Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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In 2016, Gill ran as an independent candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois’s 13th Congressional District. He was 2,000 signatures short of qualifying for the general election ballot. Gill sued members of the Illinois State Board of Elections, claiming that portions of the Illinois Election Code violated the U.S. Constitution. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit remanded with instructions to evaluate the ballot access provisions for independent candidates under the fact-intensive balancing test set forth in Supreme Court precedent. The district court did so and again granted the defendants summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal as moot. While the litigation was pending, Illinois adopted a redistricting plan that changed the boundaries of the 13th District so that the suit can no longer offer Gill any effectual relief. Any declaratory or injunctive relief would speak to a congressional district that no longer exists. Gill’s circumstances are not capable of repetition yet evading review. View "Gill v. Linnabary" on Justia Law

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The Fund appealed the dismissal of its challenge to Indiana’s prohibition on corporate contributions to political action committees (PACs) for independent expenditures. Following oral argument, the Fund filed a “Motion Requesting Judicial Notice,” explaining that Morales has succeeded Sullivan as Indiana’s Secretary of State and has replaced Sullivan as a party to the case. Under Fed.R.App.P. 43(c)(2) the substitution happens automatically without any motion. The Fund sought judicial notice of the fact that there is no record evidence that Morales has taken any steps to disavow enforcement of Indiana’s Election Code prohibition on corporate contributions to PACs for purposes of independent expenditures.The Seventh Circuit denied the motion as “unnecessary” and “improper.” Nothing about Morales becoming Secretary of State calls jurisdiction into question. Nor does it materially alter anything about the issues. The Fund’s motion seeks one of two things, neither of which would be an appropriate use of judicial notice. It may attempt to define the likelihood that Secretary Morales will enforce the Election Code or it might attempt to highlight what it sees as a gap in the evidentiary record—that Secretary Morales has yet to make a statement regarding state regulation of independent-expenditure PACs. Judicial notice is only permitted for adjudicative facts “not subject to reasonable dispute.” View "Indiana Right to Life Victory Fund v. Morales" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this action challenging the conduct of the Lake County Election Board, holding that the Election Board did not violate Joseph Hero's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.Hero, a registered republican for forty years, opposed the decision of his town council to exercise its eminent-domain authority to seize the property of predominantly lower-income homeowners. Hero backed two independent candidates for town council running against two incumbent, pro-development candidates. Thereafter, the Indiana Republican Party banned Hero from the Republican Party for ten years. In 2019, Hero attempted to appear as a Republican candidate in the 2019 election, but the Election Board concluded that Hero could not run. Hero subsequently filed a complaint arguing that the Election Board violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Hero had standing to sue; and (2) the Election Board did not violate Hero's constitutional rights. View "Hero v. Lake County Election Bd." on Justia Law

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Indiana’s Act 442 allowed election officials to remove a voter from the state’s voter rolls automatically (without directly contacting the person) based on information acquired through a third-party database, “Crosscheck,” which provided the voter lists of multiple states. The Seventh Circuit concluded that Act 442 was preempted by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), 52 U.S.C. 20507(d), which requires hearing directly from that voter or providing notice to the voter that he would be removed from the rolls if he did not respond and failed to vote in the next two federal general elections.Indiana replaced Act 442 with Act 334, ending Indiana’s participation in Crosscheck in favor of the Indiana Data Enhancement Association, which is functionally identical to Crosscheck. The Act makes county officials responsible for deciding whether to remove a name, deleting Act 442’s requirement that county officials automatically remove the voter from the rolls. Act 334 instructs county officials to determine: whether a presumptive match in another state “is the same individual who is a registered voter of the county”; whether the registration in another state occurred after the presumptively matching Indiana registration; and whether the voter “authorized the cancellation of any previous registration” when the voter registered in the second state.The Seventh Circuit held that Act 334 is also preempted; it renders inapplicable the rule that a voter must personally authorize the cancellation of her registration before the county official may take that step. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

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Madigan was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1970 and re-elected to 25 additional two-year terms. He became Speaker of the House in 1983 and the state’s Democratic Party Chairman in 1998. In 2021 he withdrew from the race to be reelected as Speaker and resigned his seat in the House and his role as Chairman. Four candidates were on the ballot for the 2016 Democratic primary. Madigan won with 65% of the votes; Gonzales received 27%, Rodriguez 6%, and Barboza 2%. Gonzales sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Rodriguez and Barboza were stooges put on the ballot by Madigan’s allies to divide the Hispanic vote, violating the Equal Protection Clause.The district judge noted that Gonzales had made his suspicions public early in the race and that an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times agreed with Gonzales. Concluding that the voters were not deceived, the court granted summary judgment against Gonzales. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district judge did not penalize Gonzales’s campaign speech. Speech, including in depositions and interrogatories, often affects litigation's outcome; a judge who takes account of speech that proves or refutes a claim does not violate the First Amendment. Gonzales told the voters that he thought Madigan had played a dirty trick. The electorate sided with Madigan. The Constitution does not authorize the judiciary to upset that outcome or to penalize a politician for employing a shady strategy that voters tolerate. View "Gonzales v. Madigan" on Justia Law

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In 2020 Krislov sought to run in the Democratic primary for a position on the Illinois Supreme Court. To get on the ballot he needed 5,050 valid signatures, 0.4% of the votes cast in the same district for the same party’s candidate in the most recent gubernatorial election. He submitted about 9,500 signatures, but many were ruled invalid and his total fell about 100 short. Instead of protesting that decision in state court, Krislov sued in federal court, arguing that falling 100 signatures short of 5,050 is within the margin of error for document examiners. The district court dismissed the case as a state-law challenge to a state-law requirement, which Krislov had forfeited by not using his state remedies and stating that “close enough for government work” is not an available doctrine in Illinois.The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of a justiciable controversy. The U.S. Constitution does not require states to ensure that their laws are accurately administered. Accurate adjudication always is in the public interest—as is accurate administration of state law—but federal courts cannot proceed if the plaintiff lacks standing or the proposed remedy would not redress the plaintiff’s injury. The election is over and Krislov cannot establish that the same problem is likely to recur for him, personally; if it does, Krislov is entitled to prompt review in state court. There is no “public interest” exception to the justiciability rules. View "Krislov v. Yarbrough" on Justia Law

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Two days after Wisconsin certified the results of its 2020 election, the President invoked the Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution and sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Governor, Secretary of State, and several local officials. The district court concluded that the President’s challenges lacked merit, as he objected only to the administration of the election, yet the Electors Clause only addresses the authority of the State’s Legislature to prescribe the manner of appointing its presidential electors. The court concluded that the President’s claims would fail even under a broader, alternative reading of the Electors Clause that extended to a state’s conduct of the presidential election.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wisconsin lawfully appointed its electors in the manner directed by its Legislature. The President’s claim also fails because of the unreasonable delay that accompanied the challenges the President now wishes to advance against Wisconsin’s election procedures. The Supreme Court has indicated that federal courts should avoid announcing or requiring changes in election law and procedures close in time to voting. The President had a full opportunity before the election to pursue challenges to Wisconsin law underlying his present claims; he cannot now—after the election results have been certified as final— seek to bring those challenges. View "Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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Indiana counts an absentee ballot only if it is received by noon on Election Day. In September 2020, a district court found that rule unconstitutional, reasoning that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, which has led to more use of mail-in voting, creates a risk that ballots mailed close to Election Day will not be received on time.The Seventh Circuit reversed an injunction requiring the state to count all absentee ballots received by November 13, 2020. Difficulties attributable to the virus do not require changes in electoral rules. If it is possible to vote in person, the rules for absentee ballots are constitutionally valid if they are supported by a rational basis and do not discriminate based on a forbidden characteristic. It is rational to require absentee votes to be received by Election Day, just as in-person voting ends on Election Day. Counting the votes, and announcing the results, as soon as possible after the polls close serves a civic interest. People can protect themselves by using early in-person voting or posting their ballots early. Those who act at the last minute assume risks even without a pandemic. Federal judges should avoid changing electoral rules close to an election. In September, COVID-19 was not a last-minute event; the district court acted too close to the election. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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A district judge extended Wisconsin’s deadline for online and mail-in registration by one week; extended the deadline for delivery of absentee ballots by mail by allowing for online delivery and access by October 29; and extended the deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots from Election Day to November 9, if the ballots are postmarked on or before November 3. On September 29, the Seventh Circuit denied motions for a stay in these appeals, reasoning that Wisconsin’s legislative branch was not authorized to represent the state’s interest in defending its statutes. Subsequently, the court certified the question to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, which responded that the state legislature is authorized to represent Wisconsin’s interest in the validity of state laws.The Seventh Circuit then stayed the district court order pending appeal. A federal court should not change the rules so close to an election and political rather than judicial officials are entitled to decide when a pandemic justifies changes to otherwise-valid rules. The district court entered its injunction six weeks before the election and less than four weeks before the first deadline that it altered. Voters have had many months to register or obtain absentee ballots and to cast ballots while preserving social distancing. The district court did not find that any person who wants to avoid voting in person on Election Day would be unable to cast a ballot in Wisconsin by planning ahead. Voters who wait until the last minute face problems regardless of the pandemic. View "Wisconsin State Legislature v. Bostelmann" on Justia Law