Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves a group of civil rights organizations, voters, and an election official who sought to challenge recent amendments to Texas's election code, alleging that these amendments violated the United States Constitution and several federal statutes. The defendant was the District Attorney for Harris County, sued in her official capacity. The district court denied the District Attorney's motion to dismiss, holding that she was not immune from the plaintiffs' constitutional claims and that the plaintiffs had standing to bring their claims against her.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal and that the district court should have dismissed the plaintiffs' constitutional claims as barred by sovereign immunity. The court did not reach the issue of standing. The court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings.The court's decision was based on the principle of sovereign immunity, which generally protects state officials from being sued in their official capacities. However, there is an exception to this rule, known as the Ex parte Young exception, which allows federal courts to enjoin state officials from enforcing unconstitutional state statutes. The court found that the District Attorney did not have a sufficient connection to the enforcement of the challenged laws to fall within this exception. Therefore, the court concluded that the District Attorney was immune from the plaintiffs' constitutional claims. View "Mi Familia Vota v. Ogg" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a lodging tax increase proposal in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, intended to fund a new county hospital. The Board of County Commissioners for McCurtain County approved the proposal to be submitted to the voters. However, the Board did not publish the proposal in a county newspaper for four weeks before the election as required by Title 19 O.S. 2021 §383. Instead, the Board and the Hospital engaged in a three-month campaign to inform voters of the measure through various means such as radio advertisements, billboards, newspaper articles, town hall meetings, and social media posts. After the measure was approved by the voters, a lodging renter and property owner filed a lawsuit seeking to have the election declared null and void due to the lack of newspaper publication. The Hospital sought to have the election upheld.The District Court of McCurtain County, Oklahoma, granted summary judgment in favor of the Board and Hospital, and against the lodging renter and property owner. The renter and owner appealed the decision.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma held that because the county commissioners neglected to follow the statutory publication requirements, the voter-approved lodging tax increase is invalid. The court emphasized that the Legislature has mandated what constitutes adequate notice by publication and anything less than strict compliance requires the court to invalidate the election. The court also encouraged the legislature to consider revisiting and possibly updating publication requirements to be more compatible with today's methods of communication. The decision of the lower court was reversed. View "Cathey v. Board of County Commissioners for McCurtain County" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the petitioner, Ryan Binkley, who sought to have his name included on the Republican Party of Minnesota's ballot for the 2024 presidential nomination primary. However, the Chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota did not include Binkley as a candidate when notifying the Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon, of the candidates for its ballot. Consequently, Binkley and his campaign committee filed a petition with the court, arguing that the procedures established by Minnesota Statutes section 207A.13, subdivision 2(a), which allow a major political party to determine the candidates that will appear on its ballot for the presidential nomination primary, violate the Electors Clause of the United States Constitution.The case was brought before the Minnesota Supreme Court after the petitioners' claim was denied in the lower court. The petitioners argued that the Electors Clause prohibits state-based favoritism on ballots through the exclusion of qualified candidates. The Secretary of State, however, contended that the presidential nomination primary is not subject to the Electors Clause because Minnesota does not use the presidential nomination primary to appoint presidential electors.The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the Secretary of State, ruling that the presidential nomination primary is not part of the process that Minnesota uses to appoint presidential electors. Therefore, the statutes that govern the presidential nomination primary do not fall within the scope of the Electors Clause. The court concluded that the petitioners' claim that section 207A.13, subdivision 2(a) violates the Electors Clause fails as a matter of law. The petition was thus denied. View "J. Binkley for President 2024 vs. Simon" on Justia Law

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The case involves a review of the Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition 54 (2024) (IP 54), which was challenged by the petitioners, Sandy Chung and Yvonne Garcia. IP 54, also known as the "Oregon Crimefighting Act," proposes significant changes to the pretrial release system for individuals charged with felonies and Class A misdemeanors in Oregon. The Act also empowers local governments to pass ordinances to fight local crime and requires the state to pay for jail space for those charged with felonies and Class A misdemeanors who need to be held until trial.The Attorney General prepared a draft ballot title for IP 54 and, after considering public comments, modified the draft and certified the final ballot title. The petitioners, who had submitted comments on the draft, challenged the certified ballot title, arguing that the summary did not comply with the requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2)(d).The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon reviewed the ballot title to determine whether it substantially complied with the requirements. The court agreed with the petitioners that the summary was deficient. It found that the summary did not adequately convey the breadth of the changes that IP 54 would effectuate, particularly in relation to pretrial release decisions at arraignment. The court concluded that the summary must be modified to clarify that IP 54 would override existing law and to provide a more accurate description of the changes that IP 54 would make to the current law governing pretrial release at arraignment. The court referred the ballot title back to the Attorney General for modification. View "Chung v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Kansas reviewed a case involving the League of Women Voters of Kansas and other organizations against the Kansas Secretary of State and the Kansas Attorney General. The plaintiffs challenged three new Kansas election laws, alleging that they violated various provisions of the Kansas Constitution. The laws in question prohibited the false representation of an election official, prohibited election officials from counting advance ballots that did not have a signature or had a signature that an election official determined did not match the signature on file, and prohibited any person from collecting and returning more than 10 advance ballots for other voters.The case was initially heard in the Shawnee County District Court, which denied the plaintiffs' request for a temporary injunction against the false representation statute. The court also granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the claims against the signature verification requirement and the ballot collection restriction. The plaintiffs appealed these decisions, and the cases were consolidated.The Supreme Court of Kansas held that the plaintiffs had demonstrated a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of their claim that the false representation statute was constitutionally infirm. Therefore, the district court erred in denying their request for a temporary injunction. The court also held that the signature verification requirement was a valid effort by the Legislature to provide "proper proofs" of the right to be a qualified elector. However, the court remanded the case to the district court to consider whether the statute and its implementing regulations complied with the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's grant of the defendants' motion to dismiss the claim that the ballot collection restriction was constitutionally infirm, because the restriction was not a new qualification on the right to be an elector, and because the proscribed activity—the delivery of ballots—was not political speech or expressive conduct. View "League of Women Voters of Kansas v. Schwab" on Justia Law

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The case involves Conrad Reynolds, Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, Inc., and Restore Election Integrity Arkansas (collectively referred to as the petitioners) who filed an original action against John Thurston, in his official capacity as Secretary of State, and the State Board of Election Commissioners (collectively referred to as the respondents). The petitioners submitted two proposed measures to amend the Arkansas Constitution to the Attorney General for approval. One measure would have required elections to be conducted with paper ballots, and the other would have changed absentee-voting procedures. The Attorney General rejected both measures, citing various reasons such as conflicting provisions, unclear language, and redundancy. The petitioners resubmitted the measures to the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and the State Board of Election Commissioners for certification, but the Secretary and the Board refused to examine the sufficiency of the ballot titles and popular names.The petitioners then filed this original-action complaint, asking the court to independently certify the legal sufficiency of the measures’ ballot titles and popular names and order them placed on the November 2024 ballot. They also asked the court to declare Arkansas Code Annotated section 7-9-107 and section 7-9-126(e) unconstitutional, arguing that these sections violate Article 5, section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution.The Supreme Court of Arkansas dismissed the complaint, ruling that it only has original jurisdiction over the sufficiency of petitions after the Secretary of State has made a sufficiency determination. The court found that the petitioners' request for a declaration that the statutes are unconstitutional falls outside its original jurisdiction. The court also noted that the petitioners could have filed a declaratory-judgment action in the circuit court to determine the constitutionality of the statutes. View "Reynolds v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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A group of Ohio voters sought to amend the Ohio Constitution through a ballot initiative. To do so, they had to submit their proposed amendment, a summary of the amendment, and one thousand supporting signatures to the Ohio Attorney General, who then had to certify that the summary was a fair and truthful statement of the proposed amendment. The Attorney General, David Yost, declined to certify the plaintiffs' summary on at least six occasions. After the most recent denial, the plaintiffs sought review from the Supreme Court of Ohio, which declined to grant expedited review. The plaintiffs then filed a complaint in federal district court, alleging that the Attorney General's enforcement of the certification requirement violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by creating an unconstitutional obstacle to their ballot access and their ability to advocate for their proposed amendment. The district court denied the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunctive relief.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that the plaintiffs had standing to bring their claims and were not barred by sovereign immunity. The court also determined that the certification requirement imposed a severe burden on the plaintiffs' core political speech, and that the state had not shown that the requirement was narrowly tailored to its interests. The court therefore concluded that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim. The court also found that the remaining factors for granting a preliminary injunction weighed in the plaintiffs' favor. The court therefore granted the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunctive relief, enjoining the Attorney General from enforcing the certification requirement against the plaintiffs. View "Brown v. Yost" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the United States reviewed a case involving the redrawing of congressional districts in South Carolina following the 2020 Census. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a voter from District 1 challenged the new map, alleging that it resulted in racial gerrymanders in certain districts and diluted the electoral power of the state's black voters. The District Court held that the state drew District 1 with a 17% black voting-age population target in mind, violating the Equal Protection Clause and unlawfully diluting the black vote.The Supreme Court disagreed with the District Court's findings. The Court found that the District Court erred in its conclusion that race predominated in the design of District 1. The Court noted that the challengers did not provide sufficient evidence to show that the legislature subordinated traditional race-neutral districting principles to racial considerations. The Court also criticized the District Court for not drawing an adverse inference from the challengers' failure to submit an alternative map that would have allowed the state to achieve its districting goals while maintaining a higher black voting-age population in District 1.The Supreme Court reversed the District Court's decision in part and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court concluded that the same findings of fact and reasoning that guided the court's racial-gerrymandering analysis also guided the analysis of the challengers' independent vote-dilution claim, and that conclusion also could not stand. The Court found that the District Court erred in conflating the two claims. View "Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP" on Justia Law

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In this case, two candidates for state legislative offices in the 2014 general election, Joe Markley and Rob Sampson, were fined by the State Elections Enforcement Commission for violating state statutes and regulations governing campaign financing. The candidates' campaign committees had received public funding grants and published communications that criticized the then-governor, who was running for reelection. The commission found that the candidates had violated the applicable statutes and regulations by using their campaign funds to pay for communications that criticized the governor while promoting their opposition to his policies.The candidates appealed to the trial court, arguing that the statutes and regulations violated their First Amendment rights by restricting their ability to speak about other, non-opposing candidates. The trial court upheld the commission's decision, agreeing that the candidates had violated the statutes and regulations and concluding that the restrictions did not infringe on the candidates' First Amendment rights.On appeal to the Supreme Court of Connecticut, the candidates argued that the commission's enforcement of the statutes and regulations violated their First Amendment rights. The court held that the commission's enforcement of the statutes and regulations imposed an unconstitutional condition in violation of the First Amendment. The court found that the commission's enforcement of the statutes and regulations penalized the candidates for mentioning the governor's name in a manner that was not the functional equivalent of speech squarely directed at his reelection campaign. The court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case with direction to sustain the candidates' administrative appeal. View "Markley v. State Elections Enforcement Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Arkansas reviewed four acts passed by the Arkansas General Assembly that were challenged by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas and other appellees. The acts in question were Acts 736, 973, 249, and 728 of 2021, which pertained to various aspects of the election process, including the verification of voter signatures on absentee ballots, the deadline for in-person delivery of absentee ballots, the requirement for voters to present valid photographic identification, and the prohibition of certain activities within 100 feet of a voting location. The circuit court had previously ruled these acts unconstitutional and permanently enjoined their enforcement.The circuit court's decision was based on the argument that the acts violated various provisions of the Arkansas Constitution and would burden lawful, eligible voters in the exercise of their right to vote. The appellants, including John Thurston in his official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of Arkansas and members of the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners, appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed the circuit court's decision, holding that the acts were not clearly incompatible with the sections of the Arkansas Constitution as alleged by the appellees. The court found that the acts were neutral on their face and did not contain any discriminatory classifications. The court also found that the acts did not add voter qualifications beyond those contained in the constitution, nor did they violate the free and equal election clause of the Arkansas Constitution. The court concluded that the circuit court erred in its application of strict scrutiny to the acts and in its finding that the acts violated various constitutional provisions. The court's decision resulted in the reversal and dismissal of the circuit court's ruling. View "THURSTON V. THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF ARKANSAS" on Justia Law