State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Category: Alabama

No Star-Crossed Party Voting in Alabama: Stick with Your Party  

By: Lydia Warkentin

Roy Moore’s defeat of Senator Luther Strange in a special Republican primary runoff in Alabama dominated  the news cycle this September. But flying under the radar is a new Alabama law (Act No. 2017-340), signed by Governor Kay Ivey last May, that prohibits “crossover” voting in party primaries and runoffs. The law states that voters, if required to return to the polls for a primary runoff, like the one on September 26, can vote only for the party they voted for in the primary. In other words, a voter cannot vote in the Democratic party’s primary and then vote in the Republican party’s runoff. Only those who voted in the Republican primary on August 15, or those that did not vote at all, were permitted to vote in the September 26 runoff. Supporters say the goal of the law is to prevent one party from having an improper effect on another party’s race.  

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Alabama sidesteps VRA § 5 preclearance status quo: I’ll see you in court

by John Alford

As part of the mandated decennial redistricting, the Alabama legislature will change the lines for the State’s congressional and school board districts. Current and proposed maps can be found here. This redistricting will alter the political landscape of the State, but before Alabama can move forward on redistricting, the Federal Government has to approve of the new map as per the Voting Rights Act § 5 (“VRA”). Under the VRA § 5, there are two paths Alabama can take to get preclearance. It can seek approval through the Justice Department (DOJ) or through the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (For more on the VRA § 5, particularly why and how states like Alabama get preclearance from the Federal Government, see here.) Alabama has opted to take the matter to court.

Like many other covered jurisdictions, Alabama is unhappy with the requirement that the Justice Department (DOJ) keep tabs on its election process. To wit, Shelby County recently filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the preclearance process, so far unsuccessfully (see more about this lawsuit here.) The opinion in Shelby County emanates from the same court from which Alabama is seeking preclearance on redistricting. But the ruling against Shelby County should not alter how the District Court views the issue here. Overturning VRA § 5 would be an extreme political move, essentially declaring that issues of race no longer disrupt the electoral process in states historically notorious for prejudicial practices. Granting preclearance to a redistricting plan, as routinely done in the past, is nowhere near as high a hurdle for Alabama to clear. Continue reading

Who is stuffing the politicians’ pockets: Alabama and PAC-to-PAC contributions

by John Alford 

Alabama Legislatures are trying to clean up the state’s political landscape. The problem at hand is that money is being shifted around without a clear understanding of where the funds originated. Political action committees (“PACs“) are, essentially, groups that take in funds and redistribute contributions to candidates or to advocate particular issues. Prior to 2011, a PAC in Alabama could receive money from a donor and then transfer the funds to another PAC. The second PAC can then put funds into half a dozen other PACs, which use the money to help advocate issues. The identity of the individuals who originally donated the funds is lost in the mix. This means that people trying to influence, or even corrupt, politicians, can play this “shell game” and hide the money trail. Keep in mind, there are 859 PACs in Alabama.

An attempt to hide the money trail is exactly what happened when gambling interest groups began trying to increase their odds of success. The U.S. Justice Department wiretapped a session where this statement came to light:  “We’re gonna support who supports democracy. And the (expletive deleted) who doesn’t support democracy [should] get ready to get their (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted) busted.” Certainly this crass statement could be taken admirably, but chances are the gambling tycoon was not strictly supporting democracy given that statement is taken in the context of extortion, bribery, fraud, and conspiracy charges. Shifting money from PAC-to-PAC to hide the connection to gambling money, however, was perfectly legal. This confusion of contributions was an integral means of getting support for the gambling agenda since politicians did not need to fear disclosure. Continue reading

When is state law not enforceable?

Texas awaits DOJ approval for its new voter photo ID law.

by Daniel Carrico

The battle over Texas’s controversial new voter identification bill should be over. Instead, it appears to be heating up.

Senate Bill 14 amends the Texas Election Code, requiring voters to present an approved form of photo identification to cast a ballot in state elections. Voters may rely on most forms of commonly-used government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Voters who are unwilling, or unable, to pay for identification are also covered; the bill creates a new form of identification called an “election identification certificate” which can be obtained at no cost from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Both the Texas House and Senate approved the bill and its photo identification requirements, following months of heated debate across the state. And, on May 27, Governor Rick Perry signed the bill into law. Notwithstanding any post-enactment court challenges, gubernatorial endorsement is the final step in the legislative process—or at least that’s how things usually work in Texas. Continue reading

Mr. Colbert: or, How states might learn to love campaign finance reform

Its opponents deride its existence as a farce upon campaign finance law.  Its supporters suggest that it is the only way to set the system straight.  News of it has reached the public’s consciousness, rarified air for anything in the field of campaign finance. And we’re not even talking about Citizens United.

The Federal Election Commission’s recent decision permitting comedian Stephen Colbert to form his own Super PAC has successfully turned the media’s (and to a certain extent, the public’s) attention to the post-Citizens United world of political donations. Continue reading

Sending out an SOS: The National Association of Secretaries of State Summer Conference

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) held its annual summer conference in Daniels, WV from July 10-13 this past summer. Much of the conference was geared toward preparation for the 2012 Election cycle. A number of prominent speakers, including a number of state secretaries of state, “federal officials, private sector representatives, voter advocacy organizations and leading academics” voiced their views.

Sec. Kris Kobach, the controversial Secretary of State of Kansas who has become a lightning rod of criticism and praise over the past summer for his efforts in leading the charge against alleged voter fraud (see a 2009 Times profile about then-candidate Kobach here), discussed his state’s Secure and Fair Elections Act as part of his presentation on citizenship requirements for voter registration. He noted that his state’s law was drafted to “withstand judicial scrutiny” taking into account challenges to a similar law passed in Arizona (which Kobach also had a hand in drafting). Secretary Kobach defended laws like this, saying “we all want security in the knowledge that an election was fair… [a]nd that the winner of the election was the person who really won the race”.

Host Secretary Nathalie Tennant also spoke about elections, focusing on the use of technology in communicating with voters. She stressed the importance of using social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype to make sure voters know valuable information about upcoming elections. The use of such media might help to increase voter participation, she reasoned, as they are the “type of tools people are using to communicate.” Tennant’s office  recently launched a campaign to educate and inform voters of West Virginia’s upcoming special election for Governor and the necessary steps to register and vote. The media campaign coincides with the beginning of the NCAA football season and compares the two activities (voting and football, that is), calling both “American traditions.” Continue reading

Alabama GOP Offers Teacher’s Union Political Rotten Apple

Alabama Republicans are back from the legislative wilderness after 136 years, and now it’s time for Dems to finally get their comeuppance—or is it simply ethics and campaign finance reform? Soon Republican Governor Bob Riley will likely sign into law several pieces of ethics reform legislation that his Republican-controlled legislature passed in last week’s special session. Senate Bill 2 amends Section 17-17-5 of Alabama Code to proscribe state employees from contributing to a political action committee or paying membership dues to any organization that uses any portion of its dues for political activity by payroll deduction or other payment.

To the chagrin of Alabama Democrats, SB 2 would disproportionately hurt public employee organizations and the Alabama Education Association, Alabama’s largest and most influential teacher’s union. According to figures from Bloomberg News, payroll deductions are a primary means for over 90 percent of Alabama teachers who wish to pay dues and support the AEA’s PAC. In the 2010 elections, AEA members’ contributions in excess of $8.6 million catapulted the teacher’s lobbying group as the state’s top spender. While SB 2 would still permit state employees to continue to use payroll deduction for any portion of membership dues not used for political activity, its certainly erects a new hurdle for AEA’s political fundraising efforts. Any Alabama Democrat mulling over a legal challenge would be wise to read the Supreme Court tealeaves by examining their decision in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association. In Ysursa, SCOTUS reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by upholding Idaho legislation similar to that of SB 2 that prohibited state payroll deductions for political activities.

While acknowledging the constitutional implications of the restriction, the Court ultimately recognized no affirmative right for groups to use state payroll deductions to sustain political speech or expression. In further justifying their decision, Chief Justice Roberts wrote “. . . Idaho is under no obligation to aid the unions in their political activities. And the State’s decision not to do so is not an abridgement of the unions’ speech; they are free to engage in such speech as they see fit. They simply are barred from enlisting the State in support of that endeavor.”

Furthermore, the Court cited Idaho’s interest in avoiding any appearance of combining government business and political activity. Pointing to precedent that upheld speech limitations to “avoi[d] the appearance of political favoritism,” and cases that found public confidence in government is susceptible to undermining through perception of political partiality, C.J. Roberts asserted “banning payroll deductions for political speech . . . furthers the government’s interest in distinguishing between internal governmental operations and private speech.”

Given Ysursa, any challenge by SB 2 opponents will likely be answered that the AEA has no affirmative right to gain access to potential political donors through government payroll operations. AEA donors may now easily write a personal check and even request payroll deductions for membership dues that will not go towards political activity. Questions of political motivations aside, it appears that the AEA and other Alabama organizations like it must recalibrate their operations in the face of increasing Republican capital and an ominous parallel decision from the Roberts Court.

Gregory Proseus is a second-year student at William & Mary Law School.


He was buried under a pile of stones college homework from in his philosophical garden

Voters Demand a Fair and Impartial Judiciary: NOW WHAT?!

The other candidate is lazy, soft on crime; a politician.  These are the accusations blaring over Alabama airwaves, but you would be mistaken to think that 2012 White House hopefuls have begun campaigning.  No, these are the television spots for Alabama Supreme Court candidates.  These messages and others like them are often funded by large interest groups like the Alabama Democratic Party, and linked with the plaintiffs’ bar, the Business Council of Alabama, and groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, Alabama’s judicial elections are the most expensive in the nation, with Supreme Court candidates having raised $40.9 million from 2000-2009. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in election law.

– The Alabama House is considering a bill that would require voters to present a photo ID before voting.

– According to a Washington Post – ABC  poll, 80% of Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.  65% say they strongly oppose the ruling.

– Project Vote and Advancement Project,  two voter protection organizations, have filed a lawsuit against Virginia election officials for failing to provide access to rejected voter registration applications.  The organizations heard reports about unusually large numbers of rejected voter registration applications from Norfolk State University, a historically black college, and asked to review those applications to determine if qualified voters were being unlawfully rejected.  A Virginia law prohibits the disclosure of those records, and so the state refused to disclose the registration applications.  Project Vote and the Advancement Project believe that the Virginia law is a violation of the National Voter Registration Act.

– Hans A. von Spakovsky has posted an editorial discussing the recent redistricting lawsuit in Texas.   For a brief summary of the lawsuit, see our previous Weekly Wrap Up.

In october 1963, evelyn waugh spent the weekend with ian and ann fleming in their new house near try there sevenhampton.

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