While the nation’s attention is trained on the presidential election, the Harvard Law School Appleseed Electoral Reform Project continues its focus on changing the system from the ground up.
Inaugurated last summer, HLS’s newest research program seeks to increase voter participation and ensure that residents’ interests are represented through lawmakers and by the referendum process.
The project supervises HLS students’ clinical placements and research, and hosts campus workshops and lectures. The issues addressed by the project include campaign finance reform, ballot access, initiatives and referenda, judicial elections, and corruption and bribery laws. It will also monitor the redistricting process that will result from this year’s census.
This spring, the project held a symposium titled “Removing Obstacles to Campaign Finance Reform: Why Not a Constitutional Amendment?” which featured debate on whether to address campaign finance reform through a constitutional amendment and measures to best effect reform. Arthur Baer ’86, assistant director of the project, said the workshop, like others the project has held, aired a variety of viewpoints and identified the challenges inherent in changing the system.
Student initiatives also often focus on campaign finance reform. The student organization Appleseed Center for Electoral Reform was established at the School in 1996. This past year it studied the effects of spending limits in Albuquerque, N.M., and worked on a challenge to North Carolina’s campaign finance system. Other initiatives include assisting with litigation against New Jersey’s restrictive ballot access and a legal challenge to the U.S. Postal Service’s prohibition against signature collection on Postal Service property. Faculty director Professor Richard Parker ’70, who oversees the project, said the group “has grown bigger and more vital in every year of its existence,” with over 30 students participating last year.
“Our commitment is to improve discussion and not just be another advocate of commonly held positions,” he said.
Although campaigns at the national level often receive more attention, Baer emphasizes that the core of the Project lies in its local initiatives. “We’re battling for democracy in the states,” he said.