Articles Posted in Election 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

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When the finances of a Michigan municipality or public school system are in jeopardy, state law, the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, Public Act 436, allows temporary appointment of an emergency manager, with extensive powers that arguably displace all of those of the local governmental officials. Plaintiffs, voters in areas with emergency managers and local elected officials in place, claimed that, by vesting elected officials’ powers in appointed individuals, the law violates their substantive due process right to elect local legislative officials and violates the Constitution’s guarantee, Article IV, section 4, of a republican form of government. They also asserted claims under the First and Thirteenth amendments and under the Voting Rights Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal. It is up to the political branches of the federal government to determine whether a state has met its federal constitutional obligation to maintain a republican form of government. The financial conditions of plaintiffs’ localities are the reasons for the appointments of the emergency managers. An entity in a distressed financial state can cause harm to its citizenry and the state in general. Improving the financial situation of a distressed locality is a legitimate legislative purpose, and PA 436 is rationally related to that purpose. View "Phillips v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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An anonymous caller to the district court clerk’s office complained that an accident might make it difficult for voters to reach the polls before they closed on Ohio’s March 15 primary election. That office relayed the call to a judge, who orally directed the clerk to enter an order: This matter is before the court upon an oral complaint requesting that the polling locations within the counties of Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren be extended for one hour due to Interstate I-275 being closed for hours due to a fatal accident. The request is hereby GRANTED and the Secretary of State is hereby ordered to keep the polling locations within the counties of Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren open until 8:30 p.m. The call from the clerk’s office went to the cell phone voicemail of Assistant Secretary of State Damschroder. Damschroder got the message, but the polls had closed minutes earlier and had to try to reopen; “some polls were open and others were not.” No complaint preceded the order; none materialized after. Seeking to avoid similar last-minute election orders, the Ohio Secretary of State and boards of elections appealed. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, citing Article III limitations. View "In re: 2016 Primary Election" on Justia Law

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The Libertarian Party filed suit, claiming that Kentucky law unconstitutionally burdens First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of political association and equal protection by categorizing the Libertarian Party and Constitution Party as “political groups,” which must petition to list their candidates for state and local office on election ballots, rather than as “political parties” or “political organizations,” which enjoy “blanket” ballot access for all the candidates they nominate (Ky. Rev. Stat. 118.015). The district court concluded, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, that Kentucky’s three-tiered ballot-access scheme is a constitutional means of exercising the Commonwealth’s power to regulate elections. The court found the burden imposed by the ballot-access scheme “less than severe,” so that strict scrutiny did not apply, but not so “minimal” as to warrant rational basis review. Engaging in “flexible scrutiny,” the court found that Kentucky has an important interest in ensuring that candidates demonstrate a “significant modicum of support,” strong enough to justify the scheme. View "Libertarian Party of Ky. v. Grimes" on Justia Law