Justia Election Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Mohn v. Bucks Co. Republican Committee
Appellant Daniel Mohn was a Republican committeeperson of Appellee, the Bucks County Republican Committee, for the voting district of Yardley Borough. In 2014, he was first elected to a two-year term, and reelected in 2016. After the election, the acting chairman of Appellee’s Ethics Committee sent a letter to Appellant advising him that complaints had been lodged by Bryan McNamara and Nicholas and Sandra Liberato, alleging among other things, that Appellant had “actively campaigned against an endorsed candidate for committeeman and disparaged the importance and value of the Bucks County Republican Committee Sample Ballot.” In his correspondence to Appellant, the acting chairman also related that an investigatory hearing had been scheduled before the Ethics Committee. Appellant asked for, and was granted, a short continuance. Appellant's counsel took the position that the Code of Ethics reposited in the Committee Rules applied solely to elected and appointed public officials, not party officials. As such, counsel opined that the Ethics Committee lacked the authority to conduct any proceedings and asserted that the hearing should be cancelled. In the alternative, counsel reiterated his request for a longer continuance and complained that he hadn’t been provided with requested documents. The hearing before the Ethics Committee apparently proceeded nevertheless, and at the conclusion of the hearing, the Executive Committee voted to disqualify Appellant as a committeeperson and declare his office vacant. Appellant and two other individuals filed a complaint in the court of common pleas seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent their removal as committeepersons, as well as an award of attorneys’ fees as a sanction for purported bad faith. The plaintiffs also filed a separate emergency motion asking the court to enjoin the conduct of any hearing before the Executive Committee. The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this matter reduced to a question of the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania courts to intervene in the internal affairs of political parties. The Court credited Appellee's position that “through its internal, self-organized apparatus, [it was] permitted to construe its own governing rules and to disqualify elected occupants of its offices from participation in its affairs by exercising its own judgment, free from judicial interference.” View "Mohn v. Bucks Co. Republican Committee" on Justia Law
In Re: Nom. s. of Major, R.
The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review required the Court to revisit its relatively recent holding that the signature of a registered voter “may not be stricken from a nominating petition solely because the address set forth on the nominating petition is different from the address at which the signer is currently registered to vote.” Following the Court's unanimous decision in In re Vodvarka, 140 A.3d 639 (Pa. 2016), the General Assembly in October of 2019 enacted Act 77, which made significant changes to Pennsylvania’s Election Code, such as the advent of no-excuse mail-in voting. One lesser-known change effected by Act 77 was the amendment of 25 P.S. section 2868, which required a signer of a nominating petition to add certain information. Significantly, only one change was made to the statute by the amendment: the former requirement that a signer add his “residence” was replaced with a new requirement that he add the “address where he is duly registered and enrolled.” After careful review, the Supreme Court concluded this legislative change in statutory text displaced the Court's holding in Vodvarka pertaining to the address requirement. Furthermore, the Court concluded the statute as amended, plainly and unambiguously imposed a mandatory duty on a signer of a nominating petition to add the address where he or she was duly registered and enrolled, and that the failure to comply with this requirement exposes the signature to viable legal challenge. As the Commonwealth Court reached this same conclusion below, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In Re: Nom. s. of Major, R." on Justia Law
In Re: Canvass of Absentee and Mail-In Ballots
A series of appeals presented a question of whether the Pennsylvania Election Code required a county board of elections to disqualify mail-in or absentee ballots submitted by qualified electors who signed the declaration on their ballot’s outer envelope, but did not handwrite their name, their address, and/or a date on the ballot, where no fraud or irregularity has been alleged. Petitioner Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (the “Campaign”) challenged the decision of multiple County Boards of Elections to count absentee and mail-in ballots. The Campaign did not contest these ballots were all timely received by the respective Boards prior to 8:00 p.m. on November 3, 2020 (election day); that they were cast and signed by qualified electors; and that there was no evidence of fraud associated with their casting. The Campaign instead contended these votes should not have been counted because the voters who submitted them failed to handwrite their name, street address or the date (or some combination of the three) on the ballot-return outer envelope. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was "guided by well-established interpretive principles" including that where the language of a statute was unambiguous, the language would control. "In the case of ambiguity, we look to ascertain the legislative intent, and in election cases, we adhere to the overarching principle that the Election Code should be liberally construed so as to not deprive, inter alia, electors of their right to elect a candidate of their choice. . . . "Election laws will be strictly enforced to prevent fraud, but ordinarily will be construed liberally in favor of the right to vote." View "In Re: Canvass of Absentee and Mail-In Ballots" on Justia Law
In Re: Canvassing Observ.
This appeal arose from the processing of mail-in and absentee ballots received from voters in Philadelphia County in the November 3, 2020 General Election. Specifically, Appellee Donald J. Trump, Inc. (the “Campaign”) orally moved for the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas to give its representative more proximate access to the canvassing activities being carried out by Appellant, the Philadelphia County Board of Elections (the “Board”). The trial court denied relief, the Commonwealth Court reversed, and the Board appealed that order. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Board did not act contrary to law in fashioning its regulations governing the positioning of candidate representatives during the pre-canvassing and canvassing process, as the Election Code did not specify minimum distance parameters for the location of such representatives. Critically, the Court found the Board’s regulations as applied herein were reasonable in that they allowed candidate representatives to observe the Board conducting its activities as prescribed under the Election Code. Accordingly, the Court determined the Commonwealth Court’s order was erroneous, and vacated that order. The trial court's order was reinstated. View "In Re: Canvassing Observ." on Justia Law
In Re: Nov 3, 2020 General Election
On October 14, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar's (“Secretary”) application in its King’s Bench jurisdiction to consider her request for declaratory relief, limited to answering: “Whether the Election Code authorizes or requires county election boards to reject voted absentee or mail-in ballots during pre-canvassing and canvassing based on signature analysis where there are alleged or perceived signature variances?” IThe Court responded that the Election Code did not authorize or require county election boards to reject absentee or mail-in ballots during the canvassing process based on an analysis of a voter’s signature on the “declaration” contained on the official ballot return envelope for the absentee or mail-in ballot. The Court, therefore, granted the Secretary’s petition for declarative relief, and directed the county boards of elections not to reject absentee or mail-in ballots for counting, computing, and tallying based on signature comparisons conducted by county election officials or employees, or as the result of third-party challenges based on such comparisons. View "In Re: Nov 3, 2020 General Election" on Justia Law
PA Dem Party. v. Boockvar, et al : Boockvar
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
In Re: Nom Papers of Scroggin; Appeal of Stefano
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
In Re: Nomination Papers of Sherrie Cohen
In October 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a Commonwealth Court order and directed that the name of Sherrie Cohen be placed on the November 5, 2019 ballot as an independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council-at-Large. Because the Board of Elections only had until the close of business on October 4, 2019 to add Cohen’s name to the ballot, the Supreme Court issued its order noting that an opinion would follow. By this opinion, the Supreme Court forth its reasons for concluding that Cohen’s withdrawal as a candidate in the Democratic primary election for City Council-at-Large did not preclude her from running in the general election as an independent candidate. On August 16, 2019, the trial court issued an order granting the petitions to set aside Cohen’s nomination papers. In an opinion in support of the order, the court looked to Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that when a candidate withdraws his nomination petitions for a primary ballot “within the permitted period,” his subsequently filed nomination papers may be accepted. The trial court distinguished Cohen’s case from Packrall because “Cohen required Court intervention to leave the primary ballot.” The court determined this to be the decisive factor in concluding that she was “subject to the ‘sore loser’ provision.” Cohen filed a timely appeal to the Commonwealth Court. In a single-judge memorandum and order, the trial court was affirmed, holding “[w]hen a person withdraws of his or her own volition within the time for filing, it ‘undoes,’ ab initio, the filing because a person gets to choose whether he or she wants to go through the primary process to seek an office.” Cohen asserted on appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s order that that court erred by failing to consider withdrawal by court order under Election Code Section 978.4 to have the same effect as voluntary withdrawal pursuant to Section 914. The Supreme Court agreed with Cohen that “[t]he Commonwealth Court failed to acknowledge that the important dividing line in this area of the law is between voluntary withdraw[als] and candidates getting stricken from the ballot. … Because there is no principled reason to distinguish between the voluntariness of a withdrawal under Section 914 or Section 978.4, Cohen is entitled to relief from this Court.” View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Sherrie Cohen" on Justia Law
Working Families Party v. Com.
At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case was whether provisions of the Pennsylvania Election Code prohibiting the process by which two or more political organizations place the same candidate on the ballot in a general election for the same office. In the April 26, 2016 primary election, Christopher Rabb secured the Democratic nomination for Representative of the General Assembly’s 200th Legislative District. A few months later, the Working Families Party circulated papers to nominate Rabb as its candidate for the same race. The Supreme Court determined appellants failed to establish the challenged anti-fusion provisions of the Election Code clearly and plainly violated the equal protection clause of the federal or state constitutions, therefore, the order of the Commonwealth Court was affirmed. View "Working Families Party v. Com." on Justia Law
Reuther v. Delaware County Bureau of Elections
On May 16, 2017, by write-in vote, Christine Rossi won the Republican nomination for Tax Collector of Nether Providence Township (“the Township”). On June 2, 2017, the Delaware County Bureau of Elections (“the Bureau”) notified Rossi that she was certified as the Republican nominee. The Bureau instructed Rossi to submit a Statement of Financial Interests ("SOFI") to the Bureau and to the Township by June 30, 2017, in order to have her name appear on the November 2017 general election ballot. On June 30, 2017, Rossi filed her SOFI with the Bureau, but failed to file it with the Township. On September 6, 2017, based upon a Right-to-Know Law request submitted to the Township, Christine Reuther and Ani Marie Diakatos (collectively, “Objectors”) discovered that Rossi had not filed her SOFI with the Township. On September 13, 2017, Objectors filed an emergency petition for relief to the Court of Common Pleas, stressing that Subsection 15.3(e) of the State Ethics Commission’s regulations required write-in candidates to file their SOFIs with the appropriate authorities within thirty days of the certification of the election results. Because Rossi failed to file her SOFI with the Township within that period of time, Objectors asserted that, pursuant to Subsection 1104(b)(3) of the Ethics Act, her failure constituted a fatal defect to her candidacy, and her name was required to be stricken from the general election ballot. On September 14, 2017, Rossi filed her SOFI with the Township. Because the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act (“Ethics Act”) imposed this consequence only upon candidates who petition to appear on the ballot, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that it is inapplicable to write-in candidates. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Reuther v. Delaware County Bureau of Elections" on Justia Law