The Supreme Court has tackled numerous election related issue in the past twenty years, including its take on seminal issues such as the counting of ballots and pre-election campaign funding for individual candidates. The 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), resulted in resolution of the dispute between Bush and Gore concerning the presidential election. In considering issues surrounding a ballot recount for various alleged deficiencies, the Court found that employing different tallying (or re-tallying) standards in different counties, was an inherent violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and that a candidate could not request recounts in a certain county for certain alleged ballot flaws, without addressing the same issue in the same manner throughout the state.
The Court further addressed the issue of pre-election funding of candidates most recently in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), which challenged the limits placed on biennial campaign contributions to federal election candidates by an individual (McCutcheon, 2014). This matter further expanded upon earlier decisions on this issue and again demonstrated the Court’s reluctance to impose limitations on aggregate contributions to federal elections as a whole, but upheld the limits placed on individual contributions to individual campaigns. In do so, the result serves to temper any argument that there is impaired access to the political process vis-à-vis influencing candidates, because every individual is on the same playing field with respect to individual campaign contributions. The Court’s ruling overturned existing limitations on aggregated contributions by an individual to federal election campaigns, but maintained the limitations on the amount that an individual could contribute to a single candidate (McCutcheon, 2014).
The Supreme Court also addressed the right to due process with respect to contested election results in Bush v. Gore, in finding that the state court’s ruling requiring a state wide recount violated the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment and the rights to equal protection and due process contained therein. In finding the recount was unfair (given the amount of time that it would take), the Court held that individual voters were guaranteed that their voting ballots could not be devalued by “later arbitrary and disparate treatment” (Bush, 2000). After all, the voters had presumably spoken by way of their respective ballot submissions, and it was deemed inherently unfair to subject voters to the possibility that their intent in the election, as expressed by their ballot, might actually be viewed in a different light upon recount. The Court expressed concern with the fact that there was no way to guarantee consistent and constitutionally permissible recounting from county to county (Bush, 2014).
Supreme Court decisions related to campaign finance clearly have an influence upon First Amendment rights. A truly democratic form of government requires both freedom of speech and equal access to the political process. In looking at the Supreme Court cases addressing the campaign finance issue, including those noted herein, one is left with the notion that there is indeed a tension between the two tenets (DeLuca, 2007). The conflict arises insomuch as equality in access to the political system also requires the government to regulate the political speech process (Id), or in other words, the democratic process actually requires government’s need to oversee fair distribution of resources necessary for politically access. Some scholars have even argued that there should be yet another amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees political equality as a fundamental rights, irrespective of economic position, as a symbol of true democratic intent (DeLuca, 2007). Arguably, the Supreme Court decisions noted herein do little in terms of equivocating political equality with a fundamental right or recognizing that political equality does indeed have a compelling state interest.
- Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 88 (2000).
- Buckley v. Valeo
- DeLuca, T. (June 2007) “Free Speech, Political Equality, and Campaign Finance Reform: A Paradox for Democracy?” New Political Science, Vol 27. No. 2.
- McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 572 U.S. ___ (2014),