“Michigan dean’s possible Congress run comes with risks”

Jack Lessenberry:

There’s no doubt that Jocelyn Benson has a stunning record of accomplishment — or that she is one of the potentially hottest political properties in Michigan.

Three years ago, she lost a race for secretary of state — but led the Democratic ticket in what was a huge Republican year.

Now, she faces a difficult choice. She has one of the most important and visible legal jobs in the state. Barely 36, she is interim dean of Wayne State University’s law school. She is seen as likely to get the job full-time — if she decides that’s what she wants.

But she is thinking about leaving that job to risk her career in a run for Congress in a district that is normally Republican, where she would likely face a contested Democratic primary.


“Rutgers voter fraud expert testifies at Wisconsin voter ID trial”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A professor who studied voter fraud in Wisconsin and around the country testified Thursday that it is “exceedingly rare,” and that requiring voters to show a photo ID might have prevented just one of the few dozen cases prosecuted in the state over the last decade.

Lorraine Minnite, author of “The Myth of Voter Fraud,”  was presented as an expert witness by plaintiffs in a the federal trial challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID law. She has written numerous scholarly articles on the topic, and testified before Congress and as an expert in other trials.



Drake Law Review Symposium on Political Dysfunction and Constitutional Change

This was a truly great symposium and discussion, now in print.

Drake Law Review

Volume 61, No. 4, Summer 2013

The U.S. Constitution and Political Dysfunction: Is There a Connection?


Dedication to Congressman Neal Smith
David S. Walker

Mark S. Kende

The United States and Political Dysfunction: “What Are Elections For?”
Sanford Levinson

Essay: Political Dysfunction and Constitutional Change
Richard L. Hasen

Functioning Just Fine: The Unappreciated Value of the Supreme Court Confirmation Process
Lori A. Ringhand & Paul M. Collins, Jr.

The Constitution and Information Politics
John O. McGinnis

Essay: Practical Observations on Politics and the Constitution
Brenna Findley

Why “It’s Even Worse Than it Looks”: Parliamentary Parties in the American Constitutional System
Norman J. Ornstein


Notre Dame Law Review Symposium on Gridlock

Check it out:

2012-2013: The American Congress: Legal Implications of Gridlock, Symposium


The Phenomenology of Gridlock

Josh Chafetz, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev 2065

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The Court-Packing Plan as Symptom, Casualty, and Cause of Gridlock

Barry Cushman, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2089

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Why Gridlock Matters

Michael J. Gerhardt, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2107

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Reconciling Congress to Tax Reform

Rebecca M. Kysar, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2121

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Don’t Be So Impatient

Gerard N. Magliocca, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2157

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Site-Specific Laws

John Copeland Nagle, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2167

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Gridlock and Senate Rules

John C. Roberts, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2189

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Gridlock, Legislative Supremacy, and the Problem of Arbitrary Inaction

Michael J. Teter, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2217

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Senate Gridlock and Federal Judicial Selection

Carl Tobias, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2233

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The Union as a Safeguard Against Faction: Congressional Gridlock as State Empowerment

Franita Tolson, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2267

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Legislative Gridlock and Nonpartisan Staff

George K. Yin, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2287

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Treading Water While Congress Ignores the Nation’s Environment

Sandra Zellmer, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2323

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“Possible discrepancy in Fairfax absentee votes could affect count in AG race”

WaPo: “The Fairfax County Electoral Board is investigating a possible irregularity in the number of absentee ballots cast in Virginia’s largest jurisdiction that Democrats say could shift votes in the still-unresolved race for Virginia attorney general…. According to state numbers, Fairfax reported an unexplainably lower number of absentee ballots cast in the 8th District than in the other two congressional districts.”

The best way to follow this issue in real time is on Twitter, following Dave Wasserman (@redistrict), Michael McDonald (@ElectProject) and Chris Ashby (@ashbylaw).


“Do Political Campaigns Even Matter?”

Ezra Klein reviews Double Down and The Gamble, reaching the conclusion I expect to reach when done with both books:

There’s no better book than ‘‘Double Down” for reliving that excitement. But there’s no better book for understanding it — and the political structures that will continue shaping U.S. elections in 2016 and beyond — than “The Gamble.” For campaign journalism, the book is a game-changer.


Quadratic Voting and Campaign Vouchers

Eric Posner and E Gley Weyl have posted a paper on SSRN, Voting Squared: Quadratic Voting in Democratic Politics. They recommend quadratic voting as a way to solve preference aggregation problems by taking intensity of preference into account.

Quadratic voting has long interested me. Back in 1996 (before campaign finance voucher proposals became fashionable) I proposed campaign finance vouchers in a California Law Review article, Clipping Coupons for Democracy: An Egalitarian/Public Choice Defense of Campaign Finance Vouchers, 84 California Law Review 1 (1996). I proposed that voters each be given $100 in voucher dollars to give to candidates, parties, or interest groups, but the groups would receive only the square root of the value.  (Thus, one could give $10 if given to one group or party, but if spread among four the total value would be $20 (four $25 contributions each worth $5.)  I offered a detailed defense of this proposal.

In retrospect, enacting vouchers would be complicated enough without having voters figure out square roots.  But I still think the idea is sound.


“Keeping Black Voters in Their Place”

Provocative Tom Edsall column: “The Republicans who now control the legislatures and governorships in the Deep South are using the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 to create a system of political apartheid…..Have Republican legislators in the South become civil and voting rights champions? No. They are promoting the interests of African-American voters in order to enhance the ability of Republican officials whose real targets, white Democrats, are struggling to cope with the steady decline of loyal ‘Yellow Dog’ supporters.”


“Texas’ Stringent Voter ID Law Makes a Dent at Polls”


On Tuesday, Texas unveiled its tough new voter ID law, the only state to do so this year, and the rollout was sometimes rocky. But interviews with opponents and supporters of the new law, which required voters for the first time to produce a state-approved form of photo identification to vote, suggest that in many parts of the state, the law’s first day went better than critics had expected.

There was a relatively limited number of cases during early voting in which voters with improper IDs were required to submit provisional ballots, which will be counted only if the people come back with a valid ID within six days. Officials said that statewide, 2,354 provisional ballots were cast this election, which is about 0.2 percent of voters. In the last off-year election, in 2011, there were 738, or 0.1 percent of the ballots cast that year.

Officials also said that there was little traffic at the offices set up by the state to provide free voter ID documents for those without another approved form of identification. By Election Day, only 121 voter identification documents had been issued statewide.

But the law’s opponents and some county elections officials warned against judging its effectiveness on the basis of this year’s relatively minor statewide election. The real tests, they say, will come next year, when Texas will elect a new governor, and in 2016’s presidential race.


“Texas voting suggests trouble on the horizon”

Zack Roth:

Tuesday’s off-year election was a dry run for Texas’ controversial voter ID law. On the surface things went pretty smoothly, with few voters forced to cast provisional ballots. That was enough for the law’s Republican supporters to claim vindication. But there were signs of potential trouble to come. There are no hard statistics yet, but apparently a significant number of voters had to sign affidavits—a relatively simple procedure, but one that could cause problems in higher turnout elections. And of course, with one in ten Texans lacking ID by one estimate, it’s all but impossible to measure the number of people who were deterred by the law from voting.Next year’s highly anticipated governor’s race and the 2016 presidential election will offer a far tougher test for the law, which was passed in 2011, blocked last year by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act, then reinstated after the Supreme Court weakened the VRA in June. For now, it looks to be acting simply as one more factor, among several, to complicate the process and discourage potential voters—especially those likely to have trouble meeting the law’s requirements.

In all, 2,354 provisional ballots were cast this year, representing 0.2% of total turnout, according to Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman with the Texas Secretary of State’s office. That’s compared to 738 provisional ballots, or 0.1% of turnout, in 2011, and 1,459 provisionals, or 0.14% of turnout, in 2009.


Razor-Thin Margin in VA AG Race: Follow @Redistrict for the Twists and Turns

Anyone who wants to be disabused of the notion that election returns are neat and tidy should follow the Twitter account of Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, who in real time is updating a spreadsheet of numerous errors and corrections in the tally in this very close race.

Whether or not this goes to a recount will become clearer once all the errors are (apparently) corrected and we see if the very close margin stays the same.

After that, the rules for a recount or contest in VA could get very interesting.


‘IN MEMORIAM: Richard G. “Dick” Smolka, Pioneering Election Expert”

From Doug Chapin:

IN MEMORIAM: Richard G. “Dick” Smolka, Pioneering Election Expert

By Doug Chapin on November 6, 2013

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[Image courtesy of dfmassociates]

I got some sad news via email this evening … Dick Smolka passed away on Tuesday at his home in Mesa, Arizona. His son Bo, who shared the news on behalf of the family, noted that “[c]onsidering he was one of the world’s foremost experts on elections and the electoral process, it was somewhat fitting that he died on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – i.e. Election Day.”

Dick was an early mentor of mine and I only hope that someday I can achieve even a fraction of what Dick did for the election community in his amazing career.

Here’s an obituary that the family asked us to share:

Richard G. Smolka, a professor emeritus at American University and one of the world’s leading experts on elections, voting and the electoral process, died at his home in Mesa, Arizona, on Nov. 5. He was 81.A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Smolka taught in the School of Public Affairs at American for 31 years before his retirement. He created Election Administration Reports, a bi-weekly newsletter on election law and administration for election officials, in 1971 and served as its editor for more than 40 years. It became an industry standard and developed a worldwide readership among those in the business of running elections.

For more than 20 years, Smolka served as the expert and in-studio consultant for WRC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., each Election Night, offering projections and analysis on local and national races.

He was also widely sought after as an expert source throughout the Bush-Gore “hanging chad” controversy, appearing on CNN, NBC Nightly News, 60 Minutes and other national media outlets to discuss the 2000 presidential election.

Smolka served as an elections observer and consultant for voting procedures in developing democracies around the world, including Bulgaria, the Federated States of Micronesia, Russia, Poland, Taiwan and more than 20 other countries. He once served as a poll worker in the Australian outback.

In 2001, Smolka received the Freedom Award from the National Association of Secretaries of State for his lifetime contributions to election administration in the United States and around the world.

At American University, Smolka taught courses related to campaigns and elections. He co-authored, with Harold Gosnell, a textbook on political parties and has written several other books and articles on the election process.

Smolka grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended St. Ignatius High School.

Smolka served in the Marine reserves from 1953-54 and was active duty in the U.S. Army from 1954-56.

After his military service, he went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from American University.

Smolka is survived by his wife of 55 years, Margaret (Farrell), better known as Peggy, their six children – Daniel M. Smolka, a Foreign Service office stationed in Barbados; Michael T. Smolka of Mesa, Ariz.; Gregory L. Smolka of Groton, Mass.; Stephen. P. “Bo” Smolka of Baltimore, Md; Mary M. Csernica of Lewisburg, Pa.; and David A. “Dewey” Smolka of Chicago — and 15 grandchildren. He is also survived by two sisters.

Smolka was a sports fan throughout his life, with particular interest in baseball and horse racing. As a teen-ager, he served as a vendor at the 1948 World Series in Cleveland. He also created a dice-based horse race game that later received a U.S. patent.

A memorial service to celebrate his life will be held on Monday, Dec. 30, at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Mesa, Arizona. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Richard Smolka’s name to the Annual Fund at St. Ignatius High School, 1911 W. 30th St., Cleveland, OH 44113.

My thoughts and prayers are with Dick’s family … he will be missed!


Five Election Law Issues Post Election Day

—How did Texas’s voter id go the first time through, in a low turnout election?

—What’s going to happen in Pasadena, Texas controversial redistricting measure, which on first count is squeaking by?

How well did ranked choice voting work in Minneapolis?

—Will we have a recount in the VA AG’s race?

–How did the presence of a third party candidate on the ballot in the Virginia election affect the outcome, and would it have been better or worse to have used ranked choice voting in this election? Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, currently shows 6.6% of the vote.


“Federal trial challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID law underway; String of people describes problems getting IDs”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

The trial began with a string of people describing the problems they had in trying to secure IDs for themselves or family members. Some of them have yet to be successful.

“I cannot express the amount of time, energy and frustration it required” to get a license for her mother, Debra Crawford testified.

Crawford’s mother, Bettye Jones, was the lead plaintiff in one of the cases before the court Monday. Jones died in October 2012.

Jones was born in Tennessee and lived much of her life in Cleveland, Ohio. She moved to Brookfield in 2011 to be closer to family after her husband died.

She had to make multiple trips to a Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles office before she could get a driver’s license last year because she did not have a birth certificate. Getting the license cost her more than $100 and took about 40 hours over several months, Crawford testified.

Crawford and others who testified Monday were questioned only briefly during cross examination by attorneys for the state. But in opening statements, Kawski stressed state officials have made exceptions in unique circumstances to accommodate voters who had difficulty acquiring IDs.