Election and Campaign Laws
Table of Contents
- The Right to Vote
- Registering to Vote
- Losing the Right to Vote
- Freedom of Political Speech
- Laws Governing Campaign Funds
Political freedom and the right to vote are fundamental aspects of our country. Protecting voting rights, preventing campaign fraud, and holding corrupt leaders accountable are essential to preserving the democratic process.
Federal laws, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and numerous other statutes are in place to protect your civil rights and provide remedies for any violations.
The Right to Vote
Eligibility to vote in a federal election requires:
- You are 18 years old or older (some states allow you to register to vote at 16 or 17 years old if you will be 18 years old prior to the election)
- You are a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization
- You are legally registered to vote in your state or territory
Registering to Vote
Each state has their own laws controlling elections and the process for registering to vote. Your local or state government can provide guidance on this process, any required documentation or forms, and any identification requirements.
In order for states to receive any federal funding in regard to elections, they must comply with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA states the identification procedures and requirements for registering to vote in a federal election.
Typically, a driver’s license or social security number are used for voter registration and establishing identification to vote. However, some states allow voters to use other forms of identification when going to a voting station such as a:
- State ID card
- Bank statement or bills
- Employee ID card
- Military ID or CAC
- College ID card
Losing the Right to Vote
There are a few instances where you may lose your right to vote. If you have been convicted of corruption in relation to an election, you may lose your voting rights. Additionally, adults under legal guardianship may lose their right to vote as well.
You may lose your right to vote if your state has a felony disenfranchisement law that prohibits voting in state or federal elections for those with state or federal felony criminal convictions. Some states only prohibit voting for those currently serving time for a felony, but other states continue this restriction even after your incarceration is complete. However, this area of law is being reconsidered in a number of states, so you should speak with a civil rights attorney to see how your felony conviction may affect your voting rights.
Freedom of Political Speech
The First Amendment of the Constitution gives Americans not only freedom of speech, but enables citizens to speak their minds politically as well without fear of persecution or censorship by the government.
Although you may be excited to cast your vote and want to post a selfie of it on social media, it is important to check your state’s policy on voting selfies or any photography in voting stations. While some states think of this as exercising your right to free political speech, others states have regulations governing others viewing your ballot and some ban pictures inside the voting center to protect other voters.
Protecting the right to vote freely and prohibiting any interference is essential to fair elections. Banning photography inside voting stations is meant to create a less coercive environment for voters. This way, no one can threaten you to vote a certain way and force you to provide a picture as proof of how you voted.
Political Campaign Speech
While political campaigns do have free speech rights protected by the First Amendment, this right is limited to protect voters and ensure elections are fair. Generally, candidates and their campaigns team are not allowed to make false or misleading statements to voters. State law may have even more specific protections like:
- Prohibiting candidates from fraudulently misrepresenting themselves
- Requiring written consent for endorsements by a specific person, political party, or organization to be printed in campaign materials
- Banning the use of the word “reelect” for any literature or yard signs if the candidate is not actually the incumbent or up for reelection
Laws Governing Campaign Funds
Campaigns are expensive, so campaigns need to do a fair amount of fundraising leading up to election day. As a result, there are numerous statutes and regulations guiding campaign contributions and how campaigns spend funds. These legal safeguards are in place for a number of reasons such as:
- Deterring campaign fraud
- Creating more transparency for voters
- Preventing donors from attempting to control or bribe politicians
- Prohibiting other illegal activities
Violating a campaign finance law could lead to criminal charges, so it is important to understand how these regulations may affect your campaign or how to hold candidates running for office accountable.
Fraud in Federal Campaign Finance
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent agency created by federal law to regulate and enforce campaign finance law to preserve the integrity of our federal election process. The FEC investigates and prosecutes campaign fraud along with publishing reports listing how campaigns are raising and spending money to promote transparency and prevent corruption.
To ensure campaigns are spending funds legally, campaigns must disclose when it pays a person or corporation more than $200 and provide the name, address, date, amount, and reason for the payment. There is an exception to this rule for campaign vendors’ payments to subcontractors, not requiring disclosure if the subcontractor isn’t working under the control of the campaign.
Unfortunately, some campaigns abuse this exception to hide spending from the FEC as well as voters. These campaigns fraudulently claim the payments are to subcontractors controlled by vendors like consulting firms or other corporations. But in truth the campaign controls the subcontractor and the campaign is using the vendor to disguise the use of campaign funds.
Speak to an Experienced Election Campaign and Political Law Attorney Today
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified election campaign and political lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local election campaign and political attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.
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