Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos


The New Vote Dilution

Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos

We may be witnessing the emergence of a new kind of vote dilution claim. In a barrage of lawsuits about the 2020 election, conservative plaintiffs argued that electoral policies that make it easier to vote are unconstitutionally dilutive. Their logic was that (1) these policies enable fraud through their lack of proper safeguards and (2) the resulting fraudulent votes dilute the ballots cast by law-abiding citizens. In this Article, I examine this novel theory of vote dilution through fraud facilitation. I track its progress in the courts, which have mostly treated it as a viable cause of action. Contra these treatments, I maintain that current doctrine doesn’t recognize the claim that electoral regulations are dilutive because they enable fraud. However, I tentatively continue, the law should acknowledge this form of vote dilution. Fraudulent votes can dilute valid ones—even though, at present, they rarely do so.

Under my proposed approach, vote dilution through fraud facilitation would be a cognizable but cabined theory. Standing would be limited to voters whose preferred candidates are targeted by ongoing or imminent fraud. Liability would arise only if a measure is both likely to generate widespread fraud and poorly tailored to achieve an important governmental interest. And relief would take the form of additional precautions against fraud, not the rescission of the challenged policy. In combination, these points would yield a mostly toothless cause of action under modern political conditions. Should there ever be a resurgence of fraud, though, the new vote dilution claim would stand ready to thwart it.

Political Powerlessness

Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos

There is a hole at the heart of equal protection law. According to long-established doctrine, one of the factors that determine whether a group is a suspect class is the group’s political powerlessness. But neither courts nor scholars have reached any kind of agreement as to the meaning of powerlessness. Instead, they have advanced an array of conflicting conceptions: numerical size, access to the franchise, financial resources, descriptive representation, and so on.

My primary goal in this Article, then, is to offer a definition of political powerlessness that makes theoretical sense. The definition I propose is this: A group is relatively powerless if its aggregate policy preferences are less likely to be enacted than those of similarly sized and classified groups. I arrive at this definition in three steps. First, the powerlessness doctrine stems from Carolene Products’s account of “those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities.” Second, “those political processes” refer to pluralism: the idea that society is divided into countless overlapping groups, from whose shifting coalitions public policy emerges. And third, pluralism implies a particular notion of group power— one that (1) is continuous rather than binary, (2) spans all issues, (3) focuses on policy enactment, and (4) controls for group size, and (5) type. These are precisely the elements of my suggested definition.

But I aim not just to theorize but also to operationalize in this Article. In the last few years, datasets have become available on groups’ policy preferences at the federal and state levels. Merging these datasets with information on policy outcomes, I am able to quantify my conception of group power. I find that blacks, women, and the poor are relatively powerless at both governmental levels; while whites, men, and the non-poor wield more influence. These results both support and subvert the current taxonomy of suspect classes.