As the courts work their way through claims against ID and other voting restrictions, they continue on a course of “softening" voting impediments but not eliminating them altogether. They remain reluctant to deny states the authority to enact rules, on virtually non-existent evidence, to protect against in-person voter fraud. Remedies are then fashioned that provide relief to voters facing a “reasonable impediment” to voting but the question has been legitimately raised: how much of an impact can these sorts of measures be expected to have?

Like the right to a provisional ballot provided for under HAVA, these other remedies-- like accommodating indigent voters with access to cost-free identification--help voters, but only a limited number. The reach and effectiveness of these measures depend upon the states’ performance of their obligations: the information they provide to voters, and the good faith and competence with which they administer the remedies. The same may be true of more robust remedies, like the option recently ordered for Wisconsin, affording access to an affidavit alternative to documentary identification.

Still “softening” is useful. Political actors—notably, parties and presidential campaigns--and nonprofit voting organizations have dramatically improved upon their capabilities in effectively advising voters about remedial options and assisting them in exercising them. Voters are not, then, entirely dependent upon state officials for help. In successive election cycles, the effectiveness of these partisan and nonprofit voter protection programs has improved, each rebuilt successfully on the experience of the last.

To the extent that large contributions are given to secure a political quid pro quo from current and potential office holders, the integrity of our system of representative democracy is undermined. Although the scope of such pernicious practices can never be reliably ascertained, the deeply disturbing examples surfacing after the 1972 election demonstrate that the problem is not an illusory one. 

Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S 1, 27.  

This was the magnitude of the conclusion that the Supreme Court drew about the prevalence or appearance of corruption when it upheld the contribution limitations of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The corruption problem was “not… illusory” but its scope could ‘never’ be pinned down.  The Court then cited to the decision of the court below that had offered a few example of pernicious behavior with campaign funds in the 1972 presidential election. That was enough.

In the years following, enough has not proven to be as good as a feast.  And in search of the feast, anyone with a point to make about the campaign finance laws has been pursuing conclusive data to support it.  Corruption, or the absence of corruption, or the different definitions and measures of corruption, have all occasioned argument about the evidence, as has the related but different project of proving the “appearance” of corruption.  Argument about the evidence has yet to be settled and there's every reason to believe that they never will be.

The related but still distinguishable argument about political inequality has meant the same search for clinching proof that policy follows money and makes for a “rigged” system.  This week, the Center for Competitive Politics took after a widely reported paper about the correlation between the aspirations of the wealthy and the manufacture of public policy.  Noting that Rick Hasen and Larry Lessig had made use of the paper in arguing for a political equality theory of regulation, the CCP cited to critics of the scholarship and its conclusions.  In this critical view, which CCP evidently favors, there is substantial agreement across income groups about policy.  So the study that purportedly shows that we have a democracy of the rich cannot survive close scrutiny. CCP suggests that this should bring sharply into question the “lofty solutions” of reformers.

The EAC’s Troubles

April 12, 2016
posted by Bob Bauer

When the Presidential Commission on Election Administration held hearings around the country, the future of the Election Commission Administration came up regularly in discussions and testimony.  The EAC had no Commissioners, and the concern was chiefly that it could not attend to its responsibility for voting machine standards and certification. There was also a sense that the absence of the EAC—amid indications of neglect, partisan stand-off, or both—highlighted the weakness of a national commitment to progress in professional election administration.  The EAC was an invaluable resource for administrators, and, if it could steer clear of partisan conflict, it could perform a valuable service to the election administration community—and to the voters.

The EAC then got enough Commissioners for a quorum and full operations.  This was a period of considerable promise, and those working in the field moved quickly to engage with the EAC.  For example, early on Ben Ginsberg and I sent a letter urging that the newly functional Commission initiate steps to improve the standard-setting and certification process for voting machines.  The Commission subsequently acted, and it did so unanimously.  EAC-sponsored discussions in which former PCEA Commissioners and election administrators participated heightened the expectation that the Commission could help mark out the ground for professional administration even in a period of intense political and other conflict over voting rights.  There were warm and encouraging words all around.

Brian Newby, appointed Executive Director in November of 2015, has quickly managed to put all of this at risk.  Claiming authority to disregard past EAC policy and precedent--and understanding full well that he was ignoring disagreement among the Commissioners and provoking fresh partisan conflict--he purported to consent to state requests to modify the Federal Form for registration applicants to include a requirement of documentary proof of citizenship.  On this highly visible and divisive issue, in the face of its long and actively litigated history, Newby concluded that this is what he should do.

The Supreme Court and the “Constituent”

June 2, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer

The Supreme Court has effectively decided to consider the question of who qualifies as the constituent of a legislator, and, as Joey Fishkin has pointed out, it got into this question from a different perspective in its most recent campaign finance decision, McCutcheon.  There the Court included in that category donors, including out-of-jurisdiction donors.  Is it possible that this Court would conclude that a donor is a constituent but that for purposes of the constitutional question presented in Evenwel , a resident under the age of 18 or a noncitizen is not?    Fishkin writes: “[W]ho counts as a constituent?  That’s the question, long latent, that the Court has decided to decide in Evenwel.”

This question can be attacked by the Court’s application of High Theory, or the resolution can be left with…. the politicians, entrusted with the judgment of how to define their representative relationships.  This is one way to reconcile the McCutcheon decision with the right decision in Evenwell: the Court should not jump in and shape that choice by insisting on the one definition of constituency—eligible voters.  To the extent that the Constitution does not dictate the answer, the Justices would be unwise to do so.

Crawford and the Politics of Voter ID

October 20, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer
A recent posting here suggested that the constitutional analysis of ID statutes is foundering on the issue of partisan motivation—the politics of ID. The centrality of this motivation is inescapable. it is impressing itself on a prominent jurist like Richard Posner, once dismissive of claims against ID statutes, and it is supported by the evidence considered by political scientists (see here and here). Yet the jurisprudence developed around ID has fared poorly in showing how political motivation can be incorporated into a constitutional test.