Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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A trial court dismissed a recall petition filed against city of Yakima District 2 Councilman Jason White, wherein he purportedly committed acts of misfeasance and malfeasance, and violated his oath of office by using his position to undermine the State's and Yakima County's responses to the public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 virus. The petition also alleged Councilmember White committed a recallable offense by refusing to attend several city council meetings. In dismissing the petition, the trial judge found Councilmember White had a right to criticize other elected officials’ actions, and the petition failed to specifically identify the standard, law, or rule that Councilmember White allegedly violated. On August 6, 2020 the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal by order with opinion to follow. The Court explained its order. View "In re Recall of White" on Justia Law

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Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sued to have the Thurston County Superior Court order the removal of one allegedly defamatory line in the voters’ guide pamphlet from challenger Maia Espinoza’s candidate statement. The superior court agreed that there was a substantial likelihood Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit based on Espinoza’s statement. Using a supervisory power conferred by RCW 29A.32.090(3)(b), the superior court ordered the secretary of state to edit out the offending line. Espinoza sought accelerated direct review, which the Washington Supreme Court granted. Because Reykdal was a public figure, he had to show “actual malice” to succeed in a defamation suit. The Supreme Court found the superior court made no findings regarding actual malice, and thus granted Reykdal’s request in error. Because there was no likelihood that Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its application of the statute. View "Reykdal v. Espinoza" on Justia Law

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Initiative Measure 976 (I-976) was the latest in a series of initiatives about reducing or eliminating local motor vehicle excise taxes, including taxes that have been pledged to support major transportation projects in Washington state. Authorized regional transit authorities were empowered to ask their voters to approve transportation system proposals and financing secured by local taxes and fees, including local motor vehicle excise taxes. The legislature also empowered local transportation benefit districts and other local governments to impose taxes, including motor vehicle excise taxes, and fees to fund local transportation projects and to seek voter approval for additional funding. I-976 passed statewide with about 53 percent of the vote, though it was rejected by about 53 percent of the voters in the Sound Transit region, about 60 percent of King County voters, and about 70 percent of San Juan voters, who depended heavily on ferries funded by motor vehicle excise taxes. Several counties, cities, associations and private citizens (collectively challengers) challenged I-976’s constitutionality, arguing that I-976 contained multiple subjects in violation of article II, section 19’s single subject requirement. They also argued I-976 violated section 19’s subject-in-title requirement because the ballot title falsely suggested voter-approved motor vehicle taxes would not be repealed. The challengers successfully sought a preliminary injunction in King County Superior Court to block its implementation. The trial judge initially concluded that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the grounds that the ballot title was misleading. The Washington Supreme Court concurred I-976 contained more than one subject, and its subject was not accurately expressed in its title. Accordingly, I-976 was declared unconstitutional. View "Garfield Cty. Transp. Auth. v. Washington" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Washington legislature enacted Substitute House Bill 2887 (SHB 2887), requiring noncharter counties with populations of 400,000 or more to elect five county commissioners by 2022, when originally such counties were required to elect three. SHB 2887 would also require affected counties to fund a redistricting committee to create five districts, one for each commissioner. These counties had to hold individual district elections for these commissioners instead of countywide general elections. Spokane County, former and current Spokane County commissioners, and the Washington State Association of Counties argued this law violated article XI, section 4 of the Washington Constitution, mandating the legislature to establish a uniform system of county government, and article XI, section 5, requiring the legislature to provide for the election of county commissioners through general and uniform laws. The Washington Supreme Court held SHB 2887 was constitutional under article XI, sections 4 and 5: "the legislature may classify counties by population for any purpose that does not violate other constitutional provisions, and SHB 2887 is a general law that properly implements district-only elections for noncharter counties of a certain size." View "Spokane County v. Washington" on Justia Law

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In November 2013, Washington voters rejected Initiative 522 (I-522), which would have required labels on packaged foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) opposed state-level GMO labeling laws, including I-522. Over the course of the 2013 election cycle, GMA solicited over $14 million in optional contributions from its member companies, $11 million of which went to support the “No on 522” political committee. The payments to No on 522 were attributed solely to GMA itself, with no indication of which companies had provided the funds. Prior to the initiation of this lawsuit, GMA was not registered as a political committee and did not make any reports to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). The State filed a complaint alleging that GMA intentionally violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA)'s registration and disclosure requirements and the FCPA’s prohibition on concealing the sources of election-related spending. GMA countered that it cannot be subject to the FCPA’s registration and disclosure requirements because those requirements violate the First Amendment as applied. U.S. CONST. amend. I. The trial court agreed with the State, imposed a $6 million base penalty on GMA, and trebled the penalty to $18 million after determining GMA;s violations were intentional. The Court of Appeals largely affirmed, but revered the treble penalty, holding that one had to "subjectively intend to violate the law in order to be subject to treble damages." After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the conclusion that the FCPA, and that the FCPA was constitutional as applied. The Court reversed the appellate court on the treble penalty, holding that the trial court applied the proper legal standard to determine GMA intentionally violated the FCPA. The matter was remanded to the Court of Appeals for consideration of GMA's claim that the penalty imposed violated the excessive fines clauses of the federal and Washington constitutions. View "Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Arthur West appealed a judgment finding the charges in his petition to recall Washington Governor Jay Inslee to be legally and factually insufficient to submit to voters. In his recall petition, West alleged the governor was absent from Washington too frequently and failed to properly notify the lieutenant governor of these absences, failed to declare homelessness a statewide emergency, and improperly campaigned for a ballot initiative. The trial court held that the charges were factually and legally insufficient. The Washington Supreme Court found that while West's petition may have stated reasons to disagree with Governor Inslee, but they were not proper reasons to support a recall. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court. View "In re Recall of Inslee" on Justia Law

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Two Tonasket voters petitioned to recall City Council member Jill Ritter from office. The petition made six allegations relating to improper influence over a police investigation of a relative’s son, improperly reviewing police personnel records, certain public statements made about Tonasket police, and conspiracy to disband the police force. The superior court determined all allegations were insufficient to warrant a recall election; finding no reversible error, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed that decision. View "In re Recall of Ritter" on Justia Law

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Two Tonasket voters petitioned to recall City Council member Christia “Teagan” Levine from office. The petition alleged Levin committed five violations relating to certain city personnel actions, conspiracy to remove the City Attorney and cause the Mayor to resign as part of an illegal quorum, withholding public records, and conspiring to disband the city police force. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed all charges, finding them factually and legally insufficient to sustain further action. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Recall of Levine" on Justia Law

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A recall petition was filed against the Mayor and three Cathlamet council members; charges stemmed from Cathlamet’s purchase of a parcel of property at 20 Butler street. The petition alleged a violation of the Washington Constitution as a gift of public funds to the seller of the Butler Street property, Bernadette Goodroe. One additional charge against one town counselor alleged violation of RCW 42.23.070(2), prohibiting municipal officials from giving or receiving gifts related to their official capacities. The Washington Supreme Court determined the charges in the recall petition was legally insufficient, because acquisition of real property is a fundamental government purpose and discretionary act that was not manifestly unreasonable under the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "In re Recall of Burnham" on Justia Law

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Seattle voters approved the "Democracy Voucher Program," intending to increase civic engagement. Recipients could give their vouchers to qualified municipal candidates, who could redeem those vouchers for campaign purposes. The city would find the program through property taxes. Mark Elster and Sarah Pynchon sued, arguing the taxes funding the program was unconstitutional. Because the program did not violate the First Amendment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Elster v. City Of Seattle" on Justia Law