Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered a question of whether the General Assembly overstepped its constitutional authority by enacting legislation that allowed for universal mail-in voting. Among other things, "Act 77" effected major amendments to the Pennsylvania Election Code, including universal, state-wide mail-in voting. On November 21, 2020, eight petitioners – including a Republican congressman and Republican candidates for the United States House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court seeking to halt the certification of the 2020 General Election, and including a facial challenge to the portions of Act 77 that established universal mail-in voting. The Supreme Court exercised extraordinary jurisdiction over the matter, and found a “complete failure to act with due diligence in commencing [the] facial constitutional challenge, which was ascertainable upon Act 77’s enactment[,]” as the petitioners waited until the ballots from the General Election were in the process of being tallied, and the results were becoming apparent, to raise their claim. Thus, the Court found the claim barred by the doctrine of laches. The Court found no restriction in the Pennsylvania Constitution on the General Assembly's ability to create universal mail-in voting. View "McLinko v. Penna. Dept. of State, et al." on Justia Law

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This matter began with a challenge to the nomination petition of Robert Jordan, a candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for the office of State Representative of the 165th Legislative District. Objector Fred Runge sought to remove Jordan from the ballot for the May 17, 2022 primary election on the ground that Jordan had moved into the district less than a year before the November 8 general election and therefore could not satisfy the residency requirements set forth in Article II, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Commonwealth Court found Objector’s claim non-justiciable and dismissed his challenge for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Given the need to resolve the appeal expeditiously to provide notice to the parties and election administrators, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision in a per curiam Order dated April 19, 2022. The Court also directed the Secretary of the Commonwealth to remove Jordan's name from the ballot, finding that by a preponderance of the evidence, Jordan had not lived in the 165th Legislative District for at least one year preceding the general election. The Court published this opinion to explain its ruling. View "In Re: Nom. Robert Jordan" on Justia Law

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In a direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed the Commonwealth Court’s entry of a permanent injunction blocking the Secretary of the Commonwealth from certifying the results of the November 5, 2019 election in which the voters of the Commonwealth were asked to approve a proposed “victim’s rights amendment” (“Marsy’s Law”) which would be added as a new provision of Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution – Section 9.1 (“Victim’s Rights Amendment”). The Commonwealth Court entered its injunction on the basis that the Victim’s Rights Amendment violated the requirement of Article XI, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution that, “[w]hen two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” After careful consideration, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, because the Supreme Court determined the Victim’s Rights Amendment was, in actuality, a collection of amendments which added a multiplicity of new rights to the Pennsylvania Constitution, and, because those new rights were not interrelated in purpose and function, "the manner in which it was presented to the voters denied them their right to consider and vote on each change separately, as Article XI, section 1 mandates." View "League of Women Voters of PA v. Degraffenreid" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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