Fair Elections Legal Network Litigation:
Our Unique Approach
Given the threats to voting rights publicly discussed right after the 2016 general election and, more recently, in the days following the 2017 presidential inauguration, litigation is now a more important tool than ever to defend and protect our citizens’ right to vote.
We have investigated under-the-radar violations of the right to vote and have sued to enforce federal and state law requirements in novel and economical ways. For example, we’ve found that equal protection claims that seek to expand the franchise or extend convenience measures offered to some voters but not others are seldom pursued. But this approach to voting rights litigation can expand access to the ballot without the need for the enormous resources required to prove discrimination or impact based on race. In fact, all too often, state election officials treat similar classes of voters differently, or they create processes that produce burdens on the fundamental right to vote without justification. Additionally, other provisions of the U.S. Constitution provide alternative means to attack voter disenfranchisement measures. We do not have a single approach to litigation and this frees us to discover and utilize new methods.
By studying state election codes, including ID requirements and voter registration procedures, FELN has identified opportunities to expand equal access to the ballot. We force state officials to explain why they treat similar groups of eligible voters differently and obtain court orders requiring them to stop such discriminatory practices.
In 2016, we achieved this in the following cases:
In VAYLA et al v. Schedler, FELN filed litigation that successfully challenged a 142-year-old law which required naturalized citizens to appear in person to prove their citizenship for voting purposes. This case resulted in the full repeal of the law within weeks of filing.
We won the right to vote in the 2016 presidential primary for 17-year-olds who would turn 18 by the general election, reversing efforts by the Secretary of State to block these voters from casting a ballot. This case was completed in a week.
A well-researched letter matched with the threat of litigation compelled the Wisconsin Elections Commission to reverse its policy and stop rejecting thousands of absentee ballots with a meaningless technical defect in their witness addresses. Ultimately there was no need to file the lawsuit we had prepared on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
FELN also filed important Amicus Curiae briefs to add a unique perspective to cases, including:
Supporting the Virginia Governor’s decision to streamline the process to restoring voting rights to ex-felons and coming close to victory by nearly persuading a majority of the Supreme Court of Virginia to dismiss the lawsuit.
Challenging the illegal action of the Election Assistance Commission’s Executive Director to require proof of citizenship with the federal registration form in Alabama, Georgia and Kansas. Our brief argued for an immediate remedy even though Election Day was fast approaching and helped the plaintiffs to secure such relief.
Today, FELN’s lawyers – in addition to staying attuned to the problems voters actually face on the ground – are working to identify potential legal challenges and plaintiffs. This requires close attention to the details of each state’s election administration system, and the resources we provide covering registration and voting in all 50 states have laid the foundation for developing strategies like those identified above. In fact, right now there are several potential cases we are researching that – if successful – could protect registration and voting rights for hundreds of thousands of voters in several states.