The past week’s headlines have a number of stories about the importance of political geography:
+ In Indiana, the state Supreme Court refused (for the time being) to take a case challenging the eligibility of Secretary of State Charlie White to serve, given allegations that he had registered to vote at an address where he did not live;
+ In New Jersey, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated former Olympian and current state Senate candidate Carl Lewis to the ballot after a trial court removed him because of the state’s “durational residency” requirement for candidates; and
+ Maine’s GOP chair cited evidence that 19 medical students registered to vote in 2004 from a South Portland Holiday Inn Express in arguing that the repeal of the state’s same-day registration law should stand.
Back in February, I wrote about similar questions surrounding Rahm Emanuel’s candidacy for mayor of Chicago. What I said then applies equally to the cases above – namely, that controversies like this are
living, breathing, front-page example[s] of a rare if not unique characteristic of American elections.I call it the stained-glass window.
Just as a larger image is assembled from small yet well-defined pieces of glass, America’s electoral map is built from small but well-defined pieces of geography. At any given time, voters can belong to one and only one piece – and that choice has an impact on just about every aspect of their voting experience: what’s on the ballot, the means, rules and deadlines for casting it and the level of human and technological resources devoted to assist them with the process.
[I]t isn’t enough for a voter merely to choose a piece of the window; they must also be prepared to prove that they belong there. Residency requirements at virtually every level of government specify criteria to evaluate whether or not an individual is sufficiently a part of a jurisdiction to participate in its elections.