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State of Elections

A student-run blog from the Election Law Society

On The Flip Side: Ballot Proposals In New York State

April 1, 2022

By: Stephanie Perry

State of Elections blog posts are written by William & Mary Law students who have opted into studying election law in all its nuances. We sweat the difference between a racial gerrymander and a political gerrymander, the distinction between an expenditure and a campaign contribution. That said, this blog writer was genuinely confused on the first (and second and third) read by the language and content of Ballot Proposal 1 that appeared on ballots across New York state on November 2, 2021. “Amending the Apportionment and Redistricting Process” is the title of Proposal 1. There are tough topics in an Election Law class, but I had hoped the framers of the ballot question would boil it down to its simplest terms for an audience with lesser election law literacy than a second-year law student.

This was not the case. Instead, the ballot question reads: “This proposed constitutional amendment would freeze the number of state senators at 63, amend the process for the counting of the state’s population, delete certain provisions that violate the United States Constitution, repeal, and amend certain requirements for the appointment of the co-executive directors of the redistricting commission and amend the manner of drawing district lines for congressional and state legislative offices. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”


Topics: Ballot Initiatives and-or Referendums Ballot Instructions Constitutional Amendment or Revision Political Parties Redistricting State & Local Elections

South Carolina and the Free and Open Elections Clause

March 28, 2022

By: Anna Miller

In May 2020, the Supreme Court of South Carolina was asked to rule on whether the COVID-19 pandemic constituted enough of a “physical disability” to allow all South Carolina voters to vote absentee in the 2020 election. Currently, South Carolina election law requires absentee voters to have an approved reason for casting an absentee ballot, including being unable to cast an in-person vote due to physical disability. South Carolina Code Section 7-15-310 defines physical disability as “a person who, because of injury or illness, cannot be present in person at his voting place on election day.”

In Bailey v. SEC, the South Carolina Democratic Party sued the South Carolina State Election Commission to reinterpret this provision in light of the global pandemic, which would allow every voter to vote absentee without changing South Carolina’s election laws. However, while this case was pending before the South Carolina Supreme Court, the South Carolina legislature made temporary changes to the election law allowing regions under a state of emergency declaration to vote absentee without a stated reason.


Topics: Accessibility & Voter Assistance Applicability and Scope of Laws Definitions Political Parties State & Local Elections Vote by Mail and-or Absentee Voting

Montana: Changes To Voting Laws In Wake of 2020 Election

March 23, 2022

By: Kelsey Nickerson

Montana is one of the largest states in the county, but unlike its counterparts Texas and California, it is home to relatively few people and only accounts for 3 electoral votes. The state had some close elections as of late, and with a relatively small population, a small number of votes can play a large part in election results. As in most states, the 2020 Election inspired Montana to enact much more stringent voting laws relating to registration, identification, and absentee voting. Many of these laws, despite the obvious problematic result of disenfranchisement of indigenous voters, were upheld under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee this past summer. In Montana, however, a new group has challenged the restrictive bill: young voters.

HB 506, along with instating various redistricting criteria, requires that “[u]ntil the individual meets residence and age requirements, a ballot may not be issued to the individual and the individual may not cast a ballot” via mail. Though it may seem like a reasonable limitation to place on mail-in voting, it does burden a certain portion of the population. Young people, whose participation has surged in Montana over the past few years, object to stringent absentee requirements that target both their age and transient nature. For example, young Montanans who will be 18 and eligible to vote on Election Day, but will not reach that age before the extremely early deadline to request a mail-in ballot, are prevented from voting if they can’t return to their district on Election Day. Additionally, residency requirements require 30 days of presence in a new location before an absentee ballot may be requested. With large portions of teens in Montana moving both away from home and out of state in the fall, there is little room for error in requesting an absentee ballot, and sometimes the request is impossible.


Topics: Vote by Mail and-or Absentee Voting Voter ID

Nevada Expands Mail-In Voting Post 2020

March 21, 2022

The 2020 presidential election was historic for many reasons, among them, the special safety measures that state election administrators had to suddenly implement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its effort to ensure voter safety in the 2020 election process, the Nevada legislature passed a law that would require all counties to mail absentee ballots to registered voters during emergency situations. The law aimed to make it easier for Nevadans to vote without having to physically go to the polls. The law also provided some procedural flexibilities in that it permitted the collection of mail-in ballots by third party collectors.


Alabama Battles Over Redistricting

March 18, 2022

By: Shelly Vallone

The Alabama Senate gave final approval for a redistricting plan of Alabama’s congressional districts on November 3, 2021 after Governor Kay Ivey commenced a special reapportionment session on October 28, 2021 to complete the mandatory redrawing of Congressional, State House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Board of Education districts after the 2020 Census. The Senate mostly maintained the status quo, notably preserving the state’s only majority-black Congressional district without adding another. Ahead of the plan’s approval, Alabama state Senators Rodger Smitherman and Bobby Singleton, along with four Alabama voters, filed suit on September 27, 2021, in the United States District Court Northern District of Alabama Southern Division, asking the Court to declare the current districting plan unconstitutional and allow the legislature to remedy the violations ahead of the 2022 elections.

In their amended complaint, filed the day after the Senate’s approval, the plaintiffs argue the plan “was drafted by incumbent members of Alabama’s Congressional delegation to maintain their current districts with only those changes necessary to equalize populations.” The plaintiffs also stress the urgency of their claim in light of the fast-approaching 2022 elections. Candidates seeking nomination in a party primary must file a declaration of candidacy with the state party chairman by January 28, 2022. Therefore, the plaintiffs asked the Court to conduct a final hearing before the end of 2021 to settle whether the plan constitutes a racial gerrymander before the primary elections in May 2022.


Did Texas House Members Violate the Texas Open Meetings Act When Redistricting?

March 16, 2022

By: Sarah Depew

On October 18, 2021, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), the largest and oldest Latino legislative caucus in the nation, issued a public statement on their Twitter account stating that they filed a petition for deposition in order to investigate a possible violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. More specifically, the public statement raised concerns about the possibility of secret communications and decision-making in Texas’ redistricting process.


Spoiler Alert: Sham Candidates Unduly Influence Florida Elections

March 14, 2022

Sham candidates are influencing outcomes in Florida elections. And it’s “not necessarily illegal.” Running sham candidates, or “ballot management,” is the practice of strategically running a no party affiliation (NPA) or third-party candidate not to win, but to siphon votes from a competitor. The 2020 race for Florida Senate District 37 illustrates the issue.

Incumbent Democratic state senator José Javier Rodríguez ran for reelection to his seat representing Florida’s Senate District 37, which he first won in 2016. His competitors were Republican Ileana Garcia and NPA candidate Alex Rodriguez— an auto parts dealer who conveniently shared the same last name as José Javier Rodríguez. Suspiciously, Alex Rodriquez did not appear to want to win the election, failing to campaign, speak publicly, or otherwise engage with voters. By itself, it’s possible Alex Rodriquez was someone who simply wanted to throw his hat into the ring, but perhaps lacked the will or resources for a full-throated campaign. Unfortunately, that was not the case.


Beyond Brnovich – How an Arizona Voting Rights Case Will Have Sweeping Consequences

March 11, 2022

By: Mike Arnone

In July, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Brnovich v. DNC, arguably its most significant voting rights decision since Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. Two Arizona election restrictions were at issue in Brnovich, but the Court’s holding will have far-reaching consequences beyond the Grand Canyon State.

The restrictions at the heart of Brnovich prohibited out-of-precinct ballots from being counted and criminalized the collection of ballots for delivery to polling places, a common practice sometimes called “ballot harvesting.” In a 6-3 majority opinion written by Justice Alito, the Court upheld both provisions under Section Two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). The majority ruled that Section Two of the VRA could only be used to invalidate voting restrictions that place “substantial and disproportionate burdens on minority voters.” Because Arizona provided multiple ways to vote, “any burden associated with one option cannot be evaluated without also taking into account the other available means.” Burdens on voting, then, must be evaluated by the totality of the circumstances.


Bready or Not: Texas, 2022 Redistricting, and Donut-Shaped Districts

March 9, 2022

It has been ten years, a decennial census, and the Republican-controlled Texas legislature has redrawn the state maps, with incumbents finding themselves drawn out of their own districts and would-be challengers finding paths to success becoming narrower, donut- and donut-hole districts, and a flurry of legal and public pushback against the announced maps.

Incumbent Representative Vicente Gonzalez, whose district pre-redistricting was the Rio Grande Valley’s District 15, has announced his intent to run in the new District 34 – in part because his home is in the new district’s boundaries. In north Texas, similar issues are taking place: Salman Bhojani, a Democratic candidate for Texas Senate District 9 since May 2021, recently announced the end of his campaign after the redrawn maps completely changed District 9 from a competitive one to a safe Republican district. And when redrawing lines, even the party in charge cannot always avoid collateral damage, as in the odd case of District 34 losing six Republican-leaning counties to an adjacent district, just as the Republican Party had been making meaningful headway and the long-term Democratic incumbent was retiring. However, incumbent district-jumping isn’t new, at least for Texas. Longtime Congressman Lloyd Doggett, first elected to Congress in 1995, has already survived redrawing and jumping into new districts, and is looking to do so again with a jump from District 35 to District 37.


Minnesota ID: Will Voter Id Laws Be Enacted with The Coming Legislative Session?

March 7, 2022

By: Cullen Enabnit

An ongoing trend following the 2020 election pushed state legislatures to introduce more and more laws aimed at curtailing perceived voter fraud or the potential of it. One of the main ways states have approached this is by enacting different levels of voter identification laws. Currently there are 36 states that have some form of voter ID laws. Seven states currently have what is described as “strict” voter ID laws that require the voter to present one of a limited set of government issued IDs, and being without will prevent them from being able to vote.