State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

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Delaware’s Emergency House Bill: Is It Junk Mail (Updated)?

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By: Andrew Jeacoma

On July 1, 2020, Delaware Governor John Carney signed House Bill 346 (“HB 346”) into law. HB 346—as a response to COVID-19—grants all Delaware citizens the ability to vote by mail in the upcoming 2020 general election. The bill is a departure from the constitutional rule of voting-by-mail established by Article V, Section 4A  of Delaware’s Constitution, which limited mail-in-voting to those who qualified under an exhaustive list.

In response to HB 346, The Republican State Committee of Delaware (the “RSC”) filed a complaint on August 19, 2020, against the state of Delaware Department of Elections and its commissioner, Anthony J. Albence. In their complaint, the RSC framed HB 346 as unconstitutional for three principle reasons: first, it goes against the already established constitutional rule governing absentee ballots. Second, in passing HB 346 the General Assembly impermissibly sought to amend the constitution. Third, the universal voting by mail envisioned by HB 346 has numerous practical problems that result in voter disenfranchisement. See here for a more thorough report on RSC’s complaint.

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Who’s Afraid of the MVA? Frivolous Lawsuits and Election Law

By: Zee Huff

How much do you know about election administration? A layperson could be forgiven for having more personal problems to concern themselves with. There are only so many free hours in the day for the average American worker and, in an ideal world, election administration could be left to election administrators. It’s their job.

However, there are times when citizens must get their hands dirty, either because the state is unable to, or more frequently, unwilling to protect their rights as voters. The classic examples? Voter suppression, racial gerrymandering, intimidation at the polls—efforts to make it harder for certain citizens to exercise their right to vote. Our country has a long and difficult history with ensuring the right to vote for all citizens. So, why would any citizen want to object to efforts to make it easierto cast a vote?

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Despite a bumpy start and handwringing in court, Georgia had a relatively smooth Election Day “

By: Alex Lipow

When in-person early voting for the 2020 General Election in Georgia began, technological and logistical issues—coupled with unprecedented voter enthusiasm—created excessively long lines for voters to cast ballots. Across the Atlanta metropolitan area, many voters had to stand in line for five hours to vote. A disproportionate number of unreasonably long voting lines occurred in minority communities. This episode was only the latest example of long voting lines plaguing Georgia’s electoral system and some feared it portended poorly for a smooth Election Day.

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Virginia Cuts the Cable, Gets Same Day Voter Registration

By: Allen Coon

It was an early Tuesday morn when the Commonwealth awoke to an October surprise all of its own: on October 12th, the last day for eligible Virginians to register to vote in the November 3rd General Election, a Chesterfield County utilities crew accidentally severed a cable providing online connectivity for multiple Commonwealth agencies—including the Virginia Department of Elections. Prospective voters who had hoped to register or update their registration online were denied the option, with no alternative but to register in-person by 5:00 p.m.

In October 2016, when a similar technological malfunction prevented applicants from registering online, such a glitch may have posed a burden for citizens with limited or no transportation access or employment flexibility. Now, during a global pandemic, the unavailability of online registration also required all in-person applicants—and specifically elderly, poor, disabled, and minority Virginians (all vulnerable populations)—to unnecessarily risk exposure to COVID-19.

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Dead on Arrival: Oklahoma’s State Question 804

By: Parker Klingenberg

The Oklahoman citizen group People Not Politicians, backed by the Women Voters of Oklahoma, led the charge earlier this year to get State Question 804, also known as the Independent Redistricting Commission Initiative, on the ballot for Oklahomans voting on November 3, 2020. State Question 804 would have laid out a new framework for drawing both state and federal district lines, complying with both federal law and numerous other criteria. These lines would be drawn not by the state legislature like in the past, however, but would be drawn by a newly created Independent Redistricting Commission consisting of three members of the majority party, three members of the minority parties, and three non-party affiliated members. State Question 804 will not be on the ballot, however. The Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked it based on the grounds that the “gist,” or the summary that would appear to citizens during the process of gathering the required signatures to get on the ballot, was not “sufficiently informative to reveal its design and purpose.” Specifically, the gist failed to properly inform citizens that the ballot initiative was designed to stop partisan gerrymandering, and how the proposed committee would do so. While Oklahomans were not able to decide in November whether they want to vote for or against this proposal, it still raises interesting issues about Oklahoma’s future.

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How Much is on the Chopping Block? – Arizona Sends a VRA Section 2 Case to the Supreme Court

By: Megan Kelly

What do ballot harvesting and out-of-precinct votes have in common? Arizona is sending cases about both to the Supreme Court next term. In early October, the Supreme Court granted certiorari on two cases about voting regulations in Arizona. The first is Arizona’s law banning ballot harvesting. The law bans third parties from turning in voter ballots, except in the case of family, members of the household, or caregivers. The second is Arizona’s law requiring that ballots cast at the wrong precinct not be counted.

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Is It Time for SCOTUS to Revisit the Anderson-Burdick Test?: Insights from the Challenge to West Virginia’s Ballot Order Statute

By: Daniel Bruce

In a previous article on the ongoing challenge to West Virginia’s ballot order statute, I highlighted the growing importance of the Political Question Doctrine to challenges to election administration laws like the one at issue in Nelson v. Warner.

As a refresher, W. Va. Code § 3-6-2(c)(3) requires candidates appearing on statewide ballots to be placed in the order of the party whose candidate received the highest number of statewide votes in the previous presidential election. The state’s Democratic Party is challenging the law based on the “primacy effect” granted to Republican candidates who appear first on the ballot.

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Uncertainty continues for voters as Iowa Supreme Court upholds invalidation of pre-filled ballot request forms

By Clara Ilkka

With less than two weeks to go until the election, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a directive from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate invalidating pre-filled absentee ballot application forms sent out by county auditors in three of Iowa’s most populous counties. Because of the directive, courts have invalidated forms mailed to more than 200,000 voters. Those who sent in a pre-filled form were required to fill out and send in a new, blank form to their county auditors in order to receive an absentee ballot. Iowa’s deadline to request an absentee ballot was October 24th, so voters had only ten days to get their new forms in.

Back on October 5th, a judge in Polk County, Iowa, sided with Democrats and ruled that Pate had exceeded his authority in issuing the directive requiring blank forms. The district judge stopped enforcement of Pate’s directive and said the prefilled ballots were valid. In a quick turnaround, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a stay keeping the directive in place on October 6th.

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Trump Campaign Wrangles Over Pennsylvania Poll Watchers

By Mikaela Phillips

“. . .[B]ad things happen in Philadelphia,” remarked President Trump at the first presidential debate on September 29th, speculating that “anti-Trump bias” was the reason local election officials earlier in the day barred his campaign’s poll watchers access to new satellite offices in the city. On October 1st, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia County Board of Elections and three Election Commissioners, alleging that denying his watchers admission to the satellite election offices on the first day of in-person early voting violated the Pennsylvania Election Code. The campaign argued that “[t]he absence of poll watchers at polling places where registration and voting are occurring threatens the integrity of the vote in elections and denies voters the constitutional right to free and fair public elections under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.”

Section 2687 of the Election Code permits candidates to appoint two poll watchers per election district in which the candidate is on the ballot. While watchers need not be residents of the election district to which they are appointed, they must be qualified registered electors in the county in which the district is located. On Election Day, watchers are permitted at polling places; they may keep lists of voters, challenge voter qualifications, and upon request, inspect the voting checklists. However, poll watchers must remain outside the enclosed space until the close of polls. Section 2650also permits watchers to be present at public sessions of the County Board of Elections, as well as during canvasses and recounts. Lastly, section 3146.8 permits watchers when mail-in ballots are opened and recorded.

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Vote by Email? How D.C. Attempts To Overcome Mail Delays for Absentee Ballots

By Madeline Shay Williams

As the 2020 presidential election quickly approaches, there is widespread concern about voting in the midst of a global pandemic. In an effort to socially distance, many voters will opt to cast their ballot via absentee voting and vote-by-mail. However, delays in mail service and missing absentee ballots have already spelled impending disaster for the presidential election. During the presidential primary in June, the District of Columbia’s Board of Elections allowed voters cast their ballots by email after receiving many complaints from voters who never received their absentee ballots by mail.

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