State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Author: Election Law Society (page 1 of 80)

Redistricting in DC: City Council Works to Balance Citizen Concerns and Ward Populations

Washington, DC, like a number of states around the country, is currently beginning its redistricting process in the wake of the 2020 census. Per the Ward Redistricting Amendment Act of 2021, DC’s wards and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) must be redrawn to reflect the population changes that have occurred since the last census in 2010. To accomplish this goal, the DC City Council has tasked the Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting with soliciting public input and weighing the different concerns that inevitably accompany the redistricting process. The Subcommittee, chaired by at-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, held a virtual public hearing on September 29, 2021, where many such concerns were voiced.

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Florida Senate Bill 90: Usual or Unusual Beast of Burden?

On May 6, 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida signed Senate Bill 90 into law. While the Governor and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature heralded SB 90 for its election integrity and transparency measures, critics called foul, or rather “voter suppression.” SB 90 is Florida’s contribution to a flurry of state-led reforms sparked by the national discourse on the validity of the 2020 election. As a result of SB 90, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida now has a substantial election law docket. Petitioners assert a variety of claims (including ADA, Equal Protection, and Fifteenth Amendment claims), with claims regarding Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act featuring prominently.

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Virginia Takes Initial Steps to Permanently Streamline the Restoration of Voting Rights for Virginians with Felony Conviction Histories

By: Sarah Fisher

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly took a significant initial step toward ensuring that Virginians with felony conviction histories have their voting rights restored upon release from incarceration.

Currently, under the Constitution of Virginia, Virginians with prior felony convictions are permanently disenfranchised and may only have their civil rights restored at the discretion of the Governor upon full completion of their sentences. This policy has historically been interpreted as requiring the payment of all court costs and fees, as well as  the successful completion of applicable probation or parole periods. State policy also required would-be voters to affirmatively request restoration of their rights via an application to the Governor and Secretary of the Commonwealth. While Virginia’s gubernatorial administrations now work proactively to restore voting rights to all who are eligible (therefore eliminating the application stage), new voters are often unaware their voting rights have been revived.

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Big Changes to Indiana Election Law: Curing Ballots & Private Funds

By all accounts and in unique ways, the 2020 election in Indiana was unprecedented. Like other states, Indiana faced impressive challenges and unexpected changes as a result of the ongoing pandemic, from the first postponement of a previously scheduled primary in Indiana’s two-hundred year history to staggering increases in absentee voting. Indiana legislators relied on both the lessons and the disputes of 2020 to make big changes to Indiana election law.

In 2021, Indiana State Senator Greg Walker introduced Senate Bill 398 and, following approval from the state legislature, Governor Holcomb signed the bill into law in April of this year. This post will focus on two interesting changes to Indiana election law brought about by this bill: new procedures for notifying and curing absentee ballots rejected due to signature mismatching, and private grants to fund local elections.

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Did the Scope of the Texas Governor’s Authority to Suspend Election Law Under the Texas Disaster Act Expand to Include Policy Unrelated to Mitigating an Emergency?

By: Sarah Depew

On March 13, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation declaring a state of disaster due to the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering gubernatorial emergency powers authorized in the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. The Texas Disaster Act gives the Governor the authority to “suspend the provisions of any regulatory statute. . . . if strict compliance with the provisions, orders, or rules would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with a disaster.” Using this authority, Gov. Abbott issued a proclamation on July 27, 2020, to expand early voting and suspend portions of the Texas Election Code to allow voters to deliver a marked ballot in person to the early voting clerk’s office before or on Election Day. An “early voting clerk’s office” is understood in both the Texas Election Code and the July Proclamation to include more than the voting clerk’s main office, but also, any satellite offices or locations. For example, Harris County’s Election Administration has ten offices serving 4.7 million residents across 1,777 square miles.

The July Proclamation was not controversial. The order stated that strict compliance with statute governing the return of marked ballots would hinder the state’s coping with COVID—an objective that is indisputably permissible under the Texas Disaster Act.

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New Jersey Voting Reform: Early Voting Expansion, Ballot Boxes, and the Future of Voting Legislation

By: Tim Intelisano

In the wake of the 2020 election, the American people watched as a plethora of states enacted restrictive voting laws, that would counter the reforms undertaken to make voting easier and safer during the Covid-19 pandemic. 2020 was an unprecedented year for democracy. Election night (or perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, election week) featured drama counting mail-in-ballots across the Midwest and Sun Belt. The entire process exposed the weaknesses of the system. Instead of changing state laws that would allow counties to start counting mail-in ballots as they were received, some states forced officials to wait until Election Day, resulting in delayed results. These delays were cited by many as proof of fraud or vote tally manipulation.

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Mississippi: Masks, Mandates, and Mail-In Voting

By Catrina Curtis

Mississippi finds itself in an odd position going into this important Election Day amidst the COVID-19 pandemic: it is the only state to have allowed its statewide mask mandate to expire and the only state that is not offering early or mail-in voting for all of its citizens. 

The Magnolia State is one of only five states that will not offer no-excuse absentee voting for this November’s election, even as the vast majority of states have expanded their mail-in voting options due to health and safety concerns. However, among the five states not offering no-excuse absentee voting, Mississippi is the only state also not offering early voting. Although the Mississippi Legislature passed an amendment this summer to allow for those quarantining due to COVID-19 or those caring for someone with COVID-19 to vote by mail, the Mississippi Supreme Court recently held that the amendment does not also allow for those with pre-existing conditions at a greater risk of COVID-19 to vote absentee, striking down a lower interpretation of the amendment that was appealed by the Secretary of State. 

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The Prepopulated Paper Chase: Joel Miller’s Battle Over Absentee Ballot Request Forms

By Zee Huff

This is part I on coverage of Iowa’s absentee ballot application dispute; see part 2 here.

Imagine: You’re the auditor for Linn County, Iowa. It’s a warm summer morning. After a June primary which saw record turnout— and a surge in absentee voting — you’re trying to figure out how best to serve the citizens of your county. Drop boxes outside your office and the Public Services Building were a hit, with citizens voting up until 9 p.m. on Election Day. There are ways to help your constituents, and you’ll find them.

Your name is Joel Miller, and you’re about to have a hell of a summer.

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Retweet: Colorado Secretary of State Urges Careful Election Night Reporting

By Anna Pesetski

In a Twitter thread on October 1, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold encouraged news outlets to abstain from reporting the results of the presidential election on the night of the election. In her tweets, Griswold stated that this is an “unprecedented election” and “call[ed] on national media networks to pledge to #PressPause for democracy” by refraining from making projections or reporting results on election night. She quickly received backlash for these statements from both sides of the political spectrum. Fox News host Laura Ingraham, a conservative, stated that “[i]t’s not up to her to say what the media or anyone else says on election night.” Colorado state senator Steve Fenberg, the Democratic majority leader, tweeted “[t]his will only cause mass confusion and creates an opening for reckless behavior from the President. Demanding journalists to withhold verifiable facts or rational projections is counter to how a free democracy works.” 

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U.S. District Court Changes South Carolina Absentee Ballot Witness Requirement

September was an eventful month for South Carolina’s absentee voting laws. On September 16, 2020, the Governor of South Carolina signed into law the state legislature’s bill H5305, which, in effect, permits all registered voters in South Carolina to vote by absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020 General Election. On September 18, 2020, the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, issued a preliminary injunction against the South Carolina State Election Commission (“SCEC”) in Middleton v. Andino, No. 3:20-CV-01730-JMC (D.S.C. Sept. 18, 2020). The court enjoined the SCEC from enforcing South Carolina law requiring another person to witness an absentee voter’s signature on the absentee ballot envelope for the November 2020 general election. South Carolina law requires absentee voters to sign an oath on their absentee ballot envelope in the presence of a witness, who must also sign and provide their address on the ballot envelope. Additionally, Section 7-15-420 of the South Carolina Code provides that an absentee ballot “may not be counted unless the oath is properly signed and witnessed.” Section 6(a) of the recently passed H5305 bill provides that the absentee ballot envelopes will be examined “in accordance with the requirements of Section 7-15-420.”

There are three reasons that the district court in Middleton reached the right result in issuing the preliminary injunction.

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