Amy McDowell
Program Manager
National Center for State Courts
757.259.1552
amcdowell@ncsc.org

Election Law web tool launched to help state court judges make fair and timely decisions

Williamsburg, Va. (June 8, 2016) – Since the landmark case of Bush v. Gore in 2000, the number of contested elections heard by the state courts has more than doubled, handing judges a significant increase of these complex cases that need immediate resolution. Some 2,849 decisions regarding election law have been made in the nation’s state courts since that pivotal year -- and with elections growing more divisive that number is expected to continually increase.

To help state court judges resolve these disputes and navigate the country’s complex election codes, a State Election Law eBenchbook has been developed by the Election Law Program, a joint project of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and William & Mary Law School. This eBenchbook -- http://ebenchbook.wm.edu/ -- launches June 7 in three states -- Virginia, Colorado, and Florida.

“This is the first source of its kind for state court judges that provides reliable references to a particular state’s unique election code,” said NCSC President Mary McQueen. “The eBenchbook not only helps judges make fair, timely, and efficient decisions in these disputes, it provides confidence to the public that contested elections are decided in a precise and nonpartisan manner.”

As the November election season approaches and the possibility of these case types significantly increase, judges are going to be called upon to interpret state law and rule quickly under the twin pressures of tight time frames and close public scrutiny. To compound the issue, each state has its own set of election rules. “That means unless it’s a federal question, there can be no generalizing on election issues from other state’s experiences,” said Rebecca Green, a law professor and co-director of the Election Law Program at William & Mary Law School.

The eBenchbook begins with each state’s code, then includes annotations from state election law experts for clarity and context. The eBenchbook hotlinks to quick definitions of terms in each state’s election laws, to relevant case law, advisory opinions, regulations, and to a range of reference sources useful for rapid decision making. “The eBenchbook’s unique approach integrates relevant, state-specific election law resources using an easy-to-search topical index,” said Amy McDowell, co-director of the Election Law Program at NCSC. “Or, when a particular section of the state code is at issue, eBenchbook content can be accessed by individual code sections.”

Adam Ambrogi of the Democracy Fund, which generously provided funding support for the eBenchbook project said, “When conflicts occur in the election process—there is great pressure to solve them quickly. In an increasingly complex election law environment—it is even more important to provide judges with the information they need to arrive at the right decision.”

Dean of William & Mary Law School Davison M. Douglas said election law cases can be enormously consequential to our democracy. "The eBenchbook project assists in the resolution of election disputes by providing a nonpartisan resource that enhances our understanding of dense election codes. The project also helps the general public gain greater insight into the laws that determine democratic outcomes."

“In addition to assisting judges deciding cases today, our hope is that this resource will prompt state legislatures across the country to hone state codes and to improve both elections and the voting process,” Green said. 

For more information, contact:  Rebecca Green at rgreen@wm.edu, Amy McDowell at amcdowell@ncsc.org, or Austin Graham at ragraham@wm.edu.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit court reform organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts.

 

National Center for State Courts, 300 Newport Avenue, Williamsburg, VA  23185-4147