State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

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Small Parties Put Up Big Fight for Ballot Access in North Carolina

By: Collin Crookenden

Though the history of minor-party candidates dates back to long before the advent of political primaries, the solidification of the two major political parties has prohibited third-party candidates from being true challengers in presidential races. In fact, since George Wallace’s semi-successful campaign in 1968, no third-party representative has won a single electoral college vote. Instead of vying for the presidency, like Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 or Wallace in 1968, recent minor-party candidates are running to “make a statement against the two-party system.” However, the 2016 presidential election cycle highlighted the lack of faith in the two major political parties and the strengthening desire from many for strong third party or independent presidential candidates. Both major-party candidates had unfavorable ratings higher than 50% through Election Day, which activated a large push for third-party candidates on all state ballots and questioned state laws on ballot access.

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Balancing Nonpartisan Judicial Elections with Candidates’ First Amendment Rights in Kentucky

 

By: Carrie Mattingly

In Kentucky, all state court judges are elected in nonpartisan elections. Kentucky’s Code of Judicial Conduct seeks to keep candidates on nonpartisan message. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down some judicial campaign restrictions on First Amendment grounds.

One sitting and two aspiring Kentucky judges brought suit to stop the enforcement of these judicial canons against them. Robert A. Winter, Jr. distributed campaign literature identifying himself as a “lifelong Republican,” and he received a letter stating that this literature may have violated the canon prohibiting campaigning “as a member of a political organization.” Judge Allison Jones asked voters to “re-elect” her, even though she was initially appointed to her seat, and pledged to provide stiff penalties for heroin dealers if elected. She also received a letter stating that her “re-elect” statement may have violated the canon prohibiting “false and misleading statements” and that her “stiff penalties” comment may have been an impermissible “commitment” inconsistent with the impartial performance of judicial duties. Finally, Judge Cameron J. Blau wished to give speeches supporting the Republican Party, to hold Republican fundraisers, to seek and receive Republican endorsements, and to donate to candidates and to the party, but he refrained in fear of sanctions.

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Texas: Early Vote Totals Set Records as State Grapples with Voter ID Decision

By: Benjamin Daily

Despite worries that confusion about voter ID requirements in the wake of Veasey v. Abbott would keep voters away from the polls, Texas’ ten largest counties saw record numbers of early voters.  Early vote totals consistently surpassed comparable totals in 2008 and 2012. Although the overall turnout rate was slightly less than in 2008, due primarily to increased turnout not keeping up with population growth, more Texans voted this year than in 2008 and 2012.

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Registering to Vote, As Easy As Driving a Car?

By: Brooke Hannah

What if registering to vote was as easy as riding a bike? Well, maybe not a bike, but what about as easy and effortless as driving a car after years of experience? While it may not be quite that simple yet, West Virginia has made it close to being that simple as they have just passed a bill allowing for the information of those who get a driver’s license or identification card to be submitted into the voter registration process.  Promoting and simplifying the voter registration process is an important goal for West Virginia. The state has demonstrated its dedication to improving the voter registration process by implementing automatic voter registration, launching online voter registration, and becoming a voting member of the Electronic Registration Information Center (“ERIC”).

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About 1,650 Ballots Handled Improperly in Baltimore Election        

By: Mengxin Cui

Baltimore has a long history of election administration problems. According to media reports, election workers often lack knowledge of procedure, polling places sometimes fail to open on time, equipment shuts down, election judges fail to show up, and so on. Commenting on these problems, Roger E. Hartley, dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore observed that, “[i]f we’re experiencing problems over and over again, not anticipating them in advance, that has a major impact on the credibility of the system.” Baltimore’s history shows us that even when problems occur, courts rarely order new elections. Some legal and political experts explain that an election “do-over” is an extremely expensive decision, and may bring about a host of new problems. For this reason, courts and election administrators almost never order election do-overs.

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Flip and Flop: Federal judge lifts Michigan state law banning “Ballot Selfies,” but Sixth Circuit reverses four days later

By: Angela M. Evanowski

On October 24, 2016, famous singer and actor Justin Timberlake found himself in trouble after posting a “ballot selfie” on his two social media accounts, Twitter and Instagram. Timberlake, who is registered to vote in Tennessee, flew from California to his home voting county and posted the selfies in order to encourage millennials and fans to vote. However, to the surprise of Timberlake, the state of Tennessee earlier this year passed a law banning voters from taking photographs or videos during the voting process. Luckily, for this famous former boy-band member, he is not going to face any criminal charges or punishment for posting his ballot selfies. Continue reading

Examining the Issue of Felon Voting in Minnesota

By Kristi Breyfogle

Minnesota Voter Alliance (MVA) filed suit in court alleging that the Minnesota Secretary of State was illegally allowing convicted felons and other ineligible voters to vote in the 2016 election.  According to MVA, the Secretary of State wrongly ordered election officials to give ballots to those marked as ineligible on the voter rolls provided that they swear an oath that they are actually eligible to vote. Under Minnesota law, the secretary of state has discretion to adopt and implement rules that are consistent with state and federal laws in regards to election procedures. In Minnesota, a person convicted of a felony is ineligible to vote until their civil rights have been restored.  This means convicted felons cannot vote until they have been released from prison and have completely finished their sentences, including any parole or probation.  When a registered voter commits a felony or is otherwise ineligible to vote, the voting roster marks that person’s right to vote as “challenged.”

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Nine Districts: How Richmond came to possess one of America’s strangest rules for electing a Mayor

 

By: Venugopal Katta

On November 8th, 2016, voters in Richmond, Virginia – like hundreds of millions of Americans – headed to the polls. In addition to deciding between Presidential and Congressional candidates, Richmond voters elected former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney to replace term-limited incumbent Dwight Jones. The process by which they did so, however, was a unique reflection of rules set up in the shadow of the city’s troubled history of racism, corruption, and legal jeopardy.

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Breaking Down the Barriers to Automatic Voter Registration in Washington D.C.

 

By: Mary Boothe

In May 2015, The Automatic Voter Registration Amendment Act was introduced to the D.C. Council by council members Charles Allen, Brianne Nadeau, Jack Evans, Mary Cheh, Elissa Silverman, and Anita Bonds, and former at-large council member Vincent Orange, and co-sponsored by at-large council member David Grosso.  The bill has since unanimously passed the D.C. Council. However, to become a law it still needs to be signed by the mayor, Muriel Bowser, and sent for a 30-day review on Capitol Hill. Allowing automatic voter registration will still be a landmark move that will ease the burden of registration for the thousands of eligible D.C. voters.

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North Carolina’s Battle for Voter Identification

By: Collin Crookenden

With the recent invalidation of the coverage formula set forth in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, several previously covered districts implemented stricter voting requirements. In 2013, immediately following the invalidation, North Carolina enacted Session Law 2013-381 which contained multiple provisions that were contested as soon as Governor McCrory (R) signed it into effect: photo identification requirements, shortened early voting periods, and elimination of pre-registration for individuals under the age of 18. The new requirements were set to go into effect January 2016 and were in fact utilized in the primaries earlier this year, after the legislature altered the law in 2015. Of primary concern to the litigants and to the legislation’s opposition was the requirement of all voters to show photo identification. Most states have some form of identification requirements, but North Carolina’s 2013 version maintained some of the most stringent provisions. Governor McCrory argued that these, specifically the photo identification statute, were “common sense” pieces of legislation. However, while the district court agreed with his assessment, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the legislation was in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination of voting requirements based upon race.

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