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Symposium Report: Voting tech from the front lines

by Andrew McCoy, Special Contributor

On February 21 the William and Mary Election Law Society held its annual Symposium with a focus on election day delays.  During the symposium three panel discussions were held, and I had the pleasure of being present in the Voting Technology panel.  This discussion was facilitated by Paul Herrnson and included three William and Mary Law students, two Virginia Registrars: Kirk Showalter and Greg R, and a Member of an Electoral Board: Al Ablowich.  We were meant to look at voting technology problems, their impact on voting day delays, and potential solutions.

We were unable to note any specific solutions, partially because we could not pinpoint the impact of technological problems.  Mr. Riddlemoser stated that there were no technology related delays in his county, and Ms. Showalter noted that, absent voter or poll worker errors, there was only one technology problem in her county and the resulting delay cleared by mid-morning.  Mr. Ablowich did note some technology problems on election day, but these were related to the age of the machines and human error.  Based on this panel discussion it appears that reports of delays caused by voting machine failures may have mis-identified other issues with technology failures. Continue reading

When judges take money: Campaign contributions in judicial elections

by Kevin Elliker

On March 29, 2012, the William & Mary Election Law Society and Election Law Program held a symposium entitled, “More Money, More Problems: Money in Judicial Elections” in Williamsburg, Virginia. The afternoon symposium featured two panels of distinguished speakers moderated by SCOTUSblog reporter Lyle Denniston.

The first panel focused on the financial issues surrounding judicial elections, specifically whether campaign contributions work differently in judicial elections than in legislative elections and if campaign donations result in some form of civic harm even when they do not reach the level of outright bribery. The panelists included: James Bopp, election mega-lawyer and litigator of Citizens United; Justice Thomas R. Phillips, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas; and former Federal Elections Commission Chairman Bradley Smith, who currently serves as Josiah H. Blackmore/Shirley M. Nault Professor of Law at Capital University Law School and Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, an organization he founded. Continue reading

Defenders of Democracy: The Role of Secretaries of State as Chief Election Officers

This symposium panel will focus on the critical role a secretary of state plays in securing our democratic process. We will discuss bridging the gap between political theory and election reality and what it really takes to ensure the integrity of an election. While each state has laws that govern the execution of an election, it is up to the state’s chief election officer to add detail where only broad strokes exist. Panelists will share their insight into specific areas in which secretaries of state have been particularly active in running elections, from voter registration and voting machines to recounts and provisional ballots.

The symposium takes place on Tuesday, February 15 from 12:50 to 1:50 in Room 127 at William & Mary School of Law.

Panel will be moderated by Law School Dean Davison M. Douglas. Participants include former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, current president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

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Weekly Wrap Up

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

– Gerry Hebert, one of the panelists at our recent election law symposium, wrote this article about a recent legislative effort to undermine Fair Districts Florida.  Fair Districts Florida is an organization dedicated to fixing the redistricting process and the prevention of  gerrymandering.

– In Virginia, there is growing confusion about the restoration of felon voting rights.  Earlier this week, the governor’s office sent letters to 200 ex-felons, telling them that they would need to submit an essay as part of the application process for the restoration of their voting rights.  On the 14th, Governor McDonnell claimed that the letters had been sent in error, and that the essay requirement was simply a “draft policy proposal“.  Of course, this is only the third most controversial retraction the Governor has issued in the last month.

– A bill that would require voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot has received first round approval from the Missouri House. A previous photo ID law in Missouri was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court for being a “heavy and substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

– In Cleveland, an elections board test of voting machines has produced alarming results.  About 10% of voting machines failed the test, and the state has less than a month.

– Maryland has become the first state to count prison inmates as residents of their home address, instead of counting them as residents of their prison location.  The U.S. Census considers inmates to be residents of their prison, a practice that has been criticized as distorting the population count and leading to unfairness during the redistricting process.

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William & Mary Election Law Symposium 2010 Video

As promised, here’s a video of William & Mary’s Election Law Symposium.

“Back to the Drawing Board: The 2010 Census and the Politics of Redistricting”

From left to right, the panelists are John Hardin Young, Gerald Hebert, Jessica Amunson, and Trevor Potter.  For brief biographies of the panelists, see this post.

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Great Symposium…or Greatest Symposium?

When future generations study American history, they will need to memorize all the important dates. July 4th 1776, the signing of the Declaration of Independence. June 6th 1944, the D-Day invasion. January 20th 2013, the inauguration of Sarah Palin.

But one date will be remembered more fondly than the rest, and that date is March 18 2010, the date of the Fourth Annual William and Mary Election Law Symposium.

Yes, the Symposium was a resounding success.  The turnout was great, our speakers were insightful, and the cheese and wine reception was delicious.

We’ll link to a video of the Symposium as soon as it can be uploaded.  Sometime shortly after that, we’ll post a full transcript.  Until then, here’s a brief summary of the day’s discussion.

Our three speakers were Trevor Potter, Jessica Amunson, and J. Gerald Hebert.  The discussion was moderated by John Hardin Young.

Trever Potter began the Symposium with a discussion of the history of redistricting in America.  He pointed out that a mere 50 years ago, nobody would have thought to have a conversation about redistricting. Until 1962, the Supreme Court had ruled that how states arranged their districts (apportionment) was a political question, best left to the other branches of government.

But in Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, the Court reversed its position and allowed judicial intervention in apportionment cases.  The courts therefore had to establish standards by which  the constitutionality of the district could be determined.  Most notably, the Supreme Court declared the “one man, one vote” principle, which required that districts be drawn in such a way as to have relatively equal populations, so that no person’s vote “counted more” just because they were in a less populated district.

Gerry Hebert spoke next, about how legislators tackle the problem of redistricting and dividing populations into tidy little districts.  Legislators get a great deal of information from the census and other sources, including individual voting histories and racial voting patterns.  Since redistricting is so critical to protecting incumbency, legislators will spend hundreds of thousands to hire a professional redistricting team to ensure the creation of districts that will withstand legal challenges.

Finally, Jessica Amunson spoke about redistricting reform and the future of redistricting.  She noted that over 41 states had redistricting related litigation last census, and she expects that number to rise in the coming year.  Much of that litigation ended with the courts having to redraw the districts, using standards and goals that are often contradictory.  For example, the courts have recognized that incumbency protection is valid justification for drawing a district a certain way (as incumbents get more important positions on legislative committees), but courts also recognize the importance of ensuring partisan fairness and competitiveness.

The three speakers then took questions from the audience on a wide variety of census and redistricting related topics.

Then everyone got to enjoy delicious wine.

All in all, everybody had a great time, and we hope that next year’s Symposium will be even better.

Check back next week for a video and full transcript of the Symposium.

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Interview with Jessica Amunson, Symposium Panelist and Redistricting Expert
Jessica Amunson

On Thursday, William and Mary will be hosting a Symposium entitled “Back to the Drawing Board: The 2010 Census and the Politics of Redistricting“. One of the panelists is Jessica Amunson, associate at the Washington, D.C., based firm Jenner & Block, where she is a member of the Election Law and Redistricting practice. Ms. Amunson agreed to speak with State of Elections regarding redistricting reform.

In your opinion, what is the biggest issue for the 2010 redistricting effort? What issue should states, legislators, and politicians be most attuned to?

The biggest issue is always who is going to control the process. For an idea of what is at stake, take a look at Karl Rove’s piece in the Wall Street Journal on March 4th, in which he describes how the Republican party is targeting certain state legislative seats in an attempt to ensure that Republicans will control the legislatures that will then redraw the lines.  According to Rove’s piece, “Republican strategists are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning these seats would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats. Six of these states are projected to pick up a total of nine seats, and five are expected to lose a combined six seats.”  So right now, the issue that everyone is focused on are the state legislative races this fall. Continue reading

Election Law Society Symposium!

Every year, the William & Mary Election Law Society holds a Symposium to discuss a pressing election law issue.  This year is no different.  The Election Law Society is proud to announce its fourth annual Election Law Symposium, “Back to the Drawing Board: The 2010 Census and the Politics of Redistricting.”  Here’s the official blurb:


Speakers at previous Election Law Symposiums have included Robert Bauer, President Obama’s personal attorney, longtime chief election lawyer for the Democratic Party, and current White House Counsel; Benjamin Ginsberg, previously chief counsel for the Bush-Cheney Presidential Campaigns and current partner at Patton Boggs LLP; Michael Toner, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission and current head of the Election Law and Government Ethics Practice at Bryan Cave LLP, and numerous other distinguished speakers.

If you’re interested in coming or have questions you’d like asked to the panelists, please email us for more information at

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