Election Law

  • February 23, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Harry Baumgarten, Inaugural Partner Legal Fellow at the Voting Rights Institute

    This post originally appeared on the blog of the Campaign Legal Center.

    Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will gather tomorrow to award the foot soldiers of Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday and the final Selma to Montgomery March with the Congressional Gold Medal. This award constitutes the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress and marks a fitting tribute to the brave men and women who risked life and limb so that “every American citizen would be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote and have their voices heard.”

    Yet, however befitting and overdue this award may be, we must not accept it as a substitute for meaningful legislative action to safeguard the fundamental right to vote.

    Minority voting rights are perhaps more imperiled today than at any time since these brave marchers gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. Just three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, despite four reauthorizations and thousands of pages of congressional findings that showcased why the law was still needed. The 2013 decision, Shelby County v. Holder, dismantled the VRA’s coverage formula, which determined which states and local jurisdictions were required to gain approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court before making changes to their electoral laws and procedures due to histories of racial discrimination in voting.

    Many of the states that would have once needed to seek preclearance from the DOJ acted within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling, implementing onerous voting restrictions, such as voter ID laws, that had the intent and effect of burdening minority access to the polls. These laws threaten to disenfranchise millions of people across the country and would previously have been barred by the Voting Rights Act. Scarily, without congressional action, 2016 will likely mark the first presidential election in more than 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

  • January 13, 2016
    BookTalk
    Plutocrats United
    Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections
    By: 
    Richard L. Hasen

    by Richard L. Hasen, Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science, University of California, Irvine School of Law

    As I was working on my new book, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections, a UC Irvine colleague asked me a key question: Who was I writing this book for? The answer I gave him, half-jokingly, was that I had written the book for a single person: Justice Elena Kagan.

    You see, before Justice Kagan joined the Supreme Court, she was Professor (and later Dean) Kagan, a progressive thinker to be sure but one who expressed some serious skepticism about a 1990 Supreme Court case, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld the ability of the government to require business corporations to pay for their political expenditures out of a separate PAC fund. Professor Kagan queried whether Austin represented a government passing a campaign finance law to protect incumbents, and whether the Court was wrong in rejecting a First Amendment challenge to the law. The Supreme Court later overturned the Austin case in its notorious 2010 Citizens United case.

    The Kagan story ends with Kagan as Solicitor General of the United States defending the corporate PAC requirement in the Citizens United case, then losing that case, then getting an appointment to the Supreme Court despite misplaced conservative cries that she wanted to ban books, and now with Justice Kagan dissenting from the conservative Supreme Court’s deregulatory campaign finance decisions.

    In Plutocrats United, I argue for a fundamental rethinking of 40 years of campaign finance decisions, beginning with the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo. In Buckley, the Court held that the government might have an interest in limiting money in politics to stem corruption, but not to assure political equality, an interest the Buckley Court called “wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

  • December 14, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Richard L. Hasen, professor of law and political science, University of California, Irvine School of Law. Hasen is author of the book, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections.

    Almost from the moment in December 2000 that the Supreme Court decided its controversial opinion in Bush v. Gore ending the recount in Florida, there has been great debate about whether the case had any precedential value and, assuming it did, what precisely its equal protection principle stood for. Was it a one-day-only ticket? Is it a case about equality of procedures in the conduct of a jurisdiction-wide recount? Or does it require broader equal treatment of voters, so as to fulfill Bush v. Gore’s admonition against the government, by “arbitrary and disparate treatment, valu[ing] one person’s vote over that of another”? We may finally find out the case’s precedential value as soon as the 2016 elections.

    At the Supreme Court, Bush v. Gore has been a legal Voldemort, a case whose name a Court majority has dare not spoken since 2000. Only Justice Clarence Thomas has cited the case, in a dissenting opinion, and not speaking on its equal protection principles.

    Lower courts have been initially divided over whether Bush v. Gore could be used to force jurisdictions to require greater equality in the conduct of elections. Is it an equal protection violation, for example, to use much less reliable voting technology in some parts of a state but not in others? Some courts initially ruled such disparities created constitutional problems. By 2007, however, federal appellate courts seemed to reject these muscular readings of the case, and I declared the precedent all but dead in a 2007 Stanford Law Review article.

    But since the time I wrote that article, a key federal circuit has resurrected Bush v. Gore as precedent: the Sixth Circuit. In a number of cases out of Ohio, the perennial battleground state in presidential elections, the Sixth Circuit has found lack of uniform rules in the state to raise Bush v. Gore problems. It has held that the disparate treatment of provisional ballots in a recount violate Bush v. Gore equal protection principles, that the disproportionate distribution of voting machinery leading to long lines in more populated areas can violate the principle, and that giving only certain military and overseas voters but no other voters the chance to cast a ballot in early voting the weekend before an election violates Bush v. Gore.

  • December 3, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Daniel Tokaji, Charles W. Ebersold and Florence Whitcomb Ebersold Professor of Constitutional Law and Senior Fellow at Election Law @Moritz, The Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law

    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear argument in Evenwel v. Abbott. The subject of the case is the meaning of the “one person, one vote” rule. The appellants argue that the Constitution requires equality of eligible voters among legislative districts. This argument is unlikely to carry the day – in fact, the appellants may well lose unanimously. Evenwel is still an important case, however, because what the Court says will affect how states draw state legislative districts after the next census and possibly even sooner. The hard question isn’t the disposition of Evenwel but rather its implications for the next case.

    The “one person, one vote” rule requires that legislative districts be drawn on the basis of population. Where single-member districts are used, each district must be of approximately equal population. In Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court held that the “one person, one vote” rules applies to state legislative districting. This ended the states’ practice of using districts with very different populations – some with disparities over 40:1 – which generally advantaged rural areas at the expense of urban and suburban areas.

    Reynolds left open the population metric that states can or should use when drawing districts. There are several possible choices. The broadest measure is total population. That’s what Texas uses in drawing its 31 state senate districts, giving each one approximately the same number of people. Total population is also the metric used in the other 49 states, according to the United States’ amicus brief. A narrower basis for drawing districts is the U.S. citizen population (excluding non-citizens). An even narrower metric is the citizen voting age population (excluding those under 18) or, narrower still, the citizen voting eligible population (excluding people ineligible to vote due to felonies or mental incapacity). Counting only eligible voters would have a negative impact on the representation of racial minorities and other communities with large numbers of children, non-citizens, and other non-voters.

  • October 27, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Marissa Liebling, Legislative Director, Project Vote

    The year before a major election has brought about a flurry of legislative activity impacting voter eligibility and election procedures. Each week, Project Vote tracks such legislation and voting-related news throughout the country. Our biannual Legislative Threats and Opportunities report summarizes and highlights the information obtained from three areas: our ongoing bill tracking effort, our work with local advocates and officials, and a compilation of information on related factors like the partisan makeup of legislatures and state election officials. The report provides an important snapshot of activity by issue area and by state so we can reflect on current trends and prepare for the future.

    The good news: Recent policy trends favor voting rights expansion and election modernization over unnecessary restrictions that limit access to our democracy. Comparing the rates of both bill introduction and successful bill passage, proposals expanding voter access far outpaced those seeking to limit and restrict the right to vote. While positive legislation covered many areas, from restoring voting rights for disenfranchised felons to providing early voting, online registration and automatic registration dominated the year.

    Automatic registration leaped atop the priority list for many advocates and lawmakers. Oregon passed a law enabling the automatic registration of eligible residents using information collected by the state’s motor vehicle agency. An avalanche of registration modernization legislation followed, with California passing a similar law. While proposals vary in name and substance, automatic registration and electronic transfer policies seek to improve outdated processes and shift the burden now on citizens to proactively opt-in and maintain records in order to exercise a fundamental right.

    If automatic registration is trendy, online registration is becoming the norm. This year, online registration laws passed in three states, while two states launched online registration sites through administrative action. More states are expected to bring registration online in the coming year. Efficient and convenient, paperless registration sites are now available in a majority of states.