Democracy and Voting

  • September 13, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Matt Lynch, Special Counsel, Foley & Lardner LLP and Steering Committee member, ACS Madison Lawyer Chapter

    Few are willing to defend the practice of partisan gerrymandering on its merits.  Republican lawmakers, Democratic lawmakers, historians, political scientists, law professors, partisan interest groups, and nonpartisan interest groups alike all agree that gerrymandering—drawing legislative districts for the purpose of political advantage—is a pox on representative government. But stopping the practice requires legislators to voluntarily harm their own chances for re-election.  And so gerrymandering continues, now aided by more precise voter data than we have ever had, and the technology to use it on a broad, state-wide scale.

    Gill v. Whitford, a case arising from Wisconsin’s heavily gerrymandered districts, presents the United States Supreme Court with a clean opportunity to rein in that despised practice.  The only question is whether the justices—namely swing Justice Anthony Kennedy—believe it is a problem that warrants a judicial solution.

  • September 13, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Daniel TokajiCharles W. Ebersold and Florence Whitcomb Ebersold Professor of Constitutional Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

    *This piece originally ran on SCOTUSblog as a part of their Summer Symposium on Gill v. Whitford

    A constitutional standard for partisan gerrymandering is the holy grail of election law. For decades, scholars and jurists have struggled to find a manageable standard for claims of excessive partisanship in drawing district lines. Most of these efforts have focused on the equal protection clause. But as Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested in Vieth v. Jubelirer, the First Amendment provides a firmer doctrinal basis for challenging partisan gerrymandering. An established line of precedent understands voting as a form of expressive association protected by the First Amendment. These cases offer a nuanced standard that would avoid the undesirable result of rendering any consideration of partisan consequences unconstitutional.

  • August 23, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Matthew Segal, legal director, ACLU of Massachusetts

    The Trump Administration has embarked on a campaign of voter suppression. Its actions, including creating a Voter “Integrity” Commission fueled by false claims of voter fraud, and filing a brief defending Ohio’s voter purges, seems not just destined but designed to keep Americans from voting. This campaign risks eroding the voting rights of historically disenfranchised groups of people not only overtly but also insidiously, in ways that go well beyond any single voter suppression measure.

    The insidious nature of these efforts is that they draw our collective attention to malicious attempts to keep people of color and young people from exercising their right to vote. This focus, in turn, can desensitize us to disenfranchisement that is needless, yet not malicious.

  • July 10, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Joshua A. Douglas, Robert G. Lawson & William H. Fortune Associate Professor of Law, University of Kentucky College of Law

    While doom-and-gloom seems to dominate voting rights news these days, there is also positive work happening on the ground to enhance the right to vote. That is the goal of a lawsuit in Massachusetts, showing the importance of playing offense instead of defense in an effort to expand democratic participation.

    Voters in Massachusetts, along with the ACLU, are challenging Massachusetts’s 20-day registration deadline. Under the law, a voter may not cast a ballot on Election Day unless he or she has registered at least 20 days in advance of the election. The plaintiffs in Massachusetts argue that the government has no need for this registration deadline and that requiring people to register ahead of Election Day deprives those who do not comply of their constitutionally-protected right to vote. They literally cannot vote if they do not register ahead of the election and yet given modern technology, the state has no need for the 20-day requirement.

    The plaintiffs have already won, in part. Just before the 2016 election, state judge Douglas Wilkins found that Massachusetts had failed to demonstrate a “real reason, grounded in data, facts, or other evidence,” for the registration deadline. The court noted, “The right to vote is fundamental, as guaranteed by the Massachusetts Constitution.” The registration deadline deprived the three plaintiffs of this fundamental right. The court therefore allowed them to cast their ballots even though they had not registered in time. Yet that decision did not resolve the ultimate question of the constitutionality of a registration deadline before Election Day. The court is now considering that question, hearing testimony from voters, election experts, and state officials.

  • March 1, 2017

    by Katie O’Connor

    In an era of record political polarization, there are still a handful of issues on which Americans seem to agree. One such issue is the need to implement serious campaign finance reform and drastically reduce the amount of money in politics. According to a 2015 New York Times/CBS News poll, 84 percent of respondents thought that money has too much influence in American political campaigns. 39 percent of respondents said the system for funding political campaigns needs fundamental changes, and another 46 percent said the system needs to be completely rebuilt. Over three-quarters of respondents were in favor of limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns.

    Despite a near consensus on the need for change, little has been done to slow the flood of money into politics in recent years. In fact, it has only hastened, with some help from the Supreme Court. The 2016 presidential election is estimated to have cost $6.9 billion, up from $4.3 billion in 2000. Part of the blame for the impasse lies with Congress, which has been growing increasingly gridlocked for decades. But Congressional deadlock is not a total bar to campaign finance reform.

    The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the agency whose mission is to enforce and administer campaign finance laws. Specifically, the FEC enforces laws which seek to “limit the disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals and special interest groups on the outcome of federal elections; regulate spending in campaigns for federal office; and deter abuses by mandating public disclosure of campaign finances.” Despite its bipartisan and overwhelmingly popular mission and its distance from a dysfunctional Congress, the FEC is not immune to gridlock. In fact, it has come to be referred to, in some circles, as the Failure to Enforce Commission.