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William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Tag: First Amendment (page 1 of 4)

Ninth Circuit Brings Out-of-State Donors In From The Cold

By: Ellie Halfacre

When Wes Keller ran for re-election to the Alaska House of Representatives in 2015, his brother-in-law David Thompson tried to support his candidacy and donate $500 to the campaign. However, due to §15.13.072(e)(3) of Alaska’s elections statute, he was unable to do so. Under this law, Keller’s campaign had already received the maximum dollar amount it could accept from nonresidents—$3,000—according to the state’s restrictions on campaign contributions. Thompson, a Wisconsin resident, sued, challenging Alaska’s campaign finance laws under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The law that barred Thompson’s donation, §15.13.072, specified several fundraising limitations on out-of-state donors: candidates could not accept more than $20,000 a year from nonresident donors for gubernatorial campaigns, $5,000 a year for state senate campaigns, and $3,000 a year for campaigns for state representative, or municipal or other office.

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What’s in a Name?: Pennsylvania Requires Signatures For Mail-In Ballots To Be Counted And Decides Not To Throw Out Ballots For Signature Verification Issues

By Jessica Washington

Pennsylvania requires a signature for all mail-in ballots. The voter’s signature must match the voter’s permanent registration card.  If the signature matches, the voter’s ballot is counted. If the signature does not match, the voter’s ballot is discarded.

Prior to this year, signatures for mail-in ballots have been an issue. They are poised to become an even greater problem as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by storm. As a result of the pandemic, many people have begun to work from home, had their groceries delivered to their door, and have limited their need to go out in accordance with health guidelines. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever are expected to vote through mail-in ballots. This increases the chance that more ballots than ever will be discounted as a result of rejected signatures.

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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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Declassifying “the Bunker”

By: Emmalyn McCarthy

Congressional district boundaries are the latest dispute in a string of voting-related cases in the state of Ohio. In May, a lawsuit was filed in federal district court by the Ohio League of Women Voters, Ohio’s chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Initiative, and one democratic voter from each of Ohio’s sixteen congressional districts. The suit pertains to congressional district lines drawn by a Republican-controlled process in 2011 which took place in a closed off hotel room called “the bunker.” Map drawers created a twelve to four, Republican-favored districting scheme, splitting up many counties to create a twelve district Republican voting majority.

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Alaska Superior Court Allows the State Democratic Party to Let Independent Candidates Run in Party Primaries

By: Grace Greenberg-Spindler

Creating coalitions between independents and major political parties widens the opportunity for independents to participate in the political process. In Alaska an independent candidate must submit a filing notification and collect petition signatures, the number of which varies by level of office. Additionally, independent candidates are blocked from accessing the tools of state-recognized parties such as the Alaska Democratic Party (“ADR”) and the Alaska Republican Party. Rule AS 15.25.030(a)(16) requires “primary election candidates to be registered members of the party in whose primary they run.”

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TX State Courts Wrestling with Corporate Contribution Restrictions post-Citizens United

By: Evan Lewis

This summer, the Texas Supreme Court, Texas’s highest court for civil, family, and probate matters, released their highly anticipated opinion in King Street Patriots v. Texas Democratic Party. This case, amongst other issues, contemplated whether or not corporate contribution restrictions are constitutional after the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision Citizens United. The overall decision was unanimous, but only eight of the nine justices agreed that corporate contribution restrictions are constitutional.

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Balancing Nonpartisan Judicial Elections with Candidates’ First Amendment Rights in Kentucky

 

By: Carrie Mattingly

In Kentucky, all state court judges are elected in nonpartisan elections. Kentucky’s Code of Judicial Conduct seeks to keep candidates on nonpartisan message. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down some judicial campaign restrictions on First Amendment grounds.

One sitting and two aspiring Kentucky judges brought suit to stop the enforcement of these judicial canons against them. Robert A. Winter, Jr. distributed campaign literature identifying himself as a “lifelong Republican,” and he received a letter stating that this literature may have violated the canon prohibiting campaigning “as a member of a political organization.” Judge Allison Jones asked voters to “re-elect” her, even though she was initially appointed to her seat, and pledged to provide stiff penalties for heroin dealers if elected. She also received a letter stating that her “re-elect” statement may have violated the canon prohibiting “false and misleading statements” and that her “stiff penalties” comment may have been an impermissible “commitment” inconsistent with the impartial performance of judicial duties. Finally, Judge Cameron J. Blau wished to give speeches supporting the Republican Party, to hold Republican fundraisers, to seek and receive Republican endorsements, and to donate to candidates and to the party, but he refrained in fear of sanctions.

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Nonpartisan Election Laws Challenged in Montana

Before the 2016 election season even concluded, the 2018 campaign season for one small Montana community had already started heating up. Robin Benson, the Clerk and Recorder of Lincoln County, a small county of less than twenty thousand people, announced on October 18, 2016, in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Montana, that she plans on running for reelection in 2018. In the suit, Ms. Benson challenges Montana’s nonpartisan election laws as a violation of candidates’ free speech rights.

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The Sunlight Keeps Shining: The Supreme Court’s Denial of Certiorari Means that Delaware’s Disinfectant Election Disclosure Law Remains

By: Owen Ecker

In the wake of Citizens United v. FEC, Delaware took it upon itself to counteract the perceived “opening of the floodgates” ushered in by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of corporate third party political expenditures.  As the state’s first major alteration in campaign finance laws for over two decades, House Bill 300, established to generate a greater amount of disclosure from third party advertisers, passed both houses of Delaware’s General Assembly by large margins (about 65 percent in the House of Representatives and 100 percent in the Senate) in 2012.  Thereafter, the Governor of Delaware signed the Delaware Elections Disclosure Act (the “Act”) into law, which became effective in 2013.  However, litigation ensued over the Act’s constitutionality, with one lawsuit making its way up to the Supreme Court.

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An Unenviable Choice: Party Loyalty or Voting Your Conscience?

How do we resolve the tension between an individual’s right to vote for who he or she chooses and a political party’s right to set its own rules to govern its proceedings? This conflict was at issue in Correll v. Herring, involving the validity of Virginia election law § 24.2-545 (D).

Political parties in Virginia “have the right to determine the method by which . . .  [they] will select their delegates to the national convention to choose the party’s nominees for President and Vice President of the United States including a presidential primary or another method determined by the party.” Virginia Code § 24.2-545 (A). Under § 24.2-545 (D), party delegates must vote for the candidate who wins the most votes in the party primary (“winner takes all”) if the state party uses a primary election system.  Violation of § 24.2-545 (D) is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

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