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

Articles Posted in Election Law
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Florida Senate Bill 90 ("SB 90") imposed certain restrictions on citing. Plaintiffs challenged several provisions of SB 90, claiming the provisions violated the prohibition against race discrimination under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs also alleged the provisions were vague or overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and that the provisions compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. The district court found that SB 90 restricted the right to vote and permanently enjoined certain provisions of SB 90. The court also imposed a preclearance requirement under which Florida needed to obtain the district court's approval before enacting or amending certain election laws. Florida sought a stay of the district court's order pending its appeal.The Eleventh Circuit granted Florida's request to stay the district court's order pending appeal. The court noted that changing election laws as an election nears can cause voter confusion. Thus, Federal district courts ordinarily should not enjoin state election laws in the period close to an election. Here, a statewide election was less than four months away. Thus, Florida has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its election process.Applying the reasoning from Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006), the court found that the state has a reduced burden to obtain a stay and only needs to show that Plaintiff's position is not "entirely clearcut." Thus, the court granted Florida's request for a stay pending appeal. View "Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters Corp, et al v. Florida Secretary of State, et al" on Justia Law

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Georgia law places restrictions on which prospective candidates for elective office can appear on the general election ballot. The Libertarian Party of Georgia, prospective Libertarian candidates, and affiliated voters ask the court to hold that Georgia's ballot-access laws unconstitutionally burden their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and deny them equal protection.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court incorrectly held that the laws violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court explained that, under the Anderson framework, the laws need only be justified by the State's important regulatory interests. In this case, the interests the Secretary asserts—in requiring some preliminary showing of a significant modicum of support before printing the name of a political organization's candidate on the ballot, in maintaining the orderly administration of elections, and in avoiding confusion, deception, and even frustration of the democratic process at the general election—are compelling. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that Georgia's laws do not cause an equal protection violation. The court concluded that the Secretary's stated interest sufficiently justifies the distinction between candidates. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, vacated the district court's injunction, and remanded. View "Cowen v. Secretary of State of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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Georgia's November 6, 2018, general election was a bellwether of the national political mood. On November 5, Common Cause sued, alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Help America Vote Act, 52 U.S.C. 21082; the Georgia Constitution; and Georgia Code 21-2-211, claiming Georgia’s voter registration systems were vulnerable to security breaches, increasing the risk eligible voters would be wrongly removed from election rolls, or that information would be unlawfully manipulated to prevent eligible voters from casting a regular ballot.Common Cause sought an order preventing the final rejection of provisional ballots for voters who had registration problems until there was confidence in the voter registration database. The district court granted a temporary restraining order on November 12 but determined the relief requested was “not practically feasible” and enjoined the Secretary from certifying the election results before 5:00 p.m. on November 16. The Secretary complied. In 2019, new Georgia voting laws changed procedures surrounding handling provisional ballots. The parties agreed that these provisions made further litigation unnecessary and stipulated to dismissal.Common Cause sought attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses incurred through the issuance of the TRO and in preparing the fee motion. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the $166,210.09 award. Common Cause was a 42 U.S.C. 1988 prevailing party because, in obtaining the TRO, it succeeded on a significant issue in litigation which achieved some of the benefits the parties sought in bringing suit. The litigation was necessary to alter the legal relationship between the parties. View "Common Cause Georgia v. Secretary, State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a state constitutional amendment that automatically restored voting rights to ex-felons who had completed all of the terms of their sentences. Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the "legal financial obligation" (LFO) requirement in Senate Bill 7066, which implemented the Amendment and required payment of all fines, fees, and restitution imposed as part of the sentence. The district court issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to allow the named plaintiffs to register and vote if they are able to show that they are genuinely unable to pay their LFOs and would otherwise be eligible to vote under Amendment 4.In 2020, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction with respect to the “wealth discrimination” claims. In 2021, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of an Equal Protection claim based on gender discrimination, on behalf of “low-income women of color who face unemployment, low wages, and difficulty paying off their financial debts at much higher rates than their male and white female counterparts.” The plaintiffs could prevail on their constitutional challenges only if they could “show that gender was a motivating factor in the adoption of the pay-to-vote system,” and they presented no evidence of intentional discrimination. View "McCoy v. Governor of Florida" on Justia Law

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In Georgia, in-person voters can vote on election day or during advance voting. Absentee voters, after applying for and receiving an absentee ballot, are responsible for returning their ballots directly to the county election office, depositing them into a ballot drop box, or mailing them to that office. The statute requires neither the state of Georgia nor county governments to cover the cost of postage for mailing ballots. Plaintiffs alleged that the Twenty-Fourth Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause required Georgia to pay for postage for voters who choose to return their absentee ballots by mail; by not covering the cost of postage, Georgia is imposing an unconstitutional “poll tax” or fee on some absentee voters.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Requiring the payment of postage is not a “tax” or unconstitutional fee on voting. Georgia voters, without paying any money, have several options; even those voters who choose to mail in their absentee ballots buy postage from the U.S. Postal Service and the proceeds from postage sales are paid to USPS—not the state of Georgia— to account for the costs associated with delivering the mail. These voters are buying services from USPS. Georgia does not receive any money from those sales. View "Black Voters Matter Fund v. Secretary of State for the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated its previous opinion and substituted the following opinion.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 to prevent the enforcement of Alabama's voter ID law, alleging that the law violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution; Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 52 U.S.C. 10301; and Section 201 of the VRA, 52 U.S.C. 10501.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, concluding that plaintiffs have failed to identify any genuine disputes of material facts and because no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the evidence presented, that Alabama's voter ID law is discriminatory. The court explained that the burden of providing a photo ID 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 VRA. View "Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama" on Justia Law

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Ten days after the 2020 presidential election, plaintiff, a Georgia voter, filed suit against state election officials to enjoin certification of the general election results, to secure a new recount under different rules, and to establish new rules for an upcoming runoff election. Plaintiff alleged that the extant absentee-ballot and recount procedures violated Georgia law and, as a result, his federal constitutional rights. The district court denied plaintiff's motion for emergency relief.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiff lacks standing to sue because he fails to allege a particularized injury. The court explained that plaintiff alleged only a generalized grievance because he bases his standing on his interests in ensuring that only lawful ballots are counted, and an injury to the right to require that the government be administered according to the law is a generalized grievance. In this case, plaintiff cannot explain how his interest in compliance with state election laws is different from that of any other person.Even if plaintiff had standing, because Georgia has already certified its election results and its slate of presidential electors, plaintiff's requests for emergency relief are moot to the extent they concern the 2020 election. The court stated that the Constitution makes clear that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the court may not entertain post-election contests about garden-variety issues of vote counting and misconduct that may properly be filed in state courts. View "Wood v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the State, arguing that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 violates the Georgia Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent it allows the State to cancel the November 2020 election for the office of district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit. Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction that would require the State to hold the election, which the district court granted.Because the Eleventh Circuit is bound by the Supreme Court of Georgia's decision that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2, as challenged here, violates the Georgia Constitution, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that plaintiff established a substantial likelihood of success in her argument that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 violates the Georgia Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that plaintiff would suffer an irreparable injury unless an injunction was granted, because the State's enforcement of O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 would deprive plaintiff of her right to vote in the November 2020 district attorney election. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that the balance of harms and public interest weigh in favor of granting the injunction. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order granting the preliminary injunction. View "Gonzalez v. Governor of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that House Bill 836's district map violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. HB 836 reduced the size of the board from nine members to seven. Where all nine members previously had come from single-member districts, now only five would, and two would be drawn from at large seats. Plaintiff alleged that the new map would violate section 2 by diluting the strength of Black voters in Sumter County. The district court agreed and entered a remedial order removing the at-large seats and drawing a new map with seven single-member districts instead.The court reviewed the entire record and held that plaintiff adduced ample evidence supporting a finding of vote dilution. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in concluding that plaintiff satisfied all three Gingles factors: first, the undisputed evidence showed that Sumter County's Black residents could form a majority in at least one additional single-member district (and probably in two); second, the Black voters in Sumter County were highly cohesive in ten of the twelve elections studied; and third, White residents vote sufficiently as a bloc to enable them usually to defeat the minority's preferred candidate. The court also held that plaintiff established that the totality of the circumstances results in an unequal opportunity for minority voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choosing. In this case, the district court did not clearly err by finding that the first, second, fifth, and seventh Senate factors weighed heavily in plaintiff's favor. The district court noted Georgia's, and Sumter County's, painful history of discrimination against its Black residents, emphasizing the high levels of racially polarized voting and observed the lack of success enjoyed by Black candidates in Sumter County. Furthermore, the special master report expressly found an easily achievable remedy available. View "Wright v. Sumter County Board of Elections and Registration" on Justia Law

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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