Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Election Law Pleading

72 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2013 Last revised: 24 Jan 2014

Joshua A. Douglas

University of Kentucky - College of Law

Date Written: December 12, 2013


This Article provides the first comprehensive look at pleadings in election law cases after the Supreme Court’s jurisprudential shift for pleading in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal. In those cases, the Supreme Court declared that plaintiffs must meet a “factual plausibility” test in their complaints, providing enough factual specificity to explain the basis for their suit. Courts in election cases have tried to follow this formulation. But applying Twombly and Iqbal to election law is incongruent with the main features of election litigation, leading to an awkward and sloppy analysis. There is usually little need to assess whether the plaintiff presented detailed factual allegations in a complaint when everyone usually agrees on how an election practice operates and the real question is whether the election regulation violates some law. A court deciding a motion to dismiss in an election case should therefore focus on the other aspect of Rule 12(b)(6): legal sufficiency.

To do so, this Article proposes a pleading standard that would supplement factual plausibility, which I term “legal plausibility.” In addition to requiring sufficient factual allegations — which are often not the crux of an election dispute, at least at the complaint stage — pleading rules should force election law plaintiffs to make a plausible showing that the challenged practice is legally flawed. This requires the plaintiff to plead the requisite mixed question of law and fact that will ultimately determine whether the plaintiff can prevail. Legal plausibility entails three parts: plaintiffs should identify the precise election practice being challenged, explain with particularity how the law impacts that plaintiff, and apply the elements of the cause of action to the manner in which the election regulation operates. This standard will be particularly helpful for litigants and courts when the case at hand exhibits the dual features of timeliness concerns and a lack of viable post-election remedies — which encompasses a lot of election litigation. Although I focus on election cases, legal plausibility could apply to other areas that are similar to election law. Legal plausibility shifts the way in which courts analyze motions to dis- miss. It helps courts streamline election litigation by avoiding the doctrinal incongruence that accompanies the application of factual plausibility to election law cases.

Keywords: election law, pleading, election, Twombly, Iqbal, Conley, no set of facts, civil procedure, voting

Suggested Citation

Douglas, Joshua A., Election Law Pleading (December 12, 2013). 81 George Washington Law Review 1966 (2013). Available at SSRN:

Joshua A. Douglas (Contact Author)

University of Kentucky - College of Law ( email )

620 S. Limestone Street
Lexington, KY 40506-0048
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views