Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

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The Pennsylvania Democratic Party and several Democratic elected officials and congressional candidates, some in their official capacity and/or as private citizens (collectively, “Petitioner”), filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief relating primarily to five issues of statutory interpretation involving Act 77 of 2019 and the Election Code, 25 P.S. sections 2600-3591. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court exercised Extraordinary Jurisdiction to address these issues and to clarify the law of the Commonwealth in time for the 2020 General Election. Petitioner requested: (1) declaratory relief to confirm Act 77 permitted local election boards “to provide secure, easily accessible locations ... where appropriate, mobile or temporary collection sites, and/or drop-boxes for the collection of mail-in ballots; (2) an injunction to “lift the deadline in the Election Code across the state to allow any ballot postmarked by 8:00 p.m. on Election Night to be counted if it is received by the Boards” by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 10, the deadline for ballots to be received under the Federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act or to allow boards discretion to extend deadlines to 21 days after the voter's ballot is mailed by the county; (3) an injunction requiring boards to contact electors whose mailed-in ballots are incomplete or incorrectly completed; (4) a declaration there was no no statutory authority to set aside an absentee or mail-in ballot solely for failure to place it into the "secrecy envelope"; and (5) a declaration that the “Election Code’s poll watcher residency requirement does not violate the United States Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments, its Equal Protection Clause, or the Equal Protection and Free and Equal Elections Clauses of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” The Supreme Court granted relief on counts 1, 2 and 5 of the petition; the Court denied relief sought on counts 3 and 4. View "PA Dem Party. v. Boockvar, et al : Boockvar" on Justia Law

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Between March and August 2020, the Green Party of Pennsylvania (“Green Party”) circulated signature pages for a nomination paper pertaining to a slate of five candidates for federal and state office: Elizabeth Faye Scroggin for President of the United States; Neal Taylor Gale for Vice President of the United States; Timothy Runkle for Treasurer of Pennsylvania; Olivia Faison for Auditor General of Pennsylvania; and Richard Weiss for Attorney General of Pennsylvania. On August 3, the deadline for filing nomination papers, Runkle presented the nomination paper at issue in this appeal. Runkle appended to the nomination paper notarized candidate affidavits for himself, Faison, and Weiss, but he did not submit affidavits for Scroggin or Gale. Instead, Runkle’s submission included a notarized candidate affidavit for Howie Hawkins and a non-notarized affidavit for Angela Walker (“Candidates”), who were nominated as the Green Party’s candidates for President and Vice President, respectively, at the national Green Party Convention in July 2020. On August 10, the Green Party filed two Substitute Nomination Certificates, seeking to replace Scroggin and Gale with Hawkins and Walker. The certificates, which were signed and notarized on August 6 (for Hawkins) and 7 (for Walker), indicated that the cause of each vacancy was “[r]esignation,” and that the substitutions of Hawkins and Walker were made by the Green Party on August 2, the day before Runkle presented the nomination paper in the filing office designated by the Department. Objectors filed a petition to set aside the Green Party candidates’ nomination paper as to the entire slate as well as to the purported substitutions and candidacies of Hawkins and Walker. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court erred in dismissing Objectors’ petition to set aside Scroggin’s nomination, and Hawkins’ substitution, as the Green Party’s candidate for President of the United States. The Court found Scroggin failed to comply with the Election Code’s strict mandate that she append an original affidavit to her nomination paper, and the party’s use of Hawkins’ affidavit while presenting a nomination paper in which he was not “named therein” did not suffice to cure that error. "That defect was fatal to Scroggin’s nomination and, therefore, to Hawkins’ substitution." Accordingly, the Secretary of the Commonwealth was directed to remove Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker from the general election ballot as the Green Party’s nominees for President and Vice President. View "In Re: Nom Papers of Scroggin; Appeal of Stefano" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted in part and dismissed in part an original action brought by Petitioners challenging the sufficiency of a state-wide petition to refer Act 579 of 2019 to the people of Arkansas on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot, holding that the petition was insufficient because it did not comply with Ark. Code Ann. 7-9-601(b)(3).Act 579 expanded the scope of the practice of optometry in Arkansas to permit licensed optometrists to perform certain procedures. Safe Surgery Arkansas (SSA), a ballot-question committee, filed with the Secretary its petition containing more than 84,000 signatures. The Secretary certified that the petition met constitutional signature requirements. Thereafter, Petitioners filed the instant original action alleging four counts regarding the insufficiency of the petition. The special master found that SSA lacked sufficient valid signatures to qualify the petition for the ballot. The Supreme Court granted in part and dismissed as moot in part the petition, holding (1) SSA's petition was insufficient because it failed to certify that its paid canvassers had passed criminal background checks; and (2) the remaining challenges to the petition were moot. View "Arkansans for Healthy Eyes v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed as moot Count I of Petitioners' complaint alleging that a proposed ballot petition's ballot title and popular name were invalid, holding that, in light of the holding of a companion case handed down today concluding that the proposed ballot petition was insufficient, Count I was moot.The Secretary of State certified a statewide referendum petition on Act 579 of 2019 for placement on the November 3, 2020 general-election ballot. Petitioners filed this original action challenging the proposed ballot petition and alleging four counts related to the sufficient of the petition. The Supreme Court bifurcated the proceedings between Count I and Counts II-IV. In a companion case, the Supreme Court granted the petition in part, concluding that the proposed ballot petition was insufficient. Because of this holding, any rulings on the issues in Count I were moot. View "Arkansans For Healthy Eyes v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed as moot Appellees' motion to dismiss the appeal by Citizens for a Better Pope County, a local option ballot question committee, holding that the claims set forth in Citizens' appeal were moot.After the Pope County Quorum Court adopted a resolution in support of a casino license application, Citizens sought declaratory and injunctive relief in the circuit court requesting an order prohibiting and county judge and quorum court from taking any official action to expressly approve a casino applicant without first presenting the issue to voters in an election, as required by Ordinance 2018-O-42. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss. The day before the hearing on the motion Ordinance 2018-O-42 was repealed. The circuit court denied declaratory relief, concluding that Ordinance 2018-O-42 unconstitutionally conflicted with amendment 100 of the Arkansas Constitution, and further held that the mandamus request was moot. The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal as moot, holding that, due to the repeal of Ordinance 2018-O-42, this Court's judgment on Citizens' claims would have no practical effect on an existing legal controversy. View "Citizens for a Better Pope County v. Cross" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed as moot Plaintiff's appeal from the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint challenging a referendum petition preventing Act 579 of 2019 from becoming law, holding that because of the resolution of the petition for referendum in a separate case, this appeal was moot.Act 579 permits optometrists to perform surgical procedures. Defendant, a ballot question committee, filed a statewide referendum petition preventing the Act from becoming law. Plaintiff, also a ballot question committee, was formed to defend the Act. Plaintiff filed a complaint asking the circuit court to enjoin the Secretary of State from counting the petition signatures because the petition did not comply with newly enacted Act 376. The circuit court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and concluded that the case was barred by res judicata. Plaintiff appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that a decision decided today that the petition for referendum cannot be placed on the ballot mooted the issues here. View "Arkansans For Healthy Eyes v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioners' petition for leave to commence an original action and motion for temporary injunctive relief in this election matter, holding that it was too late to grant Petitioners any form of relief that would be feasible and that would not cause confusion and undue damage to the Wisconsin electors and the other candidates in the various races on the general election ballot.Petitioners were the Green Party's candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. Because the Commission failed to certify at least 2000 valid signatures Petitioners filed a petition for leave to commence an original action and a motion for temporary injunctive relief asking that the Supreme Court order that their names be placed on Wisconsin's 2020 fall general election ballot. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding (1) Petitioners delayed seeking relief in a situation where hundreds, if not thousands, of absentee ballots have already been mailed to electors; and (2) therefore, this Court declines to exercise its original jurisdiction due to the lack of sufficient time to complete its review and award any effective relief without completely upsetting the election. View "Hawkins v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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The people of Florida amended their state constitution to restore the voting rights of convicted felons. Before regaining the right to vote, felons must complete all the terms of their sentences, including imprisonment, probation, and payment of any fines, fees, costs, and restitution. Felons sued, challenging the requirement that they pay their fines, fees, costs, and restitution before regaining the right to vote. They alleged the requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause as applied to felons who cannot pay; imposed a tax on voting in violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment; was void for vagueness; and adopted requirements that make it difficult for them to determine whether they are eligible to vote. The district court permanently enjoined the condition's enforcement.The Eleventh Circuit reversed. States may restrict voting by felons in ways that would be impermissible for other citizens. Laws governing felon disenfranchisement and re-enfranchisement are generally subject to rational basis review; “reform may take one step at a time.” Florida has legitimate interests in disenfranchising convicted felons, even those who have completed their sentences, and in restoring felons to the electorate after justice has been done and they have been fully rehabilitated. Fines, which are paid to the government as punishment for a crime, and restitution, which compensates crime victims, are not taxes. Felons and law enforcement can readily discern exactly what conduct is prohibited: a felon may not vote or register to vote if he knows that he has failed to complete all terms of his criminal sentence. View "Jones v. Governor of Florida" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus sought by Relators ordering the members of the Stow City Council to hold an administrative vote on nine amendments to the Stow City Charter that were proposed by the 2020 Charter Review Commission and to issue an ordinance certifying the amendments to the board for placement on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot, holding that the Relators were not entitled to the writ.The Supreme Court denied the writs of the basis of the doctrine of laches, as well as Relators' failure to establish the existence of a clear legal right to the requested relief and a clear legal duty on the part of Respondents to provide it. The Court held (1) Relators met the elements of laches, and therefore, the doctrine of laches barred Relators' claims; and (2) Relators did not establish a clear and legal right to the requested relief, a clear legal duty on the part of Respondents to grant it, or a lack of an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law. View "State ex rel. Syx v. Stow City Council" on Justia Law

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Section 82.003 of the Texas Election Code does not violate plaintiff's Twenty-Sixth Amendment right to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs based their Twenty-Sixth Amendment claim on the argument that differential treatment in allowing voters aged 65 and older to vote by mail without excuse constitutes, at least during the pandemic, a denial or abridgment of a younger citizen's right to vote on account of age.The Fifth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction requiring Texas officials to allow any Texan eligible to vote to do so by absentee ballot. After determining that the voter plaintiffs have met their burden on the causation prong and therefore have standing, the court held that sovereign immunity does not bar suit against the Secretary and the political question doctrine does not bar the court's review.On the merits, the court held that adding a benefit to another class of voters neither denies nor abridges plaintiffs' Twenty-Sixth Amendment right to vote. The court explained that at-risk voters of any age can utilize the Election Code's disability provision to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. However, it does not permit all voters to claim that reasonable fear of exposure is a disability. The court further stated that there are quite reasonable concerns about voting in person, but the state's mandating that many voters continue to vote in that way does not amount to an absolute prohibition of the right to vote. As to abridgment, the court stated that voters under age 65 did not have no-excuse absentee voting prior to the pandemic. Furthermore, requiring many to vote in person during this crisis, with safety measures being imposed and some flexibility as to "disability" being shown, does not amount to an unconstitutional status quo. The court noted that the real issue here is equal protection, which is not before the court. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott" on Justia Law