Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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In 2015, plaintiffs filed suit challenging Alabama's 2011 Photo Voter Identification Law passed by the Alabama legislature as House Bill 19 and codified at Ala. Code 17-9-30. The voter ID law took effect in June 2014 and requires all Alabama voters to present a photo ID when casting in-person or absentee votes. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the law has a racially discriminatory purpose and effect that violates the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, holding that plaintiffs failed to identify any genuine disputes of material facts and no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the evidence presented, that Alabama's voter ID law is discriminatory. The court held that the burden of providing a photo ID pursuant to Ala. Code 17-9-30 in order to vote is a minimal burden on Alabama's voters—especially when Alabama accepts so many different forms of photo ID and makes acquiring one simple and free for voters who lack a valid ID but wish to obtain one. Therefore, the Alabama voter ID law does not violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the Voting Rights Act. View "Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Democrats were elected as the governor and attorney general of Wisconsin, replacing Republicans. Immediately after the election, the Republican-controlled legislature enacted Act 369 and Act 370, which strip the incoming governor and attorney general of various powers and vest legislative committees that remained under Republican control with formerly-executive authority. The changes include prohibiting the governor from re-nominating potential appointees who have been rejected once by the legislature; giving the legislature authority to suspend an administrative rule multiple times; removing the governor’s ability to appoint the CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation; adding legislative appointees to the Economic Development Corporation; requiring that the attorney general obtain legislative approval before withdrawing from a lawsuit filed by the state government or settling a lawsuit for injunctive relief; and granting the legislature unrestricted rights to intervene in litigation to defend the constitutionality or validity of state law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 claiming violations of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Guarantee Clause of Article IV, Section 4 of the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs have not pointed to any concrete harms they have suffered or will suffer because of the Acts and are not entitled to any remedy under the Constitution. Any judicial remedy for the alleged harms must come from the courts of Wisconsin. View "Democratic Party of Wisconsin v. Vos" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed for want of jurisdiction the petition for writ of mandamus brought by Republican Party of Texas (Party) directing the City of Houston and Houston First Corporation "to perform their obligations" in connection with the 2020 State Convention after Houston First terminated the parties' agreement to license the George R. Brown Convention Center to the Republican Party for the convention, holding that the petition did not properly invoke the Supreme Court's mandamus authority. Houston First's termination letter invoked a force majeure clause in the parties' agreement and cited the COVID-19 epidemic in Houston. The Party sought to compel the City and Houston First to perform their "duty imposed by law" in connection with he holding of a political party convention under Tex. Elec. Code 273.061. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding (1) the "duty imposed by law" in section 273.061 is limited to a duty imposed by a constitution, statute, city charter, or city ordinance; and (2) because Houston First's only duty to allow the Party use of the Center for its Convention is under the terms of the parties' agreement, the Party's petition did not properly invoke the Supreme Court's mandamus authority. View "In re Republican Party of Texas" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, the chairs of the California Assembly and Senate committees that consider election-related matters prepared a formal letter to Governor Gavin Newsom indicating they were working on legislation to ensure Californians could vote by mail in light of the emergency occasioned by COVID-19. The Governor issued Executive Order No. N-64-20 on May 8, 2020, which required all voters to be provided vote-by-mail ballots. That order affirmed, however, that the administration continued to work “in partnership with the Secretary of State and the Legislature on requirements for in-person voting opportunities and how other details of the November election will be implemented” and “[n]othing in this Order is intended, or shall be construed, to limit the enactment of legislation on that subject.” The order was signed on June 3, 2020. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review concerned an order of the Sutter County Superior Court, entered on June 12, 2020, granting a temporary restraining order against the Executive Order, finding it constituted “an impermissible use of legislative powers in violation of the California Constitution and the laws of the State of California.” The Court of Appeal determined there was no basis for the superior court to grant real parties in interest relief using ex parte procedures prescribed by California law. "The hearing on the ex parte application, conducted only one day after the underlying action was filed in superior court, was held without proper notice to the Governor or his appearance. Apart from these procedural deficiencies, real parties in interest also failed to make the requisite substantive showing for use of an ex parte proceeding. In short, the real parties in interest failed to present competent evidence establishing imminent harm from the Governor’s executive order requiring immediate action." View "Newsome v. Superior Court (Gallagher)" on Justia Law