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electionlineWeekly — August 16, 2018

Table of Contents

VI. Legal Updates

Alabama: Circuit Court Judge Michael Bellamy has charged a Russell County grand jury to determine whether there should be an indictment in potential crimes from alleged voter fraud in the November 2017 Phenix city council special election.

Arizona: Judge Douglas Rayes heard arguments last week over the state’s ballot harvesting law which bans anyone but caregivers or family members from delivering a completed early ballot to a polling place. Rayes did not indicate when he would rule.

California: Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Styn has ruled that San Diego County must place the Full Voter Participation Act on the November 2018 ballot. The Board of Supervisors had argued that including the measure on the 2018 ballot would add costs to the 2018 election. If approved, the measure would require all elections for county offices to be decided in a November runoff.

Florida: Judge Raag Singhal has ordered Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes to change the way her office handles mail-in ballots. According to the Sun Sentinel, Singhal said Florida law is clear on the subject: The ballots should not be opened until the county’s three-member canvassing board had determined the validity of the ballots.

Georgia: In a court filing this week, Secretary of State Brian Kemp said the state would be “plunged into chaos” if a federal judge grants a request to immediately switch to paper ballots for the November general election. “There is no ‘paper-ballot fairy’ who, with magic wand at ready, can save plaintiffs’ half-baked ‘plans’ from devolving into a fiasco,” according to the filing.

Indiana: Judge Sarah Evans Baker has ruled against Solicitor General Tom Fisher’s attempt to halt the expansion of early voting sites in Marion County. According to WIBC, Baker noted that federal law trumps state law in voting-rights cases.

Iowa: The Iowa Supreme Court has handed down a split decision on the state’s new voter ID law. The court has ruled that the shorter, 29-day period for early voting under the law is acceptable, but agreed with the lower court that temporarily blocked rules requiring an identification number to apply for an absentee ballot and allowing election officials to reject absentee applications and ballots when they determine signatures on those forms don't match a voter's signature on record.

Massachusetts: Two voters have filed a federal lawsuit over a state law that bans passive shows of support for candidates on clothing in polling places. The plaintiffs argue that their First Amendment rights are being violated. “The government should not be in the business of telling people what to wear when they vote,” Attorney Jeremy Colby told the Boston Herald. “If you just keep chipping away at our First Amendment right, which is the core building block of our democracy and our ability to communicate ideas, little by little, it does erode that First Amendment right.”

Michigan: According to Michigan Live, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is asking U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain to reconsider his decision to allow straight-ticket voting on the November ballot.

Nevada: Renaldo Johnson, 56 of Las Vegas was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation for his role in a voter fraud scheme during the 2016 election.

New Hampshire: U.S. District Judge Landya McCafferty has struck down New Hampshire’s law that allows poll workers to toss out absentee ballots if they don’t believe the signature adequately matches the one used on other voting paperwork. According to New Hampshire Public Radio, McCafferty said “the current process for rejecting voters due to a signature mismatch fails to guarantee basic fairness,” because it gives moderators “sole, unreviewable discretion” to discard absentee ballots. "It cannot be emphasized enough that the consequence of a moderator’s decision — disenfranchisement — is irremediable," Judge McCafferty wrote.

North Carolina: Roberto Hernandez-Cuarenta, 57 of Zebulon has been convicted of two counts of voting by a non-citizen and sentenced to four months in federal prison. Hernandez-Cuarenta has legal, permanent resident status, but was not a U.S. citizen when he voted in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.

Also in North Carolina, five residents who were recently featured in a New York Times article because they had been accused of voting illegally have had felony charges dropped under a plea deal. The five had been accused of voting while still on parole or probation. According to WRAL, the five entered Alford pleas to misdemeanor obstruction of justice charges.

Texas: Cynthia Gonzalez has pleaded guilty in San Patricio County court to three election code violations in Nueces County. According to KIII, investigators say the charges include marking a ballot and sending it in for another voters.

West Virginia: The first of a dozen wrongful firing lawsuits against the secretary of state is slated to begin on August 27. Plaintiffs in the cases range from receptionists to elections specialists to the elections director. Attorneys for the plaintiffs allege that they were fired because they are registered Democrats.