Election Law Courses at William & Mary


William & Mary Law School offers students a range of course options in Election Law. We offer some courses on campus as regular two or three credit courses. We also run one-credit "mini-courses" which meet for one session at the law school in Wililamsburg and two sessions at William & Mary's Washington, DC office in DuPont Circle. This alllows us to draw on the talents of a wide range of prominent election experts in Washington. Every fall the Program offers a basic course in Election Law taught by William & Mary's Professor Rebecca Green. We have also offered courses in post election litigation and campaign finance on campus. One credit mini courses range from topics like political speech and the IRS to lobbying law to International Election Law.

The Program also occasionally offers summer courses in its DC office for students living or working in the DC area.

Course Summaries, 2019-20:

Election Law, Prof. Rebecca Green 

Law 421

Fall 2019 (3 credits)

This course examines the laws that govern the political process in the United States. Topics will include the right to vote, political representation, election administration, political parties, ballot initiatives, and campaign finance. The goal of the course is to provide students with a solid foundation in the basic principles of election law in this country

Introduction to Legislative Redistricting. Robert Rose & Rebecca Green 

Law 502

Fall 2019 (1 credit)(Wednesdays, Sept 25-October 30, 6:00-8:00, Center for Geospatial Analysis in SWEM Library)

The the 2020 Census on the near horizon, significant attention will be placed on redistricting in the coming years. Inherent in any redistricting plan is a recognition of the spatial configuration of voting districts and the processes driving proposed voting district maps.  Federal and state constitutions and statutes impose legal requirements for voting districts that in practice are often manipulated to favor of drawing lines that protect partisan/incumbent interests.   

This one-credit course will combine an introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with a focus on the legal analysis of redistricting plans.  Students will learn basic GIS skills and tools designed to develop compliant maps.  This will include working with district boundary maps, census information and other socioeconomic layers in an integrated GIS platform to understand and quantify the impacts realized when voting districts are redrawn. The course will focus on the 2017 US Supreme Court case Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections decision as a frame to better understand the laws governing redistricting efforts.  After learning the legal parameters of the redistricting process, students will work in teams to develop and present a redistricting plan for the 11 state legislative districts struck as racial gerrymanders in a June 2018 federal district court opinion. In the process of coming up with ways to improve compliance with state and federal statutory and constitutional mandates, this course will uniquely prepare students to play a substantive part in the 2020 round. This course is open to law students and undergraduate students.

Advocacy Regulation, Prof. Josh Rosenstein

Law 375

Fall 2019 (1 credit) (in DC)

This course will introduce students to the legal regulation of efforts to influence government action in our democracy, focusing on the interrelated legal regimes governing ethics of public officials, lobbying and contributions and spending of money in connection with political campaigns. A key goal of the course will be to enable students to gain some appreciation of the difficulty and complexity of the issues raised by the attempt, in fashioning these legal regimes, to balance the goal of curbing corruption and improper influence with the need to permit the legitimate advocacy and expression of views that is protected by the First Amendment, to some degree, and that is desirable in any event in a vibrant democracy.

Election Law Practicum: Lawyering a Campaign, Prof. Jason Torchinsky

Spring 2020 (1 credit)(in DC and Williamsburg)(February 22 (DC), April 17-18 (Williamsburg)

Many law school classes touch on election law subjects ranging from voting rights, to redistricting, to election law and campaign finance. This course will focus on the legal issues you will need to understand to advise a candidate. The goal of this course to help students understand the basic statutory framework that candidates must navigate. While there are state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction differences, the basic frameworks are well known by practitioners. Students will gain an understanding of the issues that have arisen at various stages of the candidate / election administration process and that have been presented to federal and state courts across the county. Attendance at all three classes is mandatory and class participation may be taken into account in adjusting a student’s final grade.

Election Security, Prof. Kemba Walden

Law 393

Spring, 2020 (1 credit) (February 15 (DC), April 3-4 (Williamsburg)

This course introduces students to the intersection of cybersecurity and election law.  The law of election security is a multi-disciplinary area which reflects the complex and vast election ecosystem.  The purpose of cybersecurity is to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information and information systems.   The practice of cybersecurity law therefore is the practice of any law that enables these functional principles.  Students will receive an overview of how these laws are traditionally applied to support these cybersecurity functional principles. The generic practice of cybersecurity law could be applied to the protection of nearly any information system and the information that travers those systems.  Recent cyberattacks on democratic and election processes across the world, however, uncovered that the legal community is ill-equipped to address the particular challenges of securing election systems. It takes not only cybersecurity lawyers to consider a legal framework to support traditional network defense activities (for example, threat hunting), but also election lawyers to consider whether providing network defense services to campaigns, legislators, and election officials violates campaign finance laws, procurement laws or ethics regulations.  It takes transactional lawyers to develop legal agreements for deployment of network defense, and national security lawyers to consider whether a private sector entity or governmental entity is acting as a foreign influencer outside of the United States  In short, it takes not only cybersecurity lawyers to develop appropriate frameworks for securing elections, but also election lawyers, corporate lawyers, procurement lawyers, and government ethics lawyers.  There is a demonstrable gap in the legal profession of lawyers trained to understand and handle the complex and vast global election security ecosystem.  This course will expose students to those gaps and provide a framework for considering solutions.


Previous Course Offerings: 

Voting Rights Litigation and Practice, Prof. John Hardin Young

Law 329

This course will be taught as a practicum on the fundamentals of state election law litigation, with a focus on issues in voting rights.  By the end of this course, students will understand key issues in voting rights, and how to bring forth an action in court on behalf of a voter client. The areas covered will include a study of a variety of issues that may impact individuals’ voting rights, including voter identification, early/absentee voting, and ballot counting; required course readings will maintain a focus on cases brought forth by voter plaintiffs and will include complaints filed in selected cases.       The course will include a review of Virginia and federal laws with respect to jurisdiction, venue, standing, and timing as applied to causes of action under the election laws.  The course will apply the Virginia Election Laws set forth in the Constitution of Virginia and Title 24.2 of the Code of Virginia of 1950, as amended, as well as the United States Constitution and the federal Civil and Voting Rights Acts

Election Law Practicum, Challenges of the General Counsel, Prof. Josh Rosenstein

Taught by former General Counsel to one of the country’s leading lobbying firms, this unique course will explore the fundamental and overlapping roles played by lawyers who work in-house at companies, political parties, and other entities (campaigns, etc.), including the roles of legal technician, wise counselor and lawyer as leader. The course will address the conflicting concerns faced by these in-house practitioners by examining a series of cases. The "cases" in this course involve questions beyond issues of the legal requirements and delve into larger issues of policy and politics, by using specific illustrations drawn from the political and business world --e.g. the 1990s Chinese donors scandal faced by the Democratic Party; sexual harassment allegations levied against major political candidates; bribery and corruption scandals faced by Greenberg Traurig in the wake of allegations against Jack Abramoff; etc. These cases involve a broad range of considerations: risk management, public policy, politics, and reputation.  For each case the students will be given the factual scenario, reports from the media, and other background materials.  The students will be directed to issue spot and research the implicated laws.  The students will come prepared to discuss not only the scenario itself and thelaws implicated, but also appropriate responses by General Counsels to each scenario. Former and current in-house counsel will guest lecture to provide insight and guidance to students. The class is pass/fail and is capped at nine students.

International Election Principles, Prof. Jack Young 

Law 381

(1 credit) (January 14 and January 28 in DC; March 13 in Williamsburg)

The purpose of this course is to examine international election standards based on the rule of law. The ultimate goal is to establish knowledgeable, predictable, rule-based decision-making that limits the power entrusted to government officials, while concurrently encouraging the widest development of democratic systems. The course will cover each step in the electoral process: (1) recognition of political parties and which candidates will be qualified to stand for election; (2) voter registration including registration, maintenance of lists, grounds for suspension and reinstatement; (3) absentee ballots, if they are to be used, as well as the procedures for their issuance and as to their counting;(4) early voting and remote voting if it is accepted as a means of increasing participation; (5) ballots, ballots design, machinery, pre-vote verification, the observation of that process so that it is transparent, ballot collection, computerized and other mechanical voting systems, ballot audits, physical security, and the availability of election day remedies; (6) verification of who is, and is not, a voter; (7) the conduct of the election itself, including how officials are trained and qualified; (8) the process for recounts; (9) the process for challenges and contests; and, (10) administration and supervision applying objective standards. Each of these steps will involve the class in a discussion of the development of concrete standards for the international community to apply in the election process.

The class will be one credit, pass/fail, and requires participation and attendance and a short paper.

Advanced Election Law, Prof. Marc Elias

This course, taught by Marc Elias, currently candidate Hilary Clinton's general counsel and one of the country’s most respected election attorneys,  examined advanced topics in election law with the aim of teaching students how election attorneys approach litigating and representing clients in day-to-day practice. Students in this course are required to read a series of full, un-edited cases for each subject covered. Specific topics will include state versus federal powers in elections; individual rights versus state rights in elections; equal protection/due process claims since Bush v. Gore; photo ID controversies; regulation of money in elections; and disclosure/privacy in elections. Election Law Survey is a prerequisite for this course (or with permission from the instructor). Grades will be determined on the basis of class participation (10%) and a 20-25 page paper (90%).

Presidential Public Financing, Prof. Michael Toner

Taught by leading election attorney Michael Toner of Wiley Rein, this course will examine the presidential public financing system which finds itself at an historic crossroads: With President Obama’s decision to turn down public funds for the 2008 general election, and become the first presidential candidate since Watergate to privately finance his entire campaign, many election law scholars and practitioners believe that the presidential public financing system is broken. However, President Obama, along with Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, have supported past proposals to overhaul and modernize the system. This course will analyze the presidential public financing system, the regulations and restrictions that apply to candidates who accept public funds, and court decisions that have addressed the constitutionality of the presidential public funding system. We will also study various legislative proposals to overhaul the presidential public financingsystem and will debate whether there should be a presidential public financing system at all in the 21st century. The course will emphasize the unique blend of legal, constitutional, political, and public policy issues that influence contemporary debates about the future of the presidential public financing system.

Campaign Finance Law, Prof. Neil Reiff

The purpose of this course is to examine the evolution of the Buckley v. Valeo framework used to resolve campaign finance cases. The ultimate goal is to give students a working knowledge of the likely application of this framework today based on its creation and historical use. This one credit course will be a survey of the constitutional issues surrounding modern campaign finance law. The course will track the changes in the First Amendment doctrine used by the Supreme Court as it has evolved from Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 through more recent developments in such cases as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This survey will analyze the Court's approaches to the cases by discussing the framework created by the Buckley case and how it has affected jurisprudence in this area since this landmark case. Emphasis will be given to the standards of review utilized by the Court in subsequent cases, how the change in Court's makeup has affected Buckley's progeny. Finally, we will discuss whether the original framework created by the Buckley case is still viable. In that regard, we will discuss how developments in the 2008 election and other pending challenges to campaign finance laws may be analyzed by Court in the future.

The class will be one credit and pass/fail, requiring participation, attendance, and a short paper. There is no prerequisite for this course, though basic familiarity with campaign finance or Professor Green's election law course will be very helpful.