Articles Posted in Election Law

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In 2012, minor political parties challenged Pennsylvania’s election laws under the First and Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 1983. Minor parties gather a considerable number of signatures to place candidates on the ballot; the validity of those signatures can be challenged. A successful challenge may result in an award of costs (which may be considerable). The threat of these high costs has deterred some candidates. The court held that the statutes were, in combination, unconstitutional as applied to the parties, and ultimately adopted the Commonwealth’s proposal, based on a pending Pennsylvania General Assembly bill, that minor party candidates be placed on the ballot if they gather two and one-half times as many signatures as major party candidates must gather for the office of Governor, at least 5,000 signatures must be gathered with at least 250 from at least 10 of the 67 counties. For other statewide offices, the bill required 1,250-2,500 signatures with at least 250 from at least five counties. The court did not find any facts, nor explain its decision. The Third Circuit vacated, finding the record inadequate to support the signature gathering requirement. The appropriate inquiry is concerned with the extent to which a challenged regulation actually burdens constitutional rights and is “fact-intensive.” The court can impose the county-based signature-gathering requirements if it concludes that the requirements would have no appreciable impact on voting rights. View "Constitution Party of Pennsylvania v. Cortes" on Justia Law

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The American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) challenged the Philadelphia City Commissioners’ failure to purge the city’s voter rolls of registered voters who are currently incarcerated due to a felony conviction. Because state law prohibits felons from voting while they are in prison, the ACRU argues that the National Voter Registration Act, 52 U.S.C. 50207, requires the Commissioners to remove them from the voter rolls. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The unambiguous text of the Act states that while states are required to make reasonable efforts to remove registrants for certain reasons, states are merely permitted—not required— to provide for removal of registrants from the official list based on criminal conviction. The 2002 Help America Vote Act, 42 U.S.C. 15301, also cited by ACRU, contains no private right of enforcement. View "American Civil Rights Union v. Philadelphia City Commissioner" on Justia Law

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Rodriquez was elected to serve in the Virgin Islands Legislature. After his election, plaintiffs sued, challenging Rodriquez’s qualifications. Plaintiffs had learned that Rodriguez had filed a bankruptcy petition in Tennessee, swearing that he was a resident of Tennessee. Rodriquez removed that suit to federal court and filed his own action against the 32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands and its president, seeking a ruling that only the Legislature can decide who is qualified to serve in the Legislature. Because of an injunction issued by the Virgin Islands Superior Court, Rodriquez was not sworn in and has not taken a seat in the Legislature. The Governor of the Virgin Islands issued a proclamation calling for a special election to fill the vacancy.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Rodriguez's suit and dismissed an appeal of the removal. Because a judicial determination of whether Rodriquez is qualified to serve as a member of the Virgin Islands 32nd Legislature would infringe on the separation of powers between the Virgin Islands legislative and judicial branches, that action is no longer justiciable. Rodriquez does not having standing to appeal the district court’s removal order because he was a prevailing party. View "Rodriquez v. 32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Nichols is a resident, property owner, and taxpayer in the City of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Rehoboth Beach held a special election, open to residents of more than six months, for approval of a $52.5 million bond issue to finance an ocean outfall project. The resolution passed. Nichols voted in the election. She then filed suit challenging the election and the resultant issuance of bonds. The district court, reasoning that Nichols was not contesting the expenditure of tax funds, but the legality of the Special Election; found that Nichols, having voted, lacked standing; and dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that because Nichols failed to show an illegal use of municipal taxpayer funds, she cannot establish standing on municipal taxpayer grounds. The court rejected her claims of municipal taxpayer standing on the basis of two expenditures by Rehoboth Beach: the funds required to hold the special election and the funds used to purchase an advertisement in a local newspaper. View "Nichols v. City of Rehoboth Beach" on Justia Law

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Aspiring political parties and their members challenged, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the constitutionality of two provisions of Pennsylvania’s election code: 25 Pa. Stat. 2911(b) and 2937. The provisions, respectively, regulate the number of signatures required to attain a position on the general election ballot and govern the process by which private individuals can sue in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to challenge the validity of a candidate’s nomination paper or petition. At the summary judgment stage, the district court held that, acting in combination, the two provisions, as applied, violated plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. On appeal, the Commonwealth argued that neither named state official has a sufficient connection to the challenged provisions to be a proper defendant and that the court’s order was “incoherent on its face” The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting the “technical issues” raised by the Commonwealth. Both the Secretary of the Commonwealth and its Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Commissions, Elections, and Legislation had a sufficient connection to the enforcement of the challenged provisions as required under Ex Parte Young. View "Constitution Party of Pa. v. Cortes" on Justia Law

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DSF challenged the Delaware Elections Disclosure Act as facially unconstitutional and unconstitutional as-applied to its 2014 Voter Guide, planned for distribution over the internet within 60 days of Delaware’s general election and planned to cost more than $500. The 2013 Act requires “[a]ny person . . . who makes an expenditure for any third-party advertisement that causes the aggregate amount of expenditures for third-party advertisements made by such person to exceed $500 during an election period [to] file a third-party advertisement report with the Commissioner.,” 15 Del. C. 8031(a). A “third-party advertisement” is a communication by any person (other than a candidate committee or a political party) that: Refers to a clearly identified candidate, is publicly distributed within 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election to an audience that includes members of the electorate for the office sought by such candidate. The court granted a preliminary injunction, declaring the disclosure requirements unconstitutional. The Third Circuit reversed, finding the Act narrowly tailored and not impermissibly broad. A disclosure requirement is subject to “exacting scrutiny,” necessitating a “substantial relationship” between the state’s interest and the requirement. The Act marries one-time, event-driven disclosures to the “election period,” which is controlled by the relevant candidate’s term, providing the necessary “substantial relationship” between the requirement and Delaware’s informational interest View "Del. Strong Families v. Attorney Gen. Del." on Justia Law

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Fawkes, the Virgin Islands Supervisor of Elections, disqualified Coffelt and Canegata from appearing on the general election ballot for the offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor, respectively, for ostensible noncompliance with the Virgin Islands Election Code. The district court denied an injunction and dismissed the challenge to the Code. The Third Circuit entered an injunction pending appeal and later held that the candidacy is not barred under 18 V.I.C. 342a. Under the Election Code a candidate seeking public office may appear on the general election ballot by the traditional party-nomination process, under which a candidate submits a “nomination petition,” competes in the party’s primary election, and, if successful, appears on the general election ballot as that party’s official candidate. The Code also provides a “direct nomination” path to the general election ballot for candidates lacking the imprimatur of a recognized political party. The court found that the Election Code does not expressly require that Canegata renounce his party affiliation in order to seek office by direct nomination. View "Coffelt v. Fawkes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law

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Political groups challenged the constitutionality (42 U.S.C. 1983) of two provisions of Pennsylvania’s election code that regulate ballot access. Sections 2911(b) and 2872.2(a), require that candidates seeking to be included on the general election ballot (other than Republicans and Democrats) submit nomination papers with a specified number of signatures. Section 2937 allows private actors to object to such nomination papers and have them nullified, and permits a Pennsylvania court, as that court deems “just,” to impose administrative and litigation costs on a candidate if that candidate’s papers are rejected. The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the aspiring political parties established that their injury-in-fact can fairly be traced to the actions of the Commonwealth officials and that the injuries are redressable. View "Constitution Party of PA v. Aichele" on Justia Law

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Under the “Hyde Amendment,” a district court in criminal cases may award to a prevailing party a reasonable attorney’s fee and other litigation expenses, if the position of the United States was vexatious, frivolous, or in bad faith, unless the court finds special circumstances, 18 U.S.C. 3006A. The district court denied such an award in a case involving four counts of conspiring and attempting to commit extortion, 18 U.S.C. 951(a) & 2 (Hobbs Act), and two counts of traveling in interstate commerce to promote and facilitate bribery, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(3) & 2 (Travel Act). The government alleged that Manzo, a candidate for mayor of Jersey City, sought cash payments from Dwek, an informant posing as a developer, and that, in exchange, Manzo indicated he would help Dwek with matters involving Jersey City government. The district court dismissed each Hobbs Act count because Manzo was not a public official at the time of the conduct. The Third Circuit affirmed. The court later held that receipt of something of value by an unsuccessful candidate in exchange for a promise of future official conduct does not constitute bribery under the New Jersey bribery statute and dismissed all remaining charges. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of fees. View "United States v. Manzo" on Justia Law

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PG sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging the constitutionality of 25 Pa. Stat. 3060(d), a portion of the Pennsylvania Election Code mandating that all persons, except election officers, clerks, machine inspectors, overseers, watchers, persons in the course of voting, persons lawfully giving assistance to voters, and peace and police officers, when permitted by the provisions of this act, must remain at least ten (10) feet distant from the polling place during the progress of the voting. PG claimed that the statute infringed on its First Amendment “right to access and gather news at polling places” and that selective enforcement violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed. There is no protected First Amendment right of access to a polling place for news-gathering purposes and there was no evidence of “invidious intent” or intentional discrimination. View "PG Publ'g Co. v. Aichele" on Justia Law