An election must be conducted subject to the limitations imposed by a state constitution. The procedure for conducting an election is set by a state legislature. Each constitution of a state gives the legislature power to enact laws that are necessary for the proper and peaceful conduct of an election[i]. A state legislature has been given wide power by the constitution to enact laws or regulations regarding the time, place, and manner of conducting elections. Sometimes broad power given to a state legislature tends to infringe the federal constitutional rights of association and freedom of expression.
For an election to be valid, it must strictly adherence to the applicable election statutes[ii]. Thus the main function of the supervisor of an election is to maintain strict adherence to the applicable statutes[iii]. To ensure credibility in election results, following the provisions of election laws is made mandatory[iv].
The object of election laws are:
- to provide qualified voters an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice[v]; and
- to provide a systematic and enforceable procedure for electing candidates.
Election laws must be given a liberal interpretation rather than a narrow and technical construction[vi].
The procedure adopted for election in the U.S is the system of voting by ballot. Voting by mail has also been adopted in some jurisdictions within the U.S. To ensure clean elections, there must be secrecy of voting. The official ballot must be uniform in almost all the jurisdictions.
The reasons for preferring secret ballot include:
- to conform with the requirement of secrecy[vii];
- to prevent recrimination against people who vote for losing candidates;
- it will not influence the voters’ choice of candidates.
Generally the preparation and delivery of ballots are controlled by express statutory provision. Ballots prepared and printed contrary to the statutory provisions must be rejected. But there are some jurisdictions that do not invalidate a ballot that is prepared contrary to the statutory provisions.
An official who is entrusted with the election duty must keep with them a voter-registration book or a list of qualified voters on the election date. The voter registration book helps to identify qualified electors. The statute imposing such restriction on the election official is mandatory in some jurisdictions, while voluntary in other jurisdictions.
A voter whose name is not in the list can cast a ballot if s/he presents a voter identification card and signs an affidavit[viii].
A ballot paper must be marked by a voter in the following manner:
- a voter must use a cross of some kind in marking the ballot; or
- completely blacken the square that is placed next to a candidates name.
The following marks will not be treated as casting a vote in the ballot paper:
- a mark in the form of a diagonal line in the square in which the voter must cast his/her vote;
- by a horizontal mark or a checkmark in the square;
- a small mark in the oval;
- if the cross is placed entirely outside the legal voting square or circle; and
- a mark in a blank square amongst squares that contain the names of the candidates.
In some jurisdictions, to cast a vote, the voter must sign his/her name on a comparative signature book[ix]. Such procedure helps to prevent fraudulent manipulations of elections at the polling station.
Statutes also permit the disabled persons to cast their vote with the help of other persons. Persons suffering from any physical infirmity or literacy issue can cast their vote with the help of election official or any other person. Election officials can help such candidates by explaining the mode of casting the vote.
However, a qualified voter who is temporarily absent from his/her place of domicile is permitted to cast his/her vote in a general election through absentee voting[x]. Absentee voting is only a privilege that is given to certain voters. It does not constitute an absolute right[xi].
Advantages of absentee voting are:
- it aids the enfranchisement of qualified voters
- it helps to maintain and preserve ballot secrecy;
- it helps to prevent fraud
- It helps to achieve reasonably prompt election results.
If a voter spoils his/her ballot by making marks not prescribed by the election statute then the voter will be issued a new ballot. To get a new ballot a voter must sign a spoiled ballot affidavit. The provision requiring spoiled ballot affidavit is only voluntary.
An election can be cancelled for the reason of misconduct, fraud, and corruption on the part of an election official or the governing body. The entire vote of an election conducted in a district will be cancelled on a showing of fraud, coercion, or intimidation[xii]. However the entire election will not be declared invalid if the legal votes can be separated from the illegal votes.
[i] Rose v. Parker, 91 N.J.L. 84 (Sup. Ct. 1917).
[ii] Elvick v. Groves, 17 N.D. 561 (N.D. 1908).
[iii] Beckstrom v. Volusia County Canvassing Bd., 707 So. 2d 720 (Fla. 1998).
[iv] In re Carthagena Local School Dist., 155 N.E.2d 267 (Ohio C.P. 1958).
[v] Munro v. Socialist Workers Party, 479 U.S. 189 (U.S. 1986).
[vi] McCall v. Martin, 74 Idaho 277 (Idaho 1953).
[vii] Williams v. Stein, 38 Ind. 89 (Ind. 1871).
[viii] Stinson v. Sweeney, 17 Nev. 309 (Nev. 1883).
[ix] Fugate v. Buffalo, 348 P.2d 76 (Wyo. 1959).
[x] Warren v. Rayburn, 267 S.W.2d 720 (Ky. 1954).
[xi] Lee v. Lang, 140 Fla. 782 (Fla. 1939).
[xii] Hardeman v. Thomas, 208 Cal. App. 3d 153 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1989).