Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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New Jersey permits candidates running in primary elections to include beside their name a slogan of up to six words to help distinguish them from others on the ballot but requires that candidates obtain consent from individuals or incorporated associations before naming them in their slogans. Candidates challenged this requirement after their desired slogans were rejected for failure to obtain consent. They argued that ballot slogans are, in effect, part of the campaign and that the consent requirement should be subject to traditional First Amendment scrutiny.The district court disagreed, holding that, though the ballot slogans had an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test. The Third Circuit affirmed. The line separating core political speech from the mechanics of the electoral process “has proven difficult to ascertain.“ The court surveyed the election laws to which the Supreme Court and appellate courts have applied the Anderson-Burdick test, as opposed to a traditional First Amendment analysis, and derived criteria to help distinguish which test is applicable. New Jersey’s consent requirement is subject to Anderson-Burdick’s balancing test; because New Jersey’s interests in ensuring election integrity and preventing voter confusion outweigh the minimal burden imposed on candidates’ speech, the requirement passes that test. View "Mazo v. New Jersey Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Tennessee imposed new requirements for conducting voter-registration activities. The law required individuals to register with the state; complete state-administered “training”; file a “sworn statement” agreeing to obey Tennessee’s voter-registration laws; and return “completed” voter-registration forms within 10 days. Plaintiffs argued that the law significantly burdened their rights of speech and association, in violation of the First Amendment, and was unconstitutionally vague. The court stated that the defendants had offered “little, if any, evidence” in support of the Act’s requirements, “despite having had an opportunity” and held that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits, further noting “the vagueness about the scope and nature" of the Act. The court “ordered” the defendants “not to take any steps to implement” or otherwise enforce the challenged provisions. The defendants did not appeal. Seven months later, the state repealed the provisions.The district court approved a stipulation to dismiss the case without prejudice. Plaintiffs were awarded attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988, as the “prevailing party.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A preliminary injunction that, as a practical matter, concludes the litigation in the plaintiffs’ favor and that is not challenged on appeal, is, in this case, enduring enough to support prevailing-party status under section 1988. View "Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, appeals the district court’s denial of her Motion for Preliminary Injunctive Relief. In her motion, Rep. Greene asked the district court to enjoin the state court’s application of O.C.G.A. Section 21-2-5 (“Challenge Statute”) against her to prevent her from being disqualified as a candidate for Congress under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.   The Eleventh Circuit remanded the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. The court explained that Rep. Greene sought to enjoin the application of the Challenge Statute against her in the state proceedings to prevent her from being disqualified as a candidate for Congress under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the state proceedings under the Challenge Statute have concluded, and Rep. Greene has prevailed at each stage: the ALJ ruled in Rep. Greene’s favor, Secretary Raffensperger adopted the ALJ’s conclusions, the Superior Court of Fulton County affirmed the Secretary’s decision, and the Supreme Court of Georgia denied the Challengers’ application for discretionary review. Ultimately, Rep. Greene was not disqualified from being a candidate for Congress and is presently on the ballot for the upcoming election. Accordingly, the court no longer has the ability to accord Rep. Greene meaningful relief. Therefore the court held that the case is moot. View "Marjorie Taylor Greene v. Secretary of State for the State of Georgia, et al" on Justia Law

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Nicholas Holliday appealed a circuit court decision, arguing the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to resolve an election contest brought by Robert Devaull concerning the 2020 Democratic Primary Runoff Election for Alderman, Ward I, in Aberdeen, Mississippi. Holliday relied on Devaull’s failure to comply with the statutory requirements of Mississippi Code Section 23-15-927. Additionally, Holliday argued that the trial court committed manifest error by determining that a special election was warranted. Because it found the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the trial court was without authority to order a new election. Judgment was reversed and entered in favor of Holliday. View "In Re: Democratic Ward 1 Run-Off Election for the City of Aberdeen, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Dakotans for Health (“DFH”), a South Dakota ballot question committee, sought to place a constitutional amendment measure on South Dakota’s 2022 general election ballot. To get on the ballot, DFH would need to submit nearly 34,000 valid signatures to the South Dakota Secretary of State. When DFH filed its complaint, it employed a paid petition circulator, Pam Cole, to help it obtain these signatures. The district court preliminarily enjoined South Dakota officials from enforcing these requirements. On appeal, the Appellants argued DFH does not have standing to challenge SB 180. Alternatively, they argue the preliminary injunction was unwarranted and improper and thus the district court abused its discretion by entering it.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded DFH is likely to succeed in showing SB 180 is facially invalid as overbroad in that it violates the First Amendment in a substantial number of its applications. It discriminates against paid circulators for reasons unrelated to legitimate state interests, reduces the pool of circulators available to DFH, and restricts the speech of DFH by sweeping too broadly in its requirements. Put another way, SB 180 is not narrowly tailored to serve South Dakota’s important interests.   Further, the court concluded that the balance of harms and the public interest also favor DFH. While South Dakota has important interests in protecting the integrity of the ballot initiative process, it has no interest in enforcing overbroad restrictions that likely violate the Constitution. Thus, the court found that DFH has satisfied the requirements for issuance of a preliminary injunction and that the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "Dakotans for Health v. Kristi Noem" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied a writ of mandamus compelling Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to allow Relator to appoint election observers to inspect the counting of votes and compelling LaRose to provide election observers with copies of all software, hardware, and source codes installed on any automatic vote-tabulating machine, holding that Relator was not entitled to the writ.Relator, an independent candidate for Ohio Secretary of State on the November 8, 2022 general-election ballot, brought this expedited election case (1) asserting that Ohio Rev. Code 3505.21, which governs the appointment of election observers, violates constitutional equal protection guarantees because it restricts certified independent candidates' ability to appoint election observers; and (2) asking that tabulating-machine software be "open or unlocked" so that observers "may inspect [the machines] to the source code level[.]" The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding that there was no basis for a writ of mandamus to issue. View "State ex rel. Maras v. LaRose" on Justia Law

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In 2020 Alaska voters approved, by a slim margin, a ballot initiative that made sweeping changes to Alaska’s system of elections. The changes included replacing the system of political party primary elections with a nonpartisan primary election and adopting ranked-choice voting for the general election. A coalition of politically active voters and a political party filed suit, arguing that these changes violated the Alaska Constitution. The superior court ruled otherwise. The Alaska Supreme Court considered the appeal on an expedited basis and affirmed the superior court’s judgment in a brief order. The Court concluded the challengers did not carry their burden to show that the Alaska Constitution prohibited the election system Alaska voters have chosen. The Court published its opinion to explain its reasoning. View "Kohlhaas, et al. v.Alaska, Division of Elections, et al." on Justia Law

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After the representative from Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District was appointed to serve as a cabinet secretary, the State held an out-of-cycle election to fill the seat. Plaintiffs, The Coalition for Good Governance did not trust the results. It organized several lawsuits targeting Georgia elections, including the one here: an action contending that the “precise outcome” of the runoff for the Sixth District seat was unknowable because the State’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to hacking. The Coalition (along with several individual plaintiffs) asked for a declaration that the runoff election was void and for an injunction against the system’s future use. Georgia began using new machines allowing voters to select their choices electronically.   Plaintiffs amended their complaint and moved to enjoin the use of the new election equipment. The district court entered its partial relief, and the Eleventh Circuit stayed the district court’s judgment. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s preliminary injunction on the state’s paper backup check-in list, as well as its related directives on provisional and emergency ballots, and dismissed the appeal with respect to the scanner order.   The court explained that the Coalition has not demonstrated a severe burden on the right to vote attributable to the State’s print date for the paper backup. The district court erred in treating that print date as such and abused its discretion when it reviewed the State’s backup practices under strict scrutiny. The court wrote that federal courts must resist the temptation to step into the role of elected representatives. View "Donna Curling, et al. v. Brad Raffensperger, et al." on Justia Law

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This case was a dispute over who could run for Chief Magistrate Judge of Douglas County, Georgia in the November 2022 election. After the incumbent successfully challenged the qualifications of the only person who qualified to run for the Democratic nomination, the Douglas County Democratic Party Executive Committee purported to name a replacement. That led to another challenge, this one by the incumbent’s husband (a registered voter eligible to vote in the election), contending that the substitution was improper. The superior court agreed that the Douglas County Board of Elections and Registration (the “Board”) was not legally authorized to allow the substitution, but ruled that the statutory vehicle through which the challenge was asserted — OCGA § 21-2-6 — covered only challenges to a candidate’s qualifications to hold office, not whether the candidate fulfilled the necessary prerequisites to seek office. The Georgia Supreme Court granted an application for expedited consideration in the light of the rapidly approaching election, and reversed. "Code section 21-2-6 allows the challenge here because 'qualifications,' as that term is used in the statute, includes all of the prerequisites for seeking and holding office. The substitute candidate did not properly qualify to seek office, so the Board lacked authority to put him on the ballot. And because electors have an interest in having the community’s government offices filled by duly qualified officials, the Board’s decision allowing an unqualified candidate on the ballot violated a substantial right of an elector." View "Camp v. Williams, et al." on Justia Law

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NJBA, a non-profit trade association representing 88 New Jersey banks, sought to make independent expenditures and contributions to political parties and campaigns for state and local offices. NJBA has not made these payments because of N.J. Stats. 19:34-45, which provides that, “[n]o corporation carrying on the business of a bank . . . shall pay or contribute money or thing of value in order to aid or promote the nomination or election of any person, or in order to aid or promote the interests, success or defeat of any political party.” NJBA brought a facial challenge on its own behalf and on behalf of third-party banks.The district court held that section 19:34-45’s prohibition on independent expenditures violates the First Amendment but that the ban on political contributions by certain corporations does not violate the First Amendment and passes intermediate scrutiny. The Third Circuit reversed, declining to address the First Amendment issues. The statute does not apply to trade associations of banks. NJBA is not “carrying on the business of a bank.” With respect to the facial challenge, NJBA does not satisfy the narrow exception to the general rule against third-party standing. View "New Jersey Bankers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law