Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
by
The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court misapplied the Anderson-Burdick framework when it enjoined the State defendants' enforcement of a long-standing Georgia absentee ballot deadline, which requires ballots to be received by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. The district court, instead, manufactured its own ballot deadline so that the State is now required to count any ballot that was both postmarked by and received within three days of Election Day. Because the State defendants have met all four prongs of the Nken test, the court granted their motion to stay the injunction.The court concluded that the State defendants have shown that they will likely succeed on the merits of their claim because the district court did not properly apply the appropriate framework. The court explained that Georgia's decades-old absentee ballot deadline is both reasonable and nondiscriminatory, while its interests in maintaining that deadline (especially now that absentee voting has already begun) are at least "important"—as the district court itself recognized—and likely compelling. In this case, the district court erred by finding that Georgia's Election Day deadline severely burdened the right to vote, and by improperly weighing the State's interests against this burden. The court also concluded that Georgia will suffer irreparable harm absent a stay and a stay is in the public interest. Therefore, because Georgia's decades-old Election Day deadline for absentee ballots does not threaten voting rights, and is justified by a host of interests, the court stayed the district court's injunction of that deadline. View "The New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law

by
The people of Florida amended their state constitution to restore the voting rights of convicted felons. Before regaining the right to vote, felons must complete all the terms of their sentences, including imprisonment, probation, and payment of any fines, fees, costs, and restitution. Felons sued, challenging the requirement that they pay their fines, fees, costs, and restitution before regaining the right to vote. They alleged the requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause as applied to felons who cannot pay; imposed a tax on voting in violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment; was void for vagueness; and adopted requirements that make it difficult for them to determine whether they are eligible to vote. The district court permanently enjoined the condition's enforcement.The Eleventh Circuit reversed. States may restrict voting by felons in ways that would be impermissible for other citizens. Laws governing felon disenfranchisement and re-enfranchisement are generally subject to rational basis review; “reform may take one step at a time.” Florida has legitimate interests in disenfranchising convicted felons, even those who have completed their sentences, and in restoring felons to the electorate after justice has been done and they have been fully rehabilitated. Fines, which are paid to the government as punishment for a crime, and restitution, which compensates crime victims, are not taxes. Felons and law enforcement can readily discern exactly what conduct is prohibited: a felon may not vote or register to vote if he knows that he has failed to complete all terms of his criminal sentence. View "Jones v. Governor of Florida" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit vacated its original opinion in this appeal and substituted in its place the following opinion.At issue is whether several voters and organizations may challenge in federal court a law that governs the order in which candidates appear on the ballot in Florida's general elections. Plaintiffs alleged that the law violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments because candidates who appear first on the ballot enjoy a "windfall vote" from a small number of voters who select the first candidate on a ballot solely because of that candidate’s position of primacy. The district court permanently enjoined the Secretary—and the 67 county Supervisors of Elections, none of whom were made parties to this lawsuit—from preparing ballots in accordance with the law.The court held that the voters and organizations lack standing to sue the Secretary because none of them proved an injury in fact. In this case, any injury they might suffer is neither fairly traceable to the Secretary nor redressable by a judgment against her because she does not enforce the challenged law. Rather, the Supervisors—county officials independent of the Secretary—are responsible for placing candidates on the ballot in the order the law prescribes. However, the district court lacked authority to enjoin those officials in this suit, so it was powerless to provide redress. The court also held, in the alternative, that the voters and organizations' complaint presents a nonjusticiable political question. The court explained that complaints of unfair partisan advantage based on the order in which candidates appear on the ballot bear all the hallmarks of a political question outside the court's competence to resolve. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. View "Jacobsen v. Florida Secretary of State" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Georgia under O.C.G.A. 15-2-9: Does O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 conflict with Georgia Constitution Article VI, Section VIII, Paragraph I(a) (or any other provision) of the Georgia Constitution? View "Gonzalez v. Governor of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

by
The Independent Party of Florida and the Party for Socialism and Liberation seek to place their presidential candidates on the ballot in Florida without satisfying the requirements of Fla. Stat. 103.021(4)(a)–(b). Under the law, minor parties may access the presidential ballot either by satisfying a one-percent signature requirement or by affiliating with a qualified national party.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the minor parties' motion for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of these requirements. The court first held that the Party for Socialism and Liberation has Article III standing. In this case, the party will be injured if its candidate is denied access to the ballot; the future injury is impending; the injury is fairly traceable; and the injury could be redressed by an injunction forbidding the Secretary to deny the party access to the ballot based on the challenged provisions.The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test to resolve equal-protection challenges to a ballot-access requirement and held that Florida's goal of accounting for the national interest in presidential elections justifies its decision to provide different paths to the ballot for minor parties that affiliate with a qualified national party and those that do not. Therefore, the minor parties are unlikely to succeed on their claims that the ballot-access requirements unconstitutionally burden their First Amendment rights and deny them equal protection of the laws. View "Independent Party of Florida v. Secretary, State of Florida" on Justia Law

by
In 2015, plaintiffs filed suit challenging Alabama's 2011 Photo Voter Identification Law passed by the Alabama legislature as House Bill 19 and codified at Ala. Code 17-9-30. The voter ID law took effect in June 2014 and requires all Alabama voters to present a photo ID when casting in-person or absentee votes. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the law has a racially discriminatory purpose and effect that violates the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA).The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, holding that plaintiffs failed to identify any genuine disputes of material facts and no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the evidence presented, that Alabama's voter ID law is discriminatory. The court held that the burden of providing a photo ID pursuant to Ala. Code 17-9-30 in order to vote is a minimal burden on Alabama's voters—especially when Alabama accepts so many different forms of photo ID and makes acquiring one simple and free for voters who lack a valid ID but wish to obtain one. Therefore, the Alabama voter ID law does not violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the Voting Rights Act. View "Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama" on Justia Law

by
The Libertarian Party filed suit against the Secretary of State of Georgia, alleging that Georgia's ballot-access requirements for third-party and independent candidates violated their associational rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and their Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Secretary, holding that the district court's failure to apply the Supreme Court's test for the constitutionality of ballot-access requirements, as articulated in Anderson v. Celebreeze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983), constitutes reversible error. Accordingly, the court remanded to the district court with instructions to conduct in the first instance the Anderson test and to consider the Party's Equal Protection claim. View "Cowen v. Georgia Secretary of State" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this appeal is whether several voters and organizations have standing to challenge a law that governs the order in which candidates appear on the ballot in Florida's general elections. The voters and organizations alleged that the law violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments because candidates who appear first on the ballot—in recent years, Republicans—enjoy a "windfall vote" from a small number of voters who select the first candidate on a ballot solely because of that candidate's position of primacy. The district court permanently enjoined the Secretary from preparing ballots in accordance with the law.The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of justiciability, holding that the voters and organizations lack standing to sue the Secretary, because none of them proved an injury in fact. Furthermore, any injury they might suffer is neither fairly traceable to the Secretary nor redressable by a judgment against her because she does not enforce the challenged law. Rather, the county officials independent of the Secretary (the Supervisors) are responsible for placing candidates on the ballot in the order the law prescribes. Therefore, the court held that the district court lacked authority to enjoin those officials in this action and it was powerless to provide redress. View "Jacobson v. Florida Secretary of State" on Justia Law

by
Florida's 2018 U.S. Senate election triggered a statewide recount. The Democratic Executive Committee challenged the signature-match requirements of Florida’s vote-by-mail statute, which gave voters who learned that their votes had been blocked for signature mismatch until “5 p.m. one day before the election” to verify their identities by submitting an affidavit and an accepted form of identification. They also challenged Florida’s law allowing prospective voters who could not prove their eligibility to cast provisional ballots; provisional ballots rejected because of signature mismatch could not be cured after the fact.The district court entered a modified preliminary injunction allowing the “ballots of those voters who were belatedly notified of signature mismatch” to be counted, provided that “those voters timely verified their identities.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) sought an emergency stay, which was denied by the Eleventh Circuit. The preliminary injunction expired two days later. About three months later, the motions panel issued an opinion explaining its denial of the emergency stay.In 2019, S.B. 7066, significantly amended the signature-match provisions. The plaintiffs dismissed their lawsuit. Defendants moved to dismiss their appeal of the preliminary injunction. The NRSC agreed that the case was moot but moved to vacate the order granting a preliminary injunction and the stay-panel opinion. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that it retained jurisdiction to consider the proposed motions but declined to vacate the prior opinions because they will not have negative collateral effects on any party. View "Democratic Executive Committee of Florida v. National Republican Senatorial Committee" on Justia Law

by
The Executive Clemency Board appealed the district court's orders denying in part its motion for summary judgment and permanently enjoining Florida's former system for re-enfranchising convicted felons. Plaintiff and other convicted felons alleged that the former system facially violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted plaintiff's motion on three of four counts, and issued permanent injunctions prohibiting the Board from enforcing the then-current vote-restoration system, ending all vote-restoration processes.In 2016, Florida voters amended their state constitution as it concerns the re-enfranchisement of convicted felons. In 2019, Florida's legislature revised its statutory scheme for re-enfranchisement. Plaintiff claimed that he and the other convicted felons are eligible to seek restoration of their voting rights. Therefore, the Eleventh Circuit held that this case is moot and vacated in part the district court's order on cross-motions for summary judgment dated February 1, 2018; vacated the district court's order directing entry of judgment dated March 27, 2018; and remanded with instructions to dismiss. View "Hand v. Desantis" on Justia Law