Articles Posted in Election Law

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In Ohio, judges in all courts of record are selected by election. Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 4, governs the fundraising and political conduct of judicial candidates. Platt, an Ohio attorney, formed the Platt for Judge Campaign Committee in 2013. Platt believes that parts of Canon 4 violate his rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection: Rule 4.1(A)(2), which prohibits a candidate from making speeches on behalf of a political party or another candidate for office; Rule 4.1(A)(3), which prohibits a candidate from publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for another public office; Rule 4.4(A), which, save for three exceptions, prohibits a judicial candidate from personally soliciting campaign contributions; Rule 4.4(E), which creates a permissible window for soliciting and receiving campaign contributions; Rule 4.4(F), which limits the solicitation and receipt of contributions for candidates defeated before the general election; and Rule 4.4(G), which regulates the solicitation and receipt of contributions for candidates who die or withdraw from the election. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rejection of all of Platt’s claims. Ohio’s rules strike the delicate balance between the Constitution’s commands and the state’s desire to protect judicial integrity. View "Platt v. Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline of the Ohio Supreme Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs submitted a ballot initiative petition proposing to amend the Ohio Constitution by imposing term limits on the justices of the Ohio Supreme Court and requiring that all laws “that apply to the people of the State of Ohio . . . apply equally to the members and employees of the General Assembly.” The single-subject rule, Ohio Rev. Code 3503.062(A), allows initiative petitions to contain only “one proposed law or constitutional amendment,” so the Ohio Ballot Board split the initiative into two initiatives, each containing one proposed constitutional amendment. Plaintiffs challenged the process. Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, rejecting an argument that the process was a content-based regulation of core political speech. The Supreme Court has not viewed single-subject rules as inconsistent with the First Amendment and the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected an essentially identical challenge. Ohio’s single-subject rule applies to all petitions, regardless of their substantive messages, and may be justified without reference to the content of any initiative petitions. The rule is intended to prevent voter confusion and "logrolling." Whether Plaintiffs violate Ohio’s single-subject rule depends not on what they say, but simply on where they say it; it is a minimally burdensome and nondiscriminatory regulation. View "Committee to Impose Term Limits on the Ohio Supreme Court v. Ohio Ballot Board" on Justia Law

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In 2014, voters approved an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution making clear that the Constitution is not to be construed as securing or protecting a right to abortion or requiring funding of an abortion (Amendment 1). Plaintiffs, individual voters, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that, in counting the votes on Amendment 1, state officials incorrectly interpreted Article XI, Section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution, which states: if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the State voting for Governor, voting in their favor, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution. The district court ordered the state officials to recount the votes in accordance with plaintiffs’ proposed interpretation. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A state-court declaratory judgment on the meaning of Article XI, Section 3 is entitled to conclusive effect and the method of counting votes employed by state officials in 2014 was faithful to the actual meaning of the provision. This is not the “exceptional case” that warrants federal intervention in a lawful state election. There was no cognizable infringement of plaintiffs’ due process rights; plaintiffs failed to identify how their right to vote was burdened by disparate treatment. View "George v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs claimed Ohio’s paper-ballot absentee voter system discriminated against the blind, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101. In Ohio, blind voters must seek the aid of a sighted person to vote absentee, depriving them of the ability to vote anonymously. Plaintiffs proposed that the state provide an online absentee ballot in lieu of a paper one, and adopt online ballot marking tools used in other states for blind voters. The state argued that adoption of plaintiffs’ proposal would violate state law, given Ohio’s certification requirements for voting equipment, and would force through untested and uncertified voting tools—which are neither appropriate nor necessary auxiliary aids under the ADA—and would fundamentally alter Ohio election law. The district court granted the state judgment on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit reversed, stating that the district court based its ruling on defendant’s mere allegation of the “fundamental alteration” affirmative defense under the ADA, without any evidentiary support. The state had the burden of production and persuasion to prove that the proposed accommodation—the ballot marking tools and electronic ballots—would fundamentally alter Ohio’s election system by not “correctly, accurately, and continuously register[ing] and record[ing] every vote cast.” A state procedural requirement may not excuse a substantive ADA violation. View "Hindel v. Husted" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee Republican Party, the Georgia Republican Party, and the New York Republican State Committee challenged the legality of 2016 amendments to rules proposed by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) that are “deemed to have been approved” by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), 15 U.S.C. 78s(b)(2)(D). The rules arose out of concern “that brokers and dealers were engaging in a variety of ethically questionable practices in order to secure underwriting contracts,” and are intended to limit pay-to-play practices in the municipal securities markets. The amendments limit the campaign activities of persons who advise city and state governments on issuing municipal securities. The Sixth Circuit dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to establish their standing to challenge the amendments. There was no “self-evident” injury to the plaintiffs and only limited information on the number of persons possibly affected by the amendments. At most, there were approximately 713 registered non-dealer municipal advisory firms in the United States that would be affected by the Amendments, but it is unclear how many municipal advisor professionals are associated with these firms, let alone the likelihood that they would donate to plaintiffs if not for the Amendments. It is unknown whether the Amendments have hindered individual candidates who are members of the plaintiff organizations. View "Georgia Republican Party v. Securities & Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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White County parents formed the Association for Accurate Standards in Education (AASE) to oppose another group advocating for removal of a social studies textbook that includes discussion of Islam. Eight part-time volunteers comprise AASE. It does not have a separate bank account and does not keep regular records. Five or six people have donated to AASE. No individual donation has exceeded $200; total donations have not reached $500. Seats on the Board of Education were up for election in 2016. AASE parents wanted to support and oppose candidates through AASE. They did not want AASE to make direct campaign contributions, but wanted AASE to spend less than $250 on independent expenditures, including yard signs, stickers, and brochures. They learned that the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance had fined Williamson Strong, an unincorporated group that disseminates information about candidates and issues in Williamson County, $5,000 for failing to certify a treasurer or file financial disclosure statements under Tenn. Code 2-10-102(12)(A), which defines a political campaign committee as: A combination of two or more individuals . . . to support or oppose any candidate. They sued the Registry’s officials in their official capacities under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the Act violates their First Amendment, equal protection, and due process rights. The district court stayed the case pending the outcome of the state administrative proceedings in the Williamson Strong case. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Abstention was improper in this case, in light of the Act’s alleged chilling effects. View "Jones v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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The Michigan Campaign Finance Act, Mich. Comp. Laws 169.254, generally bars corporations and labor unions from contributing to political candidates and organizations, but permits them to form and contribute to political action committees (PACs), which may make political contributions. A recent amendment defines a prohibited expenditure to include the administrative expenses of operating a payroll deduction program unless the deductions go to the corporation’s or union’s own PAC or a PAC established by a nonprofit corporation of which that entity is a member. Unions challenged the restriction under the Contracts Clause and First Amendment. Unions do not employ the bulk of their authorized donor base. To obtain payroll deductions in the past, unions secured agreements from employers to deduct PAC contributions from union members’ wages. The district court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the law on both grounds. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the Contracts Clause ruling and reversed the First Amendment ruling. The Contracts Clause, prohibits the state from enforcing the contested provision with respect to pre-existing PAC check-off obligations through the end of the relevant collective bargaining agreements. The state’s “decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right” did not itself infringe that right. View "Michigan State AFL-CIO v. Schuette" on Justia Law

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Michigan law forbids voters from exposing their marked ballots to others, Mich. Comp. Laws 168.738(2). The penalty for violation is that the ballot will be rejected and the offender not allowed to vote. Crookston sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the law in the upcoming election so that he could take a “ballot selfie” with his cell phone and post it on social media. In late October, the district court granted his motion. The Sixth Circuit stayed the order, stating that, just 10 days before the November 2016 election, “we will not accept his invitation to suddenly alter Michigan’s venerable voting protocols, especially when he could have filed this lawsuit long ago.” The court questioned the likelihood of success on the merits, stating that the ban on photography at the polls seems to be a content-neutral regulation that reasonably protects voters’ privacy and honors a long tradition of protecting the secret ballot. It also is not clear whether a ban on ballot selfies “significantly impinges” Crookston’s First Amendment rights. View "Crookston v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In addition to removing the names of the deceased, adjudicated incompetents, and felons from its voter rolls, Ohio removess voters who are no longer eligible to vote because they have moved outside their county of registration, Ohio Rev. Code 3503.21.1 The “NCOA Process” mirrors the National Voter Registration Act, 52 U.S.C. 20507(c), description of ways in which states “may” comply with their obligation to remove voters who are no longer eligible. The Secretary of State’s office compares names and addresses from Ohio’s Statewide Voter Registration Database to the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address database, then provides each county’s Board of Elections (BOE) with a list of voters who appear to have moved. The BOEs send a confirmation notice. Recipients are removed if they do not respond or update their registration and do not subsequently vote during four consecutive years, including two federal elections. Ohio’s “Supplemental Process” begins with each BOE's list of registered voters who have not engaged in “voter activity” for two years, followed by a mailed notice: a voter is removed after six years of inactivity. During the litigation, the Secretary revised the confirmation notice, so that voters can confirm their address by signing and returning a postage-prepaid form, without including extensive personal information previously required. The Sixth Circuit concluded that claims regarding Ohio’s confirmation notice are not moot, and that the court erred by concluding that Ohio need not provide out-of-state movers with information on how they can continue to be eligible to vote. View "A. Philip Randolph Inst. v. Husted" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Ohio enacted Senate Bills 205 and 216 (amending sections 3509.06-.07, Ohio Revised Code). The Bills required county boards of elections to reject the ballots of absentee voters and provisional voters whose identification envelopes or affirmation forms contain an address or birthdate that does not perfectly match voting records; reduced (from 10 to seven) the number of post-election days to cure identification-envelope errors or to present valid identification; and limited the ways in which poll workers can assist in-person voters. The district court held that all three provisions imposed an undue burden on the right to vote and disparately impacted minority voters. The Sixth Circuit affirmed as to the undue-burden claim only concerning the SB 205 requirement that in-person and mail-in absentee voters complete the address and birthdate fields on the identification envelope with technical precision. The court reversed findings that the other provisions create an undue burden and that the provisions disparately impact minority voters. The “remaining injunction does not impede the legitimate interests of Ohio election law.” The sections reinstated “were altogether serviceable.” The court stated that it “deeply respect[s] the dissent’s recounting of important parts of the racial history of our country and the struggle for voting rights …. However, that history does not without more determine the outcome.” View "NE Ohio Coal. v. Husted" on Justia Law