Guarding The Ballot Box
The presidential election campaign is now in full swing with all 50 states preparing for a large voter turnout in November. The ABA has a longstanding commitment to ensuring fairness and accessibility in America’s electoral system. Through the Standing Committee on Election Law, the ABA is front and center in ensuring that the voting process is as fair and democratic as possible.
Chaired this year by William B. Canfield III of Washington, D.C., the standing committee examines and develops ways to improve the federal election process. The committee was created in 1973, and in 1979 it added the expertise of a 10-member advisory commission that now includes the chair and vice-chair of the Federal Election Commission, the president of the League of Women Voters, election law attorneys and academics. Committee appointments are based on members’ election law experience and are carefully monitored to ensure a balance in terms of political ideology, thus maintaining the committee’s reputation as a national, impartial expert on the electoral process.
The committee has brought to the ABA House of Delegates numerous recommendations that have been adopted as association policy. These cover such varied subjects as election of the president and vice president by direct popular vote, urging full disclosure of certain campaign contributions and expenditures, imposition of reasonable limits on contributions, administration of federal election laws by one independent agency, urging appointment of a presidential commission to study the decline in voter participation, supporting simplification and streamlining of federal laws governing absentee voting, supporting “motor voter” legislation and youth citizenship education programs, and encouraging fair and open redistricting procedures.
In addition to recommending development of ABA policy, the committee sponsors symposia and national conferences on issues such as campaign finance, the Electoral College, the presidential selection process, the vice presidency, use of technology in campaigns, the Voting Rights Act, redistricting and voter participation. The committee offers educational monographs and transcripts of conference proceedings on many of these topics. Members also serve as guest lecturers in university programs, and they assist the media and others on election law policy issues.
Most recently, the standing committee has been focusing on voter participation, public financing of presidential elections, election reform, campaign finance, and the impact of advances in technology on the electoral process and the laws which govern it.
GUIDELINES ADOPTED BY HOUSE
After the controversial presidential election of 2000, the committee developed Election Administration Guidelines that were adopted by the House in August 2001. The guidelines cover a broad range of electoral issues, including such topics as voter education, registration, voting and post-election issues. Along with the guidelines, the committee created a Voter Rights and Responsibilities Card. The card, written in clear, simple terms, spells out for voters what they need to know to ensure that they can cast their votes and that their votes will be counted.
In August, the committee developed Model Statutory Language on Provisional Balloting and Commentary, which provides uniform standards for affidavits for presentation and verification of provisional ballots. These ballots allow individuals whose status as qualified voters is questioned to cast a vote, which will be counted after verification of their status. The model language provides a framework for ensuring the integrity of the provisional balloting process so that citizens who are eligible to vote have access to the ballot box.
The Voter Rights and Responsibilities Card, developed with the election guidelines in 2001, is an important centerpiece of a new ABA Voting Rights Initiative to encourage voters to exercise their rights. The standing committee has a project with the University of Alabama School of Law to promote this initiative, distribute the ABA voting rights cards and register new voters.
Full information on this initiative and other ABA efforts to encourage voting is available on the Web at www. abanet.org/vote/lawyers.html. The standing committee’s site, www.abanet.org/publicserv/election.html, also offers information on its work and links to many related sites.
For more information on the interesting and important work of the committee, contact its outstanding director, Elizabeth Yang, at 202-662-1692 or via e-mail at [email protected]