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What is an Election Law?

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  • Written By: M. Lupica
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Election law is a broad umbrella term that encompasses governmental regulations involving elections of public officials. It includes everything from rules governing political candidates’ means of raising funds all the way to rules of administering the election to the general public. Voting is considered a fundamental right in most jurisdictions, so constitutional law often comes into play when a law imposes requirements to run for public office or vote in an election.

One area of election law is the rules governing a candidate’s ability to raise money to run for public office. There are many commonly upheld restrictions, including individual contribution limits and disclosure of contributors. However, these laws are usually subjected to heavy constitutional scrutiny due to the fact that any restrictions on raising campaign money are by definition impediments to run for public office. Generally, reasonable restrictions are held to be valid in the interest of ensuring fairness for all parties in the electoral process.

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There are other common requirements to appearing on the ballot that have generally been upheld by courts in jurisdictions all over the world. For example, most jurisdictions require that a candidate acquire a certain number of signatures of supporters in order to appear on the ballot. The rationale behind such a requirement is to give reasonable evidence that the candidate will be able to generate enough support to be relevant in the election, thus justifying a spot on the ballot. Other restrictions to running for public office — such as a fee to appear on the ballot — have been held to be unconstitutional in many jurisdictions, however.

Election law also encompasses the regulations surrounding the act of voting. Much like a requirement that one pays a fee to run for public office is generally held unconstitutional, forcing citizens to pay a poll tax in order to vote has generally been held the same. Additionally, a requirement that a voter be literate has been held to be unconstitutional in some jurisdictions that have attempted to impose such a requirement. Electoral law regulations regarding the right to vote that are typically upheld are laws that facilitate a smooth election process such as a requirement that each voting district only vote in a designated location within the district.

Electoral fraud is a particular election law crime that involves the attempt to fraudulently influence the results of an election. The fraud may be committed by any party through either direct or indirect means of influence upon the results. For example, a person who purposefully casts multiple votes under false names and another who intimidates other people into voting a certain way could both be held criminally liable for election fraud despite the fundamental difference in the method of influence.

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