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Election Litigation: Polling Place Activities
Voter Intimidation by Stealth
New Jersey Democratic State Committee v. New Jersey Oath Keepers (Jose L. Linares, D.N.J. 2:16-cv-8230)
Four days before a general election, a party committee filed a federal complaint to enjoin voter intimidation allegedly encouraged by a website that urged “incognito intelligence gathering” on election day. The district court “fail[ed] to see how Defendant’s members could intimidate voters who are not even aware of their presence.”
Topic: Campaign materials.
Proscriptions Against Ballot Selfies
Hill v. Williams (1:16-cv-2627) and Harlos v. Morrissey (1:16-cv-2649) (Christine M. Arguello, D. Colo.), Silberberg v. Board of Elections (P. Kevin Castel, S.D.N.Y. 1:16-cv-8336), and ACLU of Northern California v. Padilla (William Alsup, N.D. Cal. 3:16-cv-6287)
From eight to 15 days in advance of the 2016 general election, federal actions in three states sought relief from proscriptions on “ballot selfies”—photographs of ballots taken by voters completing them. These actions and previous actions in three other states pitted freedom of expression against the secret ballot. Some district and circuit judges favored freedom of expression; others favored the secret ballot.
Topics: Laches; case assignment.
Wearing Tea Party Shirts at Polling Places
Reed v. Purcell (James A. Teilborg, D. Ariz. 2:10-cv-2324)
On the Thursday before the 2010 general election day, a voter filed a federal complaint in the District of Arizona seeking the right to wear a shirt at his polling place supporting the tea party, a party that did not appear on the ballot. On Monday, the judge granted the plaintiff temporary relief. In 2011, Arizona’s election statutes were revised, mooting the case.
Topics: Campaign materials; intervention; attorney fees.
Wearing Political Messages at the Polls in Minnesota
Minnesota Majority v. Mansky (Joan N. Ericksen, D. Minn. 0:10-cv-4401)
On the Thursday before a general election, a federal complaint challenged proscriptions on wearing Tea Party shirts and “Please I.D. Me” buttons at the polls. On the following day, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order. The district judge heard the case on Monday morning and denied immediate relief. Following nearly five years of additional litigation, including an appeal, the judge granted the defendants summary judgment, finding the proscriptions justified as promoting decorum at the polls. The court of appeals agreed that it is reasonable to ban political apparel to ensure a neutral, influence-free polling place. The Supreme Court heard the case in February 2018.
Topics: Matters for state courts; news media.
Wearing Campaign Buttons at the Polls
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees v. Land (Patrick J. Duggan, E.D. Mich. 2:08-cv-14370)
A federal complaint sought relief from proscriptions on wearing campaign buttons or shirts at the general election polls in 2008. The district court held the restriction on speech to be reasonable, and an appeal was dismissed voluntarily.
Topic: Campaign materials.
Exit Polling in Nevada
ABC, Inc. v. Heller (Philip M. Pro, D. Nev. 2:06-cv-1268)
Four weeks before the 2006 general election, news media sought federal court enforcement of their constitutional right to conduct exit polls within 100 feet of polling places. The court granted the media the relief they sought.
Topics: Exit polls; news media; attorney fees.
News Media Access to Polls in Ohio
ABC v. Blackwell (Michael H. Watson, S.D. Ohio 1:04-cv-750) and Beacon Journal Publishing Co. v. Blackwell (Paul R. Matia, N.D. Ohio 5:04-cv-2178)
On the morning before the 2004 general election, news media sought federal court orders granting them access to polls in Ohio. Separate lawsuits were filed in the Southern District of Ohio and the Northern District of Ohio. The Southern District action challenged a directive by Ohio’s secretary of state that exit polling not be conducted within 100 feet of a polling place. Late at night on the day the case was filed, the judge granted the media injunctive relief against the directive. In the Northern District, news media sought access to the polls for reporters and photographers. The second district court denied the media relief, but the court of appeals vacated that decision and granted the media injunctive relief a few hours before the polls closed.
Topics: Exit polls; news media.
Intimidating Native American Voters
Daschle v. Thune (Lawrence L. Piersol, D.S.D. 4:04-cv-4177)
Late on the day before a general election, a U.S. Senator up for reelection filed a federal complaint against his challenger, claiming that the challenger’s supporters were discouraging Native American citizens from voting through a practice of intimidation. After a nighttime evidentiary hearing, the district court granted a temporary restraining order at 1:45 on the morning of the election.
Topics: Party procedures; recusal.
Spencer v. Blackwell (Susan J. Dlott, S.D. Ohio 1:04-cv-738) and Summit County Democratic Central and Executive Committee v. Blackwell (John R. Adams, N.D. Ohio 5:04-cv-2165)
Federal complaints were filed in both of Ohio’s districts late in the week before the 2004 general election challenging a Ohio statute that permitted political parties to appoint poll watchers to challenge persons who may be voting illegitimately. Both judges issued injunctions on Sunday, but the court of appeals stayed the injunctions on Monday.
Topics: Registration challenges; intervention.
Speculative Complaint About Polling Place Interference
Loeber v. Spargo (Lawrence E. Kahn, N.D.N.Y. 1:04-cv-1193)
A pro se complaint filed a few weeks before the 2004 general election challenged New York districting, among other things. After a hearing on concerns that a United Nations body would oversee New York elections, the district judge dismissed the complaint as speculative and for not naming as defendants parties against whom an injunction would provide the plaintiffs with their desired relief. In 2010, the court of appeals affirmed dismissal of an amended complaint for failure to state a federal cause of action.
Topics: Pro se party; malapportionment; Help America Vote Act (HAVA); interlocutory appeal; three-judge court; case assignment.
Discriminatory Voter Challengers
Curington v. Richardson (Charles R. Simpson III, W.D. Ky. 3:03-cv-665)
On the Friday before a general election, a federal complaint alleged that a political party was going to selectively position voter challengers in predominantly African-American precincts. On Monday, a state judge denied immediate relief in a related state-court action, and the federal plaintiffs made a tactical decision to withdraw their request in federal court for immediate relief. A year and a half later, the parties settled the case.
Topics: Registration challenges; equal protection; matters for state courts.