Voting Rights


Constructing the Right to Vote

Joshua S. Sellers, Justin Weinstein-Tull

The right to vote is foundational to our democracy, but it lacks a strong foundation. Voting rights litigants are constantly on their heels, forever responding to state-imposed impediments. In this regard, the right to vote is decidedly reactive: directed and defined by those seeking to limit the right, rather than by those who advocate for it. As a consequence, the right to vote is both deeply fragile and largely impersonal. It is fragile because voters must reckon with flimsy electoral bureaucracies that are susceptible to meltdown from both intentional efforts to limit the franchise and systemic strain. The right to vote is impersonal because, with few exceptions, it is shaped through litigation, rather than comprehensive consideration of voters’ circumstances and needs.

To address these weaknesses, this Article champions the idea that a robust right to vote must be constructed. Unlike most other rights, the right to vote relies on governments to build, fund, and administer elections systems. This obligation is not ancillary to the right to vote; it is foundational to it. Drawing from state constitutional law, electoral management theory, federalism scholarship, and rarely examined consent decrees, we argue that a constructed right to vote incorporates three essential features: electoral adequacy (including the right to adequate funding of elections, the right to competent management, and the right to democratic structures), voting rights legislation tailored to individuals’ experiences, and voting rights doctrines that require states to build their elections systems in rights-promoting ways.

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.