Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's order of a preliminary injunction entered in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and candidates for delegate seats who, if elected, would be pledged to Yang and fellow Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders. Yang, his delegates, and the Sanders delegates challenged the New York State Board of Elections' decision to remove all qualified candidates from the ballot, with the exception of former Vice President Joseph Biden, and cancel the Democratic presidential primary. The Board cancelled the Democratic presidential primary based on the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that doing so would further the State's interests in minimizing social contacts to reduce the spread of the virus and in focusing its limited resources on the management of other contested primary elections. At issue in this appeal was whether Yang, his delegates, and the Sanders delegates have demonstrated an entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief that reverses the effects of the Board's decision by requiring Yang and Sanders to be reinstated to the ballot, and the Democratic presidential primary to be conducted along with the other primary elections set for June 23, 2020. The court held that plaintiffs and the Sanders delegates have adequately established their entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief on the basis that the Board's decision unduly burdened their rights of free speech and association. The court held that plaintiffs and the Sanders delegates have made a strong showing of irreparable harm absent injunctive relief; demonstrated a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments; and demonstrated that the balance of the equities tips in their favor and that the public interest would be served adequately by the district court's preliminary injunction. The court held that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in granting the application for a preliminary injunction, which was carefully tailored to secure the constitutional rights at stake and to afford the Board sufficient time and guidance to carry out its obligations to the electorate and to the general public. View "Yang v. Kosinski" on Justia Law

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Section 1513 of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act prevents the plaintiffs from making political contributions because they hold interests in businesses that have gaming licenses. They sued, claiming First Amendment and Equal Protection violations. The district court concluded that Section 1513 furthers a substantially important state interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption but ruled that the restriction is unconstitutional because the Commonwealth did not draw it closely enough. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of Section 1513. The Third Circuit affirmed. Limitations on campaign expenditures are subject to strict scrutiny. The government must prove that the regulations promote a “compelling interest” and are the “least restrictive means to further the articulated interest.” Even applying an intermediate threshold, examining whether the statute is “closely drawn,” the Commonwealth does not meet its burden. The overwhelming majority of states with commercial, non-tribal casino gambling like Pennsylvania do not have any political contribution restrictions that apply specifically to gaming industry-related parties. The Commonwealth’s implicit appeal to “common sense” as a surrogate for evidence in support of its far-reaching regulatory scheme is noteworthy in light of the approach taken by most other similarly situated states. View "Deon v. Barasch" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a "disability" that renders a voter eligible to vote by mail within the meaning of Tex. Elec. Code Ann. 82.002(a) and declined to issue a writ of mandamus sought by the State prohibiting Respondents, election officials, from improperly approving applications for mail-in ballots for the July and November 2020 elections, stating that the Court was confident that Respondents will comply. Under the Texas Election Code, qualified voters are eligible to vote by mail in only five specific circumstances, including if the voter has a "disability." At issue in this case was whether a voter's lack of immunity from COVID-19 and concern about contracting it at a polling place is a "disability" within the meaning of section 82.002. The Supreme Court held that a voter's lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not a "disability" as defined by the Election Code. Because Respondents assured the Court that they will fully discharge their duty to follow the law the Supreme Court concluded that issuing the writ of mandamus to compel them to do so was unwarranted. View "In re State of Texas" on Justia Law

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In October 2019, the Respondents-Proponents Andrew Moore, Janet Ann Largent, and Lynda Johnson filed Initiative Petition No. 420, State Question No. 804 (IP 420), with the Secretary of State of Oklahoma. The initiative measure proposed for submission to the voters the creation of a new constitutional article, Article V-A, which would create the Citizens' Independent Redistricting Commission (Commission). IP 420 was challenged in two separate cases. On February 4, 2020, the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed down its decisions in both matters. Two days later, February 6, 2020, the proponents of IP 420 filed a new initiative petition (Initiative Petition No. 426, State Question 810). The Secretary of State published the required notice of the initiative petition on February 13, 2020. Initiative Petition No. 426 (IP 426) was nearly identical to IP 420, creating a new constitutional article, Article V-A, which would create the Citizens' Independent Redistricting Commission (Commission). Like IP 420, it would vest the power to redistrict the State's House of Representatives and Senatorial districts, as well as Federal Congressional Districts, in this newly created Commission. Initiative Petition No. 426, like IP 420, requires the Commission's Secretary to gather information from the Department of Corrections about the home address of state and federal inmates and add this information to the Federal Decennial Census data so that incarcerated people can be counted in their home communities rather than place of incarceration. The issue presented to the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction involved the legal sufficiency of Initiative Petition No. 426, State Question No. 810. The Petitioners contended the petition was unconstitutional because it violated Article 1, section 2, the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Upon review, the Supreme Court held Petitioners did not meet their burden to show Initiative Petition No. 426 contained "clear or manifest facial constitutional infirmities." On the grounds alleged, the petition is legally sufficient for submission to the people of Oklahoma. View "In re: Initiative Petition No. 426 State Question No. 810" on Justia Law

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"The right to vote is a cornerstone of our constitutional republic." The voting laws implicated in this case were South Carolina statutes governing absentee voting. Pursuant to subsection 7-15-320(A) of the South Carolina Code (2019), absentee ballots could be used by certain voters who were unable to vote in person because they were absent from their county of residence on election day during the hours the polls are open. Subsection 7-15-320(B) allowed voters to cast absentee ballots when they were not absent from the county, but only if they fit into one of the listed categories of people eligible to vote by absentee ballot. Plaintiffs contended that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, existing South Carolina law permitted all South Carolina registered voters to vote by absentee ballot in the June 9, 2020 primary election and the November 3, 2020 general election. Plaintiffs implicitly contended that if existing law did not permit this, it should. Plaintiffs asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to hear this case in its original jurisdiction. The South Carolina Republican Party was granted permission to intervene, and moved to dismiss. The Supreme Court granted the request to hear the case in its original jurisdiction, declined to dismiss on grounds raised by the South Carolina Republican Party, but dismissed on alternate grounds: the case did not present a justiciable controversy. View "Bailey v. SC State Election" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded this matter to the county court for entry of a judgment declaring that the Attorney General's decision to certify Initiative Petition 19-14, entitled "An Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to the Sale of Beer and Wine by Food Stores," was in compliance with the requirements of art. 48, The Initiative, II, 2 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. After the initiative petition was submitted to the Attorney General, the Attorney General certified to the Secretary of the Commonwealth that Initiative Petition 19-14 was in proper form for submission to the people. Seven registered voters of the Commonwealth subsequently commenced an action in the county court challenging the certification of the initiative petition. The Supreme Judicial Court held that Initiative Petition 19-14 complied with article 48 because it neither contained unrelated subjects nor included a specific appropriation. View "Weiner v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Plaintiffs claimed that Ohio’s COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders have made it impossibly difficult for them to meet existing requirements for initiatives to secure a place on the November ballot, in violation of their First Amendment rights. An Ohio petition for a referendum must include signatures from 10 percent of the applicable jurisdiction’s electors that voted in the last gubernatorial election, each signature must “be written in ink,” and the initiative’s circulator must witness each signature. The initiative’s proponents must submit these signatures to the Secretary of State 125 days before the election for a constitutional amendment and 110 days before the election for a municipal ordinance. Ohio’s officials postponed the Ohio primary election but declined to further modify state election law. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, imposing a new deadline and prescribing the type of signature that the state must accept. The Sixth Circuit granted a stay of the injunction. Ohio’s compelling and well-established interests in administering its ballot initiative regulations outweigh the intermediate burden those regulations place on the plaintiffs. Ohio specifically exempted conduct protected by the First Amendment from its stay-home orders; the court means by which petitioners could obtain signatures. By unilaterally modifying the Ohio Constitution’s ballot initiative regulations, the district court usurped this authority from Ohio electors. View "Thompson v. DeWine" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division determining that the designating petition submitted by Respondent should not be invalidated because it was permeated by fraud, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the designating petition should be declared invalid as a matter of law. The undisputed facts of this case established that 512 out of 944 signatures submitted in the designating petition were backdated to dates preceding the candidates receipt of the blank petition pages and that fourteen of the twenty-eight subscribing witnesses swore that those signatures were placed on the designating petition before the blank petition pages were obtained from the printer. The referee, Supreme Court and Appellate Division were not persuaded that Respondent either participated in the fraud or that the irregularities rose to a sufficient level to infect the remainder of the designating petition. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the lower courts should have concluded that this was one of those rare instances in which the designating petition is so permeated by fraud as a whole as to call for its invalidation. View "Ferreyra v. Arroyo" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Appellate Division in Matter of Seawright v. Board of Elections in the City of New York and affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division in Matter of Hawatmeh v. New York State Board of Election, holding that, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the complete failure to file by the applicable deadline either a cover sheet with a designating petition or a certificate of acceptance constitutes a "fatal defect" under N.Y. Elec. Law 1-106(2). In Seawright, the Appellate Division, First Department, held that the candidate's belated filing of a cover sheet and certificate of acceptance did not constitute a fatal defect. In Hawatmeh, the Appellate Division, Third Department held that, notwithstanding the "unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic," the candidate's belated filing of a certificate of acceptance was a fatal defect. The Court of Appeals revised in Seawright and affirmed in Hawatmeh, holding that New York courts remain constrained by the express directive of the Election Law and that the First Department's analysis in Seawright directly conflicts with that well-established statutory mandate. View "Seawright v. Board of Elections in City of New York" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified questions of law to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Plaintiffs Caroline Casey, Maggie Flaherty, and the New Hampshire Democratic Party filed suit over voting eligibility. Casey and Flaherty were Dartmouth College students who wished to vote in New Hampshire while attending college, but who did not intend to remain in New Hampshire after graduation. Both had driver’s licenses issued by states other than New Hampshire. In 2018, both registered to vote in New Hampshire. Neither Casey nor Flaherty owned a motor vehicle. The Supreme Court held: (1) the definitions of "resident" and "residence" were effectively the same as "domicile" such that one with a New Hampshire "domicile" was necessarily a New Hampshire "resident;" (2) a student who claims a New Hampshire domicile was a New Hampshire resident; (4) an individual who claims a New Hampshire domicile necessarily establishes a "bona fide residency;" and (5) given the definition of non-resident in RSA 259:67, I for the Motor Vehicle Code, college students who resided in New Hampshire for more than six months in any year were required to obtain New Hampshire drivers’ licenses by RSA 263:1 if they wished to drive in the state and were required by RSA 261:40 to register in New Hampshire any vehicles they kept in the state. The Supreme Court declined to answer the federal district court's question (3), because the answer to that question was not “determinative of the cause then pending in the certifying court.” View "Casey v. New Hampshire Secretary of State" on Justia Law