State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Category: All States (page 1 of 39)

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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No Voter Left Behind? The Quiet Disenfranchisement of Native Americans

By Scott Meyer

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs website contains a list of frequently asked questions. Among them, “[d]o American Indians and Alaska Natives have the right to vote?” The simple answer, yes, belies the complex relationship between the indigenous peoples of North America, and the United States.

In 1924, the U.S. passed the Snyder Act, which entitled Native Americans born in the U.S. to full citizenship. Ostensibly the 15th amendment, which was passed more than fifty years earlier and granted U.S. citizens the right to vote, combined with the Snyder Act should have allowed Native Americans to vote. In practice, since the Constitution delegated to the states the administration of elections, several decades passed after the Snyder Act before Native Americans actually received national suffrage. The final two holdouts were Utah and North Dakota, which granted “on-reservation Native Americans the right to vote in 1957 and 1958, respectively”. However, even after gaining the right to vote, Native Americans faced many of the same challenges employed against African-Americans to stymie their votes. The passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), often associated with protecting African-American voters, also benefitted many American Indians who lived in covered states or counties, such as Alaska and Arizona. For decadesNative Americans filed lawsuits relying on the 14th and 15th amendment and various sections of the VRA to “gainequal access to election procedures and to have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”

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I voted but it didn’t count–How Florida mail-in ballot problems could disenfranchise thousand of voters

By: Sayo Aweomoni

With the prevalence of COVID–19, it is no doubt that the 2020 presidential election will look very different from any other election America has ever had. As more citizens become concerned for their health and safety, states are set to experience an unprecedented number of voters casting mail in ballots during the upcoming presidential election, but as more people vote by mail, there is a risk of having a large number of ballots go uncounted. These concerns are exacerbated in swing states like Florida, where there is a long history of high rejection rates for mail in ballots.


According to election law experts, people voting for the first time by mail are more likely to make mistakes that could lead to their votes being rejected. As the amount of people choosing to vote by mail increases this year, two provisions in particular – the 7 p.m. election night deadline and a signature-match requirement – could lead to disenfranchisements of thousands of Floridians, more specifically black and Hispanic citizens, if the state refuses to make efforts to accommodate for the current health crisis. During the primaries alone, an estimated 18,000 mail in ballots were rejected in Florida for missing the deadlines or for errors including a mismatch with the signature on file. Despite the pandemic, which left many people scared to go out to public gatherings, polling places without poll workers and several other difficulties, the state still refused to relax these requirements. In a battleground state like Florida, where outcomes could be determined by only a few votes, consequences like this could make a huge difference in determining who emerges as the victor. In the primaries, experts also found that minority voters were more likely to vote by mail for the first time this year and they were twice as likely to have their votes rejected in comparison to white voters. The same outcome is also expected for the general election.  

In an effort to ensure that the pandemic does not disenfranchise minority citizens, civil rights organizations in Florida filed a suit against Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, demanding accommodations to the state’s election procedure in response to the pandemic. Some of the proposed remedies in the updated complaint include extending the deadline to return a vote-by-mail ballot, expanding the use of drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots, extending the time period to cure issues with vote-by-mail ballots, and expanding the days, hours, and locations for early voting in each county. The settlement reached in that case will ultimately “increase access to voter registration, require the state to inform citizens of their options in casting a vote-by-mail ballot, encourage Supervisors of Elections (SOEs) to use funding options to provide prepaid postage for mail-in ballots, and require the Secretary of State to develop and execute a public relations campaign to inform voters of their options in casting a ballot, especially among communities of color, college-aged voters and seniors.”

Although some progress was made with this settlement, Florida still has a long way to go in protecting the votes of thousands of Floridians for this upcoming general election. A further suggestion to protect this franchise for Floridian voters is to expand the window of receipt for mail in ballots by enacting a grace period to receive and count mail in votes, as this would go a long way in protecting tens of thousands of votes. 

To reduce the number of mail-in ballots that could potentially be rejected, everyone has to play their part. Although some Florida voters may be lax about their responsibility to sign their ballots and mail in out in time, the government is ultimately responsible for protecting the integrity of the election, and they possess the power to make accommodations and create reasonable flexibility to promote a free and fair election.

Despite a bumpy start and handwringing in court, Georgia had a relatively smooth Election Day “

By: Alex Lipow

When in-person early voting for the 2020 General Election in Georgia began, technological and logistical issues—coupled with unprecedented voter enthusiasm—created excessively long lines for voters to cast ballots. Across the Atlanta metropolitan area, many voters had to stand in line for five hours to vote. A disproportionate number of unreasonably long voting lines occurred in minority communities. This episode was only the latest example of long voting lines plaguing Georgia’s electoral system and some feared it portended poorly for a smooth Election Day.

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Historic Change Again On the Horizon in Mississippi

By Tamikia Carr Vasquez

Mississippi, historically a hotbed of racial hostility between whites and blacks, is once again on the cusp of change. In June, the Mississippi legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state’s flag. In November, voters will have the opportunity to vote on removing the “Mississippi Plan” from the state constitution. This 1890 Jim Crow era provision states that 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 on 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, about the background of the current  electoral process, the prospects of the success of the referendum, and other election law issues facing Mississippi. This is part 1 of a two-part interview.

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Return to Sender: Colorado’s Response to Controversial Election Mailer

By: Anna Pesetski

COVID-19 has spurred a whole host of challenges in 2020 and the upcoming presidential election in November is no exception to these challenges. Given the concerns with voters travelling to the polls to cast their ballots in person, many states have opted for voting by mail. In response to the surge in mail-in voting, the United States Postal Service circulated a mailer to all fifty states and the District of Columbia containing information about the process of voting by mail. Top election officials in states across the nation have expressed concerns and frustrations with the mailer because its content conflicts with state election laws, likely causing voter confusion. The mailer has sparked controversy among Democrats, who have communicated growing fears that these mailers have been distributed out of political bias because of President Trump’s aversion to voting by mail. These fears have been exacerbated by the fact that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has made large donations to the president’s campaign. Continue reading

Are long lines to vote in Georgia unconstitutional? We may soon find out

By Alex Lipow

In recent years, Georgia has become a posterchild for election controversies and administrative snafus. Election disputes have ranged from claims of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering to allegations of a conflict of interest in administering the 2018 gubernatorial election. With these issues in the background, a federal court is wrestling with a more fundamental question: do long voting lines in Georgia—which were the longest in the country in 2018 and 29 percent longer in black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods—violate the U.S. Constitution? 

On August 6, 2020, three Georgia voters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Party of Georgia (the “Plaintiffs”) filed suit against Georgia’s secretary of state, members of nine county boards of election from counties with some of the longest lines in the most recent election, and members of Georgia’s State Election Board (the “Defendants”). In their complaint, the Plaintiffs contend that the long voting lines, which have become longer and longer in each of the most recent elections, stem from the Defendants’ “persistent closure and consolidation of polling locations and failure to provide adequate election equipment, elections officials and volunteers with sufficient training, available technicians to address technical problems that arise, sufficient time to set up polling locations, and emergency paper ballots for backup when equipment breaks down or malfunctions.” 

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All Eyes on Absentee Voting: Wisconsin Races to Distribute Ballots After Green Light from Supreme Court

By: Mikaela Phillips  

The April 2020 presidential primary in Wisconsin drew national attention during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Even the United States Supreme Court weighed in, blocking the extension of absentee voting beyond the statutory deadline that requires ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on election day.

In April 2020, the state saw a surge in voting by mail. Absentee ballots accounted for roughly 6% of the votes tallied in the 2016 and 2018 general elections in Wisconsin. In stark contrast, over 60% of the total votes counted in the April primary were cast via absentee ballots. However, that figure does not paint the whole picture of rise in vote by-mail efforts. The state rejected over 23,000 mail-in ballots during the primary, most often due to witnesses’ failure to complete one line of the certification form.  Continue reading

Kanye West Won’t Be on the VA Ballot (For Now, At Least)

By: Canaan Suitt

On July 4, 2020, Kanye West tweeted that he was running for President of the United States. However, the following day CNN reported that Kanye had not taken any of the necessary steps to effectuate this plan – including filing paperwork with the FEC and getting on state ballots. In fact, by mid July West had already missed several states’ deadlines to get on the November ballot.

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Money Talks, but Donors’ Voices Don’t Matter

By: Helen L. Brewer

The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that spending money on political campaigns is a First Amendment right. Donations to, and expenditures by, campaigns—according to the Court—are political speech. As such, the First Amendment protects this money from government regulation. Laws can only place limits on campaign money if there is a risk the money will cause quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of such corruption. Therefore, despite the First Amendment’s protection of campaign funds, individual donations to candidate campaigns can be limited by the government. This prevents an individual from donating mass amounts of money to a campaign in exchange for special treatment when the candidate is elected to office.
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