Sept. 22, 2014 | Volume XXII, Issue 6

Nelson Symposium tackles rights and wrongs of election law

Published: February 17th, 2014

Category: News

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Terry Smith, professor of law at DePaul University College of Law, explored the status of the Voting Rights Act after Shelby County v. Holder during the 13th annual Richard E. Nelson Symposium held Feb. 7 in the UF Hilton. (Photo by Kelly Logan)

By Jenna Box (4JM)

On Feb. 7, national and local elections experts, UF Law students, faculty members, and staff took over the conference room at the UF Hilton from 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m. for the 13th annual Richard E. Nelson Symposium, “State & Local Elections: Rights and Wrongs.”

This year’s event highlighted key local and national elections issues, an utmost concern to Florida lawyers and laypeople alike. Over the course of the symposium, a group of distinguished elections experts took turns addressing topics including voter identification laws, felon disenfranchisement, voter roll purges, campaign disclosure for ballot measures, ballot-box zoning, and the status of the Voting Rights Act after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

“The Nelson Symposium was a great success,” said Professor Michael Allan Wolf, organizer of the event and Richard E. Nelson Chair in Local Government Law at UF Law. “The presentations made by our distinguished panels of professors, practitioners, and experts were informative, provocative and enjoyable.”

The topics were highly relevant to Sunshine State residents, especially with voting issues from the 2000 presidential election and beyond. There’s no debate that the state of Florida has been in the spotlight for many of these and other controversial election topics, and the symposium provided food for thought and further debate.

Symposium speaker Janai Nelson, professor of law at St. John’s University School of Law, asked audience members to think about the election debacle of 2000 and consider what had changed in 13 years.

“The very disturbing answer is that there are now more legal barriers to exercising voting rights than there were in 2000,” Nelson continued. “Actual legal barriers — not sort of the procedural gaps and the administrative gaps that occur — I mean actual structural barriers. … And there are increasingly fewer legal protections.”

Nelson mapped out the “intricate web” of voter regulation that has proliferated throughout recent years. In the past year, she said more than 90 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 33 states and are currently moving through state legislatures. These restrictive bills include anything from voter-roll purges to voter ID laws. “Eleven percent of Americans do not have a government-issued photo ID,” Nelson said, pointing to the flaws of the restrictive laws.

Other presenters included Michael S. Kang, professor of law, Emory Law School; Kenneth A. Stahl, associate professor of law, Fowler School of Law, Chapman University; Terry Smith, professor of law, DePaul University College of Law; Mark H. Scruby, county attorney, Clay County; Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow, Cato Institute; Daniel A. Smith, professor, Department of Political Science, University of Florida; Nicholas M. Gieseler and Steven Geoffrey Gieseler, Gieseler & Gieseler, P.A., Port St. Lucie; Suh Lee and Emma Morehart, J.D. candidates, University of Florida Levin College of Law; and Professor Wolf.

The Nelson Symposium is presented by the University of Florida Levin College of Law, and co-sponsored by The Florida Bar City, County and Local Government Law section, and Environmental and Land Use Law section. Those who attended were eligible for seven general CLE credits and 3.5 credits in State and Federal Government and Administrative Practice.

The event is named in honor of Richard E. Nelson, who served with distinction as Sarasota County attorney for 30 years, and his wife, Jane Nelson, two UF alumni who gave more than $1 million to establish the Richard E. Nelson Chair in Local Government Law, which is responsible for the annual event. Their support of UF Law’s Environmental and Land Use Program has been vital to the program’s success and national recognition for excellence.

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