Election Law news of note, week ending January 18, 2019

Here I compile news I find of note (even if others may not find them of note!) regarding Election Law topics each week.

Iowa’s governor has proposed ending permanent felon disenfranchisement in the state. Iowa is one of a handful of states that still does so in our patchwork quilt of state-based voter qualification rules. This comes on the heels of the successful repeal in Florida just last year. The opportunity to give convicted felons a second chance has seen growing bipartisan support on a variety of fronts, including the recent passage of the FIRST STEP Act in Congress. The details of such a proposal remain to be seen—and whether Iowans support it remains another matter to be seen.

Speaking of Iowa, “radical changes” are promised for the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses. The likely solutions, a “proxy” caucus and a “tele-caucus,” are sure to increase participation in the event. I’ve wondered how historic structures like “realignment,” a tool that benefited Barack Obama in 2008, might look in a new format, and whether results differ. Assuredly, a change in process will lead to increased uncertainty ahead of the caucuses—perhaps simply building excitement!

A federal court of appeals declined to extend the long-standing consent decree in litigation known as DNC v. RNC. The decree began in litigation that Democrats filed against Republicans in 1981, and it has been extended for years since to prevent Republicans from engaging in certain election-related tactics. But it’s worth remember that back in 2016, a similar effort was raised, and the Supreme Court, without noted dissent, declined to consider the issue. Perhaps that was in part because the litigation arose in literally the days before the election and there was little opportunity to develop the record. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote separately concerning her reason: Ohio law already prohibits voter intimidation. Perhaps, then, extending a 1981-era consent decree is unnecessary, as long as evidence exists that existing state laws are, well, not inadequate to the task. We shall see if future challenges arise concerning this consent decree.

By the way, it’s going to be a busy week for faithless elector litigation! Oral argument is scheduled for cases in Colorado and Washington this upcoming week.