Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the enforcement of portions of Mo. Rev. Stat. 115.302, which provides for voting by mail-in ballot due to the ongoing global pandemic. Plaintiffs alleged that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating mail-in ballots differently than absentee ballots, requiring the former to be returned by mail only while allowing the latter to be returned by mail or in-person, either from the voter himself or a relative within the second degree of consanguinity. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiffs and the Secretary entered a temporary administrative stay of the preliminary injunction.The Eighth Circuit granted the Secretary's motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. The court held that the Secretary has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, under the Anderson-Burdick standard, that the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by USPS mail is a minimal burden and a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction. The Secretary has also shown that the State will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not grant the stay, and that the remaining factors of injury to other parties and the public's interest weigh in favor of granting the motion to stay. View "Organization for Black Struggle v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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The City of Houston contends that it is being sued for a so-called "zombie" law. The City's Charter allows only registered voters to circulate petitions for initiatives and referenda, even though the Supreme Court held a similar law unconstitutional twenty years ago. Plaintiffs, Trent and Trey Pool, sought a preliminary injunction allowing them to collect signatures for their anti-pay-to-play petition as well as a declaratory judgment that the Charter's voter-registration and residency provisions are unconstitutional, permanent injunctive relief against enforcement of those provisions, and nominal damages. Plaintiffs also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which would allow them to circulate the petition through the deadline of July 9, 2019. The district court granted a TRO, allowing plaintiffs to circulate the petition for the next week, but concluded that plaintiffs had not demonstrated an injury sufficient to support standing with regard to future petitions. The district court later dismissed plaintiffs' remaining claims. Although the City now concedes that the qualified-voter requirement is unconstitutional, at issue is whether plaintiffs may obtain a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement.The Fifth Circuit held that, although there would not usually be a reasonable fear of continued enforcement of a zombie law, the history of Houston's qualified-voter requirement gives Trent Pool standing to seek an injunction that would guard against continued chilling of his speech. The court also held that the City has not met its heavy burden of showing that plaintiffs' challenges are moot. Therefore, because there is a reasonable concern that the City might enforce its unconstitutional Charter provision, the court reversed the judgment dismissing this case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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On October 14, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar's (“Secretary”) application in its King’s Bench jurisdiction to consider her request for declaratory relief, limited to answering: “Whether the Election Code authorizes or requires county election boards to reject voted absentee or mail-in ballots during pre-canvassing and canvassing based on signature analysis where there are alleged or perceived signature variances?” IThe Court responded that the Election Code did not authorize or require county election boards to reject absentee or mail-in ballots during the canvassing process based on an analysis of a voter’s signature on the “declaration” contained on the official ballot return envelope for the absentee or mail-in ballot. The Court, therefore, granted the Secretary’s petition for declarative relief, and directed the county boards of elections not to reject absentee or mail-in ballots for counting, computing, and tallying based on signature comparisons conducted by county election officials or employees, or as the result of third-party challenges based on such comparisons. View "In Re: Nov 3, 2020 General Election" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit denied the motion for an administrative stay and stay pending appeal of the district court's injunction in a dispute relating to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. 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. The section states that the governor "shall issue a writ calling for a special election to be conducted on the second Tuesday in February of the year following the year the vacancy in nomination occurred"—in this case, February 9, 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 court held that appellant is not likely to succeed on the merits of his contention that section 204B.13, as applied to the current situation, may coexist with the federal election laws. The court stated that even if the death of a Republican or Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate could qualify as an exigent circumstance that would allow the State to cancel an election and trigger a vacancy in office, it is unlikely that the rationale would extend to the death of a third-party candidate from a party with the modest electoral strength exhibited to date by the Legal Marijuana Now Party in Minnesota. Furthermore, that a short period of uncertainty affected campaign fundraising and tactical decisions by the candidates also does not justify a stay of the injunction without a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sued to have the Thurston County Superior Court order the removal of one allegedly defamatory line in the voters’ guide pamphlet from challenger Maia Espinoza’s candidate statement. The superior court agreed that there was a substantial likelihood Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit based on Espinoza’s statement. Using a supervisory power conferred by RCW 29A.32.090(3)(b), the superior court ordered the secretary of state to edit out the offending line. Espinoza sought accelerated direct review, which the Washington Supreme Court granted. Because Reykdal was a public figure, he had to show “actual malice” to succeed in a defamation suit. The Supreme Court found the superior court made no findings regarding actual malice, and thus granted Reykdal’s request in error. Because there was no likelihood that Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its application of the statute. View "Reykdal v. Espinoza" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court denying Plaintiffs' temporary injunction request seeking to invalidate the legislature's statute providing additional election safeguards, holding that the statute does not impose a significant burden on absentee voters.The state election law at issue requires that county auditors contact an applicant when they receive a defective absentee ballot request that omits or contains incorrect statutorily required identification information in order to obtain the required identification information. Plaintiffs argued that such a requirement, as opposed to county auditors attempting to correct the defective requests without additional contact with the applicant, imposes a severe burden on the right to vote. The Supreme Court declined to set aside the state law for purposes of the November 3, 2020 election, holding that the district court did not err in denying Plaintiffs' temporary injunction request. View "League of United Latin American Citizens Of Iowa v. Pate" on Justia Law

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Voter-advocacy organizations challenged Michigan statutes regulating absentee ballots and mandating that no one “hire a motor vehicle or other conveyance or cause the same to be done, for conveying voters, other than voters physically unable to walk, to an election." Michigan Attorney General Nessel was the named defendant; permissive intervenor status was granted to both houses of the Michigan Legislature, and the Republican Party. The court rejected challenges to the absentee-ballot statute but preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the voter-transportation law. When the intervenors sought an emergency stay of the injunction pending appeal, Nessel declined to take a position. The district court denied the intervenors’ motion.The Sixth Circuit granted an emergency stay. The legislature has standing to appeal. The state statute is likely not preempted by federal law, the Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. 30143. The balance of equities weighs in favor of staying the order. The harm to the legislature without a stay would be irreparable: election day will only happen once, and the legislature will lose its ability to regulate paid voter transportation for that election. The harm to the voter-advocacy organizations appears modest. There are other ways, without violating Michigan’s statute, to take voters to the polls. With the expansion of mailed ballots in Michigan, there are likely fewer voters who need to be driven to the polls. The public interest lies in elections conducted with a minimum of fraud and in free elections, in which as many eligible voters can vote as desire to. View "Priorities USA v. Nessel" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit declined to enjoin the North Carolina State Board of Elections's extension of its deadline for the receipt of absentee ballots for the ongoing general election. The court explained that the only issue it must address now is plaintiffs' request for an emergency injunction pending appeal regarding a single aspect of the procedures that the district court below refused to enjoin: an extension of the deadline for the receipt of mail-in ballots. The court explained that the change is simply an extension from three to nine days after Election Day for a timely ballot to be received and counted.Because plaintiffs have not established a likelihood of success on the merits of their equal protection claim—and because, in any event, Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006), and Andino v. Middleton, No. 20A55, 2020 WL 5887393 (U.S. Oct. 5, 2020), require that the court not intervene at this late stage—the court declined to enter an injunction pending appeal. The court also held that plaintiffs lack standing to raise their Elections Clause challenge. Even if they did not lack standing, the Pullman abstention doctrine strongly counsels the court against exercising jurisdiction over that claim. The court further held that all suggestions from the state courts point to the conclusion that the Board properly exercised its legislative delegation of authority, and there is no irreparable harm from a ballot extension. Finally, the balance of the equities is influenced heavily by Purcell and tilts against federal court intervention at this late stage, and Andino establishes that the appropriate status-quo framework is the status quo created by the state's actions, not by later federal court interventions. View "Wise v. Circosta" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the orders of the district court staying an emergency election directive issued by the Secretary of State concerning the 2020 general election, holding that the district court abused its discretion in issuing the stay.The directive stated that the Secretary will mail a blank absentee ballot request form with instructions to every Iowa voter for the November 3, 2020 general election. At issue was the second paragraph in the directive stating, "To ensure uniformity and to provide voters with consistent guidance on the absentee ballot application process, County Auditors shall distribute only the blank Official State of Iowa Absentee Ballot Request Form..." When county auditors in three counties began mailing absentee ballot applications to registered voters that were refilled with individual voter information, various Republican campaign organizations filed petitions for injunctive relief. The district courts enjoined the county auditors from accepting prepopulated forms. Several Democratic campaign organizations filed an emergency motion to stay in Polk County seeking to block enforcement of the second paragraph of the directive. The district court granted a statewide stay of enforcement of the Secretary's order. The Supreme Court vacated the stay, holding that Iowa Code 53.2 authorized the Secretary's directive and that other grounds did not support the district court's ruling. View "Iowa Secretary of State v. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee" on Justia Law