State Courts, the Right to Vote, and the Democracy Canon

By Rebecca Guthrie

Entire elections can be determined by the way a state judge chooses to interpret an election statute. And yet, there has been little scholarly attention on how judges construe statutes regulating elections at the state level. This Note begins to redress that lack of attention by undertaking an in-depth analysis of one interpretive tool historically invoked by state courts. The “Democracy Canon” is a substantive canon urging courts to liberally construe election statutes in favor of voter enfranchisement. By conducting a review of both historical and modern references to the Democracy Canon by state courts, this Note argues that courts have become less willing to rely on the Democracy Canon in recent decades. At the same time, codification of the Democracy Canon, and perhaps other substantive canons, by state legislatures may alleviate most concerns of courts about using substantive canons and may be the solution to revitalize the Democracy Canon.