Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law

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At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case was whether provisions of the Pennsylvania Election Code prohibiting the process by which two or more political organizations place the same candidate on the ballot in a general election for the same office. In the April 26, 2016 primary election, Christopher Rabb secured the Democratic nomination for Representative of the General Assembly’s 200th Legislative District. A few months later, the Working Families Party circulated papers to nominate Rabb as its candidate for the same race. The Supreme Court determined appellants failed to establish the challenged anti-fusion provisions of the Election Code clearly and plainly violated the equal protection clause of the federal or state constitutions, therefore, the order of the Commonwealth Court was affirmed. View "Working Families Party v. Com." on Justia Law

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On May 16, 2017, by write-in vote, Christine Rossi won the Republican nomination for Tax Collector of Nether Providence Township (“the Township”). On June 2, 2017, the Delaware County Bureau of Elections (“the Bureau”) notified Rossi that she was certified as the Republican nominee. The Bureau instructed Rossi to submit a Statement of Financial Interests ("SOFI") to the Bureau and to the Township by June 30, 2017, in order to have her name appear on the November 2017 general election ballot. On June 30, 2017, Rossi filed her SOFI with the Bureau, but failed to file it with the Township. On September 6, 2017, based upon a Right-to-Know Law request submitted to the Township, Christine Reuther and Ani Marie Diakatos (collectively, “Objectors”) discovered that Rossi had not filed her SOFI with the Township. On September 13, 2017, Objectors filed an emergency petition for relief to the Court of Common Pleas, stressing that Subsection 15.3(e) of the State Ethics Commission’s regulations required write-in candidates to file their SOFIs with the appropriate authorities within thirty days of the certification of the election results. Because Rossi failed to file her SOFI with the Township within that period of time, Objectors asserted that, pursuant to Subsection 1104(b)(3) of the Ethics Act, her failure constituted a fatal defect to her candidacy, and her name was required to be stricken from the general election ballot. On September 14, 2017, Rossi filed her SOFI with the Township. Because the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act (“Ethics Act”) imposed this consequence only upon candidates who petition to appear on the ballot, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that it is inapplicable to write-in candidates. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Reuther v. Delaware County Bureau of Elections" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether appellant, Swatara Township Board of Commissioners, was required to seek and obtain judicial approval before changing from an at-large to a by-ward system of governance. The Board claimed it was “not entirely elected at large,” and consequently, it possessed the authority to “reapportion” Swatara Township without judicial approval. The Supreme Court found the Board’s argument failed; judicial approval was required pursuant to Section 401 of the First Class Township Code, 53 P.S. section 55401. The Court thus affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Varner v. Swatara Township" on Justia Law

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In a January 22, 2018 order, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced that the Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011, 25 P.S. sec. 3596.101 et seq. (the “2011 Plan”), “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. This adjudication was based on the uncontradicted evidentiary record developed at the Commonwealth Court level, wherein Petitioners established that the 2011 Plan was a partisan gerrymander, “designed to dilute the votes of those who in prior elections voted for the party not in power in order to give the party in power a lasting electoral advantage.” As a result, the Supreme Court fashioned an appropriate remedial districting plan, based on the record developed with the Commonwealth Court, drawing heavily upon the submissions provided by the parties, intervenors and amici. The Remedial Plan will be implemented in preparation for the May 15, 2018 primary election. View "League of Women Voters of PA et al v Cmwlth et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioners alleged the Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act of 20112 (the “2011 Plan”) infringed "upon that most central of democratic rights – the right to vote." Specifically, they contended the 2011 Plan was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. After review of this matter, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that 2011 Plan violated Article I, Section 5 – the Free and Equal Elections Clause – of the Pennsylvania Constitution. View "League of Women Voters of PA v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Due to the impending special election on March 21, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resolved this matter by per curiam Order on March 3, 2017, leaving in place the Pennsylvania Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation’s (Bureau) determination that Appellant Cheri Honkala was ineligible to appear on the ballot as a candidate in the special election. The Court concluded appellant Honkala and the Green Party of Pennsylvania failed to comply with Section 629 of the Election Code, which required the nomination certificate to be filed by January 30, 2017. The Commonwealth Court determined that: the nomination certificate was presented to the State one day past the filing deadline; individual notice was provided by e-mail almost two weeks prior to the filing deadline; public notice was timely available on the Bureau’s website; and the requirements were readily accessible through the election law. The Commonwealth Court refused to grant relief on Appellants’ claim that a Bureau employee provided appellants with misinformation. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, and denied mandamus relief. View "Green Party of Pennsylvania v. Dept of State" on Justia Law

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Candidate Joseph Vodvarka appealed a Commonwealth Court deicision which set aside his nomination petition as Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. Senate in a primary election held in April 2016. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's decision and ordered Vodvarka be placed on the ballot. At issue was a challenge to the register of voters, or the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors or "SURE." The Supreme Court held that the signature of a registered voter whose name appeared in the SURE registry could not be stricken from a nominating petition solely because the address listed on the nominating petition was different from the address at which the signer was currently registered to vote. View "In Re: Nom. of Joseph Vodvarka" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law

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Appellant Collette Brown, a resident of Concord Township, Delaware County, appealed the Commonwealth Court's order affirming the trial court's dismissal of her petition to place on the November 2014 ballot, a referendum question seeking to change the Township's governmental status from second-class to first-class. Appellant's petition contained 994 signatures (8.5%) out of the Township’s 11,640 registered voters and claimed that as of the 2010 census, the Township had a population density of around 1,258 inhabitants per square mile (“IPSM”). As stated, both figures easily exceeded the statutory thresholds of 300 IPSM and 5% registered voter signatures, which Appellant believed operated as conjunctive preconditions. Seven named qualified electors (“Appellees”) filed objections and claimed the petition was substantively and procedurally defective under Pennsylvania law, which they argued was time-limited to the first municipal or general election occurring at least ninety days after the 2010 census. That same day, the Delaware County Bureau of Elections intervened and requested declaratory relief, claiming that in addition to not satisfying the statutory requirements, the petition should have been dismissed because a home rule study referendum question was already on the ballot (which voters later approved), and that if Appellant’s referendum question were successful, the subsequent change in Township government could violate the Pennsylvania Constitution. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to 53 P.S. section 55207, second- to first-class township referendum questions shall be submitted to voters at the first general or municipal election occurring at least ninety days after fulfilling both the population density ascertainment and petition signature filing requirements as set forth in the statute. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In re: Ballot Quest to Concord Twp" on Justia Law

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In response to time demands of this primary election appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court entered a per curiam order on an expedited basis vacating the order of the Commonwealth Court and directing that Appellee Michael W. Beyer’s name be stricken from the primary ballot for the Democratic Party nomination for the Office of Representative in the General Assembly for the 131st Legislative District. In the per curiam order, the Court stated that an opinion would follow; this was that opinion. Beyer filed nomination petitions with the Department of State seeking placement of his name on the ballot for Democratic Nomination for the Office of Representative in the General Assembly. Appellant Objectors, qualified electors residing in the 131st Legislative District, petitioned to set aside the nomination petition on grounds that Beyer intentionally misrepresented his occupation as “lawyer” on both his Statement of Financial Interests (SOFI) and nomination petitions. At a hearing, .Beyer confirmed he had graduated law school, but had yet to pass or even take any state’s bar examination. Consequently, he was not licensed to practice law at the time he circulated his nomination petitions. He listed his occupation as “lawyer,” he said, because he understood the definition of “lawyer” as found in the Oxford English Dictionary to include someone who studied the law. He therefore thought it fair comment to describe his profession or occupation as “lawyer” on his nomination petition. Though she found that he likely used the title of “lawyer” to “enhance his stature with the electorate,” the trial judge accepted Beyer's explanation that he believed his having studied law and graduated law school in the past, alone, entitled him to claim the occupation. Appellant Objectors contended the Commonwealth Court erred in failing to find that Beyer’s self-designation as a lawyer-by-occupation represented a material defect borne of the intent to mislead the electorate. The Supreme Court agreed: the defect was both material to an elector’s decision to nominate a legislator and incurable by amendment because the candidate knew his representation had the potential to mislead signers about his credentials for the legislative office he sought. Having demonstrated as much, Objectors met their burden of disproving the presumptive validity of the contested nomination petition. Striking Mr. Beyer’s petition under such circumstances to avoid misleading the electorate was consistent with the Election Code’s purpose of protecting, and not defeating, a citizen’s vote. View "In Re: Nom. of Michael W. Beyer" on Justia Law

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Appellants, twenty-four Pennsylvania voters, filed this action in 2006 in the Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction to challenge the certification of six direct-recording electronic voting systems (DREs) models in use in Pennsylvania. Seeking declaratory, mandamus, and injunctive relief, Appellants claimed the Secretary of the Commonwealth should have been ordered to decertify the DREs which did not comply with the Election Code and compelled to adopt more rigorous testing standards. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in upholding the decision of the Secretary to certify certain DREs for use in Pennsylvania elections. The Commonwealth Court found that the DREs satisfied the certification requirements set forth in the Election Code and did not infringe on the fundamental right to vote as protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commonwealth Court did not err in granting the Secretary's petition for summary relief. In particular, the Court found the Secretary exercised proper discretion in determining that the certified DREs satisfied the requirements for electronic voting systems set forth in the Election Code and the use of the DREs did not violate Appellants' fundamental right to vote as embodied within Article I, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution or the uniformity requirement in Article VII, Section 6 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. View "Banfield v. Sec'y of Commonwealth" on Justia Law