Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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The case involves a dispute over the ballot title for Legislative Referral 403 (2024) (LR 403), which was referred for voters' consideration at the upcoming November 2024 General Election. The petitioner, James Sasinowski, challenged all parts of the ballot title, asserting non-compliance with requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). LR 403 would amend ORS chapter 254 to require "ranked choice voting" for certain elections and would permit local governments to adopt ranked-choice voting in their elections.The ballot title for LR 403 was prepared by a joint legislative committee and filed with the Secretary of State. The petitioner challenged all parts of the ballot title, arguing that the word "majority" was used inaccurately and without proper context. He contended that "majority of votes" suggests that a candidate has received the majority of total votes cast, but in operation, ranked-choice voting can produce a winner who does not receive that type of "majority" vote.The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon agreed with the petitioner in part. The court found that the caption of the ballot title for LR 403 did not reasonably identify the subject matter of the measure and required modification. The court also agreed that the "yes" result statement in the ballot title for LR 403 did not substantially comply with ORS 250.035(2)(b) and required modification. However, the court disagreed with the petitioner that the "no" result statement and the summary in the ballot title for LR 403 required modification. The court concluded that the caption and "yes" result statement in the joint legislative committee’s ballot title for LR 403 required modification and referred the ballot title to the Attorney General for modification. View "Sasinowski v. Legislative Assembly" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Arkansas reviewed a case involving four acts passed by the Arkansas General Assembly concerning the election process. The League of Women Voters of Arkansas and other appellees challenged the constitutionality of these acts, which were subsequently deemed unconstitutional by the circuit court and permanently enjoined. 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 circuit court had ruled 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 argued that the acts were enacted to protect the integrity of Arkansas elections by preventing fraudulent voting and to promote public confidence in election security. The circuit court applied strict scrutiny to the acts, finding that they failed to advance a compelling government interest or were not the least-restrictive infringement on the rights guaranteed by the Arkansas Constitution.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 classes, thus not invoking equal protection. The court also found that the acts did not violate the free and equal election clause, the voter qualifications clause, or the free speech and free assembly clauses of the Arkansas Constitution. The court concluded that the circuit court had erred in its application of strict scrutiny and in its findings that the acts violated these constitutional provisions. The case was dismissed. View "THURSTON V. THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF ARKANSAS" on Justia Law

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The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the Legal Marijuana Now Party (LMNP) does not meet the requirements to be classified as a major political party under Minnesota law. The case was initiated by Ken Martin, the chair of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, who filed a petition arguing that the LMNP failed to comply with certain requirements for major political parties. Specifically, Martin claimed that the LMNP did not maintain a state central committee subject to the state convention’s control, as required by Minnesota law.The case was referred to a referee, who concluded that the LMNP had indeed failed to meet the requirements to be a major political party. The LMNP objected to these findings and argued that the relevant statutes unconstitutionally infringed upon its First Amendment associational rights.The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the LMNP's arguments. It found that the LMNP's single committee, The Head Council, was not subject to the control of the LMNP’s state convention, as required by law. The court also rejected the LMNP’s constitutional challenge, finding that the party failed to demonstrate how the statutory requirements specifically burdened its associational rights. As a result, the court held that the LMNP does not meet all the statutory requirements to maintain its status as a major political party for the upcoming state primary and general elections. View "Martin vs. Simon" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Arizona Republican Party (ARP) and its attorneys, who challenged the manner in which Maricopa County election officials conducted a mandatory hand count of ballots following the 2020 general election. The ARP argued that the hand count should have been based on precincts rather than voting centers, as prescribed by the Election Procedures Manual (EPM). The trial court dismissed the ARP's complaint and awarded attorney fees against the ARP and its attorneys under A.R.S. § 12-349(A)(1) and (F), which provides for such fees if a claim is groundless and not made in good faith. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's rulings.The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona held that the attorney fees award was improper because the ARP's claim was not groundless, thus there was no need to determine whether the claim was made in the absence of good faith. The court found that the ARP's claim was more than "barely" colorable, as there was a plain-language conflict between § 16-602(B), which requires a precinct hand count, and the 2019 EPM, which permits a voting center hand count. The court also disagreed with the lower courts' rulings that the ARP's claim was groundless due to the unavailability of remedies, the applicability of the election-law time bar on post-election challenges to pre-election procedures, and laches. The court vacated the trial court’s and the court of appeals’ attorney fees awards. View "ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PARTY v RICHER" on Justia Law

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In this case, Quinton Lucas, a registered voter, challenged the approval of Amendment No. 4 in the November 2022 general election. The amendment authorized laws that increased minimum funding for a police force established by a state board of police commissioners. Lucas claimed that the fiscal note summary printed on every ballot cast in the election materially misstated the fiscal note for the measure.The Supreme Court of Missouri, which was reviewing the case, had previously overruled the state's motion to dismiss Lucas' claim. The state had argued that Lucas' contest was time-barred, that the city lacked standing as a voter, and that the statutes providing remedies if an election contest succeeds were unconstitutional.The Supreme Court of Missouri found that the fiscal note summary was both materially inaccurate and seriously misleading. The court held that this constituted an "irregularity" of sufficient magnitude to cast doubt on the validity of the election. As a result, the court ordered a new election on the question to be conducted as part of the statewide general election on November 5, 2024. View "Lucas vs. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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A group of plaintiffs, including former members of the Montana Board of Regents, faculty organizations, student groups, and individual students, challenged the constitutionality of three bills passed by the Montana Legislature in 2021. The bills in question were HB 349, which regulated student organizations and speech on campus; HB 112, known as the "Save Women's Sports Act," which required sports teams to be designated as male, female, or coed based on biological sex; and § 2 of SB 319, which revised campaign finance laws and regulated the funding of certain student organizations. The plaintiffs argued that these bills infringed on the constitutional authority of the Board of Regents to supervise, coordinate, manage, and control the Montana University System.The District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, Gallatin County, granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, declaring HB 349, HB 112, and § 2 of SB 319 unconstitutional. The court also denied the plaintiffs' request for attorney fees. Both parties appealed this order.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the District Court's decision. The court found that the plaintiffs had standing to bring their claims and that the challenged bills were unconstitutional. The court also upheld the District Court's denial of the plaintiffs' request for attorney fees, as the justices could not reach a majority opinion on this issue. View "Barrett v. State" on Justia Law

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In 2021, the Colorado state legislature passed The Ballot Measure Fiscal Transparency Act, which required certain language to be included in state-imposed titles of citizen-initiated ballot measures. If the proposal contained a tax change affecting state or local revenues, the measure’s title had to incorporate a phrase stating the change’s impact on state and district funding priorities. In 2023, Advance Colorado proposed two tax reduction measures subject to the provisions of the Act. After Colorado’s Ballot Title Setting Board included the mandated transparency language in each initiative’s title, Advance Colorado filed suit challenging the Act as unconstitutionally compelling its political speech.The United States District Court for the District of Colorado denied Advance Colorado's request for a preliminary injunction, concluding that the titling process qualified as government speech and, therefore, Advance Colorado was not likely to succeed on the merits of its claims. The court considered the factors used for determining the boundary between government and private speech as outlined in Shurtleff v. City of Bos., 596 U.S. 243, 252 (2022). It concluded that the history of the expression, the public’s likely perception as to who is speaking, and the extent to which the government has shaped the expression all indicated Colorado’s titling system was government speech not subject to a First Amendment compelled speech claim.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing that the Act’s requirements did not result in improperly compelled speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The court found that the Colorado initiative titling system squarely qualified as government speech and Advance Colorado had not otherwise shown its own speech was improperly compelled by the government speech. Therefore, it could not demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its claims. View "Advance Colorado v. Griswold" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dr. Eric Coomer, the former director of product strategy and security at Dominion Voting Systems, who filed a lawsuit against Make Your Life Epic LLC (doing business as ThriveTime Show) and its podcast host, Clayton Clark. The defendants had published and repeated false claims about Dr. Coomer, alleging that he was a member of "Antifa" and had rigged the 2020 presidential election in favor of Joseph R. Biden and against Donald J. Trump. Dr. Coomer's lawsuit asserted claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy.The defendants filed a "special motion to dismiss" the lawsuit under Colorado’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. The District Court for the District of Colorado denied this motion, determining that Dr. Coomer would likely prevail on the merits of all three of his claims. The defendants appealed this decision, asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to reverse the district court’s order.The Tenth Circuit dismissed the defendants' appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The court held that the proposed interlocutory appeal fell outside of the collateral-order doctrine, which provides appellate jurisdiction over a small class of collateral rulings that, although they do not end the litigation, are appropriately deemed final. The court found that the district court's order denying the special motion to dismiss under Colorado’s anti-SLAPP statute was not completely separate from the merits of the case and thus did not meet the requirements of the collateral-order doctrine. View "Coomer v. Make Your Life Epic" on Justia Law