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Election Litigation: Nullifying Registrations
Voter Registration Purges in North Carolina
North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. North Carolina State Board of Elections (Loretta C. Biggs, M.D.N.C. 1:16-cv-1274)
Eight days before a presidential election, a federal complaint challenged widespread cancelation of voter registrations based on single instances of undeliverable mail. Finding that the National Voter Registration Act proscribed systematic voter registration cancelations less than 90 days before a federal election and proscribed cancelations based on evidence of residence changes before two federal elections had occurred, a district judge enjoined the voter registration cancelation program at issue in an opinion issued four days before the election. The judge issued a permanent injunction about two years later.
Topics: Registration challenges; National Voter Registration Act.
Restoration of the Elective Franchise for a Voter Whose Sentencing Is Stayed
Hunter v. Hamilton County Board of Elections (1:16-cv-962) and Hunter v. Hamilton County Board of Elections (1:16-cv-996) (Michael R. Barrett, S.D. Ohio)
A plaintiff convicted in state court of a felony filed a federal complaint on September 27, 2016, seeking an order requiring the county board of elections to accept her voter registration because her sentence had been stayed by the district court in a habeas corpus action, so she was not incarcerated. A district judge granted the plaintiff relief on October 6. A second federal complaint filed pro se on October 11 seeking the plaintiff’s certification as a candidate for juvenile court was not successful, because the plaintiff had been disbarred as a result of her conviction.
Topics: Registration challenges; getting on the ballot; case assignment; pro se party; attorney fees.
Unsuccessful Effort to Open a Primary Election Because of Allegedly Purged Party Registrations
Campanello v. New York State Board of Elections (Joanna Seybert and Sandra J. Feuerstein, E.D.N.Y. 2:16-cv-1892)
Filed on the day before a presidential primary election, a federal complaint sought to open the parties’ primary elections to voters of all parties as a remedy for allegedly improper purging of party registrations. The district judge on miscellaneous duty denied immediate relief. Following their filing of an amended complaint after the election, the plaintiffs declined to respond to a motion to dismiss the case, and so the assigned judge dismissed the case.
Topics: Registration procedures; matters for state courts; primary election; National Voter Registration Act; case assignment; class action; ballot segregation; provisional ballots.
Purging Voter Registrations Because of Registration in Other States
Democratic Party of Virginia v. Virginia State Board of Elections (Claude M. Hilton, E.D. Va. 1:13-cv-1218)
A federal complaint challenged the purging of voter registrations for persons that appeared to have registered in other states since the last time they voted in Virginia, alleging an excess of errors. The district judge denied the plaintiffs relief, finding several mechanisms in place to correct errors.
Topic: Registration challenges.
Cancellation of Voter Registrations for Not Voting in the Last Election
Colón Marrero v. Conty Pérez (Carmen Consuelo Cerezo, D.P.R. 3:12-cv-1749)
Five days before a September 17, 2012, voter registration deadline in Puerto Rico, a voter filed a federal complaint challenging the cancellation of her registration because she had not voted in the 2008 general election. The district judge denied the voter immediate relief because (1) the National Voter Registration Act does not apply to Puerto Rico as it does to the states, (2) the Help America Vote Act does not afford a private right of action, and (3) the plaintiff had not justified her bringing the case so late. The court of appeals, on the other hand, found probable success on the merits and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. On October 18, the court of appeals determined that relief for the plaintiff had become infeasible. In November, the court of appeals vacated an order issued in the plaintiff’s favor by the district court judge under the All Writs Act. After further litigation, the court issued a declaratory judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, which was affirmed on appeal. The courts ruled that canceling a federal voter registration after missing only one general election violates HAVA. In 2017, the court awarded the plaintiffs $135,931 in attorney fees.
Topics: Registration challenges; National Voter Registration Act; Help America Vote Act (HAVA); laches; enforcing orders; attorney fees.
Purging Noncitizen Voter Registrations
United States v. Florida (Robert L. Hinkle, N.D. Fla. 4:12-cv-285)
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that a systematic purge of noncitizens’ voter registrations violates the National Voter Registration Act. During the 2012 election cycle, the Justice Department brought a federal action against Florida in the Northern District of Florida claiming that Florida was violating the Act. Fifteen days later, the district court ruled against preliminary injunctive relief, because Florida had ceased the purge that prompted the suit. In addition, the district judge ruled that the 90-day proscription against systematic purges did not apply to noncitizens. In another case, a judge in the Southern District came to the same conclusion. Florida resumed its purge upon access to more reliable citizenship data from the Department of Homeland Security. In 2014, the court of appeals held a systematic purge even of noncitizens illegal shortly before an election, when there is little time to correct errors.
Topics: Citizenship; registration challenges; National Voter Registration Act; intervention; recusal; case assignment.
Threats to Cancel Voter Registrations
Chatman v. Delaney (Clifford J. Proud, S.D. Ill. 3:09-cv-259)
Voters filed a federal complaint because of notices they received that their voter registrations might be canceled before an April 7, 2009, election and absentee ballots they might have cast might not be counted. The county had identified the voters’ village as one with a high rate of voter fraud, so it sent registration challenge letters to 558 of its residents. The parties consented to a decision by a magistrate judge who was available and local; the assigned district judge was 110 miles away. The case was resolved by a consent order issued after a conference with the judge.
Topics: Registration challenges; case assignment.
Voter Registrations for Juvenile Offenders
Hamilton v. Ashland County Board of Education (Donald C. Nugent, N.D. Ohio 1:08-cv-2546)
Adult inmates of a juvenile correctional facility sued to enjoin cancelation of their voter registrations for not being permanent residents. The district court denied the plaintiffs relief. The court of appeals vacated the portion of the district court decision pertaining to state law as a matter for state courts to decide.
Topics: Prisoner voters; registration challenges; matters for state courts.
Voter Registration Purges in Colorado
Common Cause of Colorado v. Coffman (John L. Kane, D. Colo. 1:08-cv-2321)
A federal complaint alleged that Colorado was engaging in improper systematic purging of voter registration rolls within 90 days of a general election in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. Among the issues in the case was Colorado’s practice of canceling new registrations if registration notices came back undeliverable within 20 days of their being mailed. After an evidentiary hearing, the parties stipulated to a temporary restraining order. The state’s secretary of state adopted an aggressive interpretation of his attorney’s stipulation, but the district judge further restrained the secretary’s actions. The litigation proceeded at a normal pace after the election, and the district judge eventually ruled that Colorado’s 20-day rule did not violate the National Voter Registration Act because voters affected by it could cast provisional ballots.
Topics: Registration challenges; registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act; enforcing orders; case assignment.
Morales v. Handel (Jack T. Camp, N.D. Ga. 1:08-cv-3172)
A naturalized citizen sued Georgia for its efforts to purge noncitizens from voter registration rolls. A three-judge court determined that section 5 preclearance was required for the efforts and granted interim relief. Georgia eventually was able to establish procedures that earned preclearance.
Topics: Citizenship; registration challenges; Help America Vote Act (HAVA); section 5 preclearance; three-judge court.
Partisan Canceling of Voter Registrations
Montana Democratic Party v. Eaton (Donald W. Molloy, D. Mont. 9:08-cv-141)
One political party filed an action against the other political party for launching an effort to nullify several thousand voter registrations based on postal changes of address. Because the state did not fully effectuate the plan, in part because of the filing of the case, the court did not need to grant the plaintiffs relief.
Topics: Registration challenges; National Voter Registration Act.
Improperly Canceling Voter Registrations for Changes of Address
United States Student Ass’n Foundation v. Land (Stephen J. Murphy III, E.D. Mich. 2:08-cv-14019)
Three organizations filed a federal complaint charging the state with improperly canceling voter registrations based on insufficient indications of residence changes. The district judge determined that the state’s practice of rejecting voter registrations if registration identification cards came back from the post office as undeliverable failed to follow the notice and waiting period requirements of the National Voter Registration Act. The state’s practice of canceling registrations upon learning that the voter became registered to drive in another state also relied on flawed logic and violated the act. The case was finally resolved by settlement with a payment of $150,000 in attorney fees and costs to the plaintiffs.
Topics: Registration challenges; National Voter Registration Act; attorney fees; intervention.
Using Foreclosure Notices to Challenge Voters
Maletski v. Macomb County Republican Party (David M. Lawson, E.D. Mich. 2:08-cv-13982)
Based on a news website’s report that one party was planning to use foreclosure notices to challenge voter registrations during the 2008 general election, the other party filed a federal complaint to enjoin the plan. In preparation for a hearing, the parties learned that the news report was not accurate, so the parties stipulated to a dismissal on the day of the hearing.
Topic: Registration challenges.
Hurricane Displacement and Voter Registration
Segue v. Louisiana (Kurt D. Engelhardt, E.D. La. 2:07-cv-5221)
The complaint challenged Louisiana’s notification procedures for challenges to voter registrations based on evidence that the voters had registered elsewhere. The district judge determined that preclearance was not necessary because Louisiana was giving more notice than it was precleared to, and empaneling a three-judge court was not necessary.
Topics: Registration challenges; section 5 preclearance; three-judge court.
A List of Inactive Voters in Lawrence, Massachusetts
¿OÍSTE? v. City of Lawrence (Nathaniel M. Gorton, D. Mass. 1:05-cv-12218)
On the Friday before a local election, two voters and a political organization filed a federal complaint seeking relief from a recent notification to a large number of potential voters that they had been placed on an inactive list. On Monday afternoon, the judge recessed proceedings for 23 minutes for the parties to agree on a statement to voters in both English and Spanish to be broadcast and printed in the media. Several months later, after three filings stating that the parties were working to resolve matters without litigation, the judge dismissed the case without prejudice.
Topics: Registration procedures; case assignment.
Widespread Voter Registration Challenges
Miller v. Blackwell (Susan J. Dlott, S.D. Ohio 1:04-cv-735)
One week before the 2004 general election, the Democratic Party filed a federal complaint challenging widespread voter registration challenges—approximately 22,000—by the Republican Party based on returned mail. The court enjoined administrative hearings on the challenges through the election. After the election, the plaintiffs dropped the case.
Topics: Registration challenges; intervention; class action; enforcing orders.
The Right to Vote While Under Guardianship
Prye v. Blunt (Ortrie D. Smith, W.D. Mo. 2:04-cv-4248)
A prospective voter filed a federal complaint one month before a general election challenging a state’s disqualification of voters under guardianship. The district judge denied the plaintiff immediate relief because of state court opportunities to reserve voting rights in limited guardianship. For similar reasons, the judge granted defendants summary judgment against a substituted plaintiff who was erroneously denied the vote because of a misunderstanding about the plaintiff’s reserved voting rights. The court of appeals affirmed the summary judgment because the substituted plaintiff had already received a remedy and an advocacy organization co-plaintiff did not have standing to represent the interests of mere constituents.
Topics: Registration challenges; matters for state courts.
Injunction Against Purging of Minor Party Registrations for Party’s Failure to Qualify as an Established Party
Green Party of New York State v. New York State Board of Elections (John Gleeson, E.D.N.Y. 1:02-cv-6465)
Three days before the certification of a gubernatorial election would result in a minor party’s demotion from status as an established party because its candidate received an insufficient number of votes for governor, the party filed a federal complaint challenging the stripping of registered party membership for all of its registered members. The district judge issued a temporary restraining order in the party’s favor. Later, the court of appeals affirmed a preliminary injunction in the party’s favor.
Topics: Registration procedures; interlocutory appeal; intervention; getting on the ballot; attorney fees; pro se party.
Nullifying University Students’ Voter Registrations
Copeland v. Priest (George Howard, Jr., E.D. Ark. 4:02-cv-675)
An October 25, 2002, federal complaint sought the restoration of voter registrations for students and other persons living in university housing. The first judge assigned recused himself because he was out of town, and the second judge recused himself because one plaintiff’s father was the governor, whose opponent the judge’s wife supported. A third judge granted the plaintiffs relief, finding that the state judge’s order nullifying registrations improperly created “an irrebuttable presumption that would-be voters who live at a university address and are not members of the staff at a university are not residents.” The court awarded the plaintiffs $28,221.92 in attorney fees and costs.
Topics: Student registration; registration challenges; intervention; matters for state courts; case assignment; attorney fees.
Spouses Registered in Different Precincts
Bell v. Marinko (James G. Carr, N.D. Ohio 3:02-cv-7204)
With a primary election 18 days away, a voter filed a federal complaint seeking injunctive relief against the county’s hearing a challenge to his voter registration on residency grounds. The district court determined that challenge procedures did not violate the National Voter Registration Act, but there was a probable equal protection violation by a statutory provision raising a question of residence for spouses not separated and not registered in the same precinct. The court temporarily enjoined application of that statutory provision. After the election, the court heard summary judgment motions on an amended complaint adding plaintiffs whose residency challenges were successful; the original plaintiff prevailed in his challenge. The district court dismissed the action, and the court of appeals affirmed.
Topics: Registration challenges; equal protection; National Voter Registration Act; primary election.
Denial of the Right to Vote Because of Eviction
Dowd v. Town of Dedham (Joseph L. Tauro and Marianne B. Bowler, D. Mass. 1:01-cv-10944)
A frequent pro se plaintiff filed a federal complaint four days before a municipal election. The plaintiff challenged denial of his right to vote arising from his eviction from a residence in the town. The judge granted the plaintiff in forma pauperis status and ordered him to show cause why the complaint should not be dismissed for lack of merit. The court of appeals affirmed dismissal of the action.
Topics: Pro se party; registration challenges.
Voter Registrations Voided Because a Deputy Registrar Was Dismissed
Johnson v. Helander (Charles R. Norgle, Sr., N.D. Ill. 1:00-cv-6926)
A high-school student filed a federal complaint to validate high-school voter registrations that had been voided because of sloppy work by a deputy registrar. The district judge denied class certification, and he denied immediate injunctive relief. The county attorney presented evidence that the plaintiff had received notice of his voided registration in time to cure it.
Topics: Registration procedures; student registration; class action.
Voting and Mental Illness
Doe v. Attorney General (George Z. Singal, D. Me. 1:00-cv-206)
One month before the 2000 general election, three women under psychiatric guardianships filed a federal complaint challenging Maine’s exclusion of persons under such guardianships from the right to vote. Approximately three weeks later, the court denied injunctive relief. On a more complete record the following year, the court invalidated the franchise exclusion.
Topic: Equal protection.
Challenge to Voter Registrations in an RV Park
Curtis v. Smith (Howell Cobb, E.D. Tex. 9:00-cv-241)
The plaintiffs in this federal action sued to enjoin challenges to 9,000 voter registrations in an RV park that could hold only a fraction of the voters at any one time. The plaintiffs alleged that procedures on the en masse challenge had not been precleared pursuant to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and a three-judge court ultimately agreed.
Topics: Section 5 preclearance; three-judge court; registration challenges; matters for state courts; intervention.