Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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Organizations involved in voter outreach in Tennessee and one individual Tennessee voter sued Tennessee government officials involved in election enforcement, challenging the Tennessee statutory scheme that governs absentee voting. On September 9, the district court granted a preliminary injunction, prohibiting the enforcement of Tenn. Code 2-2-115(b)(7), which prevents individuals who registered to vote by submitting a registration form online or by mail from voting absentee during the first election after they had registered.The Sixth Circuit denied a motion to stay that injunction. Disrupting the new rules at this point would pose a significant risk of harm to the public interest in orderly elections, while there is no substantial harm to defendants in continuing to comply with rules they are currently following. The defendants did not file their appeal of the preliminary injunction until nearly one month after it went into effect. During the period between September 9, the day of issuance of the preliminary injunction, and October 15, the day the plaintiffs’ response was filed, both absentee voting and early in-person voting had begun in Tennessee. View "Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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After plaintiffs filed suit challenging Texas's absentee-ballot system in August 2019, the district court granted plaintiffs' summary judgment motion in part, issuing an injunction adopting many of plaintiffs' proposed changes to Texas's election procedures. The injunction included three main provisions regarding the 2020 election: first, the district court required the Secretary to issue an advisory, within ten days, notifying local election officials of the injunction, and the notification must inform them that rejecting ballots because of mismatching signatures is unconstitutional unless the officials take actions that go beyond those required by state law; second, the Secretary must either issue an advisory to local election officials requiring them to follow the district court's newly devised signature verification and voter-notification procedures, or else promulgate an advisory requiring that officials cease rejecting ballots with mismatched signatures altogether; and third, the district court mandated that the Secretary take action against any election officials who fail to comply with the district court's newly minted procedures.The Fifth Circuit considered the Nken factors and granted the Secretary's motion to stay the district court's injunction pending appeal, because the Secretary is likely to succeed in showing that Texas's signature-verification procedures are constitutional. The court held that the Secretary is likely to show that plaintiffs have alleged no cognizable liberty or property interest that could serve to make out a procedural due process claim. Given the failure of plaintiffs and the district court to assert that voting—or, for that matter, voting by mail—constitutes a liberty interest, along with the absence of circuit precedent supporting that position, the court stated that the Secretary is likely to prevail in showing that plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on their due process claim should have been denied. The court rejected the district court's reasoning regarding any state-created liberty interest. Even if voting is a protected liberty or property interest, the court held that the Secretary is likely to show that the district court used the wrong test for the due process claim. The court held that the Anderson/Burdick framework provides the appropriate test for plaintiffs' due process claims and Texas's signature-verification procedures are reasonable and nondiscriminatory, and they survive scrutiny under the Anderson/Burdick framework. In this case, Texas's important interest in reducing voter fraud—and specifically in stymying mail-in ballot fraud—justifies its use of signature verification.The court also held that the Secretary is likely to prevail in her defense that sovereign immunity bars the district court's injunction requiring that she issue particular advisories and take specific potential enforcement action against noncomplying officials. Finally, the remaining Nken factors counsel in favor of granting a stay pending appeal where the Secretary will be irreparably injured absent a stay, public interest favors granting a stay, and the balance of harms weighs in favor of the Secretary. View "Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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Jerry NeSmith earned enough support to be placed on the ballot for the office of district commissioner for the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government. NeSmith died just three days before Election Day. In addition to the personal loss of his family and friends, NeSmith’s death before Election Day ultimately resulted in an electoral loss for his supporters, a number of whom joined to bring suit in superior court challenging the results of the election. The Georgia Supreme Court found that because the applicable Georgia statutes dictated that votes cast on paper ballots for a candidate who died before Election Day were void, none of the votes cast for NeSmith had legal effect. Therefore, the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections properly applied Georgia law by voiding votes cast for NeSmith and declaring Jesse Houle the commissioner-elect for Athens-Clarke County Commission. The superior court order dismissing appellants' election challenge was affirmed. View "Rhoden, et al. v. Athens-Clarke County Bd. of Elections, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's lawsuit in which he sought to prevent Nebraska voters from amending provisions of the Delayed Deposit Services Licensing Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. 45-901 to 45-931, through a ballot initiative measure, holding that the district court did not err.The initiative measure, if adopted, would establish a statutory cap on the annual percentage rate that delayed deposit services licenses may charge. Plaintiff sought to enjoin the Secretary of State from including the petition on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot, asserting that 188 of the signatures in support of the initiative petition were invalid. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by dismissing the complaint and in declining to grant Defendant leave to amend. View "Chaney v. Evnen" on Justia Law

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Tennessee voters must apply to vote absentee. The county administrator of elections determines whether the voter has established eligibility to vote absentee, and compares the signature of the voter on the request with the signature on the voter’s registration record. Voters who qualify to vote absentee receive a ballot, an inner envelope and an outer envelope, and instructions. The inner envelope has an affidavit; the voter must verify that he is eligible to vote in the election. The ballot must be received no later than when the polls close. Upon receipt by mail of the absentee ballot, the administrator "shall open only the outer envelope and compare the voter’s signature on the [affidavit] with the voter’s signature" on the registration record. If the administrator determines the signatures do not match, the ballot is rejected; the voter is “immediately” notified in writing. Voters who are concerned that their absentee ballot might be rejected may cast a provisional ballot before being notified of a rejection.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction to prohibit the enforcement of the signature verification procedures. The plaintiffs cannot cite with certainty or specification any past erroneous rejection of an absentee ballot; their speculative allegations of harm are insufficient to establish standing. The plaintiffs have not demonstrated that anyone whose ballot may be erroneously rejected will ultimately be unable to vote, either absentee or by provisional ballot; there is no evidence that anyone’s constitutional rights are likely to be infringed. View "Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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Initiative Measure 976 (I-976) was the latest in a series of initiatives about reducing or eliminating local motor vehicle excise taxes, including taxes that have been pledged to support major transportation projects in Washington state. Authorized regional transit authorities were empowered to ask their voters to approve transportation system proposals and financing secured by local taxes and fees, including local motor vehicle excise taxes. The legislature also empowered local transportation benefit districts and other local governments to impose taxes, including motor vehicle excise taxes, and fees to fund local transportation projects and to seek voter approval for additional funding. I-976 passed statewide with about 53 percent of the vote, though it was rejected by about 53 percent of the voters in the Sound Transit region, about 60 percent of King County voters, and about 70 percent of San Juan voters, who depended heavily on ferries funded by motor vehicle excise taxes. Several counties, cities, associations and private citizens (collectively challengers) challenged I-976’s constitutionality, arguing that I-976 contained multiple subjects in violation of article II, section 19’s single subject requirement. They also argued I-976 violated section 19’s subject-in-title requirement because the ballot title falsely suggested voter-approved motor vehicle taxes would not be repealed. The challengers successfully sought a preliminary injunction in King County Superior Court to block its implementation. The trial judge initially concluded that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the grounds that the ballot title was misleading. The Washington Supreme Court concurred I-976 contained more than one subject, and its subject was not accurately expressed in its title. Accordingly, I-976 was declared unconstitutional. View "Garfield Cty. Transp. Auth. v. Washington" on Justia Law

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In late August 2020, Yazzie initiated an action challenging Arizona's Receipt Deadline pursuant to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, and the Arizona Constitution's election clause. The complaint alleges that Navajo Nation reservation residents face myriad challenges to voting by mail where many on-reservation members do not have home mail service. Rather, to receive or send mail, they must travel to a post office. Furthermore, socioeconomic factors, educational disadvantages, and language barriers make both the travel to the post office—which requires access to a car—and the completion of mail ballots difficult. Yazzie also claims that these mail ballots take disproportionately longer to reach the county recorder's office because of the slower mail service on the reservation. In late September 2020, the district court denied Yazzie's motion for preliminary injunction based on its finding that Yazzie did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits or raise serious questions going to the merits of Yazzie's VRA claim.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Yazzie's request for a preliminary injunction. The panel did not address the district court's analysis of the VRA claim because it concluded that Yazzie and the other plaintiffs lack standing. The panel stated that not only does Yazzie fail to make a clear showing of a concrete and particularized injury, noticeably absent in the record is any particularized allegation with respect to any of the six individual plaintiffs. The panel also stated that, importantly, this case is not a putative class action filed on behalf of the Navajo Nation members who reside on the reservation. In this case, Yazzie failed to establish injury-in-fact for at least one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The panel concluded that also missing is a clear showing that the alleged injury is redressable by a favorable decision by this court. View "Yazzie v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting a motion to dismiss filed by the Arkansas Secretary of State Appellant's complaint seeking to strike two proposed constitutional amendments, Issue 2 and Issue 3, from the general election ballot on November 3, 2020, holding that the circuit court did not err.On appeal, Appellant argued that the circuit court erred in ruling that the ballot titles were sufficient and that Issue 3 did not violate Ark. Const. art. XIX, 22. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) article 19, section 22 governs the ballot titles of Issue 2 and Issue 3; (2) the circuit court properly ruled that Issue 2 and Issue 3 comply with the requirements of article 19, section 22; and (3) the circuit court did not err in ruling that Issue 3 did not violate article 19, section 22. View "Steele v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of Stay Strong, Status Quo's appeal of a certified election petition, holding that there was no error on the part of the circuit court.In this election petition, Stay Strong, Status Quo, a local-option ballot-question committee, and Bevans Family Limited Partnership (together, Stay Strong) opposed Van Buren County Clerk Pam Bradford's certification of a local-option petition sponsored by Local Option Ballot Question Committee Let Van Buren County Vote (Sponsor). The circuit court dismissed the certification appeal without holding a hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err by dismissing the appeal without first taking evidence or holding a hearing; (2) the circuit court did not err by concluding that the petition form was valid; (3) the circuit court did not err in finding that there were sufficient signatures for certification; and (4) Stay Strong's argument for reversal based on the timing of its statutory appeal was unavailing. View "Stay Strong, Status Quo v. Bradford" on Justia Law

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In this election action, the Supreme Court affirmed as modified the decision of the circuit court dismissing David Tollett's complaint in intervention with prejudice, holding that the circuit court did not clearly err in dismissing Tollett's complaint in invention because of his failure to comply with the rules of civil procedure.Lisa Ramey filed an amended complaint for the issuance of a writ of mandamus, declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief alleging that Jimmie Wilson filed to be the Democrat Party's candidate for state representative but was ineligible to serve as a member of the General Assembly. Tollett filed a motion to intervene, along with a proposed complaint in intervention. The circuit court dismissed Ramey's amended complaint for a lack of standing. The court also dismissed Tollett's complaint due to his failure to serve Wilson with either his motion to intervene or his proposed complaint in intervention. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding that dismissal was warranted but that the circuit court's decision should be modified to a dismissal without prejudice. View "Tollett v. Wilson" on Justia Law