State of Elections

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How to Help the Homeless Vote in Hawaii

By: Avery Dobbs

The state of Hawaii has had the lowest voter turnout rate in the country in the past five presidential election cycles. While the reasons for low turnout rates are nuanced and multifactor, it is safe to say that at least part of the problem is inaccessibility of the polls for Hawaii’s many homeless residents. Hawaii currently has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in America with over seven thousand homeless residents in the state. Homeless residents are extremely vulnerable to public regulations but often have a limited say in decision making due to impediments to voting while homeless. While the only legal requirements for voting in Hawaii are 1) being properly registered to vote, 2) being a U.S. citizen and resident of Hawaii, and 3) being over the age of 18, the issue for homeless voters is how to register to vote without having an address or a photo ID. Continue reading

Texas Follows the Trend of Eliminating Straight Ticket Voting

In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 25 into law, which will eliminate the straight ticket voting option beginning in 2020. In the November 2016 elections, an estimated 63% of voters cast straight ticket ballots. The biggest selling point among supporters of the law revolves around the idea that voters will work to be more informed once it is in place, as the current straight ticket system allows voters to vote blindly for one party. A proposed amendment, requiring Department of Justice confirmation of the constitutionality of the measure prior to removal of straight ticket voting, did not pass with the bill. Continue reading

Navigating the Process for Challenging Candidate Eligibility in Tennessee

By: Cody Brandon

On September 8th, the Supreme Court of Tennessee handed down a ruling in McFarland v. Pemberton, a dispute between the two candidates for Circuit Judge for the Ninth Judicial Circuit. The 3-2 ruling clarifies the powers of the State Coordinator of Elections and County Election Commissions, but it also complicates the procedure for challenging candidate eligibility in state elections. Without knowledge of the intricacies of this decision, a candidate may lose his chance to challenge the eligibility of his opponent as William McFarland did.

McFarland and Michael S. Pemberton were the only two candidates for Circuit Judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Tennessee. On February 3, 2014, Mr. Pemberton filed his nominating petition for the office with the Roane County Election Commission. Article VI, § 4 of the Tennessee Constitution requires judges to have resided in the district to which they are elected for one year prior to election. Pemberton grew up in Rockwood (in Roane County), but moved to Knoxville (outside of the Ninth Circuit) a little less than two years before the election. A year before the election, Pemberton purchased a second home in Roane County, within the limits of the district. Continue reading

Removing Elected Officials in Virginia: Supreme Court to Clarify Requirements for Petitions for Removal

By: Cody Brandon

The Supreme Court of Virginia is set to consider an appeal that could drastically affect efforts to remove elected officials. Other than those officials for which removal procedures are specified in the Constitution of Virginia, removal procedure is governed by Virginia Code § 24.2-230 et seq. Unlike many other states that use recall elections, these statutes provide for the removal of elected officials by a circuit court for neglect of duty and misuse of office as well as convictions for various drug-related, sexual assault, and hate crimes. The process is initiated when a number of petitioners equal to ten percent of the total number of votes cast at the last election for the office sign a petition for removal stating the grounds for removal. The petitioners must be registered voters residing in the district which the officer serves. Once the action is instituted, the Commonwealth steps in (through a Commonwealth’s Attorney) as the complaining party, and the officer is subjected to a trial of sorts to determine if there are grounds for removal that satisfy § 24.2-233. Continue reading

Can Virginia Become a Redistricting Unicorn like Iowa?

By Aaron Barden

There was a lizard on the floor of the James City County (JCC) government building’s Board of Supervisors meeting hall on August 8th, 2017. I was there to watch the board consider OneVirginia2021’s resolution, which in most cases does little more than declare support for non-partisan redistricting. But JCC’s resolution was different. The resolution had a paragraph tacked to the end that would have changed the County’s local redistricting procedure from a citizen board with no criteria-based restrictions (preventing use of party, no incumbency protection, etc.) to a reliance on the Board’s staff to draw the lines with such restrictions. Continue reading

Ballot Ordering: A Recurrent Controversy in Virginia?

By: Jacob Dievendorf

In at least the two most recent “big” elections in Virginia, the 2016 Presidential race, and the 2017 race for Governor, there has been some controversy over the method used to decide which order candidates appear on the ballot. In March 2017, the Corey Stewart campaign issued a press release accusing Ed Gillespie’s campaign of “manipulating the Virginia Board of Elections in a last-ditch, rule-breaking effort to have Ed’s name placed at the top of the [primary] ballot.” Virginia law provides that ballot order for primaries is determined by the time that a candidate files for the office, on a first come first served basis. If candidates file simultaneously, ballot order is determined by lottery. The Stewart campaign went so far as to camp out in front of the Board of Elections offices the night before in order to be first, but alleged that Gillespie’s campaign was pressuring the Board to consider their filings simultaneous.

Looking back just a bit further, Virginia’s ballot ordering rules also caused some controversy during the 2016 election cycle. In general elections, Virginia law provides that candidates from major political parties, that is, parties that receive more than 10 percent of the vote in two previous statewide elections, are listed on the ballot first, followed by candidates from minor parties, and lastly, the names of independent candidates. This law was challenged by a former minor party candidate for governor, Robert Sarvis, of the Libertarian Party, and eventually found its way up to the 4th Circuit. In June, 2016, a three judge panel of the 4th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case, based largely on a theory that the ballot ordering law does not harm minor parties.

It is hard to say whether this controversy will continue. Two data points hardly make a trend, but the issue has proved important enough to drive a gubernatorial campaign to literally camp out in front of the Board of Elections, and a third party candidate to fight a case up to the 4th Circuit. Why is ballot ordering even an issue? Surely voters are able to discern which candidate they prefer, no matter the order of names on the ballot.

Contrary to this notion, there is a body of evidence that suggests that order on a list does matter. It seems that when people make choices, there is some preference for selecting choices that are listed first, or higher, in a list of choices. Larry Sabato, writing for the University of Virginia Center for Politics, has looked at the political implications of this bias. His conclusions contain an interesting implication for ballot ordering in Virginia. While he concludes that races for major offices such as president and governor are not highly impacted by serial position effects, lesser offices and non-partisan races are especially susceptible. Therefore, many “lesser” elections in Virginia, where candidates are not associated with parties, may be especially influenced by this form of selection bias.

It is possible that ballot ordering controversies will go nowhere, and that the issues raised in 2016 and 2017 will be a fluke. On the other hand, in an increasingly polarized voting climate, where parties compete to eke out whatever advantages they can, perhaps the minor advantage gained by being listed first on a ballot will become increasingly attractive. Ballot ordering is a currently minor issue, but one with increasingly significant potential.

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