Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court declaring that the Village of Bratenahl did not violate Ohio's Open Meetings Act, Ohio Rev. Code 121.22, by conducting public business by secret ballot, holding that the use of secret ballots in a public meeting violates the Open Meetings Act. The Bratenahl Village Council voted by secret ballot to elect a president pro tempore. Plaintiffs brought this suit seeking a declaratory judgment that Bratenahl violated the Open Meetings Act. The trial court awarded summary judgment to Bratenahl. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Open Meetings Act does not permit a governmental body to take official action by secret ballot and that maintaining secret ballot slips as public records does not cure a section 121.22 violation. View "State ex rel. Bratenahl v. Bratenahl" on Justia Law

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The Association filed suit challenging Montana's electioneering disclosure laws on First Amendment grounds. Under Montana law, an organization that makes an expenditure of more than $250 on a single electioneering communication must register as a political committee, subject to certain organizational and disclosure requirements. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Montana except with respect to one provision. Like the disclosure provisions the panel approved in Human Life of Washington Inc. v. Brumsickle, 624 F.3d 990, 1016 (9th Cir. 2010), and Yamada v. Snipes, 786 F.3d 1182 (9th Cir. 2015), the panel held that most of Montana's disclosure and related requirements are substantially related to important governmental interests connected with informing the electorate. However, the panel held that only Montana's requirement that organizations designate a treasurer registered to vote in Montana is constitutionally infirm. In this case, the requirement was not substantially related to any important governmental interest, and was severable from the rest of the disclosure regime. View "National Association for Gun Rights, Inc. v. Mangan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs submitted proposed ballot initiatives to the Portage County Board of Elections that would effectively decriminalize marijuana possession in Garrettsville and Windham, Ohio. The Board declined to certify the proposed initiatives, concluding that the initiatives fell outside the scope of the municipalities’ legislative authority. Plaintiffs sued, asserting that the statutes governing Ohio’s municipal ballot-initiative process impose a prior restraint on their political speech, violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court permanently enjoined the Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State, from enforcing the statutes in any manner that failed to provide for adequate judicial review. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction. A person or party may express beliefs or ideas through a ballot, but ballots serve primarily to elect candidates, not as forums for political expression. Heightened procedural requirements imposed on systems of prior restraint are inappropriate in the context of ballot-initiative preclearance regulations. The court applied the “Anderson-Burdick” framework and weighted the character and magnitude of the burden the state’s rule against the interests the state contends justify that burden and considered the extent to which the state’s concerns make the burden necessary. The state affords aggrieved ballot-initiative proponents adequate procedural rights through the availability of mandamus relief in the state courts. View "Schmitt v. LaRose" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed this petition for extraordinary relief asserting that the actions of Governor Gary R. Herbert, Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox, and the Utah Legislature in replacing a citizens' initiative approved by Utah voters that legalized medical cannabis and replacing the initiative with H.B. 3001 were unconstitutional, holding that some of Petitioners' arguments failed on the merits and that the remainder of the petition did not comply with Rule 19 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure. The day H.B. 3001 passed, some of the Petitioners filed a referendum application with the Lieutenant Governor that would have allowed H.B. 3001 to be put to a vote of the people. The Lieutenant Governor denied the petition because he determined one of the referendum sponsors did not meet the applicable statutory requirements and because the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah Senate passed the bill by a supermajority, which made the bill referendum-proof. Petitioners subsequently brought this petition. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, holding (1) the Governor did not effectively veto Provision 2, and the Two-Thirds Provisions of the Utah Constitution and Utah Code applied to the legislation here; and (2) the rest of the petition is dismissed without prejudice for failure to comply with Rule 19. View "Grant v. Governor Gary R. Herbert" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a Guam resident who challenged a provision of Guam's 2000 Plebiscite Law that restricted voting to "Native Inhabitants of Guam." Rice v. Cayetano, 528 U.S. 495 (2000), and Davis v. Commonwealth Election Comm'n, 844 F.3d 1087 (9th Cir. 2016), respectively invalidated laws in Hawaii and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands limiting voting in certain elections to descendants of particular indigenous groups because those provisions employed ancestry as a proxy for race in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. The panel held that Guam's 2000 Plebiscite Law is subject to the requirements of the Fifteenth Amendment, and that the classification "Native Inhabitants of Guam" serves as a proxy for race. Therefore, Guam's limitations on the right to vote in its political status plebiscite to "Native Inhabitants of Guam" violates the Fifteenth Amendment. View "Davis v. Guam" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the superior court denying relief to the Arizona Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America and David Martin (collectively, Contractors) on their complaint seeking to enjoin placement of the "Building a Better Phoenix Act" initiative measure on the City of Phoenix's August 2019 special election ballot, holding that the initiative qualified for the ballot. Contractors filed a complaint seeking to enjoin placement of the Initiative on the ballot, alleging that petition signatures were void pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 19-118.01(A) because the measure's proponent paid petition circulators by the signature and that the measure's 100-word description failed to comply with Ariz. Rev. Stat. 19-102(A) because it created a significant danger of confusion or unfairness. The superior court denied relief, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 19-118.01(A) does not apply to local measures such as the Initiative, and therefore, the superior court correctly refused to apply that provision here; and (2) the description was not misleading and therefore did not create a significant danger of either confusion or unfairness. View "Arizona Chapter of Associated General Contractors of America v. City of Phoenix" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was candidate Glenn Odom’s contest of a McBee Town Council election. The McBee Municipal Election Commission ruled on the contest, and Odom appealed the Commission's decision to the circuit court. The circuit court ruled in favor of Odom, and the Commission and candidate Shilon Green (collectively, Appellants) appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court. During the election, several people attempting to vote were challenged as nonresidents of McBee. At the heart of this appeal were votes cast by four of the challenged voters. The Commission heard testimony from Odom and the four challenged voters and heard arguments from counsel. The four challenged voters testified they were McBee residents at all appropriate times and further testified they voted for Odom. In its written decision, the Commission found the four voters were eligible to vote in the election. The Commission wrote: "Because adding the four votes to the total for Glenn Odom would have changed the outcome of the election, the Municipal Election Commission hereby invalidates the September 5, 2018 election and orders a new election as is required under S.C. Code Ann. 5-15-130." Odom appealed the Commission's decision to the circuit court, arguing the Commission erred in ordering a new election instead of simply counting the four votes and declaring he was a prevailing candidate. The circuit court granted Odom's motion for reconsideration and held the Commission erred in invalidating the election and ordering a new election. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision to remand the proceedings to the Commission. The Supreme Court modified, however, the circuit court's order in two ways: (1) section 5-15-130, standing alone, required the four votes to be counted; (2) to the extent that the circuit court's decision could be read to order the Commission to declare Odom a prevailing candidate without the four votes first being counted, the Court held the four votes had to first be counted before the results of the election can be determined. The matter was remanded to the Commission and the Court ordered it to unseal the four provisional votes and apply those votes to the vote totals of the candidate(s) for whom the votes were cast, with the results of the election to then be declared accordingly. View "Odom v. Town of McBee Election Comm" on Justia Law

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Political subdivisions of the State of Colorado challenged Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”) under the Colorado Enabling Act and the Supremacy Clause, contending that TABOR contradicted the Enabling Act’s requirement that Colorado maintain a “republican form of government.” TABOR allowed the people of Colorado to raise or prevent tax increases by popular vote, thereby limiting the power of Colorado’s legislative bodies to levy taxes. The issue currently before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether certain school districts, a special district board, and/or a county commission had standing to challenge TABOR. On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the district court held that plaintiffs had Article III standing but that they lacked political subdivision standing and prudential standing. Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint. The Tenth Circuit concluded that it could not properly reach its conclusions at this stage of litigation. Because the Court held the political subdivision plaintiffs were not barred by standing requirements, the district court was reversed. View "Kerr v. Hickenlooper" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by independent presidential candidate Roque De La Fuente challenging two California ballot access laws, Cal. Elec. Code 8400, 8403. These Ballot Access Laws require independent candidates to collect signatures from one percent of California's registered voters to appear on a statewide ballot. The panel held that De La Fuente had standing because he suffered a concrete injury that was not merely speculative. On the merits, the panel held that California's overall scheme did not significantly impair ballot access. Rather, the laws were generally applicable, even-handed, politically neutral, and aimed at protecting the reliability and integrity of the election process. The panel also held that the Ballot Access Laws reasonably relate to California's important regulatory interests in managing its democratic process and are proportionate to California's large voter population. View "De La Fuente v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Navajo Nation and several of its individual members sued San Juan County, Utah alleging that the election districts for both the school board and the county commission violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The district court denied the county’s motion to dismiss, found that the election districts violated the Equal Protection Clause, and awarded summary judgment to the Navajo Nation. It later rejected the county’s proposed remedial redistricting plan because it concluded the redrawn districts again violated the Equal Protection Clause. The district court then appointed a special master to develop a proposed remedial redistricting plan, directed the county to adopt that remedial plan, and ordered the county to hold special elections based on that plan in November 2018. On appeal, the county challenged each of the district court’s decisions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Navajo Nation v. San Juan County" on Justia Law