Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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In 2018, Democrats were elected as the governor and attorney general of Wisconsin, replacing Republicans. Immediately after the election, the Republican-controlled legislature enacted Act 369 and Act 370, which strip the incoming governor and attorney general of various powers and vest legislative committees that remained under Republican control with formerly-executive authority. The changes include prohibiting the governor from re-nominating potential appointees who have been rejected once by the legislature; giving the legislature authority to suspend an administrative rule multiple times; removing the governor’s ability to appoint the CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation; adding legislative appointees to the Economic Development Corporation; requiring that the attorney general obtain legislative approval before withdrawing from a lawsuit filed by the state government or settling a lawsuit for injunctive relief; and granting the legislature unrestricted rights to intervene in litigation to defend the constitutionality or validity of state law.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 claiming violations of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Guarantee Clause of Article IV, Section 4 of the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs have not pointed to any concrete harms they have suffered or will suffer because of the Acts and are not entitled to any remedy under the Constitution. Any judicial remedy for the alleged harms must come from the courts of Wisconsin. View "Democratic Party of Wisconsin v. Vos" on Justia Law

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Illinois permits voters to place initiatives and referenda on both local and statewide ballots but requires proponents to collect a specific number of signatures during a period of 18 months. That period ended for the state on May 3, 2020, and will end for the city on August 3. Plaintiffs filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, contending that the state’s requirements are unconstitutional, given the social-distancing requirements adopted by Illinois' Governor during the COVID-19 pandemic. A district judge denied relief.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first holding that at least one plaintiff (Morgan) had standing because began his petition campaign before filing suit. During most of the time available to seek signatures, Morgan did nothing. The other plaintiffs did not do anything of substance until the suit was filed. They had plenty of time to gather signatures before the pandemic began and are not entitled to emergency relief. The Governor’s orders did not limit their speech. The orders concern conduct, not what anyone may write or say. Although the orders make it hard to obtain signatures, so would the reluctance of people to approach strangers during a pandemic. The federal Constitution does not require any state or local government to put referenda or initiatives on the ballot; if the Governor’s orders, coupled with the signature requirements, amount to a decision to skip all referenda for the 2020 election cycle, there is no federal problem. View "Morgan v. White" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin previously had registration deputies, who registered voters at places such as high schools. Municipalities could require landlords to distribute registration forms to new tenants. The state replaced these mechanisms with an electronic registration system that requires proof of residence in either electronic or hard-copy format, with special provisions for students in dormitories. To vote for an office other than President or Vice President, voters must have been residents for at least 28 days. Absentee ballots may be picked up in person, or the state will mail one; email and fax can be used to obtain a ballot in only a few circumstances. Wisconsin will reject an absentee ballot for spoilage, damage, or defective certification that is visible without opening the ballot. Voting a straight ticket is no longer possible. Photographic identification is necessary for in-person voting. People who lack the documents required to receive a photo ID may petition the state for assistance and a temporary receipt.After consolidating challenges, the Seventh Circuit held that the adjustments to the number of days and hours for in-person absentee voting, the state’s durational residence requirement, and the prohibition on sending absentee ballots by email or fax do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. The court vacated orders related to the one-location rule and the ID petition process. Wisconsin’s studentID provision is invalid. The court reversed an injunction requiring Wisconsin to implement an affidavit option. View "Frank v. Evers" on Justia Law

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In August 2015 Gill launched his fifth congressional campaign. Unlike his past campaigns, Gill ran as an independent. Although Gill needed 10,754 signatures to qualify for the general ballot, he came up 2,000 short, so the Illinois State Officers Electoral Board did not permit him to appear on the general ballot for Illinois’s 13th Congressional District. Gill filed suit, claiming violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court granted the Illinois State Board of Elections summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court failed to conduct a fact-based inquiry as mandated by the Supreme Court’s Anderson-Burdick balancing test, which considers the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate and identifies and evaluates the precise interests put forward by the state as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule. The court must consider the extent to which those state interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff’s rights. View "Gill v. Scholz" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, credentialed election monitors in Chicago during the 2016 Illinois primary election and a citizen who voted in the election, alleged that during the statutorily mandated post-election audit of electronic voting machines, they witnessed rampant fraud and irregularities by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners’ employees conducting the audit. The Illinois Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/1-1, provides for electronic voting, with a permanent paper record. After an election, the Board randomly tests five percent of the electronic voting equipment in service during that election by manually counting the votes marked on the permanent paper record for comparison to the electronically-generated results. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which they alleged that the post-election audit fraud violated their right to vote. Illinois law expressly precludes the findings of the post-election audit from changing or altering the election results; no matter how improper the Board employees’ conduct was during the audit, it could not have affected the Plaintiffs’ right to vote. Plaintiffs did not plead a plausible claim that the Board violated their right to freely associate or right to petition the government View "Shipley v. Chicago Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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Under the Illinois Election Code, individuals may contribute up to $5,000 to a political campaign; corporations, unions, and associations may donate up to $10,000; and political action committees may provide up to $50,000. Illinois lifts its contribution limits if a candidate’s self-funding exceeds $250,000 in a race for statewide office or $100,000 in any other race, or if spending by an independent expenditure committee or individual exceeds either of these limits, 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(h). Independent expenditures are any payment, gift, donation, or expenditure of funds, used for the purpose of making electioneering communications or for advocating in support of or against a candidate, and not made in coordination with a campaign. Before making political expenditures exceeding $3,000 in a 12-month period, the Code requires any entity (not an individual) to register; a registered independent expenditure committee may accept unlimited contributions from any source, provided the committee does not make contributions to any candidate, political party committee, or PAC. Independent expenditure committees may never contribute to candidates, even when contribution limits are lifted. An independent expenditure committee challenged the ban only with respect to when unlimited contributions and unlimited coordinated expenditures are allowed for others. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, rejecting claims of violations of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free association and the right of equal protection. The ban is closely drawn to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption. View "Proft v. Raoul" on Justia Law

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Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 442, Indiana Code 3-7- 38.2-5(d)–(e), allowed Indiana immediately to remove a voter based on information received from a third-party database rather than in response to direct contact with the voter. The database aggregates voter data from multiple states to identify potential duplicate voter registrations. Act 442 allows Indiana automatically to remove a voter from the rolls if the voter was identified as a database “match” with a certain level of confidence without provision for contacting the voter or confirming her wish permanently to change domicile and cancel her Indiana registration. Organizations challenged Act 442, asserting that it violates the National Voter Registration Act, 52 U.S.C. §§ 20501–11. . Finding that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits and that they would suffer irreparable injury if the law were to take effect immediately, the district court issued preliminary injunctions “prohibiting the Defendants from taking any actions to implement [Act 442]” until the cases are concluded. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that the plaintiff organizations adequately demonstrated their standing to bring these actions. Indiana equates double registration with double voting. But the two are quite different. Registering to vote in another state is not the same as a request for removal from Indiana’s voting rolls. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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Under Illinois law, potential candidates for public office must file a nominating petition to gain a place on a political party’s primary ballot. Within a 90-day window, candidates for statewide offices must collect 5,000 signatures from voters in the jurisdiction where the candidate seeks election. Candidates for Cook County offices must collect a number of signatures equal to 0.5% of the qualified voters of the candidate’s party who voted in the most recent general election in Cook County. Applying that formula, Acevedo had to gather 8,236 signatures to appear on the 2018 Democratic primary ballot for Cook County Sheriff. He gathered only 5,654 and was denied a place on the ballot. Acevedo filed suit, alleging violations of his freedom of association and equal protection rights, arguing that the statewide requirement reflects Illinois’s judgment that making candidates collect 5,000 signatures is sufficient to protect the state’s interest in ballot management. Acevedo argued that Illinois could not impose a heightened burden unless doing so furthered a compelling state interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Strict scrutiny is not triggered by the existence of a less burdensome restriction—it is triggered only when the challenged regulation itself imposes a severe burden. Acevedo failed to allege that requiring candidates to gather 8,236 signatures is a constitutionally significant burden. View "Acevedo v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board" on Justia Law

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Indiana counties maintain three‐member election boards: the circuit court clerk and two individuals the clerk appoints, one from each major political party. Marion County used a precinct‐based voting system; its Election Board could establish in‐person early voting “satellite offices” annually by unanimous vote. The Board approved in‐person early voting offices for the 2008 presidential election. It did not approve any satellite offices for 2010, 2012, 2014, or 2016; each year, the two Democrat Board members voted in favor of opening satellite offices, while the Republican Board member voted against. A suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleged that the application of the unanimity requirement and the Republican member’s decision to withhold consent burdened voters’ rights to cast early votes without any relationship to a legitimate government interest. The district court entered a Consent Decree. The Board agreed to establish in‐person early voting satellite offices going forward. The Decree did not address any underlying issues of law. The court denied Indiana’s motion to alter the Decree, finding the Board unanimously ratified the Decree, and that the Decree “was necessary to remedy a probable violation of federal law.” The Board then voted unanimously to replace precinct‐based voting with a vote center plan, with two in‐person early voting satellite offices for primary elections and six for general and municipal elections. Indiana argued the appeal was not moot because the Decree was still in effect. Both sides agreed that the Decree should no longer be in effect. The Seventh Circuit vacated the Decree, declining to address whether the court had authority to enter it, and remanded with instructions to dismiss. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Marion County Election Board" on Justia Law

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Liberty PAC sued Illinois officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that campaign contribution limits set by the Illinois Disclosure and Regulation of Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Act, violated the First Amendment. Invoking the intermediate-scrutiny framework, Liberty PAC challenged specific provisions as not closely drawn to prevent quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. The Act sets lower contribution limits for individuals than for corporations, unions, and other associations; allows political parties to make unlimited contributions to candidates during a general election; lifts the contribution limits for all candidates in a race if one candidate’s self-funding or support from independent expenditure groups exceeds $250,000 in a statewide race or $100,000 in any other election; and allows certain legislators to form “legislative caucus committees,” which, like political party committees, are permitted to make unlimited contributions during a general election. The district judge dismissed the first three claims as foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent. After a bench trial, the judge held that legislative caucus committees are sufficiently similar to political party committees to justify their identical treatment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Supreme Court campaign-finance cases plainly foreclose any argument that the contribution limits for individual donors are too low or that the limits for other donors are too high. The court rejected an argument that the Act is fatally underinclusive by favoring certain classes of donors. View "Illinois Liberty PAC v. Madigan" on Justia Law