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Election Litigation: Registration Procedures
Unsuccessful Challenge to Ohio’s Changed Primary Election Procedures During the COVID-19 Pandemic
League of Women Voters of Ohio v. LaRose (Michael H. Watson, S.D. Ohio 2:20-cv-1638)
A district judge found that Ohio’s primary election accommodations for the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic did not result in unconstitutionally cumbersome voting.
Topics: COVID-19; registration procedures; absentee ballots; National Voter Registration Act; primary election; intervention.
Mismatches Between Voter Registration Data and Other Government Data
Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda v. Kemp (Eleanor L. Ross, N.D. Ga. 1:18-cv-4727)
A federal complaint challenged a statute that required the name on a voter registration form to exactly match—character and space and hyphen for character and space and hyphen—how the name appears in other government records. The complaint also challenged the flagging of voter registration applications as potentially from noncitizens just because the applicants had not yet become citizens when they received their driver’s licenses. One week after a motion for a preliminary injunction was filed and 11 days before a general election, the judge specified how voters could prove their citizenship and vote if their voter registrations had not become final because of citizenship questions.
Topics: Registration procedures; citizenship; signature matching; laches; provisional ballots.
Clarifying a Voter Registration Deadline Extension Because of a Hurricane
Florida Democratic Party v. Detzner (4:18-cv-463) and New Florida Majority Education Fund v. Detzner (4:18-cv-466) (Robert L. Hinkle, N.D. Fla.)
A secretary of state extended a voter registration deadline to accommodate closed offices because of a hurricane on the last day of registration. A federal judge declined to extend the deadline further, but he did issue an order stating that the secretary’s extension must mean until the first day that all offices in a county are open following the deadline day if any of the county’s offices are closed for even part of the deadline day.
Topics: Registration procedures; case assignment.
States Cannot Require Voter Registration More Than Thirty Days Before a Federal Runoff Election
Georgia State Conference of the NAACP v. Georgia (Timothy C. Batten, Sr., N.D. Ga. 1:17-cv-1397)
Granting a preliminary injunction, a federal district judge found that a state statute requiring voter registration five Mondays in advance of an election to be eligible to vote in a later runoff election was inconsistent with the National Voter Registration Act’s requirement that voter registrations for federal elections be accepted until no more than 30 days before an election.
Topics: Registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act; recusal; attorney fees.
A County’s Improper Refusal to Accept Online Voter Registrations from the State’s Website
Mullins v. Cole (Robert C. Chambers, S.D. W. Va. 3:16-cv-9918)
A district judge determined that a county clerk’s refusal to accept online voter registrations from the state’s website violated equal protection. The judge issued a preliminary injunction five days after the complaint was filed.
Topics: Registration procedures; equal protection; class action; student registration; attorney fees.
When the Voter Registration Deadline Falls on a Holiday
Arizona Democratic Party v. Reagan (Steven P. Logan, D. Ariz. 2:16-cv-3618)
The state’s voter registration deadline fell on a holiday, and a political party sued the state’s secretary of state in federal court to have the deadline extended by one day, but the party did not sue until more than a week after the deadline passed. The district judge determined that the secretary’s not giving voters an extra day to register violated state law and the National Voter Registration Act, but the judge determined that the party filed the case too late to merit injunctive relief.
Topics: Registration procedures; laches; National Voter Registration Act.
Extending Voter Registration Because of a Website Crash
New Virginia Majority Education Fund v. Virginia Department of Elections (Claude M. Hilton, 1:16-cv-1319) and New Virginia Majority Education Fund v. Virginia Department of Elections (John A. Gibney, Jr., 3:20-cv-801) (E.D. Va.)
On the last day of voter registration in 2016, a commonwealth’s online registration website crashed, and commonwealth officials had no authority to extend the registration deadline as a remedy. Two organizations and two prospective voters filed a federal complaint, and the district judge granted a brief extension to voter registration, to which state officials agreed. Again in 2020, a federal district judge granted a registration extension because the website crashed on the last day of registration.
Topics: Registration procedures; voting technology.
Extending Voter Registration Deadlines Because of a Hurricane
Florida Democratic Party v. Scott (4:16-cv-626) and League of Women Voters of Florida v. Scott (4:16-cv-633) (Mark E. Walker, N.D. Fla.) and Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, Inc. v. Deal (4:16-cv-269) and Bethea v. Deal (2:16-cv-140) (William T. Moore, Jr., S.D. Ga.)
District judges in Florida and Georgia extended voter registration by one week in advance of the 2016 general election because of evacuations and government office closings resulting from Hurricane Matthew. In Florida, the judge extended the deadline statewide; in Georgia, the judge extended the deadline only for one county, because only offices in that county did not open again after the hurricane until after the original deadline.
Topics: Registration procedures; intervention; case assignment; recusal.
Improperly Requiring Dormitory Names on Students’ Voter Registration Forms
Pitcher v. Dutchess County Board of Elections (Kenneth M. Karas, S.D.N.Y. 7:12-cv-8017)
A federal complaint challenged the rejection of students’ voter registration applications for failure to list dormitory names or room numbers despite the inclusion of valid street and mailing addresses. On the day before the election, the district judge ordered acceptance of registration applications for the student plaintiffs and others similarly situated. Several months later, the suit was closed by consent decree and a stipulated award of attorney fees.
Topics: Student registration; registration procedures; class action; attorney fees.
Superseded Registration Form
Brown v. Rokita (Richard L. Young, S.D. Ind. 1:08-cv-1484)
On the day before the 2008 general election, a voter filed a class action challenging the nullification of her voter registration because she had not used the latest version of the voter registration form. At a temporary restraining order hearing that day, the parties announced an agreement that would permit voters who submitted old registration forms to cast provisional ballots that would be counted if the registration applications included all necessary information.
Topics: Registration procedures; provisional ballots.
Segregating Ballots Because of Questionable Registrations
Atsaves v. Helander (Virginia M. Kendall, N.D. Ill. 1:08-cv-6199)
A voter registration team removed an action from state court seeking to segregate votes by voters registered by the team for investigation of improper registration. The district judge determined that the case did not present a federal question because the Help America Vote Act did not afford private rights of action, and relief from section 1983 requires willful and wanton conduct, which the plaintiffs had not alleged.
Topics: Help America Vote Act (HAVA); 42 U.S.C. § 1983; intervention; removal; matters for state courts.
Suit Arising Under State Implementation of the Help America Vote Act Remanded to State Court
Ohio ex rel. Mahal v. Brunner (George C. Smith, S.D. Ohio 2:08-cv-983)
A state’s secretary of state removed a mandamus action filed with the state’s supreme court concerning the state’s compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The district court immediately remanded the case, because the mandamus action sought enforcement of the state’s HAVA implementing legislation, which meant that the case arose under state law.
Topics: Matters for state courts; removal; Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
Regulation of Third-Party Voter Registrations
League of Women Voters of Florida v. Browning (Cecilia M. Altonaga, S.D. Fla. 1:08-cv-21243)
On April 28, 2008, the League of Women Voters filed a federal action in the Southern District of Florida challenging Florida’s regulation of voter registration as so burdensome as to cause the League to suspend its voter registration efforts. On the following day, the district judge held a hearing, ordered the parties to submit a proposed consent order on the next day, and set a preliminary injunction hearing for June 19. On August 6, the court denied the League a preliminary injunction. Similar cases were filed in 2006 in the Southern District and in 2011 in the Northern District.
Topics: Registration procedures; case assignment.
Preclearance of Landowner Voter Registration Requirements
Shields v. Engelman Irrigation District (Ricardo H. Hinojosa, S.D. Tex. 7:08-cv-116)
In response to an April 3, 2008, federal complaint, a district judge and then a three-judge district court enjoined new voter registration requirements for a May 10 election by landowners to an irrigation district board of directors for lack of preclearance pursuant to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Topics: Registration procedures; section 5 preclearance; three-judge court; voter identification; matters for state courts; intervention; pro se party.
Wrongfully Requiring Photo Identification for Voter Registration
Pakosz v. Orr (John W. Darrah, N.D. Ill. 1:06-cv-5992)
On the Thursday before the 2006 general election, a pro se plaintiff filed a federal complaint alleging that he was wrongfully prevented from registering to vote. The complaint was docketed on Monday, and the federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that day requiring the defendants to issue the plaintiff a voter registration card. Defendants had wrongfully required the plaintiff to present photo identification, which was not required by the voter registration statute.
Topics: Voter identification; registration procedures; pro se party.
Overly Burdensome Voter Registration Rules
Project Vote v. Blackwell (Kathleen M. O’Malley, N.D. Ohio 1:06-cv-1628)
In July 2006, public interest organizations challenged new voter registration laws as overly burdensome, and the court enjoined the new laws. The court awarded the plaintiffs $321,485.28 in attorney fees and costs.
Topics: Registration procedures; attorney fees.
Enhanced Requirements for Registering and Voting in Arizona
González v. Arizona (2:06-cv-1268), Inter Tribal Council of Arizona v. Brewer (3:06-cv-1362), and Navajo Nation v. Brewer (3:06-cv-1575) (Roslyn O. Silver, D. Ariz.)
Four months before Arizona’s 2006 primary election, a federal complaint challenged proposition 200, a 2004 initiative that enhanced requirements for proof of citizenship for voter registration and proof of identity and residence for voting. The district court acted quickly on the plaintiffs’ motions for a temporary restraining order but denied injunctive relief. In 2012, the court of appeals determined en banc that the proof of citizenship procedure for registration is superseded by the National Voter Registration Act but the identification requirement for voting is not. The Supreme Court agreed that the required federal registration form did not permit additional evidence of citizenship.
Topics: Citizenship; voter identification; registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act; interlocutory appeal; recusal; section 5 preclearance; primary election.
Computerized Voter Registration List
United States v. Alabama (W. Keith Watkins, M.D. Ala. 2:06-cv-392)
The Attorney General sued to enforce Alabama’s compliance with the Help America Vote Act’s requirements for voter registration databases. The judge appointed the governor as a special master to order compliance.
Topics: Help America Vote Act (HAVA); special master.
Strict Voter Registration Rules
Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections v. Vu (Paul R. Matia, N.D. Ohio 1:04-cv-2147)
In a challenge to a county’s voter registration procedures, claiming that they were so strict as to disfranchise voters, the court determined, on the case’s third day, that provisional ballot procedures were sufficient to protect voters from disfranchisement.
Topics: Registration procedures; provisional ballots.
Identification Numbers and Voter Registration
Lucas County Democratic Party v. Blackwell (James G. Carr, N.D. Ohio 3:04-cv-7646)
Eighteen days before a general election, a suit alleged that a directive by Ohio’s secretary of state not to process voter registration forms that left blank the box for a driver’s license or Social Security number violated the Help America Vote Act and the National Voter Registration Act. The court denied immediate relief, because there was not enough time to develop an evidentiary record.
Topics: Registration procedures; Help America Vote Act (HAVA); National Voter Registration Act; laches.
Correcting Imperfect Voter Registrations
Diaz v. Hood (James Lawrence King, S.D. Fla. 1:04-cv-22572)
Eight days after voter registration closed for the 2004 general election, three would-be voters and four unions filed a federal complaint alleging that five counties were improperly failing to process and approve voter registrations. At the end of the week, the district court heard a motion to expedite the case; at the end of the following week, the court heard a motion for a preliminary injunction. Four days later, the court dismissed the case for lack of standing, because the plaintiffs either cured or refused to cure their registration defects. In 2005, the court of appeals reversed the dismissal. The district court ruled against the plaintiffs again in 2006, but without prejudice. After a five-day bench trial on a third amended complaint, the court again ruled against the plaintiffs, finding the firm deadline for voter registration to be constitutionally reasonable.
Topics: Registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act; intervention; recusal.
A Party’s Standing to Challenge Voter Registration Procedures
Florida Democratic Party v. Hood (Stephan P. Mickle, N.D. Fla. 4:04-cv-405)
A political party filed a federal complaint challenging election officials’ not processing voter registration applications on which applicants did not check a box stating that they were U.S. citizens even if they signed a statement that they were citizens. The district judge ordered a prompt response and then dismissed the case for lack of standing, because the party had not alleged actual denial of registration for one of its members.
Topics: Citizenship; registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act.
Denial of Voter Registration Efforts
Goodwin v. Meyer (William F. Downes, D. Wyo. 1:04-cv-256)
A federal complaint challenged state proscriptions on voter registration drives. The district judge determined that the plaintiffs had failed to show irreparable injury because voter registration forms were available on the Internet.
Topic: Registration procedures.
The Right of Felons to Register to Vote After Release
CURE-Ohio v. Blackwell (Sandra S. Beckwith, S.D. Ohio 1:04-cv-543) and Racial Fairness Project v. Summit County Board of Elections (John R. Adams, N.D. Ohio 5:04-cv-1948)
A federal complaint against the state’s secretary of state and 21 county boards of elections challenged false representations by election officials that persons convicted of felonies cannot be registered to vote even if they are on parole or have been released from confinement. Following an agreement to provide former prisoners with notices of the right to re-register to vote, the action was dismissed voluntarily. A subsequent action in the state’s other district challenged another county’s election officials’ not including in notices of registration cancellations to felons notices that felons can re-register following confinement. The district judge in the second case held that notices of registration cancellations were not required, but if they are provided they must not be misleading, which they would be if they failed to provide notice of the right to re-register following confinement.
Topics: Registration procedures; prisoner voters; class action; case assignment.
Bundling Voter Registrations
Nu Mu Lambda Chapter v. Cox (William C. O’Kelley, 1:04-cv-1780) and ACORN v. Cox (Jack T. Camp, 1:06-cv-1891) (N.D. Ga.)
A 2004 complaint alleged that Georgia improperly required newly registered voters to submit their voter registration forms directly to the government rather than to coordinators of voter registration efforts. Thirteen days after the complaint was filed, the court granted the plaintiffs injunctive relief. The court of appeals affirmed in 2005. In 2006, a similar complaint alleged that Georgia was not complying with the earlier precedent. Again, the court granted the plaintiffs preliminary injunctive relief. Two years later, the court vacated the preliminary injunction because the parties had not moved the case forward.
Topics: Registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act; enforcing orders; interlocutory appeal.
Voter Registration for College Students
Saunders v. Andrews (4:04-cv-20) and Lowe v. Davis (4:04-cv-21) (Raymond A. Jackson, E.D. Va.)
A college student wishing to run for city council filed a federal complaint challenging the denial of his voter registration. On the following day, three other students filed a similar complaint. The federal judge ruled against the students, but a state judge granted one of the students relief. By the time of the general election, two of the students could register because they obtained driver’s licenses at their local address.
Topic: Student registration.
Blaming Candidacy Withdrawal on a Voter Registration Challenge
Moseley v. Price (T.S. Ellis III, E.D. Va. 1:03-cv-1320)
A pro se federal complaint alleged that voting rights violations forced the plaintiff to withdraw from a race that he alleged he was certain to win. According to the complaint, because he registered to vote while he was in the process of moving into a Loudoun County residence, his registration card was returned; a radio journalist made an issue of it, the county’s circuit court appointed a special prosecutor, and the state police investigated the matter. The judge dismissed the federal voting rights claims as without merit and dismissed state law claims without prejudice.
Topics: Registration procedures; pro se party; matters for state courts.
Challenge to Voter Registration Form Stating That Party Affiliation Is Required for Primary Voting
Fitzgerald v. Berman (Norman A. Mordue, N.D.N.Y. 1:02-cv-926)
As voters supporting open primary elections began a voter registration drive as part of their effort to create a new Non-Affiliated Voters Party, they filed a federal complaint challenging voter registration form language stating that only registered members of political parties could vote in primary elections. The district judge considered but denied immediate relief 15 days later. Two years after that, the district judge dismissed the complaint for lack of standing because all established parties wished to retain closed primary elections.
Topics: Primary election; registration procedures; pro se party.
Voter Registration for Disabled Students
National Coalition for Students with Disabilities Education and Legal Defense Fund v. Bush (Robert L. Hinkle, N.D. Fla. 4:00-cv-442)
A federal complaint alleged that Florida failed to provide voter registration services to disabled students, as required by the National Voter Registration Act, for the 2000 general election. The district judge concluded that “the time to seek any [registration] redress affecting the 2000 election was prior to that election.” Respecting long-term relief, the case settled in May 2001. The judge later learned that a named plaintiff was also a named plaintiff in a similar action in another state; he awarded the plaintiffs zero attorney fees.
Topics: National Voter Registration Act; registration procedures; laches; attorney fees.
Requiring Social Security Numbers for Voter Registration
Schwier v. Cox (Julie E. Carnes, N.D. Ga. 1:00-cv-2820)
On October 26, 2000, two voters filed a federal complaint challenging a requirement that they provide Social Security numbers as part of their voter registrations. On Friday, November 3, the district judge ruled that to vote the plaintiffs could file their Social Security numbers with election officials and with the court under seal; depending on the resolution of the case, the numbers would either be unsealed or destroyed. In 2002, the district judge ruled that an uncodified provision of the Privacy Act did not provide the plaintiffs with rights of action, but the court of appeals determined in 2003 that the uncodified provision was nevertheless applicable law that did afford private rights of action.
Topics: Registration procedures; voter identification; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; attorney fees.
Changing Party Affiliation for a Primary Election
Van Wie v. Pataki (David N. Hurd, 1:00-cv-322), Van Allen v. Cuomo (Gary L. Sharpe, 1:07-cv-722), and Van Allen v. Walsh (Lawrence E. Kahn, 1:08-cv-876) (N.D.N.Y.)
Two weeks before a presidential primary election, two voters filed a federal complaint challenging a law that allowed new voter registrants to enroll in a political party up to 25 days before a primary but did not allow a change in party enrollment for already registered voters to go into effect until after the next general election. One week later, after oral argument, the district judge dismissed the complaint, finding compelling the incentive to register new voters. Actions initiated in 2007 and 2008 were similarly unsuccessful.
Topics: Registration procedures; primary election; intervention; pro se party.