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Tag: Voting Rights (page 1 of 3)

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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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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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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Small Problem, Big Fight: Saving the Unsinged Ballot in Arizona

By: Megan Kelly

What happens when the state receives an unsigned mail-in ballot? This is the question that new and contentious litigation in the District Court of Arizona is seeking to answer. Last week, a district judge held that unsigned ballots in Arizona were to be afforded the same five-day curing period that other unidentifiable ballots—from mismatched signatures or lack of voter ID—are given. 

We may ask how frequently people are really mailing in unsigned ballots. In 2018, Arizona rejected about 3,000 unsigned ballots. This number is small, but in an increasingly competitive purple state, a small number of votes can make the difference. 

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Learning from Lawsuits: How Kentucky’s top officials adapted to satisfy voter complaints

By Cameron Newton

When the dust settled following the contentious 2019 elections in Kentucky, each of the commonwealth’s major executive offices—save for the governorship—was won by the Republican candidate. While the election of Andy Beshear brought control of the Governor’s Mansion back into Democratic hands, perhaps the night’s most shocking result came as Michael Adams, an election lawyer with a history in Republican politics, upset former Miss America Heather French Henry in the race for Secretary of State. No thinking observer would have anticipated emerging election policy to be anything but crafted and contested along rigid ideological boundaries.

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Election 2020: Tennessee Slow to Protect Voters

By Maxwell Weiss

Tennessee is among a waning list of states attempting to increase voting restrictions during the pandemic. Many states have changed their election laws to allow any voter to vote using an absentee ballot. However, the Volunteer State is one of five states without no-excuse absentee voting this November, despite the significant health risk of voting in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic. First-time voters were also required to vote in-person, until a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction striking down the restriction. The court held that the state’s only compelling interest in enforcing that restriction is securing valid identification from the voter. Since absentee voting can accommodate identification verification and reduce the burden on voters, the court granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction so that first-time voters will be allowed to vote absentee this November, if they meet the narrow set of criteria to vote absentee.

While certainly a step in the right direction, this was the only win for voting rights from the Memphis A. Phillip Randolph Institute this summer. In the same suit, the group challenged Tennessee provisions including: criminal prohibitions on assisting voters to obtain absentee ballot requests; lack of opportunity to cure ballot rejections based on signature mismatches; and failure to make mail-in voting available to all voters.

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Opinion: The Problem with Voter ID in North Dakota

At a basic level, voter ID laws seem perfectly rational. Election security is important and requiring voters to present identification looks like a good way to prevent fraud. Yet in the United States, voter ID laws have been sharply criticized because in practice, they tend to disenfranchise voters and have the potential to reduce participation by discouraging voters from heading to the polls. Many Americans may lack the required ID and face barriers to obtaining one.

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A Conversation with Professor Ken Mayer: Voter ID and Election Law in Wisconsin

By Richard J. Batzler

In recent years, Wisconsin has been a battle ground over many controversial election law changes, including a voter ID requirement. I spoke with University of Wisconsin Professor Mayer about his research on the impacts of voter ID in Wisconsin and recent election law changes in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Kenneth Mayer is a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Mayer’s election law scholarship includes campaign finance, voter identification, and election administration. Additionally, Professor Mayer has filed expert reports in cases involving voting rights, gerrymandering, and campaign finance, among other issues. Continue reading

Same Day Voter Registration in Hawaii

By: Avery Dobbs

The Hawaii legislature took an important step towards reducing barriers to voting rights in 2014 by voting to allow same day voter registration at the polls. This is a significant change from the state’s previous rule, which required voters to register at least thirty days before an election to be allowed to vote. The state sought this measure in hopes of addressing its chronically low voter participation rates and to make voting rights more accessible for all Hawaiian citizens. Hawaii’s Chief Elections Officer, Scott Nago, spoke in support of the bill at the time by saying, “any qualified person who wants to vote should be able to register and vote”. The state will soon start to see the benefits of this law as it takes full effect in 2018.

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