State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Ohio’s State Redistricting Commission

By: Spencer Murray

In 2015, Ohio voters approved a state constitutional amendment that reformed the process for drawing district lines for the state legislature. Previously, state legislative redistricting had been managed by a five-member Apportionment Board, consisting of the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor, and one member of the state legislature from both parties. New district lines only required a simple majority vote to enter into effect.

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A Loophole in State Law and the U.S. Election Fraud Commission

Earlier in the year, President Donald J. Trump announced his decision through an executive order to establish the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a working group designed in his view to eliminate voter fraud. Concerned with potential for state voter rolls to be inaccurate and misused, the election fraud commission sought voter rolls from all 50 states to vet and review. While the specific tasks of the election fraud commission remain unknown, the ultimate goal, at least publicly, appears to be to ensure the most accurate electoral outcomes possible.

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Same Day Voter Registration in Hawaii

By: Avery Dobbs

The Hawaii legislature took an important step towards reducing barriers to voting rights in 2014 by voting to allow same day voter registration at the polls. This is a significant change from the state’s previous rule, which required voters to register at least thirty days before an election to be allowed to vote. The state sought this measure in hopes of addressing its chronically low voter participation rates and to make voting rights more accessible for all Hawaiian citizens. Hawaii’s Chief Elections Officer, Scott Nago, spoke in support of the bill at the time by saying, “any qualified person who wants to vote should be able to register and vote”. The state will soon start to see the benefits of this law as it takes full effect in 2018.

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The Continuing Implications of Virginia’s Off-Year Elections

By: Jacob Dievendorf

As readers of this blog will well know, each state has its own particular electoral quirks. One of Virginia’s best known quirks is its off-year election of a governor. As a previous posting on this blog points out, Virginians have been electing their governor in off years for as long as they have been electing governors directly, since 1852.

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Texas Takes Steps to End Mail-In Voter Fraud

Amid the passage of controversial voter ID laws, this session Texas lawmakers also tackled a different form of voter fraud in a significantly less controversial manner. The Texas Legislature took steps to end voter fraud stemming from mail-in ballots. Senate Bill 5 passed the legislature and was signed into law on June 15. The law becomes effective on January 1, 2018. This law expands the definition of mail-in voter fraud and increases the penalties for the crime. Several voter fraud cases were prosecuted in recent years, and there have been concerns from individuals who received mail-in ballots they never requested.

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Escaping the Miry Red Clay

By: Dorronda Bordley

On March 27, 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Delaware sued the Red Clay Consolidated School District in Chancery Court. The ACLU asserted that Red Clay violated, among other things, the Delaware Constitution guaranteeing “free and equal” elections.

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Keeping Things Straight: Michigan’s Fight Over Straight-Ticket Voting

By: Simon Zagata

For over 125 years, Michigan residents had the option of killing many birds with one stone, at least at the ballot box. This option is called straight-ticket voting, and it allows voters to fill in one bubble on a ballot for Democrats or Republicans, instead of filling in individual bubbles for every race. Proponents of straight-ticket voting claim that it makes the voting process faster, which helps eliminate long lines at the polls. In January 2016, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that eliminated Michigan’s straight-ticket voting option.

The bill passed along mostly partisan lines, with Republicans claiming that it would encourage nonpartisan voting and force voters to be informed on individual candidates, instead of voting by party. Democrats, on the other hand, saw it as a bare attack on voters in urban areas like Detroit and Flint, where long waits at polling places were already common. Straight-ticket voting has been a boon to Democrats in past elections, with more people voting for Democrats on straight tickets than Republicans. The Michigan Democratic Party was not alone in its concern with the law.

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A New Efficiency in Maryland: Gill v. Whitford’s Impact on Maryland

By: Zach Allentuck

The recent oral arguments for Gill v. Whitford left courtwatchers unsure if the Supreme Court would strike down excessive partisan gerrymandering. Gill v. Whitford’s impact goes far beyond Wisconsin: as previously noted, there is a lawsuit against Maryland’s 6th Congressional District for excessive partisan gerrymandering. Though the 4th Circuit declined to throw out the congressional voting map that created the 6th Congressional District, the case does not end there. The 4th Circuit wants to wait and see how the Supreme Court rules in Gill v. Whitford before issuing a ruling, and the plaintiffs announced their intent to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs in Gill, what would happen to the Maryland case?

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PA Voter ID Bill Dies In Body, if Not in Spirit

By: Scott McMurtry

After taking unified control of the state government in the 2010 election, Pennsylvania Republicans set out to change the state election laws in two fundamental ways: a redistricting overhaul and an enhanced voter identification law. While the state and Congressional-level redistricting have survived legal challenges to date, plaintiffs were successful in persuading Pennsylvania courts to first stay, and ultimately strike down, the voter ID measure. While confusion over the implementation of the policy persisted even during the 2016 elections, it appears that Pennsylvania’s foray into stringent ID enforcement is over for the foreseeable future.

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Territorial Voting Rights: 7th Circuit Asked to Rule on Absentee Voting by U.S. Territory Residents

By: Stephen Fellows

In September 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments for Segovia v. United States.   The Plaintiffs, a group of Illinois citizens residing in Puerto Rico, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, want the right to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections in Illinois.  They initially brought the case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  The complaint stems from Illinois’ Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which implemented the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act (OCVRA) of 1975.  The federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) replaced the OCVRA in 1986. The UOCAVA guarantees the right to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections to Americans, both military and civilians, residing overseas.

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