Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law

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Plaintiffs are the Powhatan County Republican Committee and four individuals nominated by the Committee to be candidates for election to the Board of Supervisors for Powhatan County, Virginia. Plaintiffs filed suit against the Board of Elections, challenging the constitutionality of the portion of Virginia Code 24.2-613(B) that provides that only candidates in elections "for federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices" may be identified on the ballot by the name of the political party that nominated them or by the term "Independent." The district court granted judgment in favor of the Board. The court concluded that the burden on associational rights imposed by Virginia's regulation of the use of party identifiers on official ballots is at most minimal and is amply justified by Virginia's important interests, which include minimizing partisanship at the local government level, promoting impartial governance, and maximizing the number of citizens eligible to hold local office under the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. 7321-7326; concluded that section 24.2-613(B)'s different treatment of local candidates and federal, statewide, and General Assembly candidates with respect to party identifiers on the ballot does not violate the Equal Protection Clause because such treatment is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests; and thus affirmed the judgment. View "Marcellus v. Virginia State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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These consolidated cases challenge provisions of a recently enacted North Carolina election law. Session Law 2013-381.2 imposed a number of voting restrictions. The law required in-person voters to show certain photo IDs, beginning in 2016, which African Americans disproportionately lacked, and eliminated or reduced registration and voting access tools that African Americans disproportionately used. Prior to the enactment of SL 2013-381, the legislature requested and received racial data as to usage of the practices changed by the proposed law. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans. The court concluded that the asserted justifications for the law cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation: taking away minority voters' opportunity because they were about to exercise it. Therefore, the court concluded that the General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent. The court reversed and remanded with instructions to enjoin the challenged provisions of the law. View "N.C. State Conference v. McCrory" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases, plaintiffs filed suit challenging two redistricting laws, alleging that some Wake County School Board and Wake County Board of County Commissioners districts have been over-populated, while others have been under-populated. Plaintiffs further assert that these discrepancies result in some votes counting more while others count less, and that the discrepancies stem from illegitimate redistricting factors. The court concluded that, to succeed on the merits, plaintiffs in one person, one vote cases with population deviations below 10% must show by a preponderance of the evidence that improper considerations predominate in explaining the deviations. In this case, plaintiffs have proven that it is more probable than not that the population deviations at issue here reflect the predominance of an illegitimate reapportionment factor, namely an intentional effort to create a significant partisan advantage. Therefore, the district court committed reversible error in granting judgment for defendants. For the same reasons that plaintiffs succeed with their federal claim, they also succeed with their North Carolina state one person, one vote claim. Finally, the district court did not commit clear error in rejecting plaintiffs' racial gerrymandering claim. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded in part, and affirmed in part. View "Raleigh Wake Citizens Ass'n v. Wake Cnty. Bd. of Elections" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a political figure in the Libertarian Party of Virginia, filed suit challenging Virginia's three-tiered ballot ordering law, Virginia Code 24.2-613. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff principally argued on appeal that Virginia's three-tiered ballot ordering law advantages candidates from what he calls “major parties” and disadvantages candidates like him that hail from what he calls “minor parties.” The court noted that the text and history of the Constitution, well established Supreme Court precedent, and the structural principles inherent in our federal system counsel respect for the Virginia General Assembly’s power to administer elections in Virginia. With state legislatures’ longstanding authority to regulate elections in mind, the court employed the Supreme Court’s Anderson/Burdick decisional framework to distinguish those laws whose burdens are uniquely unconstitutional from the majority of laws whose validity is unquestioned. The court concluded that the three-tiered ballot ordering law imposes little burden on plaintiff’s constitutional rights, and Virginia articulates several important interests supporting the law. The ballot ordering law imposes only the most modest burdens on plaintiff's rights where the law is facially neutral and nondiscriminatory. Furthermore, the law is supported by important regulatory interests where the law may assist the voting process by reducing voter confusion and preserving party-order, as well as reduce multi-party factionalism and promote political stability. Therefore, the court concluded that it has no basis for finding the state statute unconstitutional and affirmed the judgment. View "Sarvis v. Alcorn" on Justia Law

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Maryland allows any voter to vote via absentee ballot. Plaintiffs filed suit under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12132, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, against state election officials under federal law, alleging that marking a hardcopy ballot by hand without assistance is impossible for voters with various disabilities, and that they have therefore been denied meaningful access to absentee voting. Defendants argue that even if absentee voting is not fully accessible, the full accessibility of Maryland’s in-person polling places provides disabled voters with meaningful access to voting. The court concluded that defendants’ proposed focus is overbroad and would undermine the purpose of the ADA and its implementing regulations. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s conclusion that by effectively requiring disabled individuals to rely on the assistance of others to vote absentee, defendants have not provided plaintiffs with meaningful access to Maryland’s absentee voting program. The court also concluded that plaintiffs’ proposed use of the online ballot marking tool is a reasonable modification to Maryland’s absentee voting policies and procedures. The court agreed with the the district court that defendants have not met their burden to show that plaintiffs’ proposed modification - use of the online ballot marking tool - would fundamentally alter Maryland’s voting program. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "National Federation of the Blind v. Lamone" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging a state law redrawing the Wake County Board of Education electoral districts, arguing that under the new redistricting plan, some citizen’s votes will get significantly more weight than other’s in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of one person, one vote and the North Carolina Constitution’s promise of equal protection. The district court granted defendants’ motions to dismiss and denied plaintiffs’ motion to amend as futile. The court concluded that plaintiffs’ allegations in support of their claim that the law violates the one person, one vote principle suffice to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Thus, plaintiffs have stated a claim upon which relief could be granted against the Wake County Board of Elections and the district court therefore erred in dismissing their suit. The court affirmed, however, the denial of the motion to amend because the state officials plaintiffs proposed to add as named defendants are not amenable to suit. View "Wright v. North Carolina" on Justia Law

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After the Supreme Court lifted certain Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c, restrictions that prevented jurisdictions like North Carolina from passing laws that would deny minorities equal access, North Carolina began pursuing sweeping voting reform with House Bill 589. Plaintiffs and the federal government filed suit against North Carolina, alleging that House Bill 589 violates equal protection provisions of the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act and seeking a preliminary injunction. The court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in denying plaintiffs' preliminary injunction and not preventing certain provisions of House Bill 589 from taking effect. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction as to House Bill 589's elimination of same-day registration and prohibition on counting out-of-precinct ballots. The court affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction with respect to the following House Bill 589 provisions: the reduction of early-voting days; the expansion of allowable voter challenges; the elimination of the discretion of county boards of elections to keep the pools open an additional hour on Election Day in "extraordinary circumstances"; the elimination of pre-registration of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who will not be eighteen years old by the next general election; and the soft roll-out of voter identification requirements to go into effect in 2016. View "Duke v. State of North Carolina" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs raised an as-applied challenge to North Carolina's May 17 petition-filing deadline for the formation of new political parties. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs' Rule 50(d) motion where discovery was not necessary to determine the constitutionality of the deadline. Balancing the character and magnitude of the burdens imposed against the extent to which the regulations advanced the state's interests, the court found that North Carolina's choice of May 17 as the operative deadline outweighed the modest burden imposed on plaintiffs. Therefore, the court held that the May 17 petition-filing deadline was constitutional as applied to plaintiffs. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Pisano v. Strach" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed the underlying action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the witness residency requirement on nominating petitions impermissibly burdened their rights to free speech and free association under the First Amendment. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, with the Board's motion premised entirely on its assertion that plaintiffs have not suffered a legally cognizable injury and thus lacked standing. The district court denied the Board's motion as to standing and granted plaintiffs' motion on the merits. The district court declared the witness residency requirement unconstitutional and permanently enjoined its enforcement. Although the Board's witness residency requirement served the Commonwealth's interest in policing fraud potentially permeating the electoral process and therefore meeting the first part of the strict scrutiny standard, the Board produced no concrete evidence of persuasive force explaining why plaintiffs' proposed solution, manifestly less restrictive of their First Amendment rights, would be unworkable or impractical. Accordingly, the court affirmed in all respects the judgment of the district court. View "Libertarian Party of Virginia v. Judd" on Justia Law

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CFIF and WVFL are 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(4) organizations that engage in election-related speech. These organizations and an individual brought suit alleging that West Virginia's campaign finance statutes were constitutionally impermissible. At issue was whether West Virginia's campaign-finance reporting and disclaimer requirements could survive constitutional scrutiny, West Virginia Code section 3-8-1 et seq. The court affirmed the district court's decisions to (1) strike "newspaper, magazine or other periodical" from West Virginia's "electioneering communication" definition; (2) upheld the "electioneering communication" definition's exemption for grassroots lobbying; (3) declined to consider the merits of the CFIF's challenge to the bona fide news account exemption because the organization lacked standing; and (4) prohibited prosecutions for violations that occurred while the earlier injunctions were in effect. However, the court reversed the district court's decision with respect to (1) its conclusion that subsection (C) of the "expressly advocating" definition was unconstitutional; (2) its choice to uphold the "electioneering communication" definition's section 501(c)(3) exemption; and (3) its application of an "earmarked funds" limiting construction to the reporting requirement for electioneering communications. Because WVFL did not file a notice of appeal in this case, the court could not consider its challenge to the district court's finding that the statutory scheme's twenty-four- and forty-eight-hour reporting requirements were constitutional. Consequently, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Center for Individual Freedom v. Tennant, et al." on Justia Law