Election Laws Should Be Clear, But Not “Tie Officials Hands”

A recent panel on election law during a National Conference of State Legislatures conference discussed the pros and cons of clear election laws.  From an article in the Washington Post:

…if election reformers want to prevent their laws from being held up by lawsuits, they would be wise to pay attention to how they’re written, says Ned Foley, an Ohio State University professor and election law expert. “Put clarity at the top of the list of things to achieve, maybe before fairness or integrity or access or whatever, because litigators can’t fight over things that are clear,” he said.

Another member on the panel discussed the challenges that may result from too much specificity.

But while clear regulations are important, too much can backfire, said Alysoun McLaughlin, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections in Maryland.

“We really kind of have a love-hate relationship with the clarity that you write into laws,” she said, speaking to a group of lawmakers, staff and others. Because election officials are working with limited resources and budgets, specific unfunded requirements can make it hard to implement new election regulations well. For example, too much specificity on ballot design—an issue a fellow election official requested McLaughlin bring up—can tie officials’ hands, she said.

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