Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The case involves a dispute over the ballot title for Legislative Referral 403 (2024) (LR 403), which was referred for voters' consideration at the upcoming November 2024 General Election. The petitioner, James Sasinowski, challenged all parts of the ballot title, asserting non-compliance with requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). LR 403 would amend ORS chapter 254 to require "ranked choice voting" for certain elections and would permit local governments to adopt ranked-choice voting in their elections.The ballot title for LR 403 was prepared by a joint legislative committee and filed with the Secretary of State. The petitioner challenged all parts of the ballot title, arguing that the word "majority" was used inaccurately and without proper context. He contended that "majority of votes" suggests that a candidate has received the majority of total votes cast, but in operation, ranked-choice voting can produce a winner who does not receive that type of "majority" vote.The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon agreed with the petitioner in part. The court found that the caption of the ballot title for LR 403 did not reasonably identify the subject matter of the measure and required modification. The court also agreed that the "yes" result statement in the ballot title for LR 403 did not substantially comply with ORS 250.035(2)(b) and required modification. However, the court disagreed with the petitioner that the "no" result statement and the summary in the ballot title for LR 403 required modification. The court concluded that the caption and "yes" result statement in the joint legislative committee’s ballot title for LR 403 required modification and referred the ballot title to the Attorney General for modification. View "Sasinowski v. Legislative Assembly" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around the appointment of a general registrar of elections in Lynchburg, Virginia. The plaintiff, Christine Gibbons, was appointed as registrar in 2018 by a board consisting of two Democrats and one Republican. Her term expired in 2023, at which point the board had two Republican members and one Democratic member. The board informed Gibbons that she would have to reapply for her position. Despite reapplying, the two Republican members voted to appoint a different candidate who was a registered Republican. Gibbons sued the board and its two Republican members, alleging that the decision not to reappoint her was based on her political affiliation, which she claimed violated the First Amendment.The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting that sovereign immunity barred all of Gibbons’ claims. The district court dismissed Gibbons’ claims against the board itself as barred by sovereign immunity, but denied the individual board members’ motions to dismiss. The court concluded that the board members could be sued for equitable relief in their official capacities and for damages in their personal capacities. The board members appealed both orders.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the appellants’ motions to dismiss. The court rejected the board members’ argument that sovereign immunity bars Gibbons’ claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against them in their official capacities. The court also rejected the board members’ assertion that Gibbons’ damages claims against them are barred by sovereign immunity. The court concluded that individual members of Virginia electoral boards may be sued in their official capacities for equitable relief under Ex parte Young and that Gibbons’ claims for damages against the board members in their personal capacities are not barred by sovereign immunity. View "Gibbons v. Gibbs" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, Inc., and Conrad Reynolds (appellants) who filed a complaint against John Thurston, the Arkansas Secretary of State, the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners, and Election Systems and Software, LLC (appellees). The appellants claimed that the voting machines approved by the state did not comply with the Arkansas Code and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) because voters could not independently verify their selections on the ballot before casting their votes. They argued that the machines printed ballots with both bar codes and the voter's selections in English, but the vote tabulator only scanned the bar codes. Since most voters cannot read bar codes, the appellants claimed that voters were unable to verify their votes as required by state and federal law. They also alleged that the appellees committed an illegal exaction by using public funds for the purchase and maintenance of these machines and that Election Systems and Software, LLC violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and committed fraud by claiming that its machines complied with state and federal law.The Pulaski County Circuit Court dismissed the appellants' complaint. The court found that the voting machines complied with the Arkansas Code and HAVA. The court also denied the appellants' motion for recusal and their motion for a new trial. The appellants appealed these decisions.The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the voting process complied with the Arkansas Code and HAVA. The court also found that the appellants failed to demonstrate evidence of bias or prejudice sufficient to warrant the recusal of the circuit court judge. Finally, the court found that the appellants were not deprived of their right to a jury trial and that the circuit court did not err by denying their motion for a new trial. View "ARKANSAS VOTER INTEGRITY INITIATIVE, INC., AND CONRAD REYNOLDS v. JOHN THURSTON, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ARKANSAS SECRETARY OF STATE; THE ARKANSAS STATE BOARD OF ELECTION COMMISSIONERS, IN ITS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; AND ELECTION SYSTEMS AND SOFTWARE, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, petitioners Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights and Samuel Dickman, M.D., sought a declaratory judgment on original jurisdiction against the Montana Attorney General and the Montana Secretary of State. The petitioners argued that the Attorney General wrongly determined that their proposed ballot issue was legally insufficient, had no authority to attach a fiscal statement to the ballot issue, and that their ballot statements complied with Montana Code Annotated sections 13-27-212 and -213.The Supreme Court of Montana held that the Attorney General did err in concluding that the proposed ballot issue was legally insufficient, as it did not violate the separate-vote requirement of Article XIV, Section 11, of the Montana Constitution. The proposal effects a single change to the Montana Constitution on a single subject: the right to make decisions about one's own pregnancy, including the right to abortion.The court also found that the Attorney General exceeded his authority by appending a fiscal statement to the proposed ballot issue because the budget director's fiscal note did not indicate that the issue would have a fiscal impact.Finally, the court declined to rule on the compliance of the petitioners’ ballot statements with Montana Code Annotated sections 13-27-212 and -213, directing the Attorney General to prepare a ballot statement in line with statutory requirements and forward it to the Montana Secretary of State.The court essentially concluded that the proposed ballot issue was legally sufficient and did not require separate votes for its multiple components, as they were all closely related to the central issue of reproductive rights. The court also confirmed that the Attorney General had overstepped his authority by attaching a fiscal statement to the ballot issue. View "Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights v. Knudsen" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute regarding the office of constable for the District 59 election precinct in Jefferson County, Alabama. Frederick Burkes, Sr. won the 2020 Democratic party primary for the office and was declared and certified as the winner. Prior to assuming office, he filed a bond as required by state law. However, James Franklin contended that the bond was not timely filed as it was not filed within 40 days of the declaration of Burkes's election. Consequently, Jefferson Probate Judge James Naftel declared the office of constable for District 59 vacant, leading to Governor Kay Ivey appointing Franklin to the office.Burkes initiated a quo warranto action against Franklin, challenging his appointment. The trial court ruled in favor of Franklin, a decision that was appealed by Burkes. The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the trial court's decision. The Court found that Burkes had indeed filed his official bond on time, as per § 11-2-6 of the Alabama Code. However, Burkes's argument before the trial court was framed around a perceived conflict between § 36-5-2 and § 36-23-4 of the Alabama Code, not § 11-2-6. As a result, the Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the trial court's decision because Burkes had not presented an argument concerning § 11-2-6 to the trial court. View "State of Alabama ex rel. Burkes v. Franklin" on Justia Law

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In the state of California, a group known as the Real Parties circulated an initiative petition to repeal a special tax within Service Zone Five of the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District. The District attempted to prevent this initiative from appearing on the June 2022 ballot by filing a writ petition and complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief, asserting that the initiative contained false and misleading information in violation of Elections Code section 18600. The trial court found the initiative to be invalid due to these false and misleading statements, but it was too late to prevent it from appearing on the ballot. The electorate voted on the initiative, and it passed.The Real Parties appealed the trial court's order, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that the initiative contained false and misleading statements and that intent was not required to prove a violation of section 18600. The District cross-appealed, arguing that the initiative was invalid due to additional grounds.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two affirmed the trial court's order, concluding that the initiative was invalid because it contained false and misleading information. The court also agreed with the trial court that it was not necessary for the District to establish intent under section 18600. The court dismissed the District's cross-appeal as moot because it raised additional grounds for disqualifying the initiative, which were unnecessary to address given the court's conclusion that the initiative was already invalid. View "San Bernardino County Fire Protection Dist. v. Page" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute about the interpretation of the National Voter Registration Act ("NVRA"), specifically Section 8(i)(1). The plaintiff, Public Interest Legal Foundation, Inc. ("PILF"), requested a copy of the Maine Party/Campaign Use Voter File ("Voter File") from the Secretary of State for the State of Maine, Shenna Bellows. The Secretary denied the request under Exception J of Maine's Privacy Law, which restricts the use and publication of the Voter File.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that Section 8(i)(1) of the NVRA applies to the Voter File and that Maine's restrictions on the use and publication of the Voter File are preempted by the NVRA. The court reasoned that both federal and state law require Maine election officials to create and update voter registration records, and these activities fall within Section 8(i)(1). The Voter File, as an electronic report generated from the Central Voter Registration system, reflects the additions and changes made by Maine election officials in carrying out voter list registration and maintenance activities. Therefore, it is a record concerning the implementation of those activities, and its use is subject to disclosure under Section 8(i)(1). The Use Ban and Publication Ban under Exception J, as applied to PILF, were found to be preempted by the NVRA, and the fines for violating these restrictions were also preempted. View "Public Interest Legal Foundation, Inc. v. Bellows" on Justia Law

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In this case before the Supreme Court of Ohio, Dennis Schreiner petitioned for a writ of prohibition against the Erie County Board of Elections and its members. Schreiner sought to remove Steven Kraus, a candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives, from the March 2024 primary election ballot. Schreiner's argument was based on Kraus' previous conviction of a disqualifying offense and his subsequent claim that the office of state representative involves substantial management or control over the property of a state agency, political subdivision, or private entity, as defined by R.C. 2961.02(B).However, the court found that a state representative does not have direct management or control over the property of any state agency, political subdivision, or private entity. Schreiner failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that the office of state representative involves substantial management or control over such property. The court, therefore, ruled that the board of elections did not abuse its discretion or act in clear disregard of applicable law in keeping Kraus on the primary-election ballot. Consequently, the court denied Schreiner's petition for a writ of prohibition. View "State ex rel. Schreiner v. Erie Cty. Bd. of Elections" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reviewed the Federal Election Commission's (FEC) dismissal of an administrative complaint by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC). The CLC alleged campaign finance violations by two presidential campaign committees, claiming that they concealed over $750 million in expenditures by routing them through sham payments to two LLCs. The FEC dismissed the complaint, invoking prosecutorial discretion. The CLC argued that the FEC's invocation of discretion was dependent on legal analysis and was thus subject to judicial review under the Federal Election Campaign Act. The district court concluded that the FEC's reliance on considerations of prosecutorial discretion was separate from its legal analysis and precluded judicial review.On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the FEC's reasons for dismissal, which included resource allocation concerns, potential litigation risks, and a shifting regulatory landscape, were distinct considerations of prosecutorial discretion that did not solely rest on legal interpretation, and therefore were not reviewable by the court. The court rejected the CLC's argument that the FEC's invocation of discretion was intertwined with its legal analysis, stating that the agency's estimation of the resource demands of the proposed investigation and its potential size and scope bore no discernable relationship to any legal inquiry. View "Campaign Legal Center v. FEC" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit considered an appeal by Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff under President Donald Trump, who sought to move his state criminal prosecution to federal court. The state of Georgia had indicted Meadows for crimes related to alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election. Meadows argued that because these actions were taken in his official capacity, they should be heard in federal court according to the federal-officer removal statute (28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1)). The district court denied this request because Meadows' charged conduct was not performed under the color of his federal office. The court of appeals affirmed this decision. It ruled that the federal-officer removal statute does not apply to former federal officers and even if it did, the alleged actions leading to this criminal action were not related to Meadows’ official duties. The court concluded that the former chief of staff’s role does not include influencing state officials with allegations of election fraud or altering valid election results in favor of a particular candidate, regardless of the chief of staff's role with respect to state election administration. Therefore, Meadows was not entitled to invoke the federal-officer removal statute. View "The State of Georgia v. Meadows" on Justia Law