Articles Posted in Election 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

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The Ohio election regulation at issue, Senate Bill 238, amends Ohio Revised Code section 3509.01, to allow early in-person voting for 29 days before Election Day. The law previously allowed 35 days for early voting, including six days during which a person could both register and vote. In one of many pending challenges to the state’s election laws, the district court found the provision invalid. The Sixth Circuit reversed, calling Ohio “a national leader when it comes to early voting opportunities.” The law is facially neutral; it offers early voting to everyone. The Constitution does not require any opportunities for early voting and as many as 13 states offer only Election Day voting. The regulation was the product of a bipartisan recommendation, as amended pursuant to a subsequent litigation settlement. It is the product of collaborative processes, not unilateral overreaching by the political party that happened to be in power. While the challenged regulation may slightly diminish the convenience of registration and voting, it applies even-handedly to all voters, and, despite the change, Ohio continues to provide generous, reasonable, and accessible voting options to all Ohioans. There is no cognizable injury under the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. View "OH Democratic Party v. Husted" on Justia Law

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Michigan has offered “straight-party” voting since 1891. Previous attempts to eliminate straight-party voting were defeated by referendum. In 2015, the Michigan legislature passed PA 268, eliminating straight-party voting and appropriating $5 million to purchase voting equipment to implement the change. Because PA 268 includes an appropriation, it cannot be repealed by referendum. Opponents alleged that PA 268 violated the Fourteenth Amendment, the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. 10301, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12132. Plaintiffs’ expert report prepared by a demographer and former U.S. Census Bureau Regional Information Specialist, included a statistical analysis demonstrating “that African Americans are more likely to use the straight party voting option and that its elimination will disproportionately affect African-American voters.”The plaintiffs attached declarations from county election administrators, indicating that the elimination of straight-party voting would cause a demonstrable increase in wait times for voting. The court granted plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, finding that the plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on the merits of their ADA claim, but were likely to succeed on their Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act claims. The Sixth Circuit denied an emergency motion for a stay of the injunction, stating that the case does not involve the potential disruption of complicated election administration procedures on the eve of Election Day; denying the request for a stay here will merely require Michigan to use the same straight-party procedure that it has used since 1891. View "Mich. State A. Philip Randolph Inst. v. Johnson" on Justia Law