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Fifth Annual Election Law Symposium at William & Mary

by Christina Sumpio

The Election Law Society and the Election Law Program at William & Mary Law School announce the Fifth Annual Election Law Symposium to take place on Thursday, March 29. Featuring prominent state supreme court judges, political consultants, and scholars, the symposium centers on the topic “Money in Judicial Elections,” and evaluates the changing dynamics of state judicial elections in the post-Citizens United landscape. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 3:15PM and will be held in Room 124.

Panelists scheduled to participate include the Hon. Brent Benjamin, Justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court since 2005; James Bopp, Jr., General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, former speech writer for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and chief architect of the controversial Supreme Court case Citizens United, as well as more than 60 election-related cases; the Hon. Thomas Phillips, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, current partner of the law firm Baker Botts, past President of the Conference of Chief Justices, and a member of the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform; Bradley Smith, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, the Josiah H. Blackmore/Shirley M. Nault Professor of Law at Capital University Law School, and the Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics; the Hon. Marsha Ternus, retired Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court whose term expired after seventeen years of service after voters failed to retain her in the controversial 2010 retention election; and the Hon. Penny White, retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice, and current Director of the Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Lyle Denniston, renowned legal journalist and blogger who has reported on the Supreme Court of the United States for more than fifty years, will serve as moderator. He currently writes for the SCOTUSblog, which provides coverage and analysis of the Supreme Court. Denniston has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and The American Lawyer.

“In the last decade, the massive influx of contributions by large donors, especially special interest groups, has changed the face of state judicial elections,” explained Election Law Society Co-President Anisa Somani ’13. “Our symposium draws together a panel of experts to discuss whether this radical evolution in judicial election expenditures should be regulated and whether money actually corrupts judicial independence,” noted Election Law Society Co-President Vladislava Soshkina ’13.

This annual event is possible with generous assistance from the William & Mary Institute of Bill of Rights Law and the National Center for State Courts.

Created in 2005 as a joint venture of the National Center for State Courts and the Law School, the Election Law Program seeks to provide practical assistance to state court judges in the United States who are called upon to resolve difficult election law disputes (see Program materials available at The Election Law Society is the student organization created to generate interest in and educate students about this rapidly expanding and extremely important area of practice.

by Christina Sumpio

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Law students to run William and Mary VOTEline

Press Release by the William & Mary Election Law Society | October 25, 2011

Students at William & Mary Law School are set to run the W&M VOTEline, a voter assistance hotline aimed at responding to questions local citizens have about voting. This non-partisan voter assistance hotline will be operated by student members of the school’s Election Law Society and other volunteers.

“Voting is an important civic duty,” Election Law Society President Anisa Somani ’13 said. “We want to ensure that all voters – young and old – who are properly registered to vote can do so. We will be manning the VOTEline phones on Election Day, Tuesday November 8th, to answer any questions that might arise as voters arrive at a polling place to cast their vote.”
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Virginia Redistricting Competition

The Virginia Redistricting Competition announced its winners yesterday and William and Mary Law School team won the Congressional Governor/Commission division!  W&M Law also took home a second place finish for its state senate map in the Competition division!  W&M Law narratives describing decisions behind the map also received distinction from the judges, saying the W&M Law narratives “set the standard” for the competition.  Go W&M Law!!

We spent many hours staring at maps and working to draw lines that met the criteria of the competition along with what the law requires.  Focusing on compactness, contiguity, communities of interest, and equipopulation, the team’s goal was to draw lines that made logical sense.  The team was open to all students, but we ended up with only one student from Virginia.  This proved to be somewhat of an advantage in the sense of we were not aware of current partisan politics and drew lines without knowing where incumbents lived.  For a second category, the competitiveness factor was added where we attempted to make districts as politically competitive as possible, again not taking incumbency into consideration.

Overall, we achieved what we set out to do – draw maps that make logical sense, relying on redistricting case law.  Congratulations to the entire team!

The full results of the Competition are available here.

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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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Redistricting Without Party Politics?!

Redistricting Without Party Politics?!  Is that possible?  A plan for redistricting that the Virginia Assembly will adopt as its own is the goal of the team from William & Mary School of Law.  Along with teams from across the state that have entered the Virginia College & University Redistricting Competition, the WM School of Law Team is out to prove that it is possible to come up with a redistricting plan that is practical, objective, and fair.  Although the competition was put together as an academic exercise, it has evolved into more with the Governor’s Bipartisan Commission on Redistricting taking notice and encouraging the exercise.  While the William & Mary School of Law team is under no illusion that their map will be adopted wholesale by the VA Assembly, they are looking forward to the map being a source of comparison for the Assembly as it crafts official redistricting maps.

The competition is sponsored by the Wason Center for Public Policy and the Public Mapping Project.  Teams will be drawing lines for the VA House of Delegates, the VA Senate, and for federal congressional House districts using Public Mapping software.  The criteria for drawing the maps includes districts that are contiguous, fair in representation, equal in population, in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, keeping communities of interest together/respecting existing political subdivisions, compact, and electorally competitive.  The judges for the competition will be Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

Members of the William & Mary Law School Team are: Brian Cannon, Alex Grout, John Holden, Meredith McCoy, Rebekah Miller, Nicholas Mueller, Pete Newman, Sam Robinson, and Brian Rothenberg.

Check back for more info on the team and their ongoing progress!

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