Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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On November 3, 2020, a strong majority of the voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65, which established a legal medical-marijuana program. The Petitioners challenged the Secretary of State’s approval of the initiative for inclusion on the ballot, arguing it would have been impossible for the petition seeking to place Initiative 65 on the ballot to be properly certified as meeting Miss. Const. art. 15, section 273 prerequisites by the Secretary of State. As the petition was certified in error, the Petitioners contended that all subsequent actions were void. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution,” the Mississippi Supreme Court held that the text of section 273 failed to account for the possibility that the State’s representation in the United States House of Representatives and corresponding congressional districts would be reduced. “[T]he intent evidenced by the text was to tie the twenty percent cap to Mississippi’s congressional districts, of which there are now four. In other words, the loss of congressional representation did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions.” A majority of the Mississippi Court reversed the Secretary of State’s certification if Initiative 65, and held that any subsequent proceedings on it were void. View "In Re Initiative Measure No. 65" on Justia Law

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In this original proceeding, the Supreme Court ordered that the motion filed by the Montana State Legislature "for the immediate disqualification of all Justices" of the Montana Supreme Court be denied, holding that the Legislature was not entitled to relief.In an original proceeding, the Legislature, as an intervenor, and Governor Greg Gianforte raised concerns about a survey conducted by the Montana Judges Association of its members facilitated by Beth McLaughlin, the Judicial Branch's Court Administrator, regarding Senate Bill 140, which has since been signed into law and changes the way the Governor fills vacancies for judges and justices in the state. At issue was an investigative subpoena the Legislature issued to the Department of Administration seeking the production of emails sent and received by McLaughlin between certain dates. McLaughlin sought to quash or enjoy enforcement of the subpoena, which began the instant proceeding. The Legislature subsequently issued a subpoena to each justice of the Montana Supreme Court demanding that each justice produce the emails subject to the investigative subpoena and then filed a motion to disqualify the justices. The Supreme Court denied the motion, holding that the Legislature was not entitled to its request. View "McLaughlin v. Montana Legislature" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) the Foundation's complaint against the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (the Board), alleging a violation of the disclosure provision in the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The Foundation sought disclosure of broad categories of documents related to the identification of North Carolina voter registrants whom the Board had identified as potentially failing to satisfy the statutory citizenship requirement.The court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded, concluding that the district court erred in holding that the Foundation failed to state a claim under the NVRA's disclosure provision simply because the request implicated potential criminal conduct of registrants. The court explained that the disclosure provision does not contain such a blanket exemption and requires a more exacting and tailored analysis than what occurred in this case. Because discovery was not conducted, the court cannot discern on this record whether the Foundation may be entitled to disclosure of some of the documents requested. Therefore, the court remanded to the district court for further consideration of the documents subject to four restrictions excluding from disclosure: (1) information precluded from disclosure by the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994; (2) information obtained from confidential federal databases under the United States Department of Homeland Security's Systemic Alien Verification for Entitlements system (the SAVE system) that is otherwise protected from disclosure by statute or by the Board's agreement with the Department regarding confidentiality; (3) any requested voter registration applications, or the names affiliated with those applications, that are subject to protection as part of any prior or current criminal investigation; and (4) the identities and personal information of individuals who potentially committed criminal offenses, including those who later were determined to be United States citizens, which must be redacted from any documents ultimately released as sensitive information vulnerable to abuse. View "Public Interest Legal Foundation v. North Carolina State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of sovereign immunity in an action brought by voters and political organizations against the Texas Secretary of State seeking to enjoin the enforcement of HB 1888, a state law that bars counties from operating mobile or pop-up early voting locations.The court concluded that Mi Familia Vota v. Abbott, which held that the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of Texas Election Code 85.062–85.063 because local officials are responsible for administering and enforcing those statutes, is controlling in this case. The court explained that, if the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of section 85.062 or 85.063, then it follows that she has no connection to the enforcement of HB 1888, as codified in the neighboring section 85.064, which governs the days and hours of voting at temporary branch locations. Because the Secretary is not sufficiently connected to the enforcement of HB 1888, the court need not consider her argument that plaintiffs are seeking improper relief under Ex parte Young. Accordingly, the court remanded from this interlocutory appeal with instructions to dismiss. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Hughs" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied a writ of mandamus requiring the Secretary of State Steve Barnett to appear and show cause why the Supreme Court should not issue a peremptory writ of mandamus directing him to approve Dakotans for Health's form for referral of House Joint Resolution (HJR) 5003 to voters at the general election on November 8, 2002, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to the writ.Petitioner, Dakotans for Health, submitted a petition seeking to refer HJR 5003 to the voters of South Dakota at the November 2022 general election. The Secretary of State refused to file the petition, determining that HJR 5003 did not qualify as a "law which the legislature may have enacted" and that the petition did not have a valid effective date. The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's writ of mandamus, holding that Barnett correctly determined that HJR 5003 does not constitute a law subject to referral and that he had no authority to file the petition. View "Dakotans For Health V. Barnett" on Justia Law

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Andrew Bell challenged the denial of his application for mandamus and injunctive relief in which he sought to compel Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to include Bell’s name as an independent candidate on the ballot for the November 3, 2020 election for Georgia House District 85. Among other things, Bell claimed that he collected the signatures required for him to qualify as a candidate, and that the trial court erred by not requiring the Secretary to place Bell’s name on the ballot. Because the November 3, 2020 general election is over and the ballots have been printed, cast, and counted, however, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded there was no such ballot upon which Bell could still be placed, thus the Court could not grant Bell the relief he requested. This appeal was dismissed as moot. View "Bell v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law

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A national political organization engaged an Alaska media consultant to reserve over $1 million worth of television advertising time prior to the 2018 gubernatorial primary race. The national organization did not register with the Alaska Public Office Commission, and did not report the reservations to the agency. The Commission concluded that this conduct violated a statute requiring all entities to register before making any “expenditures,” including promises or agreements to transfer something of value, to influence an election. The superior court affirmed the Commission’s decision on appeal. The national organization appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing that the Commission defined “expenditures” too broadly. The Supreme Court concluded the Commission reasonably interpreted the campaign finance statute to include agreements to purchase television advertising, even when these agreements were not legally binding. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the Commission’s order. View "Republican Governors Association v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Relators were entitled to a limited writ of mandamus ordering Respondents, the members of the Columbus City Council, to find sufficient a proposed municipal ordinance initiative and to proceed with the process for an initiative ordinance under Columbus City Charter Section 43-1 et seq.Relators sought a writ of mandamus to compel Respondents to submit to Columbus city electors a proposed municipal ordinance initiative on the May 4, 2021 primary election ballot. The council refused to submit the initiative to electors, finding that the initiative petition was deficient in form. The Supreme Court granted a limited writ, holding (1) the council abused its discretion in finding that the petition was insufficient; and (2) a limited writ of mandamus requiring the council to move forward with the process set forth in section 43-1 et seq. was proper. View "State ex rel. Gil-Llamas v. Hardin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the Montana Republican Party and denying the motion for summary judgment filed by the Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) in this campaign finance complaint, holding that the district court did not err in determining that COPP lacked authority to issue a subpoena for production of documents.The Montana Democratic Party filed a campaign finance complaint with COPP alleging that the Montana Republican Party had failed to comply with statutory reporting and disclosure requirements. As part of its investigation, COPP issued a subpoena for production of documents, commanding the Republican Party to produce specified documents relating to campaign practices and expenditures. COPP issued the subpoena pursuant to the authority of Mont. Code Ann. 13-37-111. The district court granted summary judgment to the Republican Party, concluding that section 13-37-111 did not confer COPP with the authority to issue subpoenas for documents. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err. View "Commissioner of Political Practices v. Republican Party" on Justia Law

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In December 2020, Jackson and Pope each filed a statement as an independent candidate for village president. Jackson's petition had 50 voter signatures. Pope's had 32 signatures. An objection alleged that the number of signatures was insufficient under 10 ILCS 5/10-3. At an Electoral Board hearing, Schmidt, the Glendale Heights clerk and election official, testified that the Du Page County Clerk’s Office sent an e-mail indicating that “due to COVID, we are reducing the points of contact, here is a list of forms.” Schmidt stated that she read the State Board of Elections 2021 Candidate’s Guide, and, relying on the numbers “for non-partisan” elections, concluded that 24 signatures were required. Schmidt admitted that she did not understand the distinction between independent and nonpartisan. She acknowledged that she was never notified that the statutorily required number of signatures had been reduced because of the pandemic. Both candidates testified that they relied on Schmidt's representations.The Board overruled the objection, finding that both candidates justifiably relied on Schmidt’s statements and excusing their statutory violations. The trial and appellate courts affirmed.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, noting that the lowest possible correctly calculated number of signatures would be 118. While ballot access is a substantial right, the best safeguard of that right is fidelity to the Election Code and not unrestrained discretion by a local election official inexplicably confused about the statutory distinction between partisan and nonpartisan elections. A precise mathematical formula, clear and certain in its application, prevents impermissible political bias. View "Corbin v. Schroeder" on Justia Law