Justia Election Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
League of Women Voters of Florida Inc., et al. v. Florida Secretary of State, et al.
This appeal involves four recently enacted provisions of Florida’s election law, including provisions that regulate ballot drop boxes, the solicitation of voters at the polls, and the delivery of voter registration forms by third-party voter registration organizations. Several plaintiff organizations sued the Florida Secretary of State, the Florida Attorney General, and several Supervisors of Elections. The district court enjoined three provisions because it found they were adopted with the intent to discriminate against black voters in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments as well as section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. And it imposed a preclearance requirement under section 3(c) of the Act. The district court also ruled that the solicitation provision was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Finally, it enjoined a provision that required third-party voter registration organizations to provide a disclaimer to voters who use their services to register to vote, but all parties agree that any appeal of the judgment as to that provision has been rendered moot by the repeal of the provision. The Eleventh Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. The court reversed the judgment that the drop-box, solicitation, and registration-delivery provisions violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Further, the court reversed the imposition of a preclearance requirement. The court affirmed the judgment declaring unconstitutionally vague the second phrase in the solicitation provision’s challenged clause, but the court reversed the judgment invalidating the first phrase in the clause. Finally, the court vacated the judgment finding the registration-disclaimer provision unconstitutional. View "League of Women Voters of Florida Inc., et al. v. Florida Secretary of State, et al." on Justia Law
Treva Thompson, et al. v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama, et al.
Greater Birmingham Ministries (“GBM”), an Alabamian non-profit organization dedicated to aiding low-income individuals, and several Alabamian felons (collectively “Appellants”) appealed the district court’s summary judgment denying their Equal Protection Clause challenge to Amendment 579 of the Alabama state constitution, their Ex Post Facto Clause, challenge to Amendment 579’s disenfranchisement provisions, and their National Voting Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”), challenge to the format of Alabama’s mail voting registration form.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that (1) Amendment 579 successfully dissipated any taint from the racially discriminatory motives behind the 1901 Alabama constitution; (2) Amendment 579 does not impose punishment for purposes of the Ex Post Facto Clause; and (3) Alabama’s mail voting registration form complies with the NVRA. The court wrote that it rejects Appellants’ invitation to review the extent the Alabama legislature debated the “moral turpitude” language of Amendment 579. Further, the court explained that Section 20508(b)(2)(A) is a notice statute enacted for the convenience of voting registrants. Alabama’s mail-in voting form has provided sufficient notice by informing registrants that persons convicted of disqualifying felonies are not eligible to vote and providing an easily accessible link whereby voters convicted of felonies can determine their voter eligibility. Accordingly, Alabama has complied with the requirements of Section 20508(b)(2)(A). View "Treva Thompson, et al. v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama, et al." on Justia Law
Marjorie Taylor Greene v. Secretary of State for the State of Georgia, et al
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
Donna Curling, et al. v. Brad Raffensperger, et al.
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
Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters Corp, et al v. Florida Secretary of State, et al
Florida Senate Bill 90 ("SB 90") imposed certain restrictions on citing. Plaintiffs challenged several provisions of SB 90, claiming the provisions violated the prohibition against race discrimination under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs also alleged the provisions were vague or overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and that the provisions compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. The district court found that SB 90 restricted the right to vote and permanently enjoined certain provisions of SB 90. The court also imposed a preclearance requirement under which Florida needed to obtain the district court's approval before enacting or amending certain election laws. Florida sought a stay of the district court's order pending its appeal.The Eleventh Circuit granted Florida's request to stay the district court's order pending appeal. The court noted that changing election laws as an election nears can cause voter confusion. Thus, Federal district courts ordinarily should not enjoin state election laws in the period close to an election. Here, a statewide election was less than four months away. Thus, Florida has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its election process.Applying the reasoning from Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006), the court found that the state has a reduced burden to obtain a stay and only needs to show that Plaintiff's position is not "entirely clearcut." Thus, the court granted Florida's request for a stay pending appeal. View "Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters Corp, et al v. Florida Secretary of State, et al" on Justia Law
Cowen v. Secretary of State of the State of Georgia
Georgia law places restrictions on which prospective candidates for elective office can appear on the general election ballot. The Libertarian Party of Georgia, prospective Libertarian candidates, and affiliated voters ask the court to hold that Georgia's ballot-access laws unconstitutionally burden their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and deny them equal protection.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court incorrectly held that the laws violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court explained that, under the Anderson framework, the laws need only be justified by the State's important regulatory interests. In this case, the interests the Secretary asserts—in requiring some preliminary showing of a significant modicum of support before printing the name of a political organization's candidate on the ballot, in maintaining the orderly administration of elections, and in avoiding confusion, deception, and even frustration of the democratic process at the general election—are compelling. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that Georgia's laws do not cause an equal protection violation. The court concluded that the Secretary's stated interest sufficiently justifies the distinction between candidates. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, vacated the district court's injunction, and remanded. View "Cowen v. Secretary of State of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law
Common Cause Georgia v. Secretary, State of Georgia
Georgia's November 6, 2018, general election was a bellwether of the national political mood. On November 5, Common Cause sued, alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Help America Vote Act, 52 U.S.C. 21082; the Georgia Constitution; and Georgia Code 21-2-211, claiming Georgia’s voter registration systems were vulnerable to security breaches, increasing the risk eligible voters would be wrongly removed from election rolls, or that information would be unlawfully manipulated to prevent eligible voters from casting a regular ballot.Common Cause sought an order preventing the final rejection of provisional ballots for voters who had registration problems until there was confidence in the voter registration database. The district court granted a temporary restraining order on November 12 but determined the relief requested was “not practically feasible” and enjoined the Secretary from certifying the election results before 5:00 p.m. on November 16. The Secretary complied. In 2019, new Georgia voting laws changed procedures surrounding handling provisional ballots. The parties agreed that these provisions made further litigation unnecessary and stipulated to dismissal.Common Cause sought attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses incurred through the issuance of the TRO and in preparing the fee motion. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the $166,210.09 award. Common Cause was a 42 U.S.C. 1988 prevailing party because, in obtaining the TRO, it succeeded on a significant issue in litigation which achieved some of the benefits the parties sought in bringing suit. The litigation was necessary to alter the legal relationship between the parties. View "Common Cause Georgia v. Secretary, State of Georgia" on Justia Law
McCoy v. Governor of Florida
In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a state constitutional amendment that automatically restored voting rights to ex-felons who had completed all of the terms of their sentences. Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the "legal financial obligation" (LFO) requirement in Senate Bill 7066, which implemented the Amendment and required payment of all fines, fees, and restitution imposed as part of the sentence. The district court issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to allow the named plaintiffs to register and vote if they are able to show that they are genuinely unable to pay their LFOs and would otherwise be eligible to vote under Amendment 4.In 2020, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction with respect to the “wealth discrimination” claims. In 2021, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of an Equal Protection claim based on gender discrimination, on behalf of “low-income women of color who face unemployment, low wages, and difficulty paying off their financial debts at much higher rates than their male and white female counterparts.” The plaintiffs could prevail on their constitutional challenges only if they could “show that gender was a motivating factor in the adoption of the pay-to-vote system,” and they presented no evidence of intentional discrimination. View "McCoy v. Governor of Florida" on Justia Law
Black Voters Matter Fund v. Secretary of State for the State of Georgia
In Georgia, in-person voters can vote on election day or during advance voting. Absentee voters, after applying for and receiving an absentee ballot, are responsible for returning their ballots directly to the county election office, depositing them into a ballot drop box, or mailing them to that office. The statute requires neither the state of Georgia nor county governments to cover the cost of postage for mailing ballots. Plaintiffs alleged that the Twenty-Fourth Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause required Georgia to pay for postage for voters who choose to return their absentee ballots by mail; by not covering the cost of postage, Georgia is imposing an unconstitutional “poll tax” or fee on some absentee voters.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Requiring the payment of postage is not a “tax” or unconstitutional fee on voting. Georgia voters, without paying any money, have several options; even those voters who choose to mail in their absentee ballots buy postage from the U.S. Postal Service and the proceeds from postage sales are paid to USPS—not the state of Georgia— to account for the costs associated with delivering the mail. These voters are buying services from USPS. Georgia does not receive any money from those sales. View "Black Voters Matter Fund v. Secretary of State for the State of Georgia" on Justia Law
Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama
The Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated its previous opinion and substituted the following opinion.In 2015, plaintiffs filed suit challenging Alabama's 2011 Photo Voter Identification Law passed by the Alabama legislature as House Bill 19 and codified at Ala. Code 17-9-30. The voter ID law took effect in June 2014 and requires all Alabama voters to present a photo ID when casting in-person or absentee votes. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the enforcement of Alabama's voter ID law, alleging that the law violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution; Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 52 U.S.C. 10301; and Section 201 of the VRA, 52 U.S.C. 10501.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, concluding that plaintiffs have failed to identify any genuine disputes of material facts and because no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the evidence presented, that Alabama's voter ID law is discriminatory. The court explained that the burden of providing a photo ID in order to vote is a minimal burden on Alabama's voters—especially when Alabama accepts so many different forms of photo ID and makes acquiring one simple and free for voters who lack a valid ID but wish to obtain one. Therefore, the Alabama voter ID law does not violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the VRA. View "Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama" on Justia Law