Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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A series of appeals presented a question of whether the Pennsylvania Election Code required a county board of elections to disqualify mail-in or absentee ballots submitted by qualified electors who signed the declaration on their ballot’s outer envelope, but did not handwrite their name, their address, and/or a date on the ballot, where no fraud or irregularity has been alleged. Petitioner Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (the “Campaign”) challenged the decision of multiple County Boards of Elections to count absentee and mail-in ballots. The Campaign did not contest these ballots were all timely received by the respective Boards prior to 8:00 p.m. on November 3, 2020 (election day); that they were cast and signed by qualified electors; and that there was no evidence of fraud associated with their casting. The Campaign instead contended these votes should not have been counted because the voters who submitted them failed to handwrite their name, street address or the date (or some combination of the three) on the ballot-return outer envelope. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was "guided by well-established interpretive principles" including that where the language of a statute was unambiguous, the language would control. "In the case of ambiguity, we look to ascertain the legislative intent, and in election cases, we adhere to the overarching principle that the Election Code should be liberally construed so as to not deprive, inter alia, electors of their right to elect a candidate of their choice. . . . "Election laws will be strictly enforced to prevent fraud, but ordinarily will be construed liberally in favor of the right to vote." View "In Re: Canvass of Absentee and Mail-In Ballots" on Justia Law

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This action concerns the validity of Minn. Stat. 204B.13, subd. 2(c), which addresses the administration of an election when the candidate of a major political party dies after the seventy-ninth day before a general election. Tyler Kistner is the candidate of the Republican Party for the United States House of Representatives in the Second Congressional District of Minnesota; Angela Craig is the incumbent Representative and the candidate of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party for that office; and Jenny Winslow Davies is a voter in the district. The dispute arose from the death of a third candidate in the race, Adam Charles Weeks, the Candidate for the Legal Marijuana Now Party, on September 21, 2020. At issue is whether Minnesota has authority to forego the election for Representative on November 3, 2020, and schedule a special election for February 2021. The district court ruled that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted, ordered that section 204B.13 must not be enforced as to the election on November 3 for Representative from the Second District, and enjoined the Minnesota Secretary of State from refusing to give legal effect to the ballots cast for Representative on November 3.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting a preliminary injunction. The court agreed with the district court that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted by federal law. Even assuming for the sake of analysis that federal law permits a state to cancel an election and thereby to produce a "failure to elect" in certain extraordinary situations, the court concluded that federal law would allow that course only in truly "exigent" circumstances. The court concluded that the death of candidate Weeks is likely not the sort of exigent circumstance that permits the state to refrain from holding the election for United States Representative on the date prescribed by federal law. Nor do the unofficial results announced by the Secretary of State suggest that the balloting on November 3 failed to elect a Representative. Therefore, the court saw no error in the district court's determination that Craig and Davies would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction, as they would be left without representation in the House of Representatives between the end of the incumbent's term in January 2021 and the seating of a new Representative after a special election in February 2021. Furthermore, the balance of harms and the public interest do not militate against an injunction, especially when there is a likelihood of success on the merits of the complaint. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting Appellees' emergency petition fro declaratory judgment and writ of mandamus declaring David Pruitt ineligible to run for public office, holding that the circuit court did not err.On February 27, 2020, Pruitt filed as a candidate for the office of alderman in the November 3, 2020 election. Appellees filed an emergency petition for declaratory judgment and writ of mandamus, alleging that Pruitt was ineligible to hold public office because he had been found guilty of voting more than once in an election in violation of Ark. Code Ann. 7-1-103(a)(19)(A), and therefore, his name may not be placed on the ballot. The circuit court granted Appellees' petition for declaratory judgment and writ of mandamus, finding that Pruitt had been convicted of certain infamous crimes in violation of Arkansas Election Law, which disqualified him from running for public office, and that Pruitt's expungement did not restore his eligibility to hold public office. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) subsection (a)(19)(A) is a misdemeanor offense related to the election process and constitutes an infamous crime as contemplated by Ark. Const. art. V, 9; and (2) Pruitt's sealing of his record did not restore his eligibility to hold public office. View "Pruitt v. Smith" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the processing of mail-in and absentee ballots received from voters in Philadelphia County in the November 3, 2020 General Election. Specifically, Appellee Donald J. Trump, Inc. (the “Campaign”) orally moved for the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas to give its representative more proximate access to the canvassing activities being carried out by Appellant, the Philadelphia County Board of Elections (the “Board”). The trial court denied relief, the Commonwealth Court reversed, and the Board appealed that order. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Board did not act contrary to law in fashioning its regulations governing the positioning of candidate representatives during the pre-canvassing and canvassing process, as the Election Code did not specify minimum distance parameters for the location of such representatives. Critically, the Court found the Board’s regulations as applied herein were reasonable in that they allowed candidate representatives to observe the Board conducting its activities as prescribed under the Election Code. Accordingly, the Court determined the Commonwealth Court’s order was erroneous, and vacated that order. The trial court's order was reinstated. View "In Re: Canvassing Observ." on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania Act 77 established “no-excuse” absentee voting. All eligible Pennsylvania voters may vote by mail without showing their absence from their voting district on the day of the election; “[a]pplications for mail-in ballots shall be processed if received not later than five o’clock P.M. of the first Tuesday prior to the day of any primary or election” and “a completed absentee [or mail-in] ballot must be received in the office of the county board of elections no later than eight o’clock P.M. on the day of the primary or election” for that vote to count.The Democratic Party argued that a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and mail-delivery delays made it difficult for absentee voters to timely return their ballots in the 2020 primary election. On September 17, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that USPS’s existing delivery standards could not meet the timeline built into the Election Code and that the Pennsylvania Constitution required a three-day extension of the ballot-receipt deadline for the general election. Pennsylvania voters were notified of the extension. The U.S. Supreme Court denied an emergency stay request while requiring that county boards of elections segregate ballots received during the extension.Another federal suit, brought by voters, alleged the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had elevated mail-in voters to a “preferred class” and that counting ballots received after Election Day would unlawfully dilute their votes. The district court denied a preliminary injunction, noting that the provision did not extend the period for mail-in voters to actually cast their ballots and that federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election.”The Third Circuit denied a request for expedited briefing and affirmed without deciding whether the provisions are proper exercises of Pennsylvania’s authority to regulate federal elections. When voters cast their ballots under a facially lawful election rule, private citizens lack standing to enjoin the counting of those ballots on the grounds that the source of the rule was the wrong state organ or that doing so dilutes their votes or constitutes differential treatment. View "Bognet v. Secretary Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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After movants, who were the plaintiffs in a separate but similar case, were denied intervention in the district court, they moved to intervene in the Secretary of State's ongoing appeal concerning signature-verification procedures for ballots.The Fifth Circuit denied the motion to intervene because intervention on appeal is reserved for exceptional cases and movants' reasons for intervening do not come close to that high threshold. The court rejected movants' argument in favor of intervention because their appeal needs to be consolidated with the Secretary's appeal. The court explained that, because both movants and the Secretary are appealing from the same order, both appeals have been docketed under the same case number in this court. Therefore, assuming the motion to intervene in the Secretary's appeal is denied, the same merits panel will hear both the Secretary's appeal of the summary judgment and movants' appeal of the denial of their motion to intervene. The court stated that, to the extent movants want their voices heard, the proper procedure is to move to appear as amici curiae, not to move to intervene. Finally, the court declined to strike the motion. View "Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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Luther Gene Folson, Jr., contested the 2019 general election for sheriff of Yalobusha County, Mississippi. Mark Fulco was declared the winner by a margin of two votes. The trial court ordered that a special election be held because the commingling of four illegal absentee votes with legal absentee votes had made it impossible to discern the will of the voters. Folson appeals the trial court’s order. This case was under expedited review. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the issue on direct appeal was not whether there were illegal votes; rather the issue was whether a special election was the appropriate remedy. On cross-appeal, the issue was whether newly registered voters who had not voted in the general election should have been allowed to vote in the court-ordered special election. The Supreme Court found the trial court appropriately ordered a special election after determining that the will of the voters could not be ascertained. Fulco’s cross-appeal was without merit because Mississippi law allowed an elector to vote in any election as long as the elector satisfied the necessary voting requirements. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. View "Folson v. Fulco" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court explained its order issued on September 10, 2020 granting Plaintiffs' special action seeking to enjoin the Maricopa County Recorder from including a new overvote instruction with mail-in ballots for the November 3, 2020 general election, holding that the Recorder acted unlawfully by including the new instruction with mail-in ballots.An overvote occurs when a person votes for more candidates than is permitted for a specific election. Before the 2020 election cycle the Recorder included an instruction advising mail-in voters that overvotes would not be counted, and in the even of an overvote, to contact the Recorder's office and request a new ballot. During the 2020 presidential preference and primary elections, however, the Recorder included with mail-in ballots the instruction at issue, which provides that if a mail-in voter makes a "mistake" on his mail-in ballot, rather than obtaining a new ballot, the voter may correct the mistake on his existing ballot. The Supreme Court enjoined the County from including the new instruction with mail-in ballots for the November 3, 2020 general election, holding that the Recorder did not have the authority to promulgate mail-in ballot instructions or to create voter guidelines for correcting overbites to ensure that they will be counted. View "Arizona Public Integrity Alliance v. Fontes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court temporarily enjoining the Secretary of State from taking steps to enforce or require compliance with voter-assistance and ballot-collection limits, holding that the district court correctly found that a likelihood of success on the merits was shown on the claim that the voter-assistance limit in Minn. Stat. 204C.15, subd. 1, for ballot marking, was preempted but otherwise erred.At issue was the limits in Minnesota Statutes on the number of voters that an individual may assist in marking a ballot and the number of completed absentee ballots the an individual may collect and deliver. In a complaint, two Democratic committees brought a number of challenges to the limits. The district court concluded that the Democratic committees were likely to succeed on the merits of the claims and had demonstrated that a temporary injunction was warranted. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision on the preemption claim as to the limit on the number of voters that may be assisted in marking a ballot but otherwise reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion in finding that a likelihood of success on the merits was shown on Plaintiffs' remaining claims. View "DSCC v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law dictates that election officials only count ballots received by election day. The Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Education Fund filed suit against the Secretary, alleging that Minnesota's statutory deadline was unconstitutional. The Secretary and the Alliance entered into a consent decree that essentially made the statutorily-mandated absentee ballot receipt deadline inoperative. After the Minnesota state court confirmed the decree, the Secretary directed election officials to count absentee ballots received up to a week after election day, notwithstanding Minnesota law.Plaintiffs, both Minnesota registered voters and also certified nominees of the Republican Party to be presidential electors, filed suit alleging that the consent decree and the state court's order confirming it violate the United States Constitution. The district court denied plaintiffs' requested injunction, concluding that they lack standing to bring their claims.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction and remanded to the district court to enter an injunction requiring the Secretary and those under his direction to identify, segregate, and otherwise maintain and preserve all absentee ballots received after the deadlines set forth in Minn. Stat. 203B.08, subd. 3.After determining that plaintiffs have Article III and prudential standing to bring their claims, the court considered plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to evaluate the propriety of preliminary injunctive relief rather than remanding for the district court to decide the merits in the first instance. The court held that the Secretary's instructions to count mail-in ballots received up to seven days after Election Day stand in direct contradiction to Minnesota election law governing presidential elections, and plaintiffs have strongly shown likely success on the merits since the Secretary's actions are likely to be declared invalid under the Electors Clause of Article II of the United States Constitution. The court stated that only the Minnesota Legislature, and not the Secretary, has plenary authority to establish the manner of conducting the presidential election in Minnesota. The court also held that the Secretary's plan to count mail-in ballots received after the deadline established by the Minnesota Legislature will inflict irreparable harm to plaintiffs. Furthermore, the balance of the equities and the public interest weigh in favor of the issuance of an injunction. Finally, the court held that the injunction does not violate the Purcell principle. View "Carson v. Simon" on Justia Law