Voting Rights

AFJ Action Campaign is tracking the votes of every senator up for reelection in 2020 on Trump’s worst of the worst judges. Each senator who voted to confirm these judges owns the decisions—these decisions are harming people every day. See how youdr senator voted for some of the worst of the worst judges here.

In Esshaki v. Whitmer, Sixth Circuit judge John Bush voted to halt parts of a district court order that eased Michigan’s petition signature requirements for electoral candidates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Memphis A. Phillip Randolph Inst. v. Hargett, Tennessee district court judge Eli J. Richardson refused to block a Tennessee law that made it a felony for anyone other than election officials to distribute absentee ballot applications. The plaintiffs, which included Tennessee’s NAACP chapter, argued the law violated First Amendment rights, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and especially for those without a reliable computer, printer or Internet access.

In Anderson, et. al v. Raffensperger, et. al, Georgia district court judge Michael L. Brown dismissed a lawsuit brought by voters challenging long lines at the polls, finding that election officials had already made sufficient changes to shorten voting wait times in the state after a June 2020 primary in which some voters waited for hours to cast their ballots. As a result, voters in Georgia were forced to wait up to eleven hours in some places to cast their vote in the 2020 presidential election.

In Democratic National Committee v. Bostelmann, Seventh Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve cast the deciding vote to block a district court order that extended deadlines for absentee voting in Wisconsin during the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Ilana Rovner, a Republican-appointee, wrote a strongly-worded dissent calling the majority opinion a “travesty.”

In Jones v. Governor of Florida, Eleventh Circuit Judges Kevin Newsom, Elizabeth Branch, Britt Grant, Robert Luck, and Barbara Lagoa reversed a district court decision and upheld a Florida law that requires individuals with prior felony convictions to pay all fines, courts costs, and fees before they can register to vote. The law was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in response to a constitutional amendment supported by a majority of Floridian voters that restores the right to vote to people with prior felony convictions. As noted by many, the law effectively serves as a “poll tax,” preventing individuals from voting if they cannot afford to pay fees.

In Curling v. Georgia, the Eleventh Circuit Judges Barbara Lagoa and Andrew Brasher ruled against a lower court’s order that required Georgia election officials to provide polling places with backup paper copies of voter registration information in case of computer malfunction. Lagoa and Brasher did not provide any reasoning or justification for their order, which will leave poll workers unable to verify Georgians eligibility to vote if the state’s electronic voting system fails, as it did during the state’s June primary.

In Texas League of United Latin American Citizens v. Hughs, Fifth Circuit Judges Don Willett, James Ho, and Stuart Kyle Duncan – all appointed by Donald Trump – reversed a District Court order that had blocked Texas Governor Gregg Abbott from limiting ballot drop-boxes to just one box per county. The Judges wrote that even though the Governor’s order drastically reduced the number of box locations across the state, the order was still an “expansion of Texans’ opportunities to hand-deliver absentee ballots” because ordinarily, such boxes are not available. This argument ignores both the fact that these boxes are necessary for this election specifically due to the ongoing public health crisis presented by COVID-19, and the fact that the original COVID-19 voting procedures implemented by the state provided for many more drop-box locations. As a result, Texas voters will have a harder time casting a ballot in the 2020 elections, in some instances with millions of voters having to use a single drop-box.

In A. Philip Randolph Institute of Ohio v. LaRose, Sixth Circuit Judge Amul Thapar joined an opinion allowing the Secretary of State of Ohio to prohibit counties from placing absentee ballot drop-off locations anywhere but at the offices of County Boards of Elections. While the opinion claimed the restriction would limit “voter confusion,” in reality this ruling will limit each county to just a single ballot drop-off location and make it significantly harder for people across Ohio to vote. In dissent, Bush-appointed judge Helene White correctly noted that the majority opinion contradicts the Supreme Court’s view that federal courts should not “alter election rules on the eve of an election.”

In Democratic National Committee v. Bostelmann, Judge Amy St. Eve joined a Seventh Circuit panel decision to stay a district court judge’s order to extend Wisconsin’s deadline for voter registration and receipt of mail-in ballots due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The majority ruled that the extensions should be stayed because the district court’s order, issued on September 21, was “last-minute” and came too close to the election. However, as Judge Ilana Rovner observed in dissent, the plaintiffs began to seek relief from the in-person voting requirements as early as April when “the pandemic was heating up.”

In New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger, Eleventh Circuit Judges Britt Grant and Barbara Lagoa, both Trump appointees, ruled that Georgia’s requirements that absentee ballots be received by Election Day did not unduly burden Georgians’ right to vote, even though due to the Covid-19 pandemic, an unprecedented number of absentee ballots are being cast, leading to delays in voters receiving their ballots or in the return of those ballots. In reaching this conclusion, the Judges held that the lower court’s ruling allowing ballots mailed by Election Day and received within three days to be counted would cause “irreparable harm” to the state. As a result, it is a near-certainty that Georgians who properly cast an absentee ballot will nevertheless be denied their right to vote due to delays in delivery.

In NAACP v. Gwinnett County, Georgia district court judge Steven Grimberg rejected a request to force Gwinnett County to open its satellite early voting sites in early March for the presidential primary election. According to Grimberg, “Just because the right to vote is fundamental does not mean you have the right to vote in any particular manner.”

In Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials v. Gwinnett County, Georgia district court judge William M. Ray II rejected a claim brought by civil rights groups that Gwinnett County must send absentee ballot applications in Spanish to residents who are not fluent in English. The federal Voting Rights Act requires bilingual ballot access when more than 5% or 10,000 citizens of voting age are members of a single language minority and have difficulty speaking English. Despite the fact that 21% of the total population in Gwinnett is Hispanic, Judge Ray ruled that the law did not require the county to send out applications in Spanish.

In Arizonans for Fair Elections v. Hobbs, Arizona district court judge Dominic Lanza rejected a request to allow ballot initiative organizers to collect the signatures they need through an online portal during the pandemic, despite conceding that “[i]t is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic is currently wreaking havoc on initiative committees’ ability to gather signatures.”

In Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama, Eleventh Circuit judge Elizabeth Branch ruled that Alabama’s strict voter ID law is not racially discriminatory. In dissent, Judge Gayles noted that Alabama has a “deep and troubled history of racial discrimination,” and that in-person voter fraud, the issue that the law purportedly sought to address, is “virtually non-existent.”

In Miller v. Thurston, Circuit judge Steven Grasz wrote an opinion reversing a district court’s ruling to relax Arkansas’ in-person signature requirements for state constitutional amendment petitions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was brought by two registered voters, one who was undergoing chemotherapy for stage IV cancer, and another who lives in a retirement community with 400 other high-risk residents.

In Trump v. Boockvar, Pennsylvania district court judge Nicholas Ranjan agreed to fast-track the Trump campaigns lawsuit against mail-in-voting procedures in Pennsylvania. The lawsuit challenged procedures put in place by Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar in order to ensure access to the vote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Mays v. LaRose, Sixth Circuit judge Amul Thapar voted to reverse a lower court decision that extended the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot for those who had been unexpectedly arrested within three days of an election and were unable to cast their ballot while detained in jail.

In Richardson v. Hughs, Fifth Circuit Judge Andy Oldham joined a panel decision to stay a district court’s injunction against Texas voter signature comparison requirements for mail-in absentee ballots. The lower court found that this ballot verification process would result in the rejection of valid ballots because Texas’s system for matching ballot signatures with voters’ signatures on their vote-by-mail applications was inaccurate and prone to mismatching and because the state could wait for up to ten days after the election to inform voters that their ballots had been rejected. In joining the panel ruling, Judge Oldham held that this potential for the rejection of valid ballots and the de facto guarantee that delayed notification could disenfranchise some voters would not infringe on the fundamental right to vote. The panel also took issue with the district court’s finding that the state had provided “no evidence” of voter fraud; holding that Texas did not need to empirically demonstrate any actual voter fraud to justify burdening voters.

Although not in the majority, in Alabama State Conference of the NAACP v. State of Alabama, Eleventh Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch argued that people and organizations cannot sue states for violations of the VRA.

In National Urban League v. Ross, Ninth Circuit Judge Patrick Bumatay would have allowed the Trump Administration to end Census fieldwork one month early, preventing millions of people from being counted and considered during redistricting and in the allotment of government funds. Though the majority noted the compelling evidence on the record that the accelerated process would prevent the Census from being completed in a timely and effective fashion, Bumatay nevertheless argued that the Secretary’s determination that the Census would remain accurate under the shortened timeline was well-reasoned and entitled to deference, making an injunction inappropriate. As the majority correctly stated, Bumatay’s argument relied on an “unsupported premise,” limited to just one conclusory statement by the Secretary with no factual evidence on the record.

In Thomas v. Bryant, Fifth Circuit judge Don Willett argued in dissent that the court should reverse a finding that a district in Mississippi had been racially gerrymandered to unlawfully dilute the votes of Black residents under the VRA. A majority of judges on the Fifth Circuit, which includes five other Trump appointees, has since voted to rehear the case.

In Fusilier v. Landry, Fifth Circuit judge Kyle Duncan dissented and would have voted to reverse a district court decision that had found that Black voters in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana had diluted voting power in state court elections and were unable to elect a judge of their choice to the trial court bench. Duncan would have argued the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.


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