ACS Election Guide

The American Constitution Society has prepared the following Election Guide, which provides a brief summary of the positions of the candidates in tomorrow’s election for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and the House of Delegates (64th District).

As a nonpartisan organization, ACS does not endorse or take a position on any candidate, but we hope this guide will be helpful to you as you make your choices tomorrow.

ACS Election Guide (click to download) (PDF)

Published in: on November 2, 2009 at 10:19 am Comments Off on ACS Election Guide

McDonnell: Scholar…Governor…Both…Neither…?

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell is confronting a particularly tricky political opponent: himself. Twenty years ago, at the age of 34, McDonnell wrote an academic thesis titled “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issues of the Decade.” Among other gender-based policy topics, his thesis opposed federal tax credits for child care expenditures, because the credits encouraged women to enter the workforce, and criticized a Supreme Court decision that legalized contraception for unmarried couples.

McDonnell’s past writings and current candidacy provoke an interesting question: Should we judge political candidates by their decades-old academic views? McDonnell claims that many of the views he expressed in his thesis have changed, in light of his growing family, his work experience, and his legislative activities. He no longer believes that family stability depends on women being excluded from the workforce, but he does still support an especially controversial position in the paper: that marriage should be heterosexual.


Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 7:31 am Comments Off on McDonnell: Scholar…Governor…Both…Neither…?

Bush v. Gore Redux?

So, that Minnesota Senate recount nonsense still isn’t resolved.  The word on the street is that Norm Coleman (or his wily lawyers, to be more accurate) is going to try to invoke the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore to win his legal challenge against Al Franken.  It isn’t exactly clear what a “win” would be at this point, but it seems as if the Coleman camp is looking for the judiciary to throw up its arms in exasperation and demand a re-vote.  If Coleman were to take his case up to the Supreme Court, would this disposition be achievable under Bush v. Gore?

It might be.  There were two main holdings in Bush v. Gore: the first stated that it is a violation of the Equal Protection clause when different standards of review are used to count votes in a state-wide recount.  The second holding stated that the Florida legislature intended to establish December 12 as a “safe harbor” deadline for recounts to be completed, and that given the “substantial additional work” that was necessary to establish and implement a constitutional method for recounting ballots, there was no way that the Court could announce new standards and have Florida initiate and complete a constitutional recount by that date (after all, the opinion was announced on December 12).  In addition, there was a little procedural note: “Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”  So what does this all mean for Coleman?

It isn’t quite clear what this precedential note means.  I suppose it means that the Court did not want to adopt sweeping new rules and standards for electoral recounts; that recount cases are best dealt with on a case-by-case basis.  Even if it means that Bush v. Gore has no precedential value whatsoever, the Court is still likely to be sympathetic to Coleman’s Equal Protection claim (after all, the vote was 7-2 in favor of that holding).  While I am certainly not an expert on Minnesota election law, it seems as if there is no “safe harbor” deadline for Senate elections in Minnesota.  So, the Court would not be restricted by time in fashioning an appropriate remedy as it was in Bush v. Gore.  Coleman’s best bet at this point is not to have a well-regulated recount, but to have a brand spankin’ new election.  While I guess that is feasible, it seems rather unlikely.  If the Supreme Court were to eventually hear this case, they would be under a microscope, and really, ordering a new election when your guy loses seems much more corrupt than halting a recount when your guy wins.  And as much as I didn’t like the result of Bush v. Gore, there was a somewhat reasonable basis for that ruling.  Here, Coleman’s argument in favor of a new election instead of a better-regulated recount seems to be “It’s only 225 votes!  Come on!”


Published in: on March 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm Comments Off on Bush v. Gore Redux?
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The Role of Gender in the 2008 Presidential Election

On Monday, November 17th, the William and Mary chapter of the American Constitution Society hosted Dr. Karen Beckwith, a prominent political scientist from Case Western Reserve University, for a discussion of the role of gender in determining the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.  Although data are only just becoming available, Dr. Beckwith presented nationwide exit polling that indicates that women played a substantial and perhaps unprecedented role in choosing our 44th president.

Role of Women in the Election

Women make up a majority of the national population, a majority of the electorate, and turn out to vote at a higher rate than men.  Interestingly, however, women (and men) did not identify manifest womens’ issues (like legal abortion) as important issues during the 2008 election.  Instead, Beckwith said, “latent women’s issues, defined as those traditionally or stereotypically associated with women,” dominated women’s vote choice.  Latent women’s issues include support for education, general concern for healthcare, programs for children, social welfare policy support, and a preference for peace and a reluctance to support military intervention.  In the 2008 presidential election, exit polling identified the top issues of concern to voters as the economy, jobs, employment and housing, healthcare, education, and the war in Iraq – all latent women’s issues.  These issues are “not necessarily issues which women support in every campaign, nor are they issues on which all women agree,” said Beckwith, but “in some campaigns for some candidates, latent women’s issues become central campaign issues” that candidates disregard at their peril.  In the 2008 election, latent women’s issues, Democratic Party issues, and women’s voting preferences “further gendered the electoral context” and “reflected the gendered nature of party competition” in the United States.


Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 10:37 am Comments Off on The Role of Gender in the 2008 Presidential Election

2008: The Year of the Young Voter (Revisited)

Young voters were an important factor in the 2008 election outcome.  Official results are forthcoming, but Rock the Vote reports that an estimated 54.5 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds turned out last Tuesday.  This was an increase of nearly six percent from 2004 and almost 15 percent from 2000.  A record 24 million young people cast votes, comprising 18 percent of the overall electorate.  Consistent with polling figures, 66 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds nationwide voted for president-elect Barack Obama.  Young voters’ strong preference for Obama had a significant impact on close races in several battleground states, including Virginia.

Here in Williamsburg, students contributed heavily to increased voter turnout.  In the Stryker Precinct – where the majority of W&M students vote – turnout increased more than 1,600 votes, from 2,144 in 2004 to 3,803 in 2008.  Overall voter turnout in Stryker was just over 80* percent.

Why the significant increase in Williamsburg voter turnout?  Following an extensive three-year voters’ rights campaign, William & Mary students were permitted to register at their campus addresses for the first time beginning last fall.  In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit on behalf of three W&M students who had been denied the right to register to vote in Williamsburg because the local registrar considered them “temporary” residents.  The registrar eventually allowed the students to register, and the case was dismissed.  Students living in campus dormitories still faced the challenge of establishing physical addresses.  In response, William & Mary student Matt Beato created a web program that enabled students to register by converting campus addresses into physical addresses.


Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 7:31 pm Comments Off on 2008: The Year of the Young Voter (Revisited)

Poll Searching

We’re almost to the finish line this election season and every day we hear more and more about the polls.  But what is the value of these polls?  Many sources insist on reporting the popular vote, which doesn’t say much about who will win the presidency.  CNN uses a touch map to change the electoral distribution for each of their election day scenarios.  Think that sounds laughable?  Well, Saturday Night Live does too.  With the ubiquity of polls in the twenty-four hour news cycle, where should you turn for an accurate representation of the upcoming elections? is the answer.

What is  Taken from their FAQ, is a site with a mission to “accumulate and analyze polling and political data in way that is informed, accurate and attractive”.  The site is run by Nate Silver, a baseball analyst for the website Baseball ProspectusSilver decided to turn his advanced statistical methods towards polling information to eliminate bias by using regression analysis, “inferential processes” to keep stale polls recent, and 10,000 simulations for each site update in order to provide a probabilistic assessment of electoral outcomes based on a historical analysis of polling data since 1952.” FiveThirtyEight is not just about plugging in numbers.  Silver analyzes the underlying models which pollsters use in determining their models and thus their data.  The analysis can even elicit responses from those he criticizes.


Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 11:20 pm Comments Off on Poll Searching

2008: The Year of the Young Voter?

Young voters have never been the deciding factor in a presidential election.  The 18- to 29-year-old demographic has historically lagged far behind other age groups in both voter registration and turnout.  Yet in 2008, this formerly underrepresented group of potential voters is poised to have a major impact on the election outcome.

An estimated 44 million 18- to 29-year-olds will be eligible to vote in November, constituting one-fifth (21 percent) of the voting eligible population.  These “Millennials” appear both engaged and enthusiastic about voting in the 2008 presidential election.  A recent USA Today/MTV/Gallup Poll of 18- to 29-year-olds reported that 75 percent of young eligible voters are registered to vote and 73 percent plan to vote in the 2008 election.  By contrast, the voter turnout rate among 18- to 29-year-olds in 2000 was just 40 percent.  Young voters showed some momentum in 2004, with 49 percent casting votes in that presidential race, but continued to represent the lowest turnout by age.

General election polls (including the USA Today poll) indicate that 18- to 29-year-olds overwhelmingly support Democratic candidate Barack Obama.  Young voters had an impact on Obama’s primary election, helping him to defeat Senator Hillary Clinton.  Americans are all too familiar with the inaccuracy of polling.  Yet the USA Today poll may be a more accurate measure of young voters’ attitudes than other polls because it included interviews by both landline and mobile phone.  Polls conducted for major television stations and newspapers typically do not conduct interviews by mobile phone, which may misrepresent young voters.


Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 11:40 am Comments Off on 2008: The Year of the Young Voter?

Is Voter Fraud Really a Problem?

With the election just over two weeks away, Washington insiders are ramping up their discussion about voter fraud and voter protection (something we recently talked about here at W&M ACS). In fact, the FBI recently leaked information that they would begin an investigation as to whether ACORN “helped foster voter registration fraud around the nation before the presidential election” and whether there is “any evidence of a coordinated national scam.”

However, this leak to the press appears to contradict the new Justice Department policy established in 2007 in the wake of the scandal about the politicization of U.S. Attorney firings. Specifically, the language of the “Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses” (PDF) manual states:

Election fraud cases often depend on the testimony of individual voters whose votes were co-opted in one way or another. But in most cases voters should not be interviewed, or other voter-related investigation done, until after the election is over. Such overt investigative steps may chill legitimate voting activities. They are also likely to be perceived by voters and candidates as an intrusion into the election. Indeed, the fact of a federal criminal investigation may itself become an issue in the election.


Published in: on October 19, 2008 at 2:22 pm Comments Off on Is Voter Fraud Really a Problem?

What About the Poor?

Most everyone can agree that there have been several hot button issues during the course of this presidential debate.  From abortion to the economy, and the environment to the wars, the candidates have battled it out to prove to the American people that they will be best for the country.

However, one major portion of the population has been ignored: the poor.  In the recent presidential campaign, Senators McCain and Obama have focused on how their policies will be beneficial to the middle class.  Even though the candidates agree on very little, they are always able to agree that the middle class has been the hardest hit by the economic recession, and have proposed tax, health care, and energy policies to address their needs.  It makes sense that political candidates would work hard to court the middle class: its members vote at a much higher rate than the lower economic class.

Nevertheless, can’t we all agree that it is not the middle class, but rather America’s poor who suffers the most during hard economic times?  People with adequate resources pick themselves and their families back up when they are knocked down.  People with few or no resources face a completely different struggle.  Members of the middle and upper class take for granted having relatives who can lend money when the bills can’t be paid or having a car to be able to escape the devastation of a hurricane.

While programs that improve health care would surely benefit us all, there is a notable lack of media coverage about programs to assist poor Americans.  It is too easy for the news media to ignore the downtrodden members of society, who are working to change their lives for the better, but often fail in meeting their goals.  Poor Americans are just as patriotic as their wealthier counterparts, but despite putting the values of America first, their efforts to better their own lives are constantly hindered by systemic problems.  Contrary to some negative characterizations, the poor embrace hard work and dedication.


Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 9:43 pm Comments Off on What About the Poor?

The Presidential Election and the Subsequent Shaping of the Supreme Court

On Friday September 26th, following the moot court trial of FCC v. Fox Television Stations that Mark wrote about here and for the Marshall-Wythe Press, there was a panel discussion regarding the 2008 Presidential contest between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain and how the election’s outcome would affect the Supreme Court.  The panelists were Walter Dellinger, John McGinnis, David G. Savage, Miguel Estrada, and Ted Shaw.

The panelists began the discussion by speaking in very general terms about the possibilities for either an Obama or McCain administration to shape the court.  Mr. McGinnis brought up a number of statistics to make his points.   He noted that the justices that would be considered ideologically liberal were much older than their conservative counterparts, on average.  He said, then, that under either administration there would more likely be seats vacated by the more liberal justices by “involuntary departures,” as he put it.  This would undeniably be to Senator McCain’s advantage should he be elected.  Mr.McGinnis further noted that Senator Obama would likely have a much easier time getting his nominees through the Senate, because it is estimated by the current polling available that the Democrats will have anywhere from 55 to 58 Senate seats after the 2008 election.  Further adding to Senator Obama’s advantage, according to Mr. McGinnis, is the speculation that one or two of the more ideologically liberal justices would like to retire, but would opt not to under a McCain administration.

The panelists also discussed the candidates’ favorite justices.  Senator Obama has cited Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Souter as “sensible”, whereas John McCain has cited Justices Roberts and Alito as his favorite justices.  Later in the discussion, Mr. Shaw engaged Mr. Estrada in a debate on the partisan nature of judicial nominations by saying “I want you to come back at me on this.”  Mr. Estrada had earlier argued that the contrasts between the Justices that Senators Obama and McCain would place on the bench would not be as stark as was being claimed by several of the panelists.  He decried the portrayal of the nominations in such an ideological, partisan manner because he believes it greatly damages the court’s reputation and reduces the logical, but divergent conclusions that the justices reach to simplistic partisanship.  In response, Mr. Shaw had said that he thought Mr. Estrada’s claims that judicial nominations aren’t a “my team against your team thing” were not really true.  He seemed to imply that because the law is pronounced and interpreted by people that it will always be shaped by their worldview and ideology and therefore, a partisan team analogy is appropriate.


Published in: on October 6, 2008 at 6:42 pm Comments Off on The Presidential Election and the Subsequent Shaping of the Supreme Court