State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Redistricting in DC: City Council Works to Balance Citizen Concerns and Ward Populations

Washington, DC, like a number of states around the country, is currently beginning its redistricting process in the wake of the 2020 census. Per the Ward Redistricting Amendment Act of 2021, DC’s wards and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) must be redrawn to reflect the population changes that have occurred since the last census in 2010. To accomplish this goal, the DC City Council has tasked the Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting with soliciting public input and weighing the different concerns that inevitably accompany the redistricting process. The Subcommittee, chaired by at-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, held a virtual public hearing on September 29, 2021, where many such concerns were voiced.

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Florida Senate Bill 90: Usual or Unusual Beast of Burden?

On May 6, 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida signed Senate Bill 90 into law. While the Governor and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature heralded SB 90 for its election integrity and transparency measures, critics called foul, or rather “voter suppression.” SB 90 is Florida’s contribution to a flurry of state-led reforms sparked by the national discourse on the validity of the 2020 election. As a result of SB 90, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida now has a substantial election law docket. Petitioners assert a variety of claims (including ADA, Equal Protection, and Fifteenth Amendment claims), with claims regarding Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act featuring prominently.

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Virginia Takes Initial Steps to Permanently Streamline the Restoration of Voting Rights for Virginians with Felony Conviction Histories

By: Sarah Fisher

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly took a significant initial step toward ensuring that Virginians with felony conviction histories have their voting rights restored upon release from incarceration.

Currently, under the Constitution of Virginia, Virginians with prior felony convictions are permanently disenfranchised and may only have their civil rights restored at the discretion of the Governor upon full completion of their sentences. This policy has historically been interpreted as requiring the payment of all court costs and fees, as well as  the successful completion of applicable probation or parole periods. State policy also required would-be voters to affirmatively request restoration of their rights via an application to the Governor and Secretary of the Commonwealth. While Virginia’s gubernatorial administrations now work proactively to restore voting rights to all who are eligible (therefore eliminating the application stage), new voters are often unaware their voting rights have been revived.

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Big Changes to Indiana Election Law: Curing Ballots & Private Funds

By all accounts and in unique ways, the 2020 election in Indiana was unprecedented. Like other states, Indiana faced impressive challenges and unexpected changes as a result of the ongoing pandemic, from the first postponement of a previously scheduled primary in Indiana’s two-hundred year history to staggering increases in absentee voting. Indiana legislators relied on both the lessons and the disputes of 2020 to make big changes to Indiana election law.

In 2021, Indiana State Senator Greg Walker introduced Senate Bill 398 and, following approval from the state legislature, Governor Holcomb signed the bill into law in April of this year. This post will focus on two interesting changes to Indiana election law brought about by this bill: new procedures for notifying and curing absentee ballots rejected due to signature mismatching, and private grants to fund local elections.

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Did the Scope of the Texas Governor’s Authority to Suspend Election Law Under the Texas Disaster Act Expand to Include Policy Unrelated to Mitigating an Emergency?

By: Sarah Depew

On March 13, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation declaring a state of disaster due to the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering gubernatorial emergency powers authorized in the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. The Texas Disaster Act gives the Governor the authority to “suspend the provisions of any regulatory statute. . . . if strict compliance with the provisions, orders, or rules would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with a disaster.” Using this authority, Gov. Abbott issued a proclamation on July 27, 2020, to expand early voting and suspend portions of the Texas Election Code to allow voters to deliver a marked ballot in person to the early voting clerk’s office before or on Election Day. An “early voting clerk’s office” is understood in both the Texas Election Code and the July Proclamation to include more than the voting clerk’s main office, but also, any satellite offices or locations. For example, Harris County’s Election Administration has ten offices serving 4.7 million residents across 1,777 square miles.

The July Proclamation was not controversial. The order stated that strict compliance with statute governing the return of marked ballots would hinder the state’s coping with COVID—an objective that is indisputably permissible under the Texas Disaster Act.

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New Jersey Voting Reform: Early Voting Expansion, Ballot Boxes, and the Future of Voting Legislation

By: Tim Intelisano

In the wake of the 2020 election, the American people watched as a plethora of states enacted restrictive voting laws, that would counter the reforms undertaken to make voting easier and safer during the Covid-19 pandemic. 2020 was an unprecedented year for democracy. Election night (or perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, election week) featured drama counting mail-in-ballots across the Midwest and Sun Belt. The entire process exposed the weaknesses of the system. Instead of changing state laws that would allow counties to start counting mail-in ballots as they were received, some states forced officials to wait until Election Day, resulting in delayed results. These delays were cited by many as proof of fraud or vote tally manipulation.

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Historic Change Again on the Horizon in Mississippi-Part II

By: Tamikia Carr Vasquez

In November, Mississippi voters will have the opportunity to vote on removing a Jim Crow era provision from the state’s constitution. Currently, to win certain statewide offices, a candidate must win the majority of the popular vote and win a majority of Mississippi’s 122 House districts. The Mississippi Center for Justice is at the forefront of leading the effort to abolish this procedure. In 2019, the Center worked on a federal lawsuit against the state. I recently spoke with Vangela M. Wade, President and CEO of the Center. This is the second and final part of our conversation. In Part I, we discussed the background of the current electoral process.

TCV: So this brings me to my next question: I’m in an election law class this semester and we’ve been talking about Baker v. Carr, one person one vote, and Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections which eliminated poll taxes in state elections, and we talked about Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. With all of that precedent, how is it that in 2020 this state constitutional provision remains constitutional?
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North Carolina’s HB 1169, Part 2: The Witness Requirement Saga Reduces to “Chaos”

By: Forrest Via

As discussed previously, the North Carolina General Assembly passed HB 1169 this summer to, in part, loosen absentee-ballot requirements in response to COVID-19: The legislation lowered the state’s absentee-ballot witness-signature requirement to one person. For some, this change was not enough—the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans filed suit against the State Board of Elections, arguing the presence of any witness requirement violated the state constitution due to the circumstances presented by the pandemic.

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California Officials Clash With Republican Party Over Unauthorized Ballot Drop Boxes

By Sam Petto

In early October, a controversy was brewing in California as officials launched legal threats against the California Republican Party for its use of “unauthorized” ballot drop boxes. Finding the California Republican Party set up over 100 unauthorized, non-official drop boxes in the state, California officials sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding that GOP officials hand over ballots, disclose the locations of its unauthorized boxes, and cease current ballot collection practices to prevent voter confusion.

In their letter, officials claimed only county officials had the authority to determine the number, location, and hours of availability for drop boxes, and that state law established rules requiring designated ballot retrievers to collect and return ballots. Additionally, the state claimed that the GOP’s boxes violated laws requiring a third-party ballot collector to have their name, signature, and relationship to the voter listed on the ballot pursuant to Elections Code Section 3011(a).Californians have to know who they are signing their ballot over to if they are not depositing it into an official drop box. Here, state officials argued they did not know.

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The Legal Necessity of Machines for Voting by Mail

By Anthony Scarpiniti

In the age of Covid-19, social distancing, and staying at home, the “norms” of society are no longer normal. Because of the recent November election, many states adjusted or expanded their absentee and mail-in voting procedures. According to a Pew Research Center survey, approximately two-thirds of Americans support the ability to vote absentee or early without a specific reason. Even President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump requested mail-in ballots for the Florida Republican primary election in August.

While many Americans support absentee and mail-in voting in theory, in order for them to work in practice, the United States Postal Service (USPS) had to be prepared for the large influx of ballots. During the 2019 holiday season, the USPS sorted and delivered approximately “2.5 billion pieces of First-Class Mail,” and this was just in one week. This breaks down to about 500 million letters per day. The Census Bureau estimated that the voting age population in the United States was about 245.5 million citizens in 2016, and only about 157.6 million of them were registered to vote. Between the holiday season and a hypothetical election held completely via the mail, it is a fair assumption that the USPS is much busier during the holiday season.

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