William & Mary Law Launches eBenchbook to Help Judges
William & Mary Law School's Election Law Program launched the "State Election Law eBenchbook" to aid judges in navigating election codes around the country. The website will be a resource for judges as the November election approaches, providing the information needed to help them interpret law and rule quickly.
The eBenchbook, a collaboration between the Law School and the National Center for State Courts funded by the Democracy Fund, was designed to solve the problem of judges facing nearly twice as many election law disputes annually, as compared to just fifteen years ago.
"Since 2000, the rate of election litigation has risen greatly in this country," Professor Rebecca Green, the Co-Director of the Election Law Program at William & Mary Law School, said. She added that compounding the issue is that each state's election laws are created by the state, meaning that there are fifty different sets of law with which judges must contend.
This is the first resource designed for judges to use when ruling on cases dealing with their particular state's election codes. The eBenchbook includes each state's election law codes in order, but also allows the user to search by a topic area, such as campaign finance. In addition to the statute, the website provides a summary of the statute, any relevant case law, opinions, other regulations, and even definitions of terms.
"Election litigation, once a rarity, has become increasingly common since Bush v. Gore. The Election Law Program's eBenchbook will be a welcomed resource for judges deciding election-related cases," the Hon. Terry Lewis, a Leon County Florida circuit judge who played a central role in Bush v. Gore, said.
The eBenchbook launched with the state laws of Colorado, Florida, and Virginia. According to Austin Graham, project manager and recent graduate of William & Mary Law School, those three states were chosen to start the project in part because of a desire for geographical diversity, but also because these states have more election law litigation and are going to be swing states in the upcoming election.
"If we want a truly just and equitable society, election laws—and all types of legal data—must be as discoverable, comprehendible and actionable as possible, with absolutely no restrictions," Seamus Kraft, Executive Director of The OpenGov Foundation and an advisor for the eBenchbook project, said. "That's what the eBenchbook project now delivers for the citizens and judicial officials in three key states. We look forward to supporting this great team and this important effort to bring the power of open election law to the other forty-seven."
The eBenchbook will be a useful depository for judges whose decisions will affect one of Americans' most fundamental rights—the right to vote.