Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Judicial Court accepted a report from the superior court submitting three questions of law concerning a people's veto effort seeking to suspend P.L. 2019, ch. 539 - entitled "An Act To Implement Ranked-choice Voting for Presidential Primary and General Elections in Maine" - through the November 2020 general election, answered the questions, and remanded the matter to the superior court for further proceedings.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court answered (1) the Second Regular Session of the 129th Legislature served as the “session of the Legislature in which [L.D. 1083] was passed,” Me. Const. art. IV, pt. 3, 16-17; (2) Public Law 2019, ch. 539, was set to become effective on June 15, 2020, “90 days after the recess of” the Second Regular Session and was suspended upon the filing of the people’s veto petition; and (3) Title 21-A Me. Rev. Stat. 901(1) sets only an end date for the filing of applications for a people’s veto and not a starting cutoff that would prohibit the early filing of an application prior to the Legislature’s adjournment. View "Payne v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the portion of the superior court's judgment dismissing the declaratory judgment count of Appellants' complaint seeking a declaration that a certain citizen initiative failed to meet the constitutional requirements for inclusion on the November 2020 ballot, holding that the initiative was unconstitutional and could not be submitted to the electors for popular vote.At issue was a citizen initiative that proposed a resolve that would reverse an order of the Maine Public Utilities Commission granting Central Maine Power Company's (CMP) request for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a 145-mile transmission line. Avangrid Networks, Inc., the company that owned CMP as a subsidiary, filed a complaint leading to the present litigation, seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the initiative's constitutionality was not subject to judicial review before the election. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that the initiative failed to meet the constitutional requirements for inclusion on the ballot because it exceeded the scope of the legislative powers conferred by article IV, part 3, section 18 of the Maine Constitution. View "Avangrid Networks, Inc. v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Margaret Parks and Veda Horton were candidates in the Democratic Primary runoff election for Humphreys County, Mississippi Tax Assessor and Collector. Horton received the most votes, and Parks contested the election. The circuit judge ruled that the primary should have been nullified and ordered a special election (a ruling not contested in this appeal). The circuit judge’s order was entered seven days after Horton was sworn. Parks moved the circuit court to declare her, the incumbent, the holdover officeholder, or, in the alternative, to declare the office vacant pending a special election. The circuit judge ruled that Horton was the lawful officeholder and denied the motion. This appeal challenged the circuit judge’s ruling, and the Mississippi Supreme Court had to consider whether the office should have been declared vacant or, if it was not, who the proper officeholder should have been until the new election is completed. The Supreme Court held that because Horton entered the term of office before the final adjudication of the election contest, under Mississippi Code Section 23-15-937, Horton was the lawful holder of the office until the special election. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the circuit judge’s decision to deny Parks’s motion to declare her the holdover officeholder or to declare the office vacant. View "In Re: Democratic Primary for Humphreys County Tax Assessor and Collector: Parks v. Horton" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Georgia under O.C.G.A. 15-2-9: Does O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 conflict with Georgia Constitution Article VI, Section VIII, Paragraph I(a) (or any other provision) of the Georgia Constitution? View "Gonzalez v. Governor of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Matthew Monforton's petition for judicial review of a final agency decision by the office of the Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) dismissing an ethics complaint that Monforton had lodged against Jonathan Motl based on statements that Motl had made during a radio interview, holding that Motl's statements did not violate Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-136(4) of the Montana Code of Ethics.In his complaint, Monforton alleged that Motl's statements during a radio interview constituted improper election advocacy in violation of section 2-2-121(3)(a), an ethics rule that prohibits public officers and employees from using "public time, facilities, [and] equipment" to "solicit support for or opposition to the...election of a person to public office." The deputy COPP dismissed the ethics complaint. The district court upheld the dismissal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court's decision to uphold the dismissal of Monforton's ethics complaint on the basis that Motl's statements did not constitute unlawful opposition to the election at issue under section 2-2-121(3)(a). View "Monforton v. Motl" on Justia Law

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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