February 2009: A Tobin Project Conference on "The Future of Elections Scholarship"

Elections scholarship has a long and distinguished history in the social sciences, and it emerged as a full-fledged legal discipline during the 1990s. Its academic and policy significance was underscored by the tumult surrounding the 2000 presidential election, which sparked a growing interest in the field and spawned new interdisciplinary work between law professors, social scientists, and historians. The aftermath of another election and the beginning of a new term present an opportune time to reflect on the major intellectual themes of the field, map its future scholarly path, and establish links between the work of academics and the needs of policymakers.

Notwithstanding the renewed attention to questions of law and democracy, new ways of thinking are needed to lay the groundwork for reform. To initiate this effort, the Tobin Project, in collaboration with the American Law Institute, convened 37 legal scholars, political scientists, and policymakers to discuss issues at the intersection of law, politics and democracy during a conference on "The Future of Elections Scholarhip: Policy challenges and a Research Agenda for Reform." Professors Heather Gerken (Yale Law School) and Guy-Uriel Charles (Duke University Law School) co-chaired the conference.

The conference stimulated new research on issues that are critical to developing a more conducive environment for policy reform. Scholars identified productive ways in which their research agendas could connect to policymakers’ reform agendas. 

On the agenda were four paper-driven sessions, a panel featuring the General Counsels from both the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns, a keynote address on the Minnesota recount by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and a research brainstorming session.

Papers from this conference were later published in an edited volume, Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process: Recurring Puzzles in American Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2011).


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