Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The Dawsonville City Council voted to remove W. James Grogan as mayor in May 2017. Grogan sought review of the removal by filing a direct appeal and a petition for certiorari with the superior court. Grogan continued to serve as mayor pending the appeal, and the City then filed counterclaims against Grogan for attorneys’ fees and for money had and received to recoup salary paid and other benefits provided to Grogan if the City prevailed before the superior court. Grogan moved to dismiss the City’s counterclaims under Georgia's Anti-SLAPP statute. The superior court dismissed Grogan’s appeal of the removal decision, found his certiorari petition was “procedurally defective,” denied his motion to dismiss the City’s counterclaims, and granted partial summary judgment on the City’s money-had-and-received counterclaim. Grogan argued to the Georgia Supreme Court he had the right to a direct appeal to the superior court and that his certiorari petition was not procedurally defective. Grogan also argued the superior court erred in denying his motion to dismiss under the Anti-SLAPP statute because the City’s counterclaims were filed to punish Grogan for exercising his constitutional rights to petition and free speech and the City did not establish a reasonable probability of success on the merits of those counterclaims. Furthermore, Grogan argued the court erred in granting relief to the City on its money-had-and-received counterclaim because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over that claim and failed to apply the voluntary payment doctrine. The Supreme Court concluded it had jurisdiction over this appeal, but did not consider Grogan’s challenges concerning the superior court’s dismissal of his appeal and certiorari petition from the removal decision because those claims were now moot. The Court determined the trial court erred in granting relief to the City on its money-had-and-received counterclaim. View "Grogan v. City of Dawsonville" on Justia Law

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In an election contest for a seat on the Baker County Board of Education, the Georgia Supreme Court granted the application for interlocutory appeal filed by Brendette Williams, who challenged the trial court’s denial of her motion to dismiss the contest petition filed by Sharon Heard, her opponent in the primary election. The Court concluded Heard’s challenge to the primary election was now moot, and therefore vacated the trial court’s order and remanded this case for the contest action to be dismissed. Furthermore, the Court concluded that because the trial judge did not meet the requirements of OCGA 21-2-523 (b) to preside over this action, upon remand, a judge meeting such requirements had to be selected to preside over entry of the dismissal. View "Williams v. Heard" on Justia Law

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Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente submitted a nomination petition to the Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, seeking to have his name placed upon the ballot for the 2016 general election as an independent candidate for President of the United States. That same day, De La Fuente also filed notices of candidacy for his slate of presidential electors. The Secretary of State rejected the notices of candidacy because they were submitted eleven days after the deadline set forth in OCGA 21-2-132 (d) (1). The Secretary of State also rejected the nomination petition, finding that the counties had verified only 2,964 of the signatures submitted with the petition, a number far short of the 7,500 verified signatures needed to validate the petition pursuant to a recent federal court order. After a superior court dismissed De La Fuente's subsequent lawsuit, the matter was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of De La Fuente's suit. View "De La Fuente v. Kemp" on Justia Law