Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the City of Santa Monica's system of at-large voting to elect its City Council discriminated against Latinos. The trial court agreed and ordered the City to switch to district-based voting. The Court of Appeal reversed and entered judgment for the City, holding that the City violated neither the California Voting Rights Act nor the Constitution. In this case, the City correctly notes that plaintiff offered no valid proof of dilution in order to prove that the City's at-large method impaired Latinos' ability to elect candidates of their choice or to influence the outcome of an election as a result of the dilution of Latino voting rights. Furthermore, plaintiffs failed to prove that the City adopted or maintained its system for the purpose of discriminating against minorities. View "Pico Neighborhood Assoc. v. City of Santa Monica" on Justia Law

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Illinois permits voters to place initiatives and referenda on both local and statewide ballots but requires proponents to collect a specific number of signatures during a period of 18 months. That period ended for the state on May 3, 2020, and will end for the city on August 3. Plaintiffs filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, contending that the state’s requirements are unconstitutional, given the social-distancing requirements adopted by Illinois' Governor during the COVID-19 pandemic. A district judge denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first holding that at least one plaintiff (Morgan) had standing because began his petition campaign before filing suit. During most of the time available to seek signatures, Morgan did nothing. The other plaintiffs did not do anything of substance until the suit was filed. They had plenty of time to gather signatures before the pandemic began and are not entitled to emergency relief. The Governor’s orders did not limit their speech. The orders concern conduct, not what anyone may write or say. Although the orders make it hard to obtain signatures, so would the reluctance of people to approach strangers during a pandemic. The federal Constitution does not require any state or local government to put referenda or initiatives on the ballot; if the Governor’s orders, coupled with the signature requirements, amount to a decision to skip all referenda for the 2020 election cycle, there is no federal problem. View "Morgan v. White" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two unaffiliated candidates and one voter seeking to cast votes for write-in candidates, filed suit alleging that North Carolina's qualification requirements for candidates not affiliated with a political party and for candidates whose names are not printed on the ballot violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the requirement that an unaffiliated candidate be a "qualified voter" and that a write-in candidate submit a certain number of signatures before votes cast for that write-in candidate will be counted. Furthermore, although two plaintiffs have standing to challenge North Carolina's signature requirements and filing deadline for unaffiliated candidates, the court agreed with the district court that these election laws impose only a modest burden that is justified by the state's interest in regulating elections. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims, relying in part on different reasons than those expressed by the district court. View "Buscemi v. Bell" on Justia Law

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When Americans cast ballots for presidential candidates, their votes actually go toward selecting members of the Electoral College, whom each state appoints based on the popular returns. With limited exceptions, states appoint a slate of electors selected by the political party whose candidate has won the state’s popular vote. Most states compel electors to pledge to support that party's nominee and remove a “faithless elector” from his position; a few impose a monetary fine on any elector who flouts his pledge. Three Washington electors violated their pledges to support Hillary Clinton in 2016 and were fined $1,000 apiece. The Electors challenged their fines, arguing that the Constitution gives members of the Electoral College the right to vote however they please. The Washington Supreme Court rejected their claims. The Supreme Court affirmed. A state may enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee—and the state voters’ choice—for President. Article II, Section 1 gives the states the authority to appoint electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” The power to appoint an elector includes the power to condition his appointment, including requiring that electors pledge to cast their Electoral College ballots for the party’s presidential nominee. States can demand that an elector actually live up to that pledge, on pain of penalty. Nothing in the Constitution expressly prohibits states from taking away presidential electors’ voting discretion. Article II’s use of the term “electors” and the Twelfth Amendment’s requirement that the electors “vote,” “by ballot,” do not establish that electors must have discretion. From the first elections under the Constitution, states sent electors to the College to vote for pre-selected candidates, rather than to use their own judgment. The electors rapidly settled into that non-discretionary role. Ratified at the start of the 19th century, the Twelfth Amendment acknowledged and facilitated the Electoral College’s emergence as a mechanism not for deliberation but for party-line voting. View "Chiafalo v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Reversing the Tenth Circuit, the Court held that states may impose a sanction on "faithless electors" who pledge to vote for the nominee of their political party in the presidential election and fail to do so. The Court cited its contemporaneous opinion, Chiafalo v. Washington. View "Colorado Dept. of State v. Baca" on Justia Law

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By Legislative Referendum (LR) 401 (2020), the Oregon legislature asked voters to approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would permit the legislature, local governments, and the people through the initiative process to pass laws regulating campaign finance and advertising. As provided in Oregon Laws 2019, chapter 674, section 1, a joint legislative committee drafted the ballot title and explanatory statement for LR 401. In consolidated cases, petitioners sought review of the ballot title and the explanatory statement. Petitioner Markley challenged all parts of the ballot title, contending that the caption, “yes” and “no” result statements, and the summary did not comply with the requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). Petitioner Buel challenged the ballot title summary and the explanatory statement. After the parties completed briefing on petitioners’ challenges, this court decided Multnomah County v. Mehrwein, 366 Or 295, 462 P3d 706 (2020), in which the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that a Multnomah County ordinance limiting campaign contributions was not subject to a facial challenge under Article I, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution. That decision overruled, in part, the court’s earlier decision in Vannatta v. Keisling, 931 P2d 770 (1997), which held that certain statutes that provided for, among other things, mandatory limits on contributions to state political campaigns, violated Article I, section 8. Because the ballot title “no” result statement and summary and the explanatory statement all briefly described the state of the law before the court’s issuance of the Mehrwein decision, the Court asked the parties to submit supplemental briefing concerning the effect, if any, that Mehrwein had on this matter. After review of the supplemental briefs of the parties, the Supreme Court concluded the the ballot title’s “no” result statement and summary and the explanatory statement had to be modified. The Court otherwise rejected petitioners’ arguments. The ballot title was referred back to the Attorney General for modification. View "Buel/Markley v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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On March 10, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared a disaster emergency pursuant to the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Since that time, the Governor relied on his authority under the Act to issue a wide range of executive orders suspending certain statutes, rules, and regulations in an effort to prevent further escalation of the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Among these was Executive Order D 2020 065 (“EO 65”), which (1) suspended the operation of certain statutes governing the ballot initiative process that require signature collection to take place in person; and (2) authorized the Secretary of State to create temporary rules to permit signature gathering by mail and email. Petitioners filed this lawsuit against Governor Polis and Secretary of State Jena Griswold, seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of EO65 and a declaratory judgment finding the Order unconstitutional under the Colorado Constitution and unauthorized under the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act. After ordering expedited briefing, the district court held a remote hearing via WebEx on May 22. In its May 27 Order, the district court concluded that (1) petitioners had not established the necessary factors outlined in Rathke v. MacFarlane, 648 P.2d 648 (Colo. 1982), to obtain a preliminary injunction; and (2) petitioners had not established an entitlement to declaratory relief under C.R.C.P. 57. The court also found that the petitioners’ claims against the Secretary were not ripe because she had not yet promulgated the temporary rules that EO 65 had authorized. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Article V, section 1(6) of the Colorado Constitution required ballot initiative petitions be signed in the presence of the petition circulator. "That requirement cannot be suspended by executive order, even during a pandemic." Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ritchie v. Polis" on Justia Law

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In the November 2018 general election, 61percent of San Francisco voters voted for Proposition C, entitled “Additional Business Taxes to Fund Homeless Services.” San Francisco filed suit to establish that Proposition C has been validly enacted through the voters’ initiative power. The City’s complaint against “All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C” was answered by three defendants: the California Business Properties Association, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the California Business Roundtable (the Associations). The Associations allege that Proposition C is invalid because it imposes a special tax approved by less than two-thirds of the voting electorate as required by Propositions 13 and 218. (California Constitution Art. XIII A, section 4 & Art. XIII C, section 2(d).) The trial court granted the City judgment on the pleadings. The court of appeal affirmed, citing two California Supreme Court cases interpreting other language from Proposition 13 and Proposition 218. The supermajority vote requirements that those propositions added to the state constitution coexist with and do not displace the people’s power to enact initiatives by majority vote. Because a majority of San Francisco voters who cast ballots in November 2018 favored Proposition C, the initiative measure was validly enacted. View "City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in Proposition C" on Justia Law

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William G. Veitch was a Republican candidate in 2018 for District Attorney of the 10th Judicial Circuit ("Jefferson County D.A.") and a resident of the area of Jefferson County, Alabama known as the Bessemer Cutoff. When he went to cast his vote in the Republican primary, he was not able to vote for the very office for which he was running. In fact, none of his neighbors in the Bessemer Cutoff were. Because of a local law enacted in 1953, residents of the Bessemer Cutoff did not participate in primary elections for Jefferson County D.A. Veitch challenged that law before the 2018 primary, and he continued to maintain that it violated the United States Constitution. The trial court entered a judgment against him. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the Jefferson County D.A. had the statutory authority to displace the Bessemer Division D.A. and exercise his powers in the Bessemer Cutoff. Because residents of the Bessemer Cutoff were subject to the prosecutorial power of the Jefferson County D.A., they had an equal interest with other Jefferson County residents in who occupied that office. Despite that equal interest, Act No. 138 denied voters in the Bessemer Cutoff the right to participate in the primary election for Jefferson County D.A. That discrimination, the Court held, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and rendered Act No. 138 unconstitutional. View "Veitch v. Friday" on Justia Law

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In 2014, plaintiffs, African-American voters and the Terrebonne Parish NAACP, filed suit to challenge the electoral method for Louisiana's 32nd Judicial District Court (JDC), alleging that at-large elections for the judges produce discriminatory results, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and have been maintained for a discriminatory purpose in violation of that statute and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The district court upheld both claims and ordered a remedial plan breaking the 32nd JDC into five single-member electoral subdistricts. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court clearly erred in its finding of minority vote dilution in the election of judges for Terrebonne Parish's 32nd JDC. The court held that the district court erred in holding that weak evidence of vote dilution could overcome the state's substantial interest in linking judicial positions to the judges' parish-wide jurisdiction. Furthermore, the district court erroneously equated failed legislative attempts to create subdistricts for the 32nd JDC with a racially discriminatory intent. View "Fusilier v. Landry" on Justia Law