballot access is a catch-all term for the requirements a candidate must meet before their name can appear on the ballot. Generally, a candidate is required to demonstrate a minimum level of support before the state will start printing ballots with their name on it. Ballot access laws vary significantly from state to state, but one thing is almost universally true: candidates from major parties, Republicans and Democrats, have a much easier time getting on the ballot than independents and third-party candidates. Continue reading

We Didn’t Start the Fire: Texas Loses Thousands of Voting Machines in Inferno

Elections are a delicate and complex process. In the months leading up to Election Day, election officials must anticipate and prepare for hundreds of potential issues. But in Texas, an issue nobody could have foreseen has left the best laid plans of the Harris County Clerk’s Office in disarray.

Over 10,000  voting machines were destroyed in a sudden warehouse fire on August 27th, leaving the county without a single voting machine to use in the upcoming elections.  Luckily, no one was injured, but with just two months to go before Election Day, the county is scrambling to find ways to salvage the situation. Continue reading

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the People’s Veto

dr_strangelove_1ed07Like many other states, Maine allows for citizen initiatives, the process by which individual citizens and nongovernmental organizations directly propose legislation.  Also like many other states, Maine’s initiative process attracts more than its fair share of bizarre characters and proposals, including this referendum to end the fluoridation of Maine’s drinking water.  Considering the most famous attempt to end the fluoridation of drinking water ended in a nuclear war, I suppose that the initiative process is a vast improvement.

However, the occasional strange referendum isn’t the only thing that makes Maine’s initiative process interesting. In addition to allowing conventional initiatives, Maine also gives its citizens a “People’s Veto”, through which the voters can veto laws passed by the state legislature.  The right to a People’s Veto is enshrined in Article IV, Section 17 of Maine’s Constitution, which also outlines the process by which a veto can appear on the ballot.  Continue reading

California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission: Do it Yourself Gerrymandering!

For too long, the joys of disenfranchising minorities and gerrymandering a district into irrelevancy have been selfishly hoarded by state legislatures. But in California, a group of 14 ordinary citizens will get the opportunity to draw the lines themselves, as members of California’s first Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission was created as a result of California’s citizen initiative process. California Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization for “open and accountable government”, proposed an amendment to the California Constitution that would take the task of redistricting out of the hands of the legislature and put it directly in the hands of the people.  That proposed amendment became Proposition 11, also known as the Voter First Initiative, and was voted on by the people of California in the 2008 general election.  Despite receiving support from a number of prominent figures, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg, Prop 11 barely passed, receiving less than 51% of the vote. Continue reading

The Bizarre History of Election Law: The Camden Election Riots of 1870

Election law has certainly earned its eccentric reputation.  From zombie voters to hanging chads, the strange history of modern election law has become ingrained in the public consciousness.  But, as odd as the last decade has been, the previous centuries of election law have been even more bizarre.  So, in this series of articles, State of Elections will take a closer look at some of the stranger moments in election law.

In the previous “bizarre history” article, we discussed the various (and often hilarious) irregularities of  Siskiyou County’s school superintendent election.  Today, we are going to take a more solemn look at one of the strangest and most brutal attempts to disenfranchise black voters in American history.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Camden County New Jersey was a hotbed of racial strife.  The black population of the county grew dramatically, as former slaves left their plantations and moved up North.  As the black population 316px-Map_of_New_Jersey_highlighting_Camden_County.svggrew, so did the anger of certain elements within the white community. This tension between the whites and blacks in Camden County came to a head during the 1870 Congressional election.  For many of the newly freed slaves, it would be their first time voting.  In Centreville, a small town in Camden County, whites feared that this sudden influx of freed slaves would have an irrevocable impact on local politics. So, they formed a mob and marched down to the polls to stop blacks from voting, anyway they could. Continue reading

Congressional Vacancies, Election Certification, and American Idol

Scott Brown, that American Idol fathering, sexiest man winning, pickup truck driving politician has won a decisive victory in Massachusetts.  But even before polls opened, there was a budding controversy over exactly when the election results would be certified and the winner seated.  Several media outlets are reporting that Democrats may attempt to delay Brown’s swearing in, in an effort to push health care reform through before Brown can take his seat.  Instead of providing yet another analysis of the current situation in Massachusetts, State of Elections is going to examine the existing law and customs governing special elections, and take a look at some previous controversies surrounding the certification of special elections. Continue reading

State of Elections Welcomes First Editor in Chief

State of Elections and the Election Law Society of William & Mary are thrilled to announce it’s first Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Balady.  A first year law student born and raised in New Jersey, Anthony has a degree in political science with a minor in writing and rhetoric from James Madison University.  While we have a team of great editors on our blog, Anthony has emerged as a leader who will roll up his sleeves and leaves draft blog posts bleeding with red ink.

Reaction to this historic move for our blog was widely positive.  When reached for comment, President Obama said it was “the best news we’ve had all week.”

Aware of Mr. Balady’s brown belt in Tae Kwon Do, Senator-elect Brown (R-MA) issued a statement nominating Anthony for Cosmo’s 2010 “America’s Sexiest Man.” It’s worth noting that when Cosmo comes calling, both men will have won the award while in law school, but only one will have had the privilege of leading the best student-run election law blog in the country.

For our readers wondering what type of political background Anthony has, we asked him a few basic questions.  His first political memory?  Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal.  The first campaign that got him into politics?  McCain in 2000:  “That was the first time I realized that politics wasn’t just an entertaining sideshow, it had a real impact on real people,” the new chief said.  Though he was quick to point out that McCain 2008 didn’t inspire the same feelings.  In 2008, Anthony was pulling for Stephen Colbert.  Seems like all of his candidates run into trouble in South Carolina.

Please join our blog family and the national, bi-partisan enthusiasm and welcome Anthony with an email at editor@stateofelections.com.

Ye Olde Election Law: The Bizarre History of Election Law

Election law has certainly earned its eccentric reputation.  From zombie voters to hanging chads,  the strange history of modern election law has become ingrained in the public consciousness.  But, as odd as the last decade has been, the previous centuries of election law have been even more bizarre.  So, in this series of articles, State of Elections will take a closer look at some of the stranger moments in election law.

One such moment happened in California’s Siskiyou County. In 1895, Clarence Smith was elected school superintendent of that county by a single vote.  His opponent, George Tebbe, contested the result.  When the ballots were recounted, the court found three additional votes for Tebbe, and declared Tebbe the new winner by two votes.  However, until the ballots could be counted in open court, they had been stored under the desk in the county clerk’s office.  This sounds all well and good, except that Tebbe was deputy clerk at that office, and worked in the same room where the ballots were stored.  Imagine Tebbe, sitting just a few short feet from the ballots, the ballots that would decide his political future.  Even if there was no actual vote tampering, surely even the appearance of impropriety would warrant a stern rebuke from the court.  Of course, no such rebuke was forthcoming. Instead, the court praised the “prudence of the clerk and the fair dealing of all concerned”, and required that Smith prove that ballot tampering took place before taking any action.

Continue reading

New Jersey’s Off-Off Year Elections

On Monday, Dr. Quentin Kidd explained the origins of Virginia’s “off-off year” elections. Of course, Virginia is not the only state with this peculiar tradition. New Jersey has also held off-off year elections since 1947, due to a similar quirk of the electoral calendar.

Prior to the adoption of the modern New Jersey Constitution, New Jersey governors served three year terms, with the last gubernatorial election under the old constitution occurring in 1946.  In 1947, the legislature proposed a constitutional convention which was voted on as a referendum and approved by a majority of voters.  The new constitution was ratified in 1947, and among many other changes, extended the governor’s term to four years.  This extension, however, did not apply to the current governor’s (Alfred Driscoll) term, who had been elected under the old constitution.  So, Driscoll’s first term, which had begun in 1947, ended in 1950.  When Driscoll ran for reelection, the term limits of the new constitution applied, so Driscoll’s second term lasted for four years.  The election to replace Driscoll occurred in November of 1953, and thanks to the new four year terms, every New Jersey gubernatorial election from then on naturally fell on an off-off year.

Although the New Jersey constitution gives the legislature the power to change election day by law, New Jersey maintains its tradition of off-off year elections, and there are no indications that the legislature will change this tradition anytime soon.

Anthony Balady is a student at William and Mary Law School and a member of State of Election’s editorial board.

Permalink: http://electls.blogs.wm.edu/2009/11/18/new-jerseys-off-off-year-elections/

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