Justia Election Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Camden County v. Sweatt, et al.
Camden County, Georgia appealed a superior court's denial of its “Petition for Writ of Prohibition and Other Relief” concerning an order entered by Camden County Probate Judge Robert Sweatt, Jr., setting a special election for a referendum on whether resolutions authorizing the County’s purchase of land for a rocket launch facility should have been repealed (the “Referendum”). The County claimed the Referendum was not authorized under Subsection (b) (2) of Article IX, Section II, Paragraph I of the Georgia Constitution, which established home rule for counties (the “Home Rule Paragraph”) and that the results of the Referendum are a nullity. As a result, the County argued that the superior court erred in denying its petition for writs of prohibition and mandamus against Judge Sweatt and its petition for a judgment declaring that the Referendum was not authorized under the Constitution. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the superior court. View "Camden County v. Sweatt, et al." on Justia Law
Camp v. Williams, et al.
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
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Supreme Court of Georgia
Schmitz v. Barron et al.
Warren Schmitz contested the results of the November 3, 2020, election to fill the seat for Georgia House of Representatives District 52. The certified election results showed that 17,069 votes were cast for Shea Roberts, and 16,692 votes were cast for incumbent Deborah Silcox, thus making Roberts the winner by 377 votes. Claiming a variety of irregularities, Schmitz filed a timely petition in Fulton County Superior Court on November 25, 2020, to contest the results of the House District 52 election. On April 22, 2021, that petition was dismissed by the superior court based on its determination that Roberts had to be served with the notice of the election contest under OCGA 21-2-524 (f) and its finding that Schmitz failed to exercise diligence to see that Roberts was properly served. On appeal, Schmitz contended these determinations were erroneous and that the trial court lacked the authority to dismiss the case on this basis. However, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the superior court that OCGA 21-2-524 (f) required candidates to be served with notice of the election contest. "Moreover, because the findings of the superior court with respect to diligence are supported by the record and because dismissal of the election contest was within the superior court’s discretion, we affirm." View "Schmitz v. Barron et al." on Justia Law
Smith v. Long Cty. Bd. of Elections & Registration, et al.
Appellant Bobby Smith ran against Teresa Odum for the office of Probate Judge of Long County, Georgia on June 9, 2020. Following Odum’s victory, Smith filed a petition to contest the Election results, alleging there were: (1) irregularities committed by election officials; (2) illegal votes cast in the election; and (3) wrongfully rejected votes (collectively “irregularities”). After a three-day bench trial, the trial court concluded that the evidence was insufficient to cast doubt on the results of the Election and denied the petition. Smith appealed, asserting in four related enumerations of error that the trial court erred by not ordering a new election. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court determined seven ballots should have been rejected: “Those seven ballots are not sufficient to place the results of the Election in doubt given the nine-vote margin of victory in this case.” Finding no error in the trial court’s denial of Smith’s petition to contest the Election, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Smith v. Long Cty. Bd. of Elections & Registration, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Election Law, Supreme Court of Georgia
Bell v. Raffensperger
Andrew Bell challenged the denial of his application for mandamus and injunctive relief in which he sought to compel Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to include Bell’s name as an independent candidate on the ballot for the November 3, 2020 election for Georgia House District 85. Among other things, Bell claimed that he collected the signatures required for him to qualify as a candidate, and that the trial court erred by not requiring the Secretary to place Bell’s name on the ballot. Because the November 3, 2020 general election is over and the ballots have been printed, cast, and counted, however, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded there was no such ballot upon which Bell could still be placed, thus the Court could not grant Bell the relief he requested. This appeal was dismissed as moot. View "Bell v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law
Posted in: Election Law, Supreme Court of Georgia
Rhoden, et al. v. Athens-Clarke County Bd. of Elections, et al.
Jerry NeSmith earned enough support to be placed on the ballot for the office of district commissioner for the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government. NeSmith died just three days before Election Day. In addition to the personal loss of his family and friends, NeSmith’s death before Election Day ultimately resulted in an electoral loss for his supporters, a number of whom joined to bring suit in superior court challenging the results of the election. The Georgia Supreme Court found that because the applicable Georgia statutes dictated that votes cast on paper ballots for a candidate who died before Election Day were void, none of the votes cast for NeSmith had legal effect. Therefore, the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections properly applied Georgia law by voiding votes cast for NeSmith and declaring Jesse Houle the commissioner-elect for Athens-Clarke County Commission. The superior court order dismissing appellants' election challenge was affirmed. View "Rhoden, et al. v. Athens-Clarke County Bd. of Elections, et al." on Justia Law
Kemp v. Gonzalez
The federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Georgia Supreme Court. In it, the federal appellate court asked whether OCGA section 45-5-3.2 conflicted with the Georgia Constitution, Article VI, Section VII, Paragraph I(a) or any other provision of the state constitution. The question arose over Deborah Gonzalez's attempt to qualify for the November 3, 2020 general election for the office of district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit after Ken Mauldin resigned from the office effective February 29. The Georgia Secretary of State determined that Gonzalez could not qualify for the November 2020 election for district attorney because, under OCGA 45-5-3.2 (a), there would not be an election for that position until November 2022 – the state-wide general election immediately prior to the expiration of the Governor’s future appointee’s term. Though the vacancy began more than six months before the scheduled November 2020 election, the Governor did not make an appointment in time to maintain that scheduled election pursuant to the provisions of the statute. In May 2020, Gonzalez and four other registered voters sued the Governor and the Secretary of State at the federal District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Gonzalez alleged that OCGA 45-5-3.2 (a) violated Paragraph I (a) and moved for a preliminary injunction to mandate the Governor move forward with the November 2020 election for district attorney. The district court granted the request, finding Gonzalez would likely succeed on her federal due process claim because OGCA 45-5-3.2(a) conflicted with Paragraph I(a) and was therefore unconstitutional. The Supreme Court responded to the federal appellate court in the affirmative: the answer to the question was “yes” to the extent that OCGA 45-5-3.2 authorized a district attorney appointed by the Governor to serve beyond the remainder of the unexpired four-year term of the prior district attorney without an election as required by Article VI, Section VIII, Paragraph I (a) of the Georgia Constitution of 1983. View "Kemp v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law
Barrow v. Raffensperger
These cases involved challenges to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to cancel the election originally scheduled for May 19, 2020, for the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia held by Justice Keith Blackwell. Justice Blackwell’s current term was set to end on December 31, 2020, and the next standard six-year term for his office would begin on January 1, 2021. However, on February 26, Justice Blackwell submitted a letter to Governor Brian P. Kemp resigning from his office effective November 18, 2020. The Governor accepted Justice Blackwell’s resignation and announced that he would appoint a successor to the office. The Secretary canceled the May 19 election for the next term of Justice Blackwell’s office on the ground that his resignation, once it was accepted, created a vacancy that the Governor could fill by appointment, and thus no election was legally required. The appellants in these cases, John Barrow and Elizabeth Beskin, each then tried to qualify for that election but were turned away by the Secretary’s office. They each then filed a petition for mandamus seeking to compel the Secretary to allow qualifying for, and ultimately to hold, the May 19 election for the next term of Justice Blackwell’s office. Beskin also asserted that the Secretary’s decision violated her federal constitutional rights. The trial court denied the mandamus petitions and rejected Beskin’s federal claims, agreeing with the Secretary that a current vacancy was created in Justice Blackwell’s office when his resignation was accepted by the Governor, which gave rise to the Governor's power to appoint a successor. Barrow and Beskin appealed the trial court's orders, both arguing the trial court should have granted their petitions because there was no current vacancy in Justice Blackwell’s office that the Governor could fill by appointment before the May 19 election and because the Secretary had no discretion to cancel a statutorily required election. Beskin also argued she was entitled to relief based on her federal claims. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court held that while the trial court’s reasoning was mistaken, its conclusion that the Secretary of State could not be compelled by mandamus to hold the May 19 election for Justice Blackwell’s office was correct. "Under the Georgia Constitution and this Court’s precedent, a vacancy in a public office must exist before the Governor can fill that office by appointment, and a vacancy exists only when the office is unoccupied by an incumbent. Because Justice Blackwell continues to occupy his office, the trial court erred in concluding that his office is presently vacant; accordingly, the Governor’s appointment power has not yet arisen." View "Barrow v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law
Parham v. Stewart
This case stemmed from a challenge to the results of the March 2018 special election for the mayor of the City of Blythe, Georgia, wherein Appellee Phillip Stewart defeated Appellant Cynthia Parham by a margin of four votes. Appellant filed a petition contesting the election results, alleging that illegal votes had been cast in the mayoral election. After a bench trial, the court concluded that Appellant had failed to show that enough illegal votes had been cast to change or place in doubt the result of the election. Appellant filed a notice of appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court and, finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Parham v. Stewart" on Justia Law
Coalition for Good Governance v. Raffensperger
Petitioners challenged the 2018 election for lieutenant governor, an election in which more than 3.7 million Georgians cast a vote. They alleged defects in electronic voting machines cast doubt on the election in which Geoff Duncan defeated Sarah Riggs Amico by 123,172 votes. To prevail, a party contesting an election must therefore offer evidence, not merely theories or conjecture, that places in doubt the result of an election. "And although the technology our State has used to conduct elections has changed over time, the burden a party carries when challenging the result of an election has not. The Petitioners in this case have not carried that burden." View "Coalition for Good Governance v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law