State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Author: Election Law Society (page 2 of 82)

Political Process Breakdown: What Happens When the Political Branches Cannot Agree on a Map?

By: Kayla Burris

What happens when the governor and state legislature disagree on how to draw a state’s legislative districts? Should the courts get involved? And how soon should they get involved—at the beginning of the process, or closer to the primaries?

State and federal courts in Wisconsin are grappling with these questions. Two tandem tracks of cases are proceeding—one in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and one consolidated case in the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

To set the scene, Wisconsin is one of the most politically divided states in the country with a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor—both of which are required to agree on a legislative map according to Wisconsin law. Thus far in the redistricting cycle, the two sides seem unlikely to come to an agreement on the new legislative map. The Democratic governor has said that “it’s unlikely he would sign into law any maps drawn by the Republican-controlled [l]egislature that are based on the current boundary lines that have solidified GOP majorities for decades.” The governor instead favors using a nonpartisan commission to draw the maps. The Republican-controlled legislature on the other hand argues for retaining the current maps to the extent possible under the law.

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North Carolina Voter ID Law Struck Down

By: Emma Postel

Once again, a North Carolina voting law has been found unconstitutional. On September 17, 2021, a Wake County North Carolina Superior Court permanently enjoined SB 824, a law passed in 2018 requiring photo identification for in-person voting. The court struck down SB 824 as a violation of the North Carolina Constitution’s Equal Protections clause, as they found it was adopted with an “unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.” Among its findings of fact, the court noted that North Carolina has a long history of implementing voting laws that discriminated against the African American residents of the state. The General Assembly has indicated they will appeal the Wake County Court decision.

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Is it Really Jim Crow 2.0? The DOJ Seems to Think So

By: Lubna Alamri

In March 2021, Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed into law the “Election Integrity Act of 2021”, a law that many have criticized as an effort by Republicans to suppress the minority vote after President Biden’s election and the Democrats’ win of both Senate seats in Georgia.

Most of the controversy surrounding the new law stems from its efforts to tighten limits on absentee voting . Among some of its more notable provisions, the law now requires voters to obtain a voter ID number in order to apply for an absentee ballot, cuts off absentee ballot applications 11 days before an election, and limits the number of drop boxes in each given county. One of the more unusual provisions includes a prohibition on the distribution of food and drink to voters waiting in lines, that is despite Georgia having some of the Nation’s longest waiting lines, especially in heavily minority populated areas.

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If You’re Gonna Vote in Texas (You Gotta Have a Legally-Qualifying Building?)

It starts with tents in Houston and turns into a legal melee with forty-eight interested parties in federal court. The November 2020 elections were particularly newsworthy, featuring a contentious presidential race happening many months into an ongoing pandemic. So how do tents and Black’s Law Dictionary come into it?

Harris County, whose county seat is Houston, Texas, responded to public concerns about voting during COVID by expanding “curbside voting” during early voting with drive-through, multi-car tents (as seen here). Curbside voting has long been allowed through Texas Election Code Chapter 64 (Voting Procedures), § 64.009 – Voter Unable to Enter Polling Place. Inability was broadly defined in the Code as “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health,” the latter provision utilized to justify the drive-through voting. However, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released guidance pushing back on this, stating “[f]ear of COVID-19 does not render a voter physically unable to cast a ballot inside a polling place without assistance,” while still recognizing election officials should not question a voter’s qualifications for being “physically unable” to enter the building.

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Mail-in Ballots: Pennsylvania’s Latest Lawsuit on Election Rules

By: Christopher Chau

When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 77 into law on October 31, 2019, state legislators from both sides of the aisle hailed it as a bipartisan triumph as the state formally legalized no-excuse mail-in voting. Pennsylvania Republicans voted overwhelmingly for the bill, with 27-0 in the Senate and 105-2 in the House. In fact, the Democrats were more divided, with a majority in both chambers voting against the bill. In an interview with CNN, Republican Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Leader, Jake Corman, stated, “What’s important is that people have faith in the system…the elections process matters—it matters a great deal in a democracy.” As COVID-19 ravaged the nation in 2020, Act 77 became Pennsylvania voters’ relief to vote safely and privately during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

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Iowa Voting Legislation: Punitive Restrictions and “Technical Violations”

By: Peter Quinn 

Iowans are no strangers to potentially hazardous jobs, as anyone who has ever worked with a thresher can attest. But recent legislation has caused an unlikely profession to rocket up the list of professions with great personal danger attached: election officials. The danger, however, comes not from pointy farm equipment, but rather from the sudden potential for large fines and criminal charges for simple mistakes.

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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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