Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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In this case involving a consent judgment and decree entered on July 30, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, effective for the September and November 2020 elections suspending Rhode Island's requirement that a voter using a mail ballot mark the ballot in the presence of two witnesses or a notary, the First Circuit reversed in part the district court's order denying a motion to intervene filed by the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Rhode Island (jointly, Republicans) and denied the Republicans' motion to stay the judgment and consent decree pending the outcome of the appeal, holding (1) the concerns in Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1, 5 (20016), that would normally support a stay are largely inapplicable and even militate against a stay; and (2) as to the Republicans' status as intervenors, the district court's order denying intervention is reversed in part. View "Common Cause Rhode Island v. Rhode Island Republican Party" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus sought by Douglas Bobovnyik to compel the Mahoning County Board of Elections to certify his name to the November 3, 2020 ballot as an independent candidate for the office of Mahoning County Sheriff, holding that the board did not abuse its discretion or disregard applicable law.The board found Bobovnyik ineligible to be a candidate for the officer of Mahoning County Sheriff because (1) Bobovnyik had not demonstrated that he had resided in Mahoning County for the year immediately preceding March 16, 2020, as required under Ohio Rev. Code 311.01(B)(2); and (2) the board had not received the results of Bobovnyik's background check, as required under Ohio Rev. Code 311.01(B)(6). Bobovnyik subsequently filed this mandamus action to compel the board to place his name on the ballot. The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding that the board's residency determination alone was sufficient to prevent Bobovnyik's name from being placed on the ballot. View "State ex rel. Bobovnyik v. Mahoning County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in issuing a temporary injunction enjoining the State from enforcing its current construction of the eligibility requirements for absentee voting stated in Tenn. Code Ann. 2-6-201(5)(C) and (D).The injunction temporarily mandated the State to provide any eligible Tennessee voter who applies to vote by mail in order to avoid transmission or contraction of COVID-19 an absentee ballot in upcoming elections. The mandate further mandated the State to implement the construction and application of section 2-6-201(5)(C) and (D) that any qualified voter who determines it it impossible or unreasonable to vote in person at a polling place due to the COVID-19 situation shall be eligible to check the box on the absentee ballot application that the person is ill or disabled and unable to appear at the person's polling place on election day. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's judgment, holding (1) as to persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19 or who are caretakers for such persons, the State is instructed to ensure that appropriate guidance is provided to Tennessee voters with respect to the eligibility of such persons to vote absentee by mail; and (2) as to the remaining voters, the trial court erred in issuing the temporary injunction. View "Lay v. Goins" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decision of the State Ballot Law Commission (SBLC) preventing Helen Brady from appearing on the September 1, 2020 State primary election ballot and ordered the Secretary to place Brady's name on the ballot, holding that the electronic filing process utilized by Brady complied with the substance of the material requirements of the decision in Goldstein v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 484 Mass. 516, 531-532 (2020).The SBLC struck all of the certified signatures that Brady, who sought to appear on the ballot for the Republican nomination for the office of United States representative for the Ninth Congressional District in Massachusetts, had secured from voters. Brady had gathered all of her voter signatures electronically and collected the required minimum number of signatures. The SBLC struck all of Brady's signatures on the ground that Brady failed to comply with the Goldstein process. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the SBLC decision, holding that the electronic signature gathering process Brady utilized complied in substance with the material requirements of Goldstein. View "Brady v. State Ballot Law Commission" on Justia Law

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Two plaintiffs sought to qualify to run as independent candidates for President of the United States in the 2020 election. Ohio law requires them to file a nominating petition with at least 5,000 signatures of qualified Ohio electors by August 5, 2020. Each individual circulating petitions for an independent candidate must sign a statement stating that they witnessed the signature. Other plaintiffs sought to gather signatures to nominate candidates for the November 2020 election and to form the Green Party as a minor political party under Ohio law. To attain that status, the Party must file a party formation petition by June 30, 2020, with signatures collected in person.The plaintiffs’ signature collection efforts were ongoing until the beginning of the pandemic. Ohio began issuing orders that restricted person-to-person contact, first prohibiting gatherings of 100 or more people then limiting gatherings to 50 people. On March 22, the state issued an order requiring Ohioans to stay at home. Each of the orders contained an explicit exception for conduct protected by the First Amendment. On April 30, as the stay-at-home order eased, Ohio continued to prohibit most “public and private gatherings,” but explicitly excepted First Amendment protected speech, including “petition and referendum circulators.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The ballot-access requirements, as applied, are not unconstitutionally burdensome in light of the orders restricting in-person gatherings. View "Hawkins v. DeWine" on Justia Law

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The Independent Party of Florida and the Party for Socialism and Liberation seek to place their presidential candidates on the ballot in Florida without satisfying the requirements of Fla. Stat. 103.021(4)(a)–(b). Under the law, minor parties may access the presidential ballot either by satisfying a one-percent signature requirement or by affiliating with a qualified national party.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the minor parties' motion for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of these requirements. The court first held that the Party for Socialism and Liberation has Article III standing. In this case, the party will be injured if its candidate is denied access to the ballot; the future injury is impending; the injury is fairly traceable; and the injury could be redressed by an injunction forbidding the Secretary to deny the party access to the ballot based on the challenged provisions.The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test to resolve equal-protection challenges to a ballot-access requirement and held that Florida's goal of accounting for the national interest in presidential elections justifies its decision to provide different paths to the ballot for minor parties that affiliate with a qualified national party and those that do not. Therefore, the minor parties are unlikely to succeed on their claims that the ballot-access requirements unconstitutionally burden their First Amendment rights and deny them equal protection of the laws. View "Independent Party of Florida v. Secretary, State of Florida" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Section 204D.13(2) of the Minnesota Statutes, which requires that major party candidates be listed on the ballot in reverse order of the parties' electoral showing in the last general election. Plaintiffs contend that the law irrationally disadvantages their preferred political candidates and is therefore unconstitutional. The district court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the law's enforcement and prescribed instead a lottery-based system of ordering candidates on Minnesota ballots. Political committees intervened and moved to stay the injunction.As a preliminary matter, the Eighth Circuit held that plaintiffs have Article III standing by alleging a cognizable and redressable injury fairly traceable to the statute. On the merits of the preliminary injunction, the court held that intervenors have shown that, absent a stay, they would be irreparably injured.As to intervenors' likelihood of success, the court held that, under the Anderson/Burdick standard, the burdens imposed by section 204D.13(2) do not unconstitutionally violate the rights asserted. The court considered the character and magnitude of the asserted injury, and observed that the statute does not in any way restrict voting or ballot access; the statute neither systematically advantages incumbents nor advantages the state’s most popular party; but, rather, the statute favors candidates from parties other than the one that received the most votes (on average) in the last general election. In this case, Minnesota's justifications are rationally related to placing political parties in reverse order of popularity and, by design, the statute cannot advantage the state's predominant party. Furthermore, incumbents cannot count on using the statute's operation to its advantage and the statute promotes political diversity. Therefore, the court granted the motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. View "Pavek v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rejecting a challenge to Pennsylvania’s ballot laws under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the district court concluded that enforcing the signature requirement, in combination with the Governor’s Orders issued to address the COVID-19 pandemic, imposed only a moderate burden. The court found that the plaintiffs had sufficient time and means to meet the signature requirements under Pennsylvania law, which were reduced by more than 90% in a 2018 suit and that the August 3 deadline for collecting signatures did not constitute a “severe burden” requiring strict scrutiny.The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court correctly applied the Supreme Court’s balancing test and the law survives intermediate scrutiny because it serves the Commonwealth’s legitimate and sufficiently important interests in “avoiding ballot clustering, ensuring viable candidates, and the orderly and efficient administration of elections.” View "Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania v. Governor of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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AVF is sponsoring a ballot initiative to amend the Arkansas Constitution’s redistricting provisions and began circulating a petition during the COVID–19 pandemic. The Arkansas Constitution and statutes require canvassers to attach to the petition an affidavit affirming that all the petition signatures were made in the presence of the canvasser. The plaintiffs claim they cannot comply with these requirements during the pandemic; all are particularly vulnerable to COVID–19 because of age or medical conditions. They claimed enforcement of the requirements during the pandemic would impermissibly burden their First Amendment rights to express their position on a political matter. The district court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of the requirements.The Eighth Circuit reversed. The district court erroneously applied strict scrutiny; neither requirement violates the First Amendment. The court noted that the right to a state initiative process is not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but is created by state law; states have considerable leeway to protect the integrity of the process. The Arkansas Code provides accommodations for individuals who require assistance signing an initiative petition and, even without those accommodations, there are simple ways to safely comply with the in-person signature requirement during the pandemic. The requirement imposes real burdens but not severe burdens, and serves important interests in preventing signatures from ineligible voters. View "Miller v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action challenging the "winner-take-all" aspect of South Carolina's process for appointing its nine Electors to the Electoral College.After determining that it has subject matter jurisdiction to address the merits of the appeal, the court held that the winner-take-all process does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because it does not treat any particular group of voters in the State differently; the winner-take-all process does not violate plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because it does not burden plaintiffs' right to freedom of association; and the winner-take-all process does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In this case, while plaintiffs allege that Black voters in South Carolina are a minority group sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district, the court stated that they fail to address what this means in the context of a statewide election. View "Baten v. McMaster" on Justia Law