Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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On November 6, 2020, the Washington Supreme Court entered a unanimous order affirming the superior court’s decision to allow the recall effort against Benton County Sheriff Gerald Hatcher to proceed. Sergeant Jason Erickson filed the petition to recall Sheriff Hatcher after 90 percent of the Benton County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild (Guild) met and unanimously voted to pursue recall. The recall petition alleged 26 separate charges that, assuming the truth of the allegations, illustrated a toxic and authoritarian culture that Sheriff Hatcher created since his appointment in 2017. The Benton County Prosecutor’s Office (BCPO) categorized the 26 allegations into 8 charges for the purposes of the ballot synopsis. The superior court found all charges to be legally and factually sufficient. Sheriff Hatcher appealed this determination as to all charges. The Supreme Court found all charges were legally and factually sufficient. "Recall petitions are read broadly, as a whole, and in favor of the voter. The recall petitioner has alleged facts that, when viewed through that lens, establish a prima facie case of misfeasance, malfeasance, and unlawful conduct for each charge made against Sheriff Hatcher, for which there is no reasonable justification." Accordingly all eight charges contained in the ballot synopsis were allowed to proceed to the voters. View "In re Recall of Hatcher" on Justia Law

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On September 10, 2020, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order affirming the trial court in part and reversing in part a recall petition filed against Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. Sheriff Fortney challenged the trial court’s finding that four of five recall charges filed against him were factually and legally sufficient. Fortney’s first four months in office were beset by multiple controversies. In January 2020, Fortney rehired three deputies who had been terminated by the former sheriff for serious misconduct. In March 2020, Fortney wrote a Facebook post to justify a deputy’s use of physical force on a woman after a jaywalking incident. Then in April 2020, Fortney publicly accused Governor Jay Inslee of mishandling the COVID-19 crisis and stated that he would refuse to enforce the governor’s “Stay Home – Stay Healthy” proclamation. In May 2020, four voters responded to Fortney’s actions by filing multiple recall charges against him, initiating Washington’s recall process pursuant to RCW 29A.56.110-.270. After a hearing at the superior court, the trial court found four of the recall charges were factually and legally sufficient. The court rejected the charge related to the Snohomish County Jail, concluding that the petitioners had not met their burden to allege specific facts and legal standards to show Fortney violated his duties. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's ruling that the incitement charge and the rehiring charge were factually and legally sufficient. Those charges, along with the unchallenged refusal-to-enforce charge, were permitted to proceed to the signature gathering phase. View "In re Recall of Fortney" on Justia Law

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Sponsors of an initiative that would revise taxation for a defined set of oil producers filed a superior court complaint seeking declaratory judgment that the lieutenant governor’s initiative ballot summary was not true and impartial. The superior court held that one ballot summary sentence included “partisan suasion” by weighing in on a disputed initiative provision’s meaning, and the court ordered that sentence deleted. The lieutenant governor appealed, arguing that the disputed sentence was fair and impartial, but requesting that, if the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, the Supreme Court allow the lieutenant governor to insert a proposed replacement sentence. After expedited briefing and oral arguments, the Supreme Court issued a brief order affirming the court’s ruling and judgment but allowing, at the lieutenant governor’s discretion, the portion of the proposed replacement sentence to which the sponsors had no objection. The Supreme Court stated that “[a]n opinion explaining the reasoning for this order will follow at a later date.” This opinion set forth the reasons for the earlier order. View "Alaska Office of Lieutenant Governor, Division of Elections v. Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share" on Justia Law

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The Rockland County, New York school district is 65.7% white, 19.1% black, 10.7% Latino, and 3.3% Asian. In 2017-2018, 8,843 students attended public schools, while 29,279 students attended private schools, primarily Jewish yeshivas; 92% of public school students are black or Latino, while 98% of private-school students are white. School board candidates run for a specific seat in at-large elections; all eligible district voters vote in each race. Influential members of the private-school community have an informal slating process by which Board candidates are selected and promoted. An Orthodox Rabbi controls a slating organization that has secured victory for the white community’s preferred candidate in each contested election. Although the Organization has slated some successful minority candidates, minority voters did not prefer these candidates. Only those with connections to the Organization have been selected. When vetted, candidates were not asked about their policy views.The Second Circuit affirmed that the election system resulted in dilution of black and Latino votes, violating the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. 10301. The Act does not require a finding that racial motivations caused election results. The court properly relied on expert findings, that used data derived through Bayesian Improved Surname Geocoding rather than the traditional Citizen Voting Age Population data. The totality of the circumstances supports a finding of impermissible vote dilution, given the near-perfect correlation between race and school-type; the scant evidence that policy preferences caused election results; the blatant neglect of minority needs; the lack of minority-preferred election success; the white-dominated slating organization; and the District's bad faith throughout the litigation. View "Clerveaux v. East Ramapo Central School District" on Justia Law

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Consolidated cases involved constitutional challenges to amendments to Michigan's Election Law. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the challenges did not present a justiciable controversy. A few months after the amendments took effect, the Michigan Attorney General issued a written opinion that they violated the state and federal Constitutions. Plaintiffs, League of Women Voters of Michigan (LWV), Michiganders for Fair and Transparent Elections (MFTE), Henry Mayers, Valeriya Epshteyn, and Barry Rubin (collectively, the LWV plaintiffs), sued the Secretary of State, seeking a declaratory judgment that the amendments were unconstitutional along the same lines as the Attorney General suggested. LWV was described in the complaint as a nonpartisan group focused on voting and democratic rights. The individual plaintiffs were Michigan voters and MFTE was a ballot-question committee that, at the time the complaint was filed, intended to circulate petitions to amend the Constitution. A few weeks after the LWV plaintiffs brought their action, the Legislature also filed suit against the Secretary of State, requesting a declaratory judgment that the amendments were constitutional. The Michigan Supreme Court granted the Legislature’s motion to intervene, and held the Legislature had standing to appeal when the Attorney General abandons her role in defending a statute against constitutional attack in court. Then the Supreme Court concluded that case was moot as to the lead plaintiff, MFTE, because it no longer pursued its ballot initiative. As no other plaintiff had standing to pursue the appeal, the Supreme Court vacated the lower-court decisions. Finally, in light of this analysis, the Court affirmed on alternative grounds the Court of Appeals’ holding that the Legislature had no standing in its case against the Secretary of State, Docket No. 160908. Accordingly, both cases were remanded back to the trial court for dismissal. View "League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Secy. of State" on Justia Law

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Five Asian-American residents sued the City of Santa Clara (City) contending that at-large elections for the office of city council violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (Elec. Code, 14025-14032). The trial court agreed that occurrences of racially polarized voting impaired the ability of Asian-American voters, as a result of vote dilution, to elect their preferred candidates to Santa Clara’s seven-member city council. It ordered the City to implement district-based city council elections and awarded attorney fees and costs to the plaintiffs totaling more than $3 million.The court of appeal affirmed. Racially polarized voting in five of 10 city council elections satisfied the standard for a cognizable voting rights claim, which required a showing that the majority voting bloc in Santa Clara’s electorate “usually” voted to defeat the candidate preferred by Asian-American voters. The trial court did not err in assigning more weight to certain elections and appropriately used statistical evidence to support its findings of racially polarized voting. The imposition of “race-based districts” did not violate the Equal Protection Clause nor did it impinge the City’s plenary authority as a charter city under the California Constitution to control the manner and method of electing its officers. View "Yumori-Kaku v. City of Santa Clara" on Justia Law

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Two days after Wisconsin certified the results of its 2020 election, the President invoked the Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution and sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Governor, Secretary of State, and several local officials. The district court concluded that the President’s challenges lacked merit, as he objected only to the administration of the election, yet the Electors Clause only addresses the authority of the State’s Legislature to prescribe the manner of appointing its presidential electors. The court concluded that the President’s claims would fail even under a broader, alternative reading of the Electors Clause that extended to a state’s conduct of the presidential election.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wisconsin lawfully appointed its electors in the manner directed by its Legislature. The President’s claim also fails because of the unreasonable delay that accompanied the challenges the President now wishes to advance against Wisconsin’s election procedures. The Supreme Court has indicated that federal courts should avoid announcing or requiring changes in election law and procedures close in time to voting. The President had a full opportunity before the election to pursue challenges to Wisconsin law underlying his present claims; he cannot now—after the election results have been certified as final— seek to bring those challenges. View "Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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The City filed a complaint for declaratory relief to establish whether Measure P, the Fresno Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Tax Ordinance, has been duly enacted through the voters' initiative power. On the same day the City filed its action, FBHC filed its own complaint for declaratory relief and petition for writ of mandate, seeking a declaration declaring that Measure P had been duly enacted.The Court of Appeal consolidated the cases and endorsed the holdings and reasoning of All Persons City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 703, 708. Finding that All Persons was controlling in this case, the court concluded that neither Proposition 13 nor Proposition 218 affects the voters' initiative power, and therefore neither imposes a two-thirds voting requirement on the passage of voter initiatives that impose special taxes. The court rejected the Association's policy argument, noting that the Association's policy concerns are best addressed by the Legislature. The court reversed the judgments; on the City's action, the court ordered the trial court to enter a new judgment in favor of FBHC declaring that Measure P has passed; and on FBHC's action, the court directed the trial court to enter a new judgment granting FBHC's request for declaratory relief and declaring that Measure P has passed. View "City of Fresno v. Fresno Building Healthy Communities" on Justia Law

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Following a narrow loss to David Archie in the Hinds County Mississippi Board of Supervisors for District 2 Primary Election, Darrell McQuirter filed a Petition to Contest Qualifications of Archie as nominee for supervisor, claiming that Archie was not a resident of District 2 at the time of the primary election. The Hinds County circuit court found in favor of Archie. Specifically, the trial court found Archie established he domicile within Hinds County District 2. The record did not indicate that the trial judge acted alone. But the trial judge’s final order did not expressly mention elections commissioners’ concurrences, and there was no evidence of any dissent. McQuirter argued on appeal: (1) the trial judge erred by failing to allow the election commissioners to either concur or dissent on either the record or in the trial judge’s order; and (2) the trial court erred by finding that Archie qualified as a resident of the district. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded McQuirter bore the burden of supplying the Court with evidence through the record that established his claim of error, but failed to do so. If the requisite number of election commissioners attend and none dissent, per the applicable statute, the “facts shall not be subject to appellate review.” A majority of the Supreme Court found the statute did not require concurrences of commissioner be placed in the record: "Together, Sections 23-15-931 and -933 bar appellate review of the factual findings without evidence of any commissioner’s dissent or lack of attendance, not concurrence. Here, the commissioners were in attendance, and none dissented." If actual dissents existed, the Court held McQuirter had a duty to supply the Court with a record that evidenced a dissent or the inability to provide record of a dissent; the trial judge’s lack of indicating the commissioners’ concurrence does not suggest that one or more had dissented. The Court thus determined review of Archie's residence was precluded. Judgement of the trial court was affirmed. View "McQuirter v. Archie" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed this election complaint challenging the result of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OAH) at-large trustee election in the November 3, 2020 general election, holding that Plaintiff Keoni Souza did not provide specific facts or actual information of mistakes, errors, or irregularities sufficient to change the result of the election.Souza was a candidate in the OHA at-large trustee election. Keli'i Akina received the highest number of votes, and Souza received 1,623 fewer votes than Akina. In this complaint, Souza asserted five claims for relief, alleging, among other things, that Act 135, as codified at Haw. Rev. Stat. 11-158, is arbitrary and that a recount was warranted. The Supreme Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, holding (1) Souza failed to demonstrate that Act 135 is arbitrary or flawed such that the results of the OHA at-large trustee election would be different; and (2) Souza was not entitled to relief on any remaining allegations of error. View "Souza v. Ige " on Justia Law