Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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After a political action committee and two political candidates successfully campaigned for a ballot measure in a Redondo Beach municipal election, two citizens filed suit against the committee and the candidates, claiming the candidates had controlled the committee, which had used an improper title for itself. The trial court ruled in favor of the committee and candidates, awarding them attorney fees.In consolidated appeals, the Court of Appeal concluded that the nonparties have standing to appeal the judgment; substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that Rescue was a general purpose committee and that neither candidate controlled it; and the trial court acted beyond its authority by issuing a judgment against nonparties to the action. The court affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees to defendants, who were unquestionably the prevailing party. Finally, the court denied the request for sanctions because the appeal of the attorney fees was not frivolous. View "Travis v. Brand" on Justia Law

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Xavier Becerra and his election committee (collectively, Becerra) successfully defended a petition for writ of mandate brought by Eric Early and his election committee (collectively, Early) seeking to remove Becerra as a candidate for California's Attorney General on the November 2018 ballot. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision denying the petition. Early alleged that Becerra was ineligible for the office of Attorney General because his state bar status was “inactive” during the five years preceding the election and therefore he was not “admitted to practice” in the state as required for that period under Government Code section 12503. We held that the phrase “admitted to practice” in the statute “refers to the event of admission to the bar and the status of being admitted, and does not require engagement in the ‘actual’ or ‘active’ practice of law.” Becerra brought a motion for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, which the trial court granted awarding Becerra $69,718 in attorney fees. "Becerra's successful defense of the petition enforced an important public right and conferred a significant benefit on the general public as required by subdivision (a) of section 1021.5. . . . Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining under subdivision (b) of section 1021.5 that the financial burden Becerra incurred in defending Early’s suit outweighed any pecuniary benefit in the form of the salary paid to the Attorney General or otherwise." View "Early v. Bacerra" on Justia Law

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After garnering sufficient voter signatures to qualify, a proposed initiative entitled “Universal Childcare for San Francisco Families Initiative” was placed on the city’s June 2018 ballot as Proposition C. The initiative sought to impose an additional tax on certain commercial rents to fund early childcare and education. Approximately 51 percent of the votes cast were in favor of Proposition C. In August 2018, opponents filed suit to invalidate Proposition C on the ground that it needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass.The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city. While Proposition C imposes the type of tax that, if submitted to the voters by the Board of Supervisors, would need a two-thirds majority vote to pass, neither Proposition 13 nor Proposition 218 imposed such a requirement on a tax imposed by initiative. The absence of a constitutional provision expressly authorizing majority approval of local voter initiatives is immaterial. The City Charter does not impose a super-majority requirement View "Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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Five Asian-American residents sued the City of Santa Clara (City) contending that at-large elections for the office of city council violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (Elec. Code, 14025-14032). The trial court agreed that occurrences of racially polarized voting impaired the ability of Asian-American voters, as a result of vote dilution, to elect their preferred candidates to Santa Clara’s seven-member city council. It ordered the City to implement district-based city council elections and awarded attorney fees and costs to the plaintiffs totaling more than $3 million.The court of appeal affirmed. Racially polarized voting in five of 10 city council elections satisfied the standard for a cognizable voting rights claim, which required a showing that the majority voting bloc in Santa Clara’s electorate “usually” voted to defeat the candidate preferred by Asian-American voters. The trial court did not err in assigning more weight to certain elections and appropriately used statistical evidence to support its findings of racially polarized voting. The imposition of “race-based districts” did not violate the Equal Protection Clause nor did it impinge the City’s plenary authority as a charter city under the California Constitution to control the manner and method of electing its officers. View "Yumori-Kaku v. City of Santa Clara" on Justia Law

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The City filed a complaint for declaratory relief to establish whether Measure P, the Fresno Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Tax Ordinance, has been duly enacted through the voters' initiative power. On the same day the City filed its action, FBHC filed its own complaint for declaratory relief and petition for writ of mandate, seeking a declaration declaring that Measure P had been duly enacted.The Court of Appeal consolidated the cases and endorsed the holdings and reasoning of All Persons City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 703, 708. Finding that All Persons was controlling in this case, the court concluded that neither Proposition 13 nor Proposition 218 affects the voters' initiative power, and therefore neither imposes a two-thirds voting requirement on the passage of voter initiatives that impose special taxes. The court rejected the Association's policy argument, noting that the Association's policy concerns are best addressed by the Legislature. The court reversed the judgments; on the City's action, the court ordered the trial court to enter a new judgment in favor of FBHC declaring that Measure P has passed; and on FBHC's action, the court directed the trial court to enter a new judgment granting FBHC's request for declaratory relief and declaring that Measure P has passed. View "City of Fresno v. Fresno Building Healthy Communities" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, the voters in San Francisco passed Proposition A, the Embarcadero Seawall Earthquake Safety Bond, by 82.7 percent of the popular vote. The following spring, Denny filed a lawsuit to set aside Proposition A, alleging that the ballot materials were not fair and impartial, and citing Elections Code section 16100. Specifically, he claimed that the digest prepared by the Ballot Simplification Committee was not impartial; the city should not have included paid ballot arguments in the Voter Information Pamphlet; the ballot question did not include the phrase “shall the measure . . . be adopted”; the ballot question was not impartial and the title should not have been printed in upper case letters; and the ballot question was too long. The trial court dismissed without leave to amend.The court of appeal affirmed. Although Denny labeled his claim statutory misconduct by defendants under section 16100(c), his complaint is actually a challenge to the sufficiency and impartiality of Proposition A’s digest and ballot materials, and that is a claim that can only be raised pre-election. The voters were provided with the full text of Proposition A, so it is assumed that any alleged discrepancies in the ballot materials did not affect the voters’ ability to vote intelligently. View "Denny v. Arntz" on Justia Law

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As the foundation for the application of Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 to this case, the Court of Appeal held that an unincorporated association has standing to appear in an election contest as a representative of its members if (1) its members live in the area affected by the outcome of the election, (2) its members would suffer injury from an adverse outcome in the election contest, and (3) the questions involved were of a public nature.In this case, the court held that the unincorporated association met these requirements where it is undisputed that the patients residing at CSH-Coalinga are in an area affected by the referendum vote on Measure C; the members of DACE would have been harmed in at least two ways if the election contest was successful; and the specific challenge of illegal votes raised in this election contest involves questions of a public nature. The court held that the trial court's analysis of DACE's right to intervene in the election contest in the order denying the motion for attorney fees did not accurately reflect California law governing an unincorporated association and (2) DACE qualified for permissive intervention. Furthermore, as a de facto intervenor and based on its unique contribution to the evidence and argument presented in the trial court, DACE qualified as a party for purposes of section 1021.5's "successful party" requirement. The court rejected the remaining contentions, reversing the order denying the motion for attorney fees. View "Vosburg v. County of Fresno" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, the chairs of the California Assembly and Senate committees that consider election-related matters prepared a formal letter to Governor Gavin Newsom indicating they were working on legislation to ensure Californians could vote by mail in light of the emergency occasioned by COVID-19. The Governor issued Executive Order No. N-64-20 on May 8, 2020, which required all voters to be provided vote-by-mail ballots. That order affirmed, however, that the administration continued to work “in partnership with the Secretary of State and the Legislature on requirements for in-person voting opportunities and how other details of the November election will be implemented” and “[n]othing in this Order is intended, or shall be construed, to limit the enactment of legislation on that subject.” The order was signed on June 3, 2020. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review concerned an order of the Sutter County Superior Court, entered on June 12, 2020, granting a temporary restraining order against the Executive Order, finding it constituted “an impermissible use of legislative powers in violation of the California Constitution and the laws of the State of California.” The Court of Appeal determined there was no basis for the superior court to grant real parties in interest relief using ex parte procedures prescribed by California law. "The hearing on the ex parte application, conducted only one day after the underlying action was filed in superior court, was held without proper notice to the Governor or his appearance. Apart from these procedural deficiencies, real parties in interest also failed to make the requisite substantive showing for use of an ex parte proceeding. In short, the real parties in interest failed to present competent evidence establishing imminent harm from the Governor’s executive order requiring immediate action." View "Newsome v. Superior Court (Gallagher)" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the City of Santa Monica's system of at-large voting to elect its City Council discriminated against Latinos. The trial court agreed and ordered the City to switch to district-based voting.The Court of Appeal reversed and entered judgment for the City, holding that the City violated neither the California Voting Rights Act nor the Constitution. In this case, the City correctly notes that plaintiff offered no valid proof of dilution in order to prove that the City's at-large method impaired Latinos' ability to elect candidates of their choice or to influence the outcome of an election as a result of the dilution of Latino voting rights. Furthermore, plaintiffs failed to prove that the City adopted or maintained its system for the purpose of discriminating against minorities. View "Pico Neighborhood Assoc. v. City of Santa Monica" on Justia Law

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In the November 2018 general election, 61percent of San Francisco voters voted for Proposition C, entitled “Additional Business Taxes to Fund Homeless Services.” San Francisco filed suit to establish that Proposition C has been validly enacted through the voters’ initiative power. The City’s complaint against “All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C” was answered by three defendants: the California Business Properties Association, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the California Business Roundtable (the Associations). The Associations allege that Proposition C is invalid because it imposes a special tax approved by less than two-thirds of the voting electorate as required by Propositions 13 and 218. (California Constitution Art. XIII A, section 4 & Art. XIII C, section 2(d).)The trial court granted the City judgment on the pleadings. The court of appeal affirmed, citing two California Supreme Court cases interpreting other language from Proposition 13 and Proposition 218. The supermajority vote requirements that those propositions added to the state constitution coexist with and do not displace the people’s power to enact initiatives by majority vote. Because a majority of San Francisco voters who cast ballots in November 2018 favored Proposition C, the initiative measure was validly enacted. View "City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in Proposition C" on Justia Law