Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Election Law
County of Fulton, et al. v. Sec. of Com.
The Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth decertified certain voting equipment that Fulton County acquired from Dominion Voting Systems, Inc. (“Dominion”) in 2019 and used in the 2020 general election. The Secretary decertified the voting equipment after learning that, following the 2020 election, Fulton County had allowed Wake Technology Services, Inc. (“Wake TSI”), to perform a probing inspection of that equipment as well as the software and data contained therein. The Secretary maintained that Wake TSI’s inspection had compromised the integrity of the equipment. Fulton County and the other named Petitioner-Appellees petitioned in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction to challenge the Secretary’s decertification authority generally and as applied in this case. During the pleading stage, the Secretary learned that Fulton County intended to allow another entity, Envoy Sage, LLC, to inspect the allegedly compromised equipment. The Secretary sought a protective order from the Commonwealth Court barring that inspection and any other third-party inspection during the litigation. The court denied relief. The Secretary appealed that ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which entered a temporary order on January 27, 2022, to prevent the inspection and to preserve the status quo during the Court's review of the Secretary’s appeal. Months later—and with no public consideration, official proceedings, or notice to the courts or other parties to this litigation—the County allowed yet another party, Speckin Forensics, LLC to inspect the voting equipment and electronic evidence at issue in this litigation. Upon learning of this alleged violation of the temporary order, the Secretary filed an “Application for an Order Holding [the County] in Contempt and Imposing Sanctions.” The Supreme Court found Fulton County willfully violated the Supreme Court's order. The Court found Fulton County and its various attorneys engaged in a "sustained, deliberate pattern of dilatory, obdurate, and vexatious conduct and have acted in bad faith throughout these sanction proceedings." Taken as a whole, that behavior prompted the Court to sanction both the County and the County Attorney. View "County of Fulton, et al. v. Sec. of Com." on Justia Law
Ball, et al. v. Chapman, et al.
The Pennsylvania Election code stated that a voter who submits an absentee or mail-in ballot must complete, date and sign a declaration printed on the envelope in which the ballot is returned. Petitioners contended that failure to comply with this instruction rendered a ballot invalid, and they challenged guidance from the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth that instructed county boards of elections to canvass and pre-canvass “[a]ny ballot return-envelope that is undated or dated with an incorrect date but that has been timely received by the county.” Petitioners asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: (1) to declare that absentee and mail-in ballots which were “undated or incorrectly dated” could not be included in the pre-canvass or canvass of votes; (2) to segregate such ballots; and (3) to direct the Acting Secretary to withdraw her guidance. For the November 8, 2022 election, the Supreme Court ordered the county boards of elections to refrain from counting any absentee or mail-in ballots that arrived in undated or incorrectly dated envelopes. The Court also directed county boards to segregate and preserve such ballots. And the Court dismissed Voter Petitioners from the case for lack of standing. The Court was evenly divided on the issue of whether failing to count undated or incorrectly dated ballots violated federal law, and accordingly issued no decision on that question. The Court issued this opinion to explain its reasoning from its November 1 per curiam order. View "Ball, et al. v. Chapman, et al." on Justia Law
In Re: Nomination Papers of Kosin & Avery
Caroline Avery (“Avery”) filed nomination petitions to run as a Republican candidate for Representative of the Pennsylvania First Congressional District in the May 2022 primary election, and Brittany Kosin (“Kosin”) filed nomination petitions to run as a candidate in the same primary election as a Republican for the Pennsylvania General Assembly seat representing the 178th District. However, both candidates withdrew their primary election nomination petitions by way of Commonwealth Court orders. Avery and Kosin subsequently submitted nomination papers seeking to run as third-party candidates in the November 2022 general election for the same offices that they initially sought to fill as Republican candidates in the 2022 primary election. Various citizens petitioned to set aside these nomination petitions, primarily on grounds that the candidates were barred from appearing on the general election ballot by the Election Code, Subsection 976(e) of the Code, 25 P.S. § 2936(e). In response, both potential candidates argued that they were entitled to participate in the 2022 general election based upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion in Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), and in In re Cohen for Office of Philadelphia City Council-at-Large, 225 A.3d 1083 (Pa. 2020) (“Cohen”). Although neither Avery nor Kosin withdrew their primary election nomination petitions pursuant to Section 914, they argued that, in Cohen, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended Packrall to allow a candidate to run in a general election in the circumstances presented in their cases. The Commonwealth Court rejected this argument, concluding that, in Cohen, a majority of Justices held that the Supreme Court’s decision in Packrall was limited to the particular circumstances of that case and did not apply to the case on appeal here. The Supreme Court issued orders affirming the Commonwealth Court on September 22, 2022; the Court issued this opinion to explain its reasoning. View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Kosin & Avery" on Justia Law
McLinko v. Penna. Dept. of State, et al.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered a question of whether the General Assembly overstepped its constitutional authority by enacting legislation that allowed for universal mail-in voting. Among other things, "Act 77" effected major amendments to the Pennsylvania Election Code, including universal, state-wide mail-in voting. On November 21, 2020, eight petitioners – including a Republican congressman and Republican candidates for the United States House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court seeking to halt the certification of the 2020 General Election, and including a facial challenge to the portions of Act 77 that established universal mail-in voting. The Supreme Court exercised extraordinary jurisdiction over the matter, and found a “complete failure to act with due diligence in commencing [the] facial constitutional challenge, which was ascertainable upon Act 77’s enactment[,]” as the petitioners waited until the ballots from the General Election were in the process of being tallied, and the results were becoming apparent, to raise their claim. Thus, the Court found the claim barred by the doctrine of laches. The Court found no restriction in the Pennsylvania Constitution on the General Assembly's ability to create universal mail-in voting. View "McLinko v. Penna. Dept. of State, et al." on Justia Law
In Re: Nom. Robert Jordan
This matter began with a challenge to the nomination petition of Robert Jordan, a candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for the office of State Representative of the 165th Legislative District. Objector Fred Runge sought to remove Jordan from the ballot for the May 17, 2022 primary election on the ground that Jordan had moved into the district less than a year before the November 8 general election and therefore could not satisfy the residency requirements set forth in Article II, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Commonwealth Court found Objector’s claim non-justiciable and dismissed his challenge for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Given the need to resolve the appeal expeditiously to provide notice to the parties and election administrators, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision in a per curiam Order dated April 19, 2022. The Court also directed the Secretary of the Commonwealth to remove Jordan's name from the ballot, finding that by a preponderance of the evidence, Jordan had not lived in the 165th Legislative District for at least one year preceding the general election. The Court published this opinion to explain its ruling. View "In Re: Nom. Robert Jordan" on Justia Law
League of Women Voters of PA v. Degraffenreid
In a direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed the Commonwealth Court’s entry of a permanent injunction blocking the Secretary of the Commonwealth from certifying the results of the November 5, 2019 election in which the voters of the Commonwealth were asked to approve a proposed “victim’s rights amendment” (“Marsy’s Law”) which would be added as a new provision of Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution – Section 9.1 (“Victim’s Rights Amendment”). The Commonwealth Court entered its injunction on the basis that the Victim’s Rights Amendment violated the requirement of Article XI, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution that, “[w]hen two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” After careful consideration, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, because the Supreme Court determined the Victim’s Rights Amendment was, in actuality, a collection of amendments which added a multiplicity of new rights to the Pennsylvania Constitution, and, because those new rights were not interrelated in purpose and function, "the manner in which it was presented to the voters denied them their right to consider and vote on each change separately, as Article XI, section 1 mandates." View "League of Women Voters of PA v. Degraffenreid" on Justia Law
Mohn v. Bucks Co. Republican Committee
Appellant Daniel Mohn was a Republican committeeperson of Appellee, the Bucks County Republican Committee, for the voting district of Yardley Borough. In 2014, he was first elected to a two-year term, and reelected in 2016. After the election, the acting chairman of Appellee’s Ethics Committee sent a letter to Appellant advising him that complaints had been lodged by Bryan McNamara and Nicholas and Sandra Liberato, alleging among other things, that Appellant had “actively campaigned against an endorsed candidate for committeeman and disparaged the importance and value of the Bucks County Republican Committee Sample Ballot.” In his correspondence to Appellant, the acting chairman also related that an investigatory hearing had been scheduled before the Ethics Committee. Appellant asked for, and was granted, a short continuance. Appellant's counsel took the position that the Code of Ethics reposited in the Committee Rules applied solely to elected and appointed public officials, not party officials. As such, counsel opined that the Ethics Committee lacked the authority to conduct any proceedings and asserted that the hearing should be cancelled. In the alternative, counsel reiterated his request for a longer continuance and complained that he hadn’t been provided with requested documents. The hearing before the Ethics Committee apparently proceeded nevertheless, and at the conclusion of the hearing, the Executive Committee voted to disqualify Appellant as a committeeperson and declare his office vacant. Appellant and two other individuals filed a complaint in the court of common pleas seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent their removal as committeepersons, as well as an award of attorneys’ fees as a sanction for purported bad faith. The plaintiffs also filed a separate emergency motion asking the court to enjoin the conduct of any hearing before the Executive Committee. The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this matter reduced to a question of the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania courts to intervene in the internal affairs of political parties. The Court credited Appellee's position that “through its internal, self-organized apparatus, [it was] permitted to construe its own governing rules and to disqualify elected occupants of its offices from participation in its affairs by exercising its own judgment, free from judicial interference.” View "Mohn v. Bucks Co. Republican Committee" on Justia Law
In Re: Nom. s. of Major, R.
The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review required the Court to revisit its relatively recent holding that the signature of a registered voter “may not be stricken from a nominating petition solely because the address set forth on the nominating petition is different from the address at which the signer is currently registered to vote.” Following the Court's unanimous decision in In re Vodvarka, 140 A.3d 639 (Pa. 2016), the General Assembly in October of 2019 enacted Act 77, which made significant changes to Pennsylvania’s Election Code, such as the advent of no-excuse mail-in voting. One lesser-known change effected by Act 77 was the amendment of 25 P.S. section 2868, which required a signer of a nominating petition to add certain information. Significantly, only one change was made to the statute by the amendment: the former requirement that a signer add his “residence” was replaced with a new requirement that he add the “address where he is duly registered and enrolled.” After careful review, the Supreme Court concluded this legislative change in statutory text displaced the Court's holding in Vodvarka pertaining to the address requirement. Furthermore, the Court concluded the statute as amended, plainly and unambiguously imposed a mandatory duty on a signer of a nominating petition to add the address where he or she was duly registered and enrolled, and that the failure to comply with this requirement exposes the signature to viable legal challenge. As the Commonwealth Court reached this same conclusion below, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In Re: Nom. s. of Major, R." on Justia Law
In Re: Canvass of Absentee and Mail-In Ballots
A series of appeals presented a question of whether the Pennsylvania Election Code required a county board of elections to disqualify mail-in or absentee ballots submitted by qualified electors who signed the declaration on their ballot’s outer envelope, but did not handwrite their name, their address, and/or a date on the ballot, where no fraud or irregularity has been alleged. Petitioner Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (the “Campaign”) challenged the decision of multiple County Boards of Elections to count absentee and mail-in ballots. The Campaign did not contest these ballots were all timely received by the respective Boards prior to 8:00 p.m. on November 3, 2020 (election day); that they were cast and signed by qualified electors; and that there was no evidence of fraud associated with their casting. The Campaign instead contended these votes should not have been counted because the voters who submitted them failed to handwrite their name, street address or the date (or some combination of the three) on the ballot-return outer envelope. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was "guided by well-established interpretive principles" including that where the language of a statute was unambiguous, the language would control. "In the case of ambiguity, we look to ascertain the legislative intent, and in election cases, we adhere to the overarching principle that the Election Code should be liberally construed so as to not deprive, inter alia, electors of their right to elect a candidate of their choice. . . . "Election laws will be strictly enforced to prevent fraud, but ordinarily will be construed liberally in favor of the right to vote." View "In Re: Canvass of Absentee and Mail-In Ballots" on Justia Law
In Re: Canvassing Observ.
This appeal arose from the processing of mail-in and absentee ballots received from voters in Philadelphia County in the November 3, 2020 General Election. Specifically, Appellee Donald J. Trump, Inc. (the “Campaign”) orally moved for the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas to give its representative more proximate access to the canvassing activities being carried out by Appellant, the Philadelphia County Board of Elections (the “Board”). The trial court denied relief, the Commonwealth Court reversed, and the Board appealed that order. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Board did not act contrary to law in fashioning its regulations governing the positioning of candidate representatives during the pre-canvassing and canvassing process, as the Election Code did not specify minimum distance parameters for the location of such representatives. Critically, the Court found the Board’s regulations as applied herein were reasonable in that they allowed candidate representatives to observe the Board conducting its activities as prescribed under the Election Code. Accordingly, the Court determined the Commonwealth Court’s order was erroneous, and vacated that order. The trial court's order was reinstated. View "In Re: Canvassing Observ." on Justia Law