Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

By
Plaintiffs are the Powhatan County Republican Committee and four individuals nominated by the Committee to be candidates for election to the Board of Supervisors for Powhatan County, Virginia. Plaintiffs filed suit against the Board of Elections, challenging the constitutionality of the portion of Virginia Code 24.2-613(B) that provides that only candidates in elections "for federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices" may be identified on the ballot by the name of the political party that nominated them or by the term "Independent." The district court granted judgment in favor of the Board. The court concluded that the burden on associational rights imposed by Virginia's regulation of the use of party identifiers on official ballots is at most minimal and is amply justified by Virginia's important interests, which include minimizing partisanship at the local government level, promoting impartial governance, and maximizing the number of citizens eligible to hold local office under the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. 7321-7326; concluded that section 24.2-613(B)'s different treatment of local candidates and federal, statewide, and General Assembly candidates with respect to party identifiers on the ballot does not violate the Equal Protection Clause because such treatment is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests; and thus affirmed the judgment. View "Marcellus v. Virginia State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

By
In the November 4, 2014 general election for the office of Magoffin County judge executive, Republican candidate John Montgomery challenged the incumbent, Democratic candidate Charles Hardin. The officially-tabulated vote count revealed that Montgomery lost the election to Hardin by twenty-eight votes. Montgomery filed a petition to contest the election. The trial court set aside the election results and declared the office of Magoffin County judge executive vacant pending a new election, concluding that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the election outcome was the result of “fraud and bribery” to the extent that neither contestant could be judged to have been fairly elected. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Hardin was entitled to occupy the office in accordance with the tabulated results of the November 4, 2014 election because Montgomery failed to meet his burden of affirmatively proving fraud, intimidation, bribery, or violence in the conduct of the election such that Hardin cannot be adjudged to have been unfairly elected. View "Hardin v. Montgomery" on Justia Law

By
White County parents formed the Association for Accurate Standards in Education (AASE) to oppose another group advocating for removal of a social studies textbook that includes discussion of Islam. Eight part-time volunteers comprise AASE. It does not have a separate bank account and does not keep regular records. Five or six people have donated to AASE. No individual donation has exceeded $200; total donations have not reached $500. Seats on the Board of Education were up for election in 2016. AASE parents wanted to support and oppose candidates through AASE. They did not want AASE to make direct campaign contributions, but wanted AASE to spend less than $250 on independent expenditures, including yard signs, stickers, and brochures. They learned that the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance had fined Williamson Strong, an unincorporated group that disseminates information about candidates and issues in Williamson County, $5,000 for failing to certify a treasurer or file financial disclosure statements under Tenn. Code 2-10-102(12)(A), which defines a political campaign committee as: A combination of two or more individuals . . . to support or oppose any candidate. They sued the Registry’s officials in their official capacities under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the Act violates their First Amendment, equal protection, and due process rights. The district court stayed the case pending the outcome of the state administrative proceedings in the Williamson Strong case. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Abstention was improper in this case, in light of the Act’s alleged chilling effects. View "Jones v. Coleman" on Justia Law

By
Fitzpatrick, a citizen of Peru, had lived in the U.S. for three years when she applied for an Illinois driver’s license; she displayed her green card and her Peruvian passport, but checked a box claiming to be a U.S. citizen. As required by the motor-voter law, 52 U.S.C. 20503–06, the form contained a checkbox for registration as a voter. Fitzpatrick maintains that the clerk asked whether she wanted to register. She inquired “Am I supposed to?”; he replied: “It’s up to you.” She checked that box, was registered, and in 2006 twice voted in federal elections, violating 18 U.S.C. 611; 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(6), provides for the removal of aliens who vote in violation of the law. On her application for citizenship, Fitzpatrick, who is married to a U.S. citizen, and has three U.S.-citizen (naturalized) children, honestly described her voting history. The BIA affirmed an order of removal. The Seventh Circuit denied relief, rejecting an “entrapment by estoppel” defense. Fitzpatrick did not make accurate disclosures when applying. She is literate in English and has no excuse for that misrepresentation. No one told her that aliens are entitled to vote or to register to vote. Fitzpatrick had time after receiving her voter-registration card to determine whether she was entitled to vote. View "Fitzpatrick v. Sessions" on Justia Law

By
The Michigan Campaign Finance Act, Mich. Comp. Laws 169.254, generally bars corporations and labor unions from contributing to political candidates and organizations, but permits them to form and contribute to political action committees (PACs), which may make political contributions. A recent amendment defines a prohibited expenditure to include the administrative expenses of operating a payroll deduction program unless the deductions go to the corporation’s or union’s own PAC or a PAC established by a nonprofit corporation of which that entity is a member. Unions challenged the restriction under the Contracts Clause and First Amendment. Unions do not employ the bulk of their authorized donor base. To obtain payroll deductions in the past, unions secured agreements from employers to deduct PAC contributions from union members’ wages. The district court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the law on both grounds. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the Contracts Clause ruling and reversed the First Amendment ruling. The Contracts Clause, prohibits the state from enforcing the contested provision with respect to pre-existing PAC check-off obligations through the end of the relevant collective bargaining agreements. The state’s “decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right” did not itself infringe that right. View "Michigan State AFL-CIO v. Schuette" on Justia Law

By
Petitioner and Albuquerque resident David Crum was registered to vote in New Mexico as a qualified voter who declined to designate or state his political party affiliation (DTS). He sought to vote during the 2014 primary election by selecting either a Democratic or a Republican ballot without having to amend his voter registration. Crum was not permitted to vote during the June 3, 2014 primary election because he was not registered as either a Democrat or a Republican1 on or before May 6, 2014. Crum contended that the Free and Open Clause of Article II, Section 8 of the New Mexico Constitution entitled him to vote during primary elections without registering with a major political party because he was a qualified voter under Article VII, Section 1. The Supreme Court disagreed: “[a]lthough the Free and Open Clause is intended to promote voter participation during elections, the Legislature has the constitutional power to enact laws that ‘secure the secrecy of the ballot and the purity of elections and guard against the abuse of [the] elective franchise.’” The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Crum’s complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. View "Crum v. Duran" on Justia Law

By
Ian Schlakman and Frank Richardson (Appellees) filed suit challenging the decisions of the Baltimore City Board of Elections to certify Dan Sparaco as an eligible candidate and the State Board of Elections to include him as a candidate for the District Twelve seat on the 2016 General Election ballot. The court held that the temporary restraining order the Circuit Court granted was in error because Appellees’ state court challenges to the Boards’ actions were untimely and are barred by laches; Appellees have not explained this delay, or explained why they did not institute a parallel action in the Circuit Court within the statutorily-mandated time limits; where the federal court dismissed Appellees’ action because Appellee’s counsel was not admitted to practice before that court, the savings provision under Maryland Rule 2-101(b) did not apply to toll Appellees’ obligation to file in the appropriate circuit court, as instructed by ELEC. LAW 12-202(b)(1); and Appellees have not demonstrated any basis for relief on the merits under any theory of action or avenue for relief. The court explained that the plain language of ELEC. LAW 5-703(d)(1) does not require candidates to submit the required filings until the first Monday in August preceding the General Election. In this case, the City Board’s certification of Mr. Sparaco as a qualified candidate, and the State Board’s listing of his candidacy, complied with the provisions of the Election Law Article. Accordingly, the court vacated the temporary restraining order and remanded. View "Lamone v. Schlakman" on Justia Law

By
A self-employed real estate broker, James Studley, ran as a candidate for local elective office. The broker sought a blanket exemption from Alaska’s financial disclosure requirements to avoid reporting his clients’ identities and the income earned from them. The Alaska Public Offices Commission denied the broker’s request and assessed a $175 civil penalty for his failure to comply with the candidate reporting requirements. On appeal the superior court upheld the Commission’s ruling. The broker appealed, contending the disclosure requirements violated his duty to maintain client confidentiality, infringe his clients’ privacy rights under the Alaska Constitution, and impair several personal constitutional rights. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the Commission’s ruling. View "Studley v. Alaska Public Offices Comm'n" on Justia Law

By
Appellants brought this action just weeks before the 2016 general election seeking to compel the State Board of Elections and the Baltimore City Board of Elections (collectively, Appellees) to establish a special system for “inmate voting” in the City for the general election. The circuit court denied the request for a broadly worded temporary restraining order (TRO), concluding that the complaint had been untimely filed. One day before the 2016 general election, the expedited appeal was argued before the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal as moot, holding that even if the Court were to find that Appellants were entitled to a TRO with respect to the 2016 general election, there was no way such an order could have been implemented as a practical matter. View "Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections v. Baltimore City Board of Elections" on Justia Law

By
Relators were the members of the committee that nominated Gary Johnson and William Weld to appear on Ohio’s November 2016 ballot as independent candidates for president and vice president of the United States. Johnson and Weld jointly received 3.17 percent of the total votes cast in Ohio for president and vice president. Relators subsequently brought this action in mandamus seeking to require the Ohio Secretary of State to recognize Relators as a political party under Ohio Rev. Code 3517.01. The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding that Relators were not entitled to the writ because they do not qualify as a political party, as their candidates were nominated as independent candidates without any political-party affiliation, and section 3517.01 and Ohio Rev. Code 3501.01 permit only established political parties to retain ballot access if they receive at least three percent of the vote. View "State ex rel. Fockler v. Husted" on Justia Law