Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff filed suit against the State, arguing that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 violates the Georgia Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent it allows the State to cancel the November 2020 election for the office of district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit. Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction that would require the State to hold the election, which the district court granted.Because the Eleventh Circuit is bound by the Supreme Court of Georgia's decision that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2, as challenged here, violates the Georgia Constitution, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that plaintiff established a substantial likelihood of success in her argument that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 violates the Georgia Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that plaintiff would suffer an irreparable injury unless an injunction was granted, because the State's enforcement of O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 would deprive plaintiff of her right to vote in the November 2020 district attorney election. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that the balance of harms and public interest weigh in favor of granting the injunction. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order granting the preliminary injunction. View "Gonzalez v. Governor of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that House Bill 836's district map violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. HB 836 reduced the size of the board from nine members to seven. Where all nine members previously had come from single-member districts, now only five would, and two would be drawn from at large seats. Plaintiff alleged that the new map would violate section 2 by diluting the strength of Black voters in Sumter County. The district court agreed and entered a remedial order removing the at-large seats and drawing a new map with seven single-member districts instead.The court reviewed the entire record and held that plaintiff adduced ample evidence supporting a finding of vote dilution. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in concluding that plaintiff satisfied all three Gingles factors: first, the undisputed evidence showed that Sumter County's Black residents could form a majority in at least one additional single-member district (and probably in two); second, the Black voters in Sumter County were highly cohesive in ten of the twelve elections studied; and third, White residents vote sufficiently as a bloc to enable them usually to defeat the minority's preferred candidate. The court also held that plaintiff established that the totality of the circumstances results in an unequal opportunity for minority voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choosing. In this case, the district court did not clearly err by finding that the first, second, fifth, and seventh Senate factors weighed heavily in plaintiff's favor. The district court noted Georgia's, and Sumter County's, painful history of discrimination against its Black residents, emphasizing the high levels of racially polarized voting and observed the lack of success enjoyed by Black candidates in Sumter County. Furthermore, the special master report expressly found an easily achievable remedy available. View "Wright v. Sumter County Board of Elections and Registration" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the proponents of an initiative, the "Invest in Education Act," complied with Ariz. Rev. Stat. 19-102(A) and gathered enough signatures under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 19-118.01(A) to qualify for the November 3, 2020 general election ballot.Defendant, a political action committee, sought to place the "Invest in Education Act" initiative on the 2020 ballot. Plaintiffs, an elector and a political action committee, opposed the Initiative, claiming that the 100-word description on petition sheets violated section 19-102(A) and that the measure lacked sufficient signatures after removing signatures gathered by petition circulators who were paid in violation of section 19-118.01(A). The superior court enjoined the Secretary of State from certifying and placing the Initiative on the 2020 ballot, finding that the 100-word description on the petition signature sheets failed to comply with section 19-102(A). The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in part, holding that the initiative proponents complied with section 19-102(A) and gathered enough signatures to qualify for the 2020 general election ballot. View "Molera v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the enforcement of portions of Mo. Rev. Stat. 115.302, which provides for voting by mail-in ballot due to the ongoing global pandemic. Plaintiffs alleged that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating mail-in ballots differently than absentee ballots, requiring the former to be returned by mail only while allowing the latter to be returned by mail or in-person, either from the voter himself or a relative within the second degree of consanguinity. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiffs and the Secretary entered a temporary administrative stay of the preliminary injunction.The Eighth Circuit granted the Secretary's motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. The court held that the Secretary has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, under the Anderson-Burdick standard, that the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by USPS mail is a minimal burden and a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction. The Secretary has also shown that the State will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not grant the stay, and that the remaining factors of injury to other parties and the public's interest weigh in favor of granting the motion to stay. View "Organization for Black Struggle v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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The City of Houston contends that it is being sued for a so-called "zombie" law. The City's Charter allows only registered voters to circulate petitions for initiatives and referenda, even though the Supreme Court held a similar law unconstitutional twenty years ago. Plaintiffs, Trent and Trey Pool, sought a preliminary injunction allowing them to collect signatures for their anti-pay-to-play petition as well as a declaratory judgment that the Charter's voter-registration and residency provisions are unconstitutional, permanent injunctive relief against enforcement of those provisions, and nominal damages. Plaintiffs also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which would allow them to circulate the petition through the deadline of July 9, 2019. The district court granted a TRO, allowing plaintiffs to circulate the petition for the next week, but concluded that plaintiffs had not demonstrated an injury sufficient to support standing with regard to future petitions. The district court later dismissed plaintiffs' remaining claims. Although the City now concedes that the qualified-voter requirement is unconstitutional, at issue is whether plaintiffs may obtain a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement.The Fifth Circuit held that, although there would not usually be a reasonable fear of continued enforcement of a zombie law, the history of Houston's qualified-voter requirement gives Trent Pool standing to seek an injunction that would guard against continued chilling of his speech. The court also held that the City has not met its heavy burden of showing that plaintiffs' challenges are moot. Therefore, because there is a reasonable concern that the City might enforce its unconstitutional Charter provision, the court reversed the judgment dismissing this case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin the Secretary of State from rejecting certain ballots, holding that Plaintiffs failed to show a clear likelihood of success on their complaint for declaratory relief.Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Maine's Secretary of State and Attorney General seeking a declaration that the statutory deadline established by Me. Rev. Stat. 21-A, 626(2) for receiving absentee ballots in an election and statutory provisions governing the validation and rejection of absentee ballots - Me. Rev. Stat. 21-A, 756(2), 759(3), (5), 762 - violate the federal and state Constitutions. Plaintiffs sought to enjoin the Secretary from rejecting ballots postmarked on or before Election Day and that arrive at the election office within a minimum of ten days after Election Day and rejecting absentee ballots of otherwise eligible Maine voters without giving the voter an opportunity to cure their ballot or verify their identity. Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction granting the relief requested in the complaint. The superior court denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that absentee voters will be afforded fundamental fairness in the November 2020 election, and therefore, the superior court did not abuse its discretion in denying injunctive relief. View "Alliance for Retired Americans v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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On October 14, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar's (“Secretary”) application in its King’s Bench jurisdiction to consider her request for declaratory relief, limited to answering: “Whether the Election Code authorizes or requires county election boards to reject voted absentee or mail-in ballots during pre-canvassing and canvassing based on signature analysis where there are alleged or perceived signature variances?” IThe Court responded that the Election Code did not authorize or require county election boards to reject absentee or mail-in ballots during the canvassing process based on an analysis of a voter’s signature on the “declaration” contained on the official ballot return envelope for the absentee or mail-in ballot. The Court, therefore, granted the Secretary’s petition for declarative relief, and directed the county boards of elections not to reject absentee or mail-in ballots for counting, computing, and tallying based on signature comparisons conducted by county election officials or employees, or as the result of third-party challenges based on such comparisons. View "In Re: Nov 3, 2020 General Election" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit denied the motion for an administrative stay and stay pending appeal of the district court's injunction in a dispute relating to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. This action concerns the validity of Minn. Stat. 204B.13, subd. 2(c), which addresses the administration of an election when the candidate of a major political party dies after the seventy-ninth day before a general election. The section states that the governor "shall issue a writ calling for a special election to be conducted on the second Tuesday in February of the year following the year the vacancy in nomination occurred"—in this case, February 9, 2021.The district court ruled that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted, ordered that section 204B.13 must not be enforced as to the election on November 3 for Representative from the Second District, and enjoined the Minnesota Secretary of State from refusing to give legal effect to the ballots cast for Representative on November 3.The court held that appellant is not likely to succeed on the merits of his contention that section 204B.13, as applied to the current situation, may coexist with the federal election laws. The court stated that even if the death of a Republican or Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate could qualify as an exigent circumstance that would allow the State to cancel an election and trigger a vacancy in office, it is unlikely that the rationale would extend to the death of a third-party candidate from a party with the modest electoral strength exhibited to date by the Legal Marijuana Now Party in Minnesota. Furthermore, that a short period of uncertainty affected campaign fundraising and tactical decisions by the candidates also does not justify a stay of the injunction without a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sued to have the Thurston County Superior Court order the removal of one allegedly defamatory line in the voters’ guide pamphlet from challenger Maia Espinoza’s candidate statement. The superior court agreed that there was a substantial likelihood Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit based on Espinoza’s statement. Using a supervisory power conferred by RCW 29A.32.090(3)(b), the superior court ordered the secretary of state to edit out the offending line. Espinoza sought accelerated direct review, which the Washington Supreme Court granted. Because Reykdal was a public figure, he had to show “actual malice” to succeed in a defamation suit. The Supreme Court found the superior court made no findings regarding actual malice, and thus granted Reykdal’s request in error. Because there was no likelihood that Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its application of the statute. View "Reykdal v. Espinoza" on Justia Law