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Election Laws: A primer on our right to vote

As we near November 4, 2008 and the election of a wide variety of national, state and local candidates, I’m going to
offer a brief summary of federal and state election laws, including possible violations which may carry criminal
consequences. Election laws touch on a variety of topics. Fundamental to most people are those which concern the
right to vote, where to vote and how to vote. Candidates concern themselves with matters such as how to become
involved in running for office and how to both conduct campaigns and pay for them. Those in charge of overseeing
elections become familiar with the laws addressing all of these same topics as well as those which address the actual
mechanics of holding an election- including identification of eligible voters and the validity of the different voting
systems used.

Election laws come from both the federal and state governments. Federal election laws apply to all states and state
election laws apply only in the state which enacts them.


The United States Constitution sets forth the fundamental rights we enjoy as Americans in being privileged to elect the
leaders who rule our country. The Constitution provides authority for our nation’s leaders to hold office by its creation of
the offices of President and Congress. The Constitution also sets out the basic qualifications for eligibility to hold these
offices as well as providing for the way in which these seats are to be filledby Electoral College in the case of the
President and, as to Congressional races, by authorizing the States to determine their time, place and manner.

Later amendments to the Constitution have expanded upon the right of every citizen to vote:

-The Fifteenth Amendment ratified in 1870 provided a right to vote regardless of race, color or prior condition of
-The Nineteenth Amendment ratified in 1920 provided a right to vote regardless of gender.
-The Twenty-fourth Amendment ratified in 1964 provided a right to vote regardless of failure to pay poll or other tax.
-The Twenty-sixth Amendment ratified in 1971 provided a right to vote to those at least eighteen years of age or older.

The United States Code gives the teeth federal authorities need to enforce these Constitutional rights by providing for
both civil and criminal penalties in the event of their violation. The U.S. Code also contains several important legislative
acts related to the election of our leaders and voting privileges. Some of these include:

Voting Rights Act 1965

Federal Election Campaign Act 1971
Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act 1984
National Voter Registration (Motor Voter) Act 1993
Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act 2002
Help America Vote Act 2002

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the front line agency responsible for enforcement of voting privileges and election
law violations at the federal level. The DOJ, which started in 1789 as a part time job for one person, currently bills itself
as the largest law firm in the world. DOJ maintains offices in both Indianapolis and Evansville.

Additional federal resources:

Federal Election Commission

Federal Election Commission Regulations
Quick Answers to Common Questions
Federal Voter’s Rights
Federal Campaign Finance Guide


Article 2 of the Indiana Constitution sets out the fundamental rights which we enjoy as Hoosiers to run for office and to
vote. Article 4 provides for our Legislature and its structure as well as selection of its members. Article 5 provides for
our Governor and Lt. Governor, including their selection. Article 6 provides for various administrative offices at both the
state and local levels . Article 7 provides for our judiciary at both the appellate and local levels, as well as for
Prosecuting Attorneys, and sets out the means of selection/election of each as applicable. Article 15 sets out various
miscellaneous provisions of import to the elected and appointed offices created.
As with the U.S. Code, the Indiana Code both provides the enforcement mechanism necessary to ensure compliance
with election laws and sets out additional laws pertaining to candidates and voters. Title 3 of the Indiana Code contains
our State’s election related legislation and Article 14 identifies those violations which may result in civil penalties or
criminal punishment.

Criminal liability can attach to conduct associated with voting and voter fraud. This includes making fraudulent
applications to register to vote or to vote absentee; registering to vote more than one time; failing to deliver or
destroying a voter registration form or absentee ballot application; providing false information at the time of voting or
withholding requested information; providing fictitious names or names of dead persons as a poll worker; voting or
attempting to vote when not authorized or ineligible; and hiring or soliciting a person to vote where they are not
registered, or allowing this to occur as an election officer or public official.

The type of conduct that can lead to criminal liability for candidates, or those working on behalf of or in support of a
candidate, includes providing false or fraudulent information with respect to voter registration material, candidate
declarations, candidate committee paperwork or financial records; publishing or circulating candidate or committee
material without proper disclaimers; engaging in certain election related matters while on duty or in uniform for certain
types of public employees; failing to appoint or maintain certain committee officials; commingling campaign funds with
personal funds; and exceeding allowable donation limits for certain organizations or receiving same.

The Prosecuting Attorney in the jurisdiction where the conduct is alleged to have occurred is responsible for
prosecution of any criminal violations of the election laws.

The Secretary of State (SoS) is Indiana’s chief elections officer and works to ensure the integrity of the elections
process and voting procedures, including efforts to increase voter participation. The SoS is an excellent resource for
Indiana voters who wish to know more about their rights. For more information about your right to vote in Indiana go

You may find it of interest to watch oral argument online on Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 1:30 p.m. E.S.T. in a case
currently in front of the Indiana Court of Appeals involving a Lake County voting dispute where the Lake County Board
of Elections and Registration has been enjoined from terminating in-person absentee voting in Gary, Hammond and
East Chicago. More information is available here.

Additional Indiana resources:

Secretary of State
Indiana Election Commission
Indiana Voter Registration Guide


1.) The information presented here is not legal advice, nor is it intended to be. Obtain private counsel of your choice for
legal advice. Do not rely on this article to make decisions about what you choose to do, or not do, in any situation with
which you are faced. Be aware that significant personal liability, both civil and criminal, may attach to persons who
violate federal and state
election laws.

2.) This article is intended merely to be informative concerning the material discussed. All laws and statutory provisions
discussed are subject to amendment and recodification, as well as varying interpretations by courts of law.

Todd Corne,
Prosecuting Attorney


© 2008 Todd Corne