Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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This action concerns the validity of Minn. Stat. 204B.13, subd. 2(c), which addresses the administration of an election when the candidate of a major political party dies after the seventy-ninth day before a general election. Tyler Kistner is the candidate of the Republican Party for the United States House of Representatives in the Second Congressional District of Minnesota; Angela Craig is the incumbent Representative and the candidate of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party for that office; and Jenny Winslow Davies is a voter in the district. The dispute arose from the death of a third candidate in the race, Adam Charles Weeks, the Candidate for the Legal Marijuana Now Party, on September 21, 2020. At issue is whether Minnesota has authority to forego the election for Representative on November 3, 2020, and schedule a special election for February 2021. The district court ruled that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted, ordered that section 204B.13 must not be enforced as to the election on November 3 for Representative from the Second District, and enjoined the Minnesota Secretary of State from refusing to give legal effect to the ballots cast for Representative on November 3.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting a preliminary injunction. The court agreed with the district court that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted by federal law. Even assuming for the sake of analysis that federal law permits a state to cancel an election and thereby to produce a "failure to elect" in certain extraordinary situations, the court concluded that federal law would allow that course only in truly "exigent" circumstances. The court concluded that the death of candidate Weeks is likely not the sort of exigent circumstance that permits the state to refrain from holding the election for United States Representative on the date prescribed by federal law. Nor do the unofficial results announced by the Secretary of State suggest that the balloting on November 3 failed to elect a Representative. Therefore, the court saw no error in the district court's determination that Craig and Davies would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction, as they would be left without representation in the House of Representatives between the end of the incumbent's term in January 2021 and the seating of a new Representative after a special election in February 2021. Furthermore, the balance of harms and the public interest do not militate against an injunction, especially when there is a likelihood of success on the merits of the complaint. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law dictates that election officials only count ballots received by election day. The Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Education Fund filed suit against the Secretary, alleging that Minnesota's statutory deadline was unconstitutional. The Secretary and the Alliance entered into a consent decree that essentially made the statutorily-mandated absentee ballot receipt deadline inoperative. After the Minnesota state court confirmed the decree, the Secretary directed election officials to count absentee ballots received up to a week after election day, notwithstanding Minnesota law.Plaintiffs, both Minnesota registered voters and also certified nominees of the Republican Party to be presidential electors, filed suit alleging that the consent decree and the state court's order confirming it violate the United States Constitution. The district court denied plaintiffs' requested injunction, concluding that they lack standing to bring their claims.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction and remanded to the district court to enter an injunction requiring the Secretary and those under his direction to identify, segregate, and otherwise maintain and preserve all absentee ballots received after the deadlines set forth in Minn. Stat. 203B.08, subd. 3.After determining that plaintiffs have Article III and prudential standing to bring their claims, the court considered plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to evaluate the propriety of preliminary injunctive relief rather than remanding for the district court to decide the merits in the first instance. The court held that the Secretary's instructions to count mail-in ballots received up to seven days after Election Day stand in direct contradiction to Minnesota election law governing presidential elections, and plaintiffs have strongly shown likely success on the merits since the Secretary's actions are likely to be declared invalid under the Electors Clause of Article II of the United States Constitution. The court stated that only the Minnesota Legislature, and not the Secretary, has plenary authority to establish the manner of conducting the presidential election in Minnesota. The court also held that the Secretary's plan to count mail-in ballots received after the deadline established by the Minnesota Legislature will inflict irreparable harm to plaintiffs. Furthermore, the balance of the equities and the public interest weigh in favor of the issuance of an injunction. Finally, the court held that the injunction does not violate the Purcell principle. View "Carson v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the enforcement of portions of Mo. Rev. Stat. 115.302, which provides for voting by mail-in ballot due to the ongoing global pandemic. Plaintiffs alleged that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating mail-in ballots differently than absentee ballots, requiring the former to be returned by mail only while allowing the latter to be returned by mail or in-person, either from the voter himself or a relative within the second degree of consanguinity. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiffs and the Secretary entered a temporary administrative stay of the preliminary injunction.The Eighth Circuit granted the Secretary's motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. The court held that the Secretary has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, under the Anderson-Burdick standard, that the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by USPS mail is a minimal burden and a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction. The Secretary has also shown that the State will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not grant the stay, and that the remaining factors of injury to other parties and the public's interest weigh in favor of granting the motion to stay. View "Organization for Black Struggle v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit denied the motion for an administrative stay and stay pending appeal of the district court's injunction in a dispute relating to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. This action concerns the validity of Minn. Stat. 204B.13, subd. 2(c), which addresses the administration of an election when the candidate of a major political party dies after the seventy-ninth day before a general election. The section states that the governor "shall issue a writ calling for a special election to be conducted on the second Tuesday in February of the year following the year the vacancy in nomination occurred"—in this case, February 9, 2021.The district court ruled that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted, ordered that section 204B.13 must not be enforced as to the election on November 3 for Representative from the Second District, and enjoined the Minnesota Secretary of State from refusing to give legal effect to the ballots cast for Representative on November 3.The court held that appellant is not likely to succeed on the merits of his contention that section 204B.13, as applied to the current situation, may coexist with the federal election laws. The court stated that even if the death of a Republican or Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate could qualify as an exigent circumstance that would allow the State to cancel an election and trigger a vacancy in office, it is unlikely that the rationale would extend to the death of a third-party candidate from a party with the modest electoral strength exhibited to date by the Legal Marijuana Now Party in Minnesota. Furthermore, that a short period of uncertainty affected campaign fundraising and tactical decisions by the candidates also does not justify a stay of the injunction without a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Section 204D.13(2) of the Minnesota Statutes, which requires that major party candidates be listed on the ballot in reverse order of the parties' electoral showing in the last general election. Plaintiffs contend that the law irrationally disadvantages their preferred political candidates and is therefore unconstitutional. The district court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the law's enforcement and prescribed instead a lottery-based system of ordering candidates on Minnesota ballots. Political committees intervened and moved to stay the injunction.As a preliminary matter, the Eighth Circuit held that plaintiffs have Article III standing by alleging a cognizable and redressable injury fairly traceable to the statute. On the merits of the preliminary injunction, the court held that intervenors have shown that, absent a stay, they would be irreparably injured.As to intervenors' likelihood of success, the court held that, under the Anderson/Burdick standard, the burdens imposed by section 204D.13(2) do not unconstitutionally violate the rights asserted. The court considered the character and magnitude of the asserted injury, and observed that the statute does not in any way restrict voting or ballot access; the statute neither systematically advantages incumbents nor advantages the state’s most popular party; but, rather, the statute favors candidates from parties other than the one that received the most votes (on average) in the last general election. In this case, Minnesota's justifications are rationally related to placing political parties in reverse order of popularity and, by design, the statute cannot advantage the state's predominant party. Furthermore, incumbents cannot count on using the statute's operation to its advantage and the statute promotes political diversity. Therefore, the court granted the motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. View "Pavek v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc." on Justia Law

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AVF is sponsoring a ballot initiative to amend the Arkansas Constitution’s redistricting provisions and began circulating a petition during the COVID–19 pandemic. The Arkansas Constitution and statutes require canvassers to attach to the petition an affidavit affirming that all the petition signatures were made in the presence of the canvasser. The plaintiffs claim they cannot comply with these requirements during the pandemic; all are particularly vulnerable to COVID–19 because of age or medical conditions. They claimed enforcement of the requirements during the pandemic would impermissibly burden their First Amendment rights to express their position on a political matter. The district court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of the requirements.The Eighth Circuit reversed. The district court erroneously applied strict scrutiny; neither requirement violates the First Amendment. The court noted that the right to a state initiative process is not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but is created by state law; states have considerable leeway to protect the integrity of the process. The Arkansas Code provides accommodations for individuals who require assistance signing an initiative petition and, even without those accommodations, there are simple ways to safely comply with the in-person signature requirement during the pandemic. The requirement imposes real burdens but not severe burdens, and serves important interests in preventing signatures from ineligible voters. View "Miller v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction, holding that the district court did not err in finding that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that Arkansas's recent amendments to the requirements for new political parties to appear on the next general-elections ballot on a whole-ballot basis were unconstitutional.The court also held that, assuming a compelling interest exists, and taking the general boundaries established by precedent, a regime containing (1) a substantial signature requirement, (2) a limited rolling window for obtaining signatures, and (3) a deadline 425 days removed from the general election is not narrowly tailored to a generalized interest in regulating the integrity of elections. Although plaintiffs did not make an overwhelming showing as to the actual burdensomeness of the current regime on their own particular ability or inability to comply, the court held that their showing was sufficient and found no clearly erroneous determinations by the district court. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in fashioning the injunctive relief. View "The Libertarian Party of Arkansas v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining the enforcement of Ark. Code Sec. 7-6-203(b)(1), which provides that candidates can only accept contributions within two years of an election. Plaintiff, who wished to donate to candidates running for state office in Arkansas's 2022 election, alleged that this blackout period violates her First Amendment rights.The court held that plaintiff alleged Article III standing because the allegations in her complaint and affidavit established that she intended to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest, but proscribed by a statute, and that there was a credible threat of prosecution if she donated to a candidate. The court also held that the district court correctly determined that, at this early stage of the litigation, plaintiff was likely to succeed on the merits, because Arkansas failed to show how the blackout period advances its anti-corruption interest. View "Jones v. Jegley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Missouri's lobbying requirements violate his freedom of speech and right to petition the government, and that the law is facially invalid because ordinary citizens do not have fair notice of whom it covers. The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff a preliminary injunction.The court held that Missouri's application of the law to plaintiff violates the First Amendment, because his political activities did not involve the transfer of money or anything of value, either to him or anyone else, and Missouri's interest in transparency did not reflect the seriousness of the actual burden on his First Amendment rights. The court also held that, even though the law does not define or otherwise explain what "designated" means, it is not vague. Instead, the court applied the word's common and ordinary meaning, in context, and held that, just because the law is broad does not mean that it is ambiguous, much less constitutionally vague. Accordingly, the court remanded for further consideration of plaintiff's request for a permanent injunction. View "Calzone v. Summers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging Arkansas's ballot access requirements for independent candidates. The Secretary appealed the district court's grant of plaintiff's request for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot, because the state legislature recently amended the challenged statute to accord with the petition filing deadline that plaintiff had sought, and thus no controversy remains. The court held that the equities weighed against vacatur, and the public interest is best served by a substantial body of judicial precedents limiting the burden that those requirements may place on candidates' and voters' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. View "Moore v. Thurston" on Justia Law