PUBLISHED:March 10, 2009

The future of elections scholarship

March 9, 2009 — Leading election law scholars, historians, political scientists, and policymakers convened at Duke Law School Feb. 27-28 for a multi-disciplinary conference on elections and election law and scholarship in those areas. “The Future of Elections Scholarship: Policy Questions and a Research Agenda for Reform” was sponsored by the nonprofit Tobin Project and the American Law Institute (ALI).

“We discussed the problems with the current election system and how we might fix them, how we can craft a useful research agenda for people who are interested in election law scholarship, and how law can make a difference in resolving the deficiencies of our democracy,” explained Professor Guy-Uriel Charles who convened the event along with Heather Gerken, the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale. “We also looked for ways to build upon areas of strength.”

A scholar of election law and race and the law, Charles is the Bennett Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School and is visiting at Duke for the 2008-09 academic year. He will join the Duke Law faculty permanently in July. Along with Gerkin and Professor Michael Kang of Emory University School of Law, Charles will serve as editor of a series of books on elections and American democracy, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Questions addressed at the invitation-only conference included those surrounding political participation, added Charles: how can we create a system that enhances and supports participation by individuals and overcomes barriers to participation in developed and developing democracies? When should majorities cede political power to minorities and encourage them to participate in the political process? The tools used to encourage participation by racial minorities, whether courts remain the best venue for resolving election disputes, and comparative and international approaches to law and politics also were discussed.

Recent changes in the U.S. political landscape enhanced discussion among participating scholars, Charles observed. “There are a lot of really interesting questions being asked today that are new variants or [representative of] completely new lines of thinking about American democracy. We have a president of color: What does that mean for ways of thinking about political participation with respect to groups that were once thought to be marginalized by the political process? That’s a very different question that has never been asked before.”

Named for Nobel Laureate James Tobin, the Tobin Project is an alliance of the country’s leading academics that seeks to identify pressing real world problems and influence their resolution through academic research and inquiry in such areas as the role of government and public policy.