State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

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Florida Former Felons Form Franchise Focus

By: Alannah Shubrick

All men are created equal. Then, some of those men go forth into the world and commit felonies. While felons in Maine or Vermont can cast ballots from the comfort of their prison cells, those convicted of felonies in Florida permanently lose their ability to vote.

Florida is one of only four states that permanently disenfranchise felons. Each of these states has procedures whereby individual felons can apply for clemency. However, in Florida, felons must wait an additional five years after completing the terms of their sentence before applying for clemency consideration. Then, only about 8% of clemency requests are granted.

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How to Help the Homeless Vote in Hawaii

By: Avery Dobbs

The state of Hawaii has had the lowest voter turnout rate in the country in the past five presidential election cycles. While the reasons for low turnout rates are nuanced and multifactor, it is safe to say that at least part of the problem is inaccessibility of the polls for Hawaii’s many homeless residents. Hawaii currently has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in America with over seven thousand homeless residents in the state. Homeless residents are extremely vulnerable to public regulations but often have a limited say in decision making due to impediments to voting while homeless. While the only legal requirements for voting in Hawaii are 1) being properly registered to vote, 2) being a U.S. citizen and resident of Hawaii, and 3) being over the age of 18, the issue for homeless voters is how to register to vote without having an address or a photo ID. Continue reading

Texas Follows the Trend of Eliminating Straight Ticket Voting

In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 25 into law, which will eliminate the straight ticket voting option beginning in 2020. In the November 2016 elections, an estimated 63% of voters cast straight ticket ballots. The biggest selling point among supporters of the law revolves around the idea that voters will work to be more informed once it is in place, as the current straight ticket system allows voters to vote blindly for one party. A proposed amendment, requiring Department of Justice confirmation of the constitutionality of the measure prior to removal of straight ticket voting, did not pass with the bill. Continue reading

Efforts to Challenge Pennsylvania’s 2011 Redistricting Continue into 2017

By: Scott McMurty

Election law—and particularly map drawing—in Pennsylvania carries the potential to have significant impacts on the composition of government in Washington, as the state has long been considered a battleground in national elections. Yet despite its reputation for competitiveness, Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation has consisted of thirteen Republicans and just five Democrats in the past three Congresses, following a redistricting overhaul by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2011. This imbalance has sparked calls for redistricting reform in Pennsylvania, and in June became the subject of a legal challenge in Commonwealth Court by the League of Women Voters and disgruntled voters from some of the state’s more “convoluted” districts.

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Democracy in the District: What is the Strength of the Franchise?

By: Evan Tucker

What is the strength of the franchise in America? The franchise is the device by which members of a democracy elect those who govern. The franchise’s strength, thus, is at its strongest when citizens cast votes freely and a candidate is duly elected. Conversely, the franchise is at its weakest when it is adversely affected by some entity, intending to weaken the effect of the franchise (e.g. gerrymandering or substantial changes to election type/voting procedures). The franchise in the District of Columbia is somewhere in between. There, the franchise is not weakened by intentional actions taken by the government, but instead by constitutional defect. Article I, section 8, clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution assigns to Congress the plenary power to legislate in the District. Citizens of the District, however, do not have voting members in either house of Congress. Most recognize this democratic tension as “taxation without representation,” which was one of the basis for America’s split with Britain. But the story is not that simple.

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Texas Voter ID Laws and Hurricane Harvey Join in Election Maelstrom

By: Evan Lewis

Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a category four hurricane on the South Texas coast on August 25, 2017. Harvey was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since Hurricane Wilma made landfall in 2005. The storm stalled over Texas through the next several days, dropping 51.88 inches and 27 trillion gallons of rain over parts of Houston, the state’s most populated city, and causing nearly $200 billion in damages spread from Rockport in South Texas to Beaumont near the Louisiana border. As those affected by the storm struggle to piece their homes, their livelihoods, and their families back together, one could not fault them for not thinking about how Harvey might affect their ability to vote in the upcoming November 2017 statewide elections (which mainly concern proposed amendments to the state constitution) or the 2018 statewide elections.

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Tennessee Looks to Encourage Voter Turnout With Some Help from the Digital Age

By: Caroline Drinnon

As of September 2017, Tennessee joined the ranks of another 35 states, plus the District of Colombia, in enacting an online voter registration system. Following a 2016 law that mandated an online voter registration system be in place by July (later extended to September) of 2017, the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office officially opened the website on September 1. Proponents of the system believe that it will streamline the registration system, reduce clerical errors, and lower taxpayer costs of the process. The registration process can be found here and requires a Tennessee driver’s license or Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security ID to be completed.

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Navigating the Process for Challenging Candidate Eligibility in Tennessee

By: Cody Brandon

On September 8th, the Supreme Court of Tennessee handed down a ruling in McFarland v. Pemberton, a dispute between the two candidates for Circuit Judge for the Ninth Judicial Circuit. The 3-2 ruling clarifies the powers of the State Coordinator of Elections and County Election Commissions, but it also complicates the procedure for challenging candidate eligibility in state elections. Without knowledge of the intricacies of this decision, a candidate may lose his chance to challenge the eligibility of his opponent as William McFarland did.

McFarland and Michael S. Pemberton were the only two candidates for Circuit Judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Tennessee. On February 3, 2014, Mr. Pemberton filed his nominating petition for the office with the Roane County Election Commission. Article VI, § 4 of the Tennessee Constitution requires judges to have resided in the district to which they are elected for one year prior to election. Pemberton grew up in Rockwood (in Roane County), but moved to Knoxville (outside of the Ninth Circuit) a little less than two years before the election. A year before the election, Pemberton purchased a second home in Roane County, within the limits of the district. Continue reading

Removing Elected Officials in Virginia: Supreme Court to Clarify Requirements for Petitions for Removal

By: Cody Brandon

The Supreme Court of Virginia is set to consider an appeal that could drastically affect efforts to remove elected officials. Other than those officials for which removal procedures are specified in the Constitution of Virginia, removal procedure is governed by Virginia Code § 24.2-230 et seq. Unlike many other states that use recall elections, these statutes provide for the removal of elected officials by a circuit court for neglect of duty and misuse of office as well as convictions for various drug-related, sexual assault, and hate crimes. The process is initiated when a number of petitioners equal to ten percent of the total number of votes cast at the last election for the office sign a petition for removal stating the grounds for removal. The petitioners must be registered voters residing in the district which the officer serves. Once the action is instituted, the Commonwealth steps in (through a Commonwealth’s Attorney) as the complaining party, and the officer is subjected to a trial of sorts to determine if there are grounds for removal that satisfy § 24.2-233. Continue reading

Can Virginia Become a Redistricting Unicorn like Iowa?

By Aaron Barden

There was a lizard on the floor of the James City County (JCC) government building’s Board of Supervisors meeting hall on August 8th, 2017. I was there to watch the board consider OneVirginia2021’s resolution, which in most cases does little more than declare support for non-partisan redistricting. But JCC’s resolution was different. The resolution had a paragraph tacked to the end that would have changed the County’s local redistricting procedure from a citizen board with no criteria-based restrictions (preventing use of party, no incumbency protection, etc.) to a reliance on the Board’s staff to draw the lines with such restrictions. Continue reading

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