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Election Litigation: Absentee and Early Voting
Filing a Complaint Results in Settled Relief Providing a Voting Location on an Indian Reservation
Blackfeet Nation v. Stapleton (Dana L. Christensen, D. Mont. 4:20-cv-95).
On the Friday night before a Columbus Day weekend, an Indian tribe filed a federal complaint alleging that it was improper for a county not to provide a voting location on its reservation. The case was assigned to a judge on Tuesday, who set the case for hearing about a week later, but the case settled on Wednesday.
Topics: Poll locations; early voting; absentee ballots; COVID-19.
Denied Complaint for Electronic Overseas Voting During a Global Pandemic
Harley v. New York (Brian M. Cogan, E.D.N.Y. 1:20-cv-4664)
A class action against election officials in seven states sought electronic voting for overseas voters during the global COVID-19 infectious pandemic. The district judge denied the plaintiffs immediate relief, and the plaintiffs dismissed their case.
Topics: COVID-19; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); absentee ballots; class action.
Enjoining Misleading Postal Information About Absentee Ballots in Colorado
Colorado v. DeJoy (William J. Martínez, D. Colo. 1:20-cv-2768)
A federal district judge enjoined misleading mailings by the postal service about voting by mail in Colorado during a global infectious pandemic.
Topics: Absentee ballots; COVID-19; early voting.
No Constitutional Right to Distribute Absentee Ballot Applications
Lichtenstein v. Hargett (Eli Richardson and Aleta A. Trauger, M.D. Tenn. 3:20-cv-736)
A time-sensitive federal complaint challenged Tennessee’s proscription on the distribution of absentee ballot applications by persons other than election officials, noting the importance of absentee voting during a global infectious pandemic. The district court denied immediate relief.
Topics: Absentee ballots; COVID-19; case assignment; signature matching.
Relaxing Absentee and Early Voting Rules for Senior Citizens in Puerto Rico During an Infectious Pandemic
Ocasio v. Comisión Estatal de Elecctiones (Pedro A. Delgado-Hernández, D.P.R. 3:20-cv-1432)
During the global COVID-19 infectious pandemic, two senior voters sought a court order relaxing absentee and early voting eligibility for senior voters generally. The district judge granted them first a preliminary injunction and then a permanent injunction.
Topics: Early voting; COVID-19.
Staying a Federal Action While a State Action Proceeds Over Mailing Unsolicited Absentee Ballot Applications in Detroit During an Infectious Pandemic
Reed-Pratt v. Winfrey (Robert H. Cleland, E.D. Mich. 3:20-cv-12129)
During the global COVID-19 infectious pandemic, a federal action challenged the legality of Detroit election officials’ mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Recognizing the complexity of applying state law on the matter during the pandemic, the district judge declined jurisdiction over the state claims and stayed the federal claim pending a related action in state court.
Topics: Absentee ballots; COVID-19; matters for state courts; enforcing orders.
A Consent Decree Waiving the Witness Requirement for Voting by Mail in Rhode Island During an Infectious Pandemic
Common Cause Rhode Island v. Gorbea (Mary S. McElroy, D.R.I. 1:20-cv-318)
For the June 2020 presidential primary election in Rhode Island, the governor suspended the state’s requirement that mail-in ballots be witnessed by a notary or by two other witnesses. A district judge approved a consent decree applying the witness requirement suspension to elections in Rhode Island in September and November. The court of appeals and the Supreme Court denied a major political party’s motion to stay the consent decree.
Topics: Absentee ballots; COVID-19; intervention; interlocutory appeal; laches; primary election.
Modifying the Postmark Requirement for Mailed Ballots in New York
Gallagher v. New York State Board of Elections (Analisa Torres, S.D.N.Y. 1:20-cv-5504)
New York’s allowance for voting by mail during the global COVID-19 infectious pandemic of 2020 had a postmark requirement, but prepaid mail was not always postmarked, so a district judge ordered that ballots received by the day after the election would be counted without a postmark and ballots received by the following day would be counted unless they had a postmark after election day.
Topics: Absentee ballots; COVID-19; intervention; primary election; class action.
No Constitutional Right to Greater Publicization of Early Voting for a Special Congressional Election
McMurray v. Mohr (Lawrence J. Vilardo, W.D.N.Y. 1:20-cv-689)
A district judge denied immediate relief to plaintiffs who sought an injunction requiring county election officials to publicize more widely early voting opportunities for a special congressional election.
Topics: Early voting; COVID-19; interlocutory appeal.
Relief from Absentee Ballot Application Deadline Because of Overwhelmed Website
Nicholas Jones for Congress v. Idaho Secretary of State (B. Lynn Winmill, D. Idaho 1:20-cv-242)
During the 2020 COVID-19 global infectious pandemic, a federal district judge extended the absentee ballot application deadline by one week because the secretary of state’s application website was overwhelmed.
Topics: Absentee ballots; COVID-19; attorney fees; primary election.
No Immediate Relief from Expanded Absentee Voting Opportunities During an Infectious Pandemic Because of Delay in Bringing the Case
Curtin v. Virginia State Board of Elections (Rossie D. Alston, Jr., E.D. Va. 1:20-cv-546)
Because of the COVID-19 global infectious pandemic, Virginia voters were permitted to vote absentee on account of disability. A suit challenging broad absentee voting rights as diluting plaintiffs’ voting rights did not result in immediate relief, because the suit was brought about two months after the guidelines became public. After the preliminary injunction decision, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the case.
Topics: Absentee ballots; COVID-19; laches; primary election; case assignment; recusal; early voting.
Opportunity to Cure Missing and Mismatched Absentee Ballot Signatures in California
Fugazi v. Padilla (Kimberly J. Mueller, E.D. Cal. 2:20-cv-970)
A candidate and several voters challenged the certification of a primary election, alleging that absentee voters were not given sufficient opportunities to cure missing or mismatched signatures. Absentee voting was important in the election because of a global infectious pandemic. The district judge denied the plaintiffs immediate relief because although a mailing to voters who had signature problems was confusing, and the election office was closed to visitors, clarifications were available by telephone.
Topics: Signature matching; absentee ballots; COVID-19; enjoining certification; intervention; primary election; class action.
Electronic At-Home Absentee Voting for Blind Voters
Powell v. Benson (Gershwin A. Drain, E.D. Mich. 2:20-cv-11023), Drenth v. Boockvar (Jennifer P. Wilson, M.D. Pa. 1:20-cv-829), and Hernandez v. New York State Board of Elections (Lewis J. Liman, S.D.N.Y. 1:20-cv-4003)
In light of the greater need for absentee voting in 2020 because of the COVID-19 global infectious pandemic, lawsuits in three states resulted in electronic at-home absentee voting for blind voters that protected the secrecy of their ballots.
Topics: COVID-19; absentee ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); intervention; class action; primary election.
Whether Voting by Mail During a Pandemic Dilutes Legitimate Votes
Paher v. Cegavske (Miranda M. Du, D. Nev. 3:20-cv-243)
A district judge denied an injunction to voters who complained that extensive voting by mail during a global infectious pandemic would dilute legitimate votes, finding the allegation too speculative to afford standing or merit relief.
Topics: COVID-19; absentee ballots; intervention; primary election.
Nullification of an Absentee Ballot Witness Requirement During a Global Infectious Pandemic
League of Women Voters of Virginia v. Virginia State Board of Elections (Norman K. Moon, W.D. Va. 6:20-cv-24)
During the global COVID-19 infectious pandemic, seven weeks before a primary election, a district judge approved a consent decree that nullified the witness requirement for absentee ballots in the election. Later, the judge approved a similar consent decree for the general election.
Topics: COVID-19; absentee ballots; intervention; primary election; attorney fees.
Whether Requiring Postage for a Mailed Ballot Is an Unconstitutional Poll Tax
Black Voters Matter Fund v. Raffensperger (Amy Totenberg, N.D. Ga. 1:20-cv-1489)
In light of widespread absentee voting by mail during the 2020 global COVID-19 infectious pandemic, a federal complaint alleged that requiring voters to pay the postage was an unconstitutional poll tax. The district judge denied relief for an imminent primary election for practical reasons. After careful consideration of the law and the facts, the judge ultimately decided that absentee ballot postage is not a poll tax.
Topics: COVID-19; absentee ballots; class action; primary election.
Standing to Seek an Absentee Ballot Extension During a Pandemic
Mays v. Thurston (James M. Moody, Jr., E.D. Ark. 4:20-cv-341)
The district judge denied a request for an order during a global infectious pandemic extending the deadline for absentee ballots from received by election day to mailed by election day, finding that any difficulty that the plaintiffs would have in submitting their absentee ballots on time would arise from the pandemic and not from state action.
Topics: COVID-19; absentee ballots.
Election Modifications in Wisconsin Because of a Pandemic
Democratic National Committee v. Bostelmann (3:20-cv-249), Gear v. Knudson (3:20-cv-278), and Lewis v. Knudson (3:20-cv-284) (William M. Conley, W.D. Wis.) and City of Green Bay v. Bostelmann (William C. Griesbach, 2:20-cv-479) and Taylor v. Milwaukee Election Comm’n (Pamela Pepper, 2:20-cv-545) (E.D. Wis.)
In light of a global infectious pandemic, federal litigation to modify election procedures for the April 2020 election in Wisconsin, which included a presidential primary election, began about three weeks before the election. Shortly after a complaint was filed, and again a few days before the election, a federal judge in the Western District of Wisconsin ordered some modifications to enable absentee voting by mail. The judge declined to order a delay in the election. The court of appeals reversed the district judge’s modification to absentee voter witness certification requirements, and the Supreme Court reversed the district judge’s extension of time to mail absentee ballots after election day. Suits in the Eastern District were unsuccessful. For the general election in November, the Western District judge again ordered modifications, but the court of appeals stayed the injunction.
Topics: COVID-19; registration procedures; absentee ballots; enjoining elections; interlocutory appeal; voter identification; intervention; primary election; voting technology; case assignment; class action.
No Ordered Modification of Absentee Ballot Procedures on the Night Before an Election
Williams v. DeSantis (Robert L. Hinkle, N.D. Fla. 1:20-cv-67)
During the global infectious COVID-19 pandemic, a federal judge declined to modify absentee ballot provisions in a presidential primary election in response to a complaint filed on the night before election day.
Topics: Absentee ballots; COVID-19; laches; intervention; case assignment; primary election.
No Constitutional Right to Additional Early Voting Locations
Gwinnett County NAACP v. Gwinnett County Board of Registration and Elections (Steven D. Grimberg, N.D. Ga. 1:20-cv-912)
A federal complaint filed on the Thursday before three weeks of early voting set to begin on Monday challenged election officials’ decision to offer early voting at only one location in the county during the first week. The district court held a hearing on Monday afternoon and denied the plaintiffs immediate relief, finding no constitutional entitlement to additional early voting locations.
Topics: Early voting; primary election; 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Onerous Absentee Ballot Procedures in Mississippi
O’Neil v. Hosemann (Daniel P. Jordan III, S.D. Miss. 3:18-cv-815)
On the day before a runoff election, plaintiffs sought a federal court injunction requiring the counting of absentee ballots post-marked by election day instead of received by the day before election day. The federal judge decided that the request for relief was too late and the relief requested was too disruptive.
Topics: Absentee ballots; laches.
Multiple Suits After an Election to Relax the Standards for Counting and Recounting Votes
Democratic Executive Committee of Florida v. Detzner (4:18-cv-520), VoteVets Action Fund v. Detzner (4:18-cv-524), DSCC v. Detzner (4:18-cv-526), and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee v. Detzner (4:18-cv-528) (Mark E. Walker and Robert L. Hinkle, N.D. Fla.)
The campaign for the ultimately unsuccessful reelection of a U.S. senator filed four federal complaints during the week following a general election. Each complaint raised a different issue: signature matching on mail and provisional ballots, mail ballot deadlines, manual recount rules, and recount deadlines. The judge enjoined disqualification of votes for mismatched signatures without an opportunity to resolve the mismatch. The judge denied relief in the other cases.
Topics: Signature matching; absentee ballots; provisional ballots; recounts; recusal; case assignment; intervention.
Extending the Deadline to Receive Absentee Ballots for Multiple Reasons
Democratic Party of Georgia v. Burkes (W. Louis Sands, M.D. Ga. 1:18-cv-212) and Democratic Party of Georgia v. Crittenden (Amy Totenberg, N.D. Ga. 1:18-cv-5443)
Following a morning proceeding three days after an election, a federal judge signed a consent agreement extending the deadline for election officials to receive cast absentee ballots. Ballots were mailed late to voters because of a state court injunction and a hurricane. In another district in the same state, a consent order similarly ex-tended the deadline for absentee ballots statewide in a runoff election.
Topics: Absentee ballots; enjoining certification.
Keeping Early Ballots Secret
Saball v. Town of Groton (Leo T. Sorokin, D. Mass. 1:18-cv-12312)
A pro se federal complaint alleged that voters’ names on envelopes containing early cast ballots violated the secret ballot. The district judge denied immediate relief for want of compelling arguments and for want of service on the defendants.
Topics: Early voting; pro se party.
Record Mismatches on Absentee Ballots
Martin v. Kemp (1:18-cv-4776) and Georgia Muslim Voter Project v. Kemp (1:18-cv-4789) (Leigh Martin May) and Democratic Party of Georgia v. Crittenden (Steve C. Jones, 1:18-cv-5181) (N.D. Ga.)
Not quite two weeks before the 2018 general election, a district judge ordered election officials to regard absentee ballots with signatures apparently not matching signatures on file to be regarded as provisional ballots with an opportunity for the voters to resolve discrepancies. Before the election, the judge declined to order immediate relief from the rejection of absentee ballots for clerical errors. After the election, while absentee ballots were being counted, the judge ordered a county to not reject absentee ballots that arrived with a missing or incorrect year of birth, because only eligible voters would have received absentee ballots. In another case with election officials for an additional county as defendants, another judge issued a similar order on the following day.
Topics: Absentee ballots; early voting; signature matching; provisional ballots; class action.
An Opportunity to Cure Absentee Ballot Signatures That Do Not Match Voter Registration Records
Florida Democratic Party v. Detzner (Mark E. Walker, N.D. Fla. 4:16-cv-607)
A little over one month before a general election, a political party filed a federal complaint seeking opportunities to cure mismatches between absentee ballot signatures and voter registration signatures, noting an existing opportunity to cure signature omissions. After taking testimony from the local county supervisor of elections, the district judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring an opportunity to cure signature mismatches.
Topics: Signature matching; absentee ballots; equal protection; news media; attorney fees.
Talking Voting Machines for Blind Absentee Voters
Gray v. St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners (Audrey G. Fleissig, E.D. Mo. 4:16-cv-1548)
Near the beginning of absentee voting, two blind voters filed a federal complaint seeking accommodation for blind voters by talking voting machines in light of a recent state court decision tightening absentee voting procedures. On the day that the complaint was filed, the defendant election board answered, and the judge granted the plaintiffs immediate relief. The parties stipulated to a dismissal of the action before election day.
Topics: Voting technology; absentee ballots; early voting.
A Defective Absentee Ballot Application by a Hospitalized Voter
Ramsden v. Husted (Benita Y. Pearson, N.D. Ohio 4:16-cv-641)
After the polls closed, a hospitalized voter filed a federal com-plaint alleging that election authorities improperly refused to provide the voter with an absentee ballot on election day. The judge determined that the voter’s application was defective and denied the voter relief.
Topics: Absentee ballots; primary election; provisional ballots.
Counting Federal Overseas Votes on Ballots with State-Election Errors
United States v. West Virginia (John T. Copenhaver, Jr., S.D. W. Va. 2:14-cv-27456)
A state supreme court ordered a replacement candidate for a state legislative election, granting a writ of mandamus that also requested the nullification of absentee ballots already sent out that included the withdrawn candidate’s name. The Justice Department sought an injunction requiring that votes for federal offices be counted in the otherwise voided absentee ballots for overseas voters if the overseas voters did not cast corrected ballots. Although the district judge denied the Justice Department preliminary relief, on full briefing the judge ordered federal votes counted for the four ballots at issue.
Topics: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); absentee ballots; matters for state courts.
Accommodating a Disabled Voter
Mooneyhan v. Husted (Walter H. Rice, S.D. Ohio 3:12-cv-379)
When a hospitalized voter’s absentee ballot did not arrive in time, she asked election officials to deliver it by hand to her, but they refused. Ten days following a federal complaint filed shortly after the polls closed on election day, the district judge ordered that the absentee ballot be counted as a remedy for election officials’ failing to accommodate the voter’s disability.
Topics: Absentee ballots; attorney fees; provisional ballots; laches.
Last-Minute Absentee Voting by Last-Minute Prisoners
Fair Elections Ohio v. Husted (Susan J. Dlott and S. Arthur Spiegel, 1:12-cv-797) and Mays v. Husted (Michael H. Watson, 2:18-cv-1376) (S.D. Ohio)
Prisoner-rights organizations filed a federal complaint seeking provisions ensuring the ability to vote by voters detained during the days immediately preceding the 2012 general election. The district judge denied the plaintiffs immediate relief because they had not presented compelling evidence of disfranchisement. The state’s accommodations for persons with medical emergencies on election day did not create an equal protection violation because of the different burdens placed on election officials. After the case was transferred to another judge in 2014, and after additional discovery, the second judge granted the plaintiffs summary judgment on a showing that the burden on disfranchised voters outweighed the burden on accommodating late-jailed voters. The court of appeals determined, over a dissent, however, that the plaintiff organizations did not have standing. A lawsuit filed in 2018 by two persons arrested over the weekend before election day and detained through election day was successful for them. The judge later granted summary judgment to a certified plaintiff class. The court of appeals, however, determined that the franchise burden on arrested voters is modest and justified by election officials’ burdens in providing new prisoners with ballots.
Topics: Prisoner voters; equal protection; absentee ballots; class action.
Extension for Overseas Voters in Wisconsin
Romney for President, Inc. v. Wisconsin (William M. Conley, W.D. Wis. 3:12-cv-745)
A presidential campaign sought an extension for absentee ballots because they were not mailed on time as required by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA). The matter settled.
Topics: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); absentee ballots.
Early Voting on Indian Reservations
Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch (Richard F. Cebull and Donald W. Molloy, D. Mont. 1:12-cv-135)
Members of three Indian tribes sought the establishment of satellite county clerk and recorder offices for voter registration and in-person absentee voting. The first judge assigned to the case denied relief for lack of discriminatory intent and because reservation residents have successfully elected candidates of their choice. After the first judge retired, a second judge determined that the plaintiffs had alleged plausible equal protection and voting rights claims.
Topics: Poll locations; equal protection; section 2 discrimination; early voting; absentee ballots.
Overseas Absentee Ballot Consent Decree in the Virgin Islands
United States v. Virgin Islands (Curtis V. Gómez, D.V.I. 3:12-cv-69)
Eight days before a primary election, the government sought a consent decree on overseas absentee ballots, which had not been sent to overseas voters in time.
Topics: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); absentee ballots.
Late Overseas Ballots in Michigan
United States v. Michigan (Robert J. Jonker, W.D. Mich. 1:12-cv-788)
One week before Michigan’s 2012 federal primary election, upon learning that a substantial number of election jurisdictions were not in compliance, the Justice Department filed a complaint to enforce a requirement that absentee ballots be sent to overseas voters at least 45 days in advance of an election. Four days before the election, the court approved a stipulated order extending the deadline for receipt of cast overseas ballots by the number of days that they were sent late.
Topics: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); absentee ballots.
Mailing Overseas Absentee Ballots on Time in Georgia in 2012
United States v. Georgia (Steve C. Jones, N.D. Ga. 1:12-cv-2230)
The Justice Department filed a federal complaint against Georgia on June 27, 2012, because a planned primary runoff election would not allow enough time after the initial primary election to mail absentee ballots overseas. The district judge extended the deadline for return of absentee runoff ballots and ordered Georgia to pay for their express delivery. The court retained jurisdiction over absentee voting in Georgia in 2013 and 2014. In 2014, Georgia amended its election laws to comply with the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act, so the lawsuit was dismissed.
Topics: Absentee ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); recusal.
Timely Overseas Ballots in Alabama
United States v. Alabama (Myron H. Thompson, M.D. Ala. 2:12-cv-179)
The U.S. Department of Justice alleged violations by Alabama of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA), as amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 (MOVE Act), respecting timely distribution of absentee ballots for a March 2012 primary election. A weekend and two court days later, the district judge ordered the parties to submit a remedy plan within four days. A few days before the election, the judge extended the deadline for casting overseas ballots and ordered publication of the revised overseas absentee voting procedures. The judge ordered permanent changes to the election timetable in 2014 and closed the case in 2017.
Topics: Absentee ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); primary election; instant runoff.
Mailing Nevada’s Overseas Ballots on Time
Doe v. Miller (Gloria M. Navarro, D. Nev. 2:10-cv-1753)
On October 8, 2010, the Republican candidate for secretary of state filed a pro se federal complaint seeking relief from a county’s failure to mail absentee ballots to some overseas voters on time. The district judge dismissed the complaint as moot because of efforts election officials had already undertaken to remedy the error.
Topics: Absentee ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); pro se party.
Prompt Delivery of Absentee Ballots by Guam
United States v. Guam (Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood, D. Guam 1:10-cv-25)
On October 6, 2010, the Justice Department filed a federal action to enforce Guam’s compliance with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Guam filed a notice that it would not oppose the action, and after an October 13 hearing the district court ordered compliance. For elections in 2012, the district court issued a stipulated order of compliance, because Guam had not yet achieved compliance legislatively.
Topics: Absentee ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
Timely Overseas Ballots for State Elections in Maryland
Doe v. Walker (Roger W. Titus, D. Md. 8:10-cv-2646)
A federal complaint filed 40 days before the 2010 general election alleged that absentee ballots had not been sent to overseas voters in time. It turned out that ballots listing only federal offices had already been sent out. The district judge extended the deadline for the state to receive ballots for state offices by ten days to preserve overseas voters’ fundamental rights to vote.
Topics: Absentee ballots; military ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
County Differences in Providing Absentee Ballots
Vanzant v. Brunner (Susan J. Dlott, S.D. Ohio 1:10-cv-596)
A federal complaint filed two months before the 2010 general election alleged an equal protection violation because some counties were more generous than others in facilitating absentee voting. The district judge denied relief.
Topics: Absentee ballots; equal protection.
Right to Vote Absentee
Cunningham v. Leigh (W. Allen Pepper, Jr., N.D. Miss. 1:10-cv-49)
A federal complaint, which was filed four days before a meeting of voters to select trustees for a school district, sought an injunction requiring absentee ballots for the meeting. After a telephonic hearing two days after the complaint was filed, the district judge determined that voters do not have a fundamental right to absentee ballots, the plaintiffs had shown no discriminatory intent, and the plaintiffs’ evidence of discriminatory impact was weak, so the judge denied immediate relief.
Topic: Absentee ballots.
Post-Election Verification of a Disabled Voter’s Absentee Ballot
Ray v. Franklin County Board of Elections (George C. Smith, S.D. Ohio 2:08-cv-1086)
A voter bedridden and homebound because of diabetes and panic attacks filed a federal action against the county board of elections, claiming that the board had improperly required her to visit the board by the previous day to protect the validity of her absentee ballot. The district judge enjoined the board to make reasonable accommodations to the plaintiff’s disabilities and awarded the plaintiff $16,139.50 in attorney fees and costs.
Topics: Absentee ballots; attorney fees; case assignment.
Military Absentee Ballots 2008
McCain-Palin 2008, Inc. v. Cunningham (Richard L. Williams, E.D. Va. 3:08-cv-709)
On the day before the 2008 presidential election, one party’s campaign filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Virginia had not sent absentee ballots to military personnel overseas in time for the voters to return the ballots in time to be counted. The district court ordered an extension of time for accepting absentee ballots from overseas so long as they were cast before the polls closed.
Topics: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); military ballots; absentee ballots; intervention.
Accusations of Voter Fraud
Escobedo v. Rogers (William P. Johnson, D.N.M. 1:08-cv-1002)
A federal complaint alleged aggressive and harassing investigations into the plaintiffs’ rights to vote. The district judge denied the plaintiffs immediate relief because the evidence showed that both had voted in the 2008 general election. After the election, the judge dismissed the complaint because there was no imminent threat of further injury to the plaintiffs by the defendants.
Topics: Absentee ballots; recusal; case assignment; registration challenges; citizenship; primary election.
Early Voting Locations
Curley v. Lake County Board of Elections and Registration (Joseph S. Van Bokkelen, N.D. Ind. 2:08-cv-287)
The central question in this case was whether a majority vote or a unanimous vote by members of an election board was required to open satellite locations for early voting. A state court judge issued an injunction favoring the unanimity requirement shortly after the case was removed to federal court. After the parties agreed to maintain the status quo until the federal judge could rule, some of their attorneys filed a similar action in another state court and got a conflicting state court injunction. Employing the All Writs Act, the federal judge vacated the second injunction, but he later determined that his case was not removable.
Topics: Early voting; poll locations; matters for state courts; removal; enforcing orders; intervention.
Same-Day Registration and Absentee Voting
Project Vote v. Madison County Board of Elections (James S. Gwin, N.D. Ohio 1:08-cv-2266) and Ohio Republican Party v. Brunner (George C. Smith, S.D. Ohio 2:08-cv-913)
Absentee voting began in Ohio 35 days before the 2008 general election; state election law required voters to be registered at least 30 days before the election. Could new voters both register and vote on the same day if they did so after absentee voting began and before the deadline for new voter registrations? On a Wednesday, three public interest organizations and two voters filed a federal complaint in the Northern District against a county in the Southern District that interpreted the law as requiring registration 30 days before voting instead of 30 days before the election. The district judge set the matter for hearing on Monday mid-day. On Friday, the Republican Party and a voter filed a federal action in the Southern District to force Ohio’s secretary of state to require voters to be registered for 30 days before voting. Over the weekend, defendants in each case moved to transfer their case to the other district. Both judges denied these motions, and both judges moved up their Monday hearings. On Monday, the Northern District judge ruled that the statute required registration 30 days before the election, not 30 days before voting. That same day, Ohio’s supreme court reached the same result. Later that day, the Southern District judge deferred to the state court on the issue. Other issues in the Southern District case received expedited review by another district judge, the court of appeals, and the Supreme Court.
Topics: Absentee ballots; case assignment; Help America Vote Act (HAVA); registration procedures.
Accommodating Overseas Voters in a Special Election
DuPage County Board of Election Commissioners v. Illinois State Board of Elections (Ruben Castillo, N.D. Ill. 1:08-cv-232)
Election officials filed a federal complaint seeking relief from the time constraints imposed by a special election to fill a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives timed to coincide with a presidential primary election, because the schedule did not give them enough time to provide overseas voters with their ballots on time. The district judge granted the officials departures from statutory deadlines to accommodate the special election dates. The judge modified time deadlines for overseas voters and authorized the use of blank absentee ballots.
Topics: Absentee ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); intervention.
Pro Se Suit to Nullify All Absentee Ballots
Freeman v. McKnight (Gary L. Sharpe, N.D.N.Y. 1:07-cv-1123)
A candidate who earned more voting-booth votes than his opponent, but who trailed after absentee ballots were counted, filed a pro se action to nullify absentee ballots because their mailing envelopes had been discarded so timely mailing could not be verified. The judge determined that the plaintiff had not provided the defendants with proper notice or shown entitlement to immediate injunctive relief.
Topics: Absentee ballots; pro se party; enjoining certification.
Adding a Weekend Day to Early Voting
LULAC v. Texas (Xavier Rodriguez, W.D. Tex. 5:06-cv-1046)
A federal complaint challenged the exclusion of weekend days from an early voting period for a special congressional runoff election, and the district judge ordered that counties that included parts of the congressional district would have the discretion to extend the early voting period by one day to include a Saturday.
Topics: Early voting; case assignment; attorney fees; malapportionment; three-judge court.
Excluding an Office from Absentee Ballots
Price v. Albany County Board of Elections (Gary L. Sharpe, N.D.N.Y. 1:06-cv-1083)
The complaint alleged that New York’s excluding county party committee positions from absentee ballots in a primary election, to be held in four days, violated the First Amendment. The judge issued as limited a temporary restraining order as possible: he ordered absentee ballots prepared for the party positions, but he ordered them segregated so that a determination of whether to count them could be made after the election.
Topics: Absentee ballots; party procedures; ballot segregation; primary election.
Equal Provision of Early Voting in Cook County
Gustafson v. Illinois State Board of Elections (David H. Coar, N.D. Ill. 1:06-cv-1159)
A federal complaint charged a city and its county with unequal provision of early voting. The district judge found that the inconsistencies among the jurisdictions were not so serious as to merit federal court intervention.
Topics: Early voting; poll locations; primary election.
Rejecting Absentee Ballots Without Notice and an Opportunity to Be Heard
Zessar v. Helander (David H. Coar, N.D. Ill. 1:05-cv-1917)
A 2005 federal class action filed four days before a scheduled election charged that the state’s absentee voting system did not comply with due process requirements; an absentee vote cast in 2004 was not counted because of an erroneous conclusion that the ballot signature did not match the registration signature. The district judge initially heard a motion for emergency relief on election day, but set the matter for hearing two days later when defendants could participate after the plaintiff’s attorney acknowledged difficulties arising from his filing the case so close to an election. Because the plaintiff voted in person on election day, the district judge denied him immediate relief at the second hearing. After certifying both plaintiff and defendant classes, the district judge determined that state procedures violated due process.
Topics: Absentee ballots; signature matching; laches; class action.
Late Absentee Ballots in Florida
Friedman v. Snipes (Patricia A. Seitz and Alan S. Gold, S.D. Fla. 1:04-cv-22787)
On the day of the 2004 general election, three voters filed a federal complaint claiming that although they requested absentee ballots on time they did not receive them in time to cast them without a risk that the ballots would not be counted. The district judge assigned to the case set a status hearing for the following morning, but on the day of the hearing she recused herself at the request of the state’s secretary of state because of her husband’s legal work for one of the major political parties. The judge to whom the case was reassigned reset the hearing for later that day. The second judge granted a temporary restraining order segregating the ballots in question, but he ultimately denied the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction after an evidentiary hearing.
Topics: Absentee ballots; ballot segregation; recusal; case assignment.
Casting a Provisional Ballot Because the Absentee Ballot Never Arrived
White v. Blackwell (David A. Katz, N.D. Ohio 3:04-cv-7689)
On the morning of a general election, a voter who never received the absentee ballot she applied for filed an action to compel the state to accept her provisional ballot cast on election day. The court determined that the Help America Vote Act compelled relief for the plaintiff, and the judge ordered that all counties in the state accept provisional ballots from voters who did not receive absentee ballots that they applied for. A year later, for a special election, the judge was called upon to provide the same relief. The judge determined that the plaintiff was entitled to attorney fees, and the parties settled on an amount of $225,000.
Topics: Absentee ballots; provisional ballots; Help America Vote Act (HAVA); 42 U.S.C. § 1983; enforcing orders; attorney fees.
Public List of Absentee Voters
Meehan v. Philadelphia County Board of Commissioners (William H. Yohn, Jr., E.D. Pa. 2:04-cv-5123)
Relying on a 1994 opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Republican committees filed a federal action on election day 2004 complaining that the committees had wrongfully been denied a list of persons who had received absentee ballots so that the committees could initiate challenges to absentee votes. After proceedings late on election day and on the following morning, the district judge signed consent decrees delaying by a few days the counting of absentee ballots. At the end of the week, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their action.
Topics: Absentee ballots; recusal; case assignment.
Early Voting Locations in Duval County
Jacksonville Coalition for Voter Protection v. Hood (Harvey E. Schlesinger, M.D. Fla. 3:04-cv-1123)
On a Tuesday, the day after early voting started, three voters’ rights organizations and two voters filed a federal complaint seeking to compel the county to provide more early voting locations. While the suit was pending, the county agreed to provide a few more sites, but not as many as the plaintiffs sought. The court heard the matter on Friday and issued its opinion on the following Monday. The court denied the plaintiffs immediate relief because they had not shown that the number and locations of early voting sites discriminated against African-American voters.
Topics: Poll locations; early voting.
Early Voting Locations in Volusia County
NAACP v. Lowe (G. Kendall Sharp, M.D. Fla. 6:04-cv-1469)
On October 7, 2004, African-American voters filed a federal action complaining that the county’s only early voting location was not convenient for African-American voters on the county’s east side. On the following day, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and expedited discovery, and the district judge set a hearing on the motion for 11 days later. Before the hearing occurred, however, the county agreed to open additional early voting locations, so the parties stipulated to a dismissal of the action. The judge ruled that no more than one location was legally required, but the opening of additional sites mooted the case.
Topics: Poll locations; early voting.
Mailing Overseas Absentee Ballots on Time in Georgia in 2004
United States v. Georgia (Charles A. Pannell, Jr., N.D. Ga. 1:04-cv-2040)
The Justice Department filed a federal complaint against Georgia for mailing primary election ballots to overseas voters late. The district judge ordered the following: (1) Georgia would accept faxed ballots, (2) Georgia would accept Internet-based write-in absentee ballots, (3) Georgia would pay for express delivery of absentee ballots, and (4) absentee ballots would be accepted until three days after the election if mailed by election day.
Topics: Absentee ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); case assignment.
Military Absentee Ballots 2004
United States v. Pennsylvania (1:04-cv-830) and Reitz v. Rendell (1:04-cv-2360) (Yvette Kane, M.D. Pa.)
The Justice Department sued to require Pennsylvania to send out absentee ballots to military personnel overseas in time for them to come back and be counted for a primary election. The judge ordered an extension of the ballots’ due date. The judge also ordered an extension for military absentee ballots in the general election on a complaint by parents of two soldiers.
Topics: Absentee ballots; military ballots.
Court Supervision Over Absentee Ballot Procedures
Willingham v. County of Albany (Norman A. Mordue, 1:04-cv-369) and Hoblock v. Albany County Board of Elections (Lawrence E. Kahn, 1:04-cv-1205) (N.D.N.Y.)
A federal complaint sought an emergency injunction against absentee ballot fraud in an ongoing special election cycle, but the district judge determined that the plaintiffs did not establish a need for immediate federal relief beyond the relief being provided by the state court. At the end of approximately three years of litigation, the case was resolved by consent decrees. Meanwhile, a different federal judge in the same district resolved a dispute over the counting of some absentee ballots by overruling the state’s high court’s rejection of absentee ballots cast by voters who received them because of errors by the election board.
Topics: Absentee ballots; matters for state courts; case assignment; primary election; enjoining certification; class action; attorney fees; intervention; malapportionment.
Absentee Ballots Delivered by Third Parties
Pierce v. Allegheny County Board of Elections (Joy Flowers Conti, W.D. Pa. 2:03-cv-1677)
On the Friday before the November 2003 election, two candidates filed a federal action to enjoin the counting of absentee ballots that were delivered to the board of elections by persons other than the voters. The district judge cleared her calendar and held a hearing that afternoon, after which she ordered the ballots in question segregated. The judge conducted a day-long hearing on Monday; on Tuesday, she ruled that the ballots should remain segregated and deemed challenged under state law. State officials and state courts eventually determined that some of the ballots in question were valid and some were not.
Topics: Absentee ballots; ballot segregation; matters for state courts.
Preclearance Required for Reduction in Polling Locations
Miguel Hernandez Chapter of the American GI Forum v. Bexar County (Royal Furgeson, 5:03-cv-816) and American GI Forum v. Bexar County (Fred Biery, No. 5:04-cv-181) (W.D. Tex.)
A federal complaint challenged a reduction in early voting locations without preclearance pursuant to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The district judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring additional voting locations, and the county opened several more. A suit by the same plaintiff and others about seven months later respecting a primary election for political party chairs resulted in a temporary restraining order from a different district judge ordering only one polling place reopened, but preclearance arrived later that day, and the judge dismissed the action except for jurisdiction to enforce the temporary restraining order. The court of appeals stayed the temporary restraining order pending appeal, and the appeal was voluntarily dismissed after the election.
Topics: Poll locations; section 5 preclearance; early voting; primary election; ballot measure; attorney fees.
Ordering the Use of the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot in Texas
United States v. Texas (Sam Sparks, W.D. Tex. 1:02-cv-195)
Eighteen days before a federal runoff primary election, the Justice Department sought a court order requiring a state to allow overseas voters to use the federal write-in absentee ballot, as provided by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, and the district court granted the requested immediate relief three days later. After a little more than one year, state legislation provided for use of the federal write-in absentee ballot.
Topics: Absentee ballots; Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); primary election; section 5 preclearance.
A Consent Decree on Overseas Voting in Federal Elections Trumps State Law
Harris v. Florida Elections Canvassing Commission (4:00-cv-453) and Medina v. Florida Election Canvassing Commission (4:00-cv-459) (Maurice M. Paul, N.D. Fla.)
Two removed cases challenged the validity of absentee ballots received from overseas voters after the date of a presidential election. Although one complaint had been amended before removal to omit federal claims, the district judge found that a well-pleaded complaint would have included federal issues. The judge found that a consent decree in previous federal litigation nullified the state’s requirement that overseas ballots be received by election day in federal elections. The court of appeals affirmed this decision.
Topics: Absentee ballots; enforcing orders; removal; matters for state courts; case assignment; recusal.
Counting Federal Write-In Ballots Even If Election Officials Did Not Receive Absentee Ballot Applications
Bush v. Hillsborough County Canvassing Board (Lacey A. Collier, N.D. Fla. 3:00-cv-533)
The district judge ruled that it was improper for counties to not count federal write-in ballots cast by overseas voters solely because the counties had no record of an application for an absentee ballot or solely because the ballots were not postmarked.
Topics: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA); military ballots; absentee ballots; write-in candidate; enforcing orders.
Political Party’s Mailing Absentee Ballot Applications
Republican Party of New Mexico v. New Mexico (Dee Benson, D.N.M. 1:00-cv-1307)
A federal complaint challenged a new state rule prohibiting political parties from mailing out absentee ballot applications. The case was assigned to a visiting judge after all judges on the local bench recused themselves. The presiding judge denied the plaintiffs immediate injunctive relief, and the case subsequently settled.
Topics: Absentee ballots; party procedures; recusal; case assignment.