COVID-Related Election Litigation Tracker

Case Details

This database consolidates and tracks litigation concerning the effect of the pandemic on election law. The purpose of this tool is to provide an interactive list of relevant cases that can be searched by issue, court, status, and jurisdiction.

Case Details

 

Thomas v. Andino

Active

Thomas v. Andino, No. 3:20-cv-01552 (D.S.C.), 2020 WL 2617329

  Case Summary The ACLU, ACLU of South Carolina, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a federal lawsuit over South Carolina’s failure to take action to ensure all eligible voters can vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic — even for its fast-approaching June 9 statewide primary elections. The groups are challenging (i) a state requirement that requires absentee voters to obtain a third-party witness signature on their ballot envelope, as well as (ii) an “excuse” requirement that fails to provide an accommodation to allow all eligible voters to vote absentee during the pandemic. Even if voters are allowed to vote absentee “because of injury or illness” that keeps them at home, election officials have rejected the view that this currently “include[s] self-isolating due to a pandemic.” The groups are asking the court to block the state from enforcing these requirements while COVID-19 transmission is occurring and to issue guidance instructing local election officials to count otherwise validly cast absentee ballots that are missing a witness signature for South Carolina’s primary and general elections in 2020; and conduct a public information campaign informing voters about the elimination of the witness and excuse requirements at this time. Plaintiffs claim that the witness requirement and excuse requirement that doesn’t include current circumstances violate the fundamental right to vote protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and give rise to a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They claim further that the witness requirement and excuse requirement that doesn’t include current circumstances will have a disparate impact on African American Voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10301. Finally, Plaintiffs claim that the witness requirement is a “test or device” in violation of Sections 3 and 201 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. §§ 10302, 10501 On May 13, 2020, the governor of South Carolina signed a law that will enable all eligible voters, for the June 9 primaries and runoffs, to cite ‘State of Emergency’ as a recognized reason to request an absentee ballot (the pandemic had not been an accepted excuse). The measure temporarily suspends the requirement to comply with one of a series of state-allowed excuses to request an absentee ballot. The law also allows election officials to provide more time to process absentee ballots, and streamlines the voting process for in-person absentee voters, reducing the steps necessary to cast a vote from five to two steps and adds additional time for election officials to process absentee ballots. But the new short-term law, which expires July 1, still requires a witness to sign the ballot in an effort to curb fraud.
Filed 04/22/2020
State South Carolina
Type of Court Federal
Circuit Fourth Circuit
Status Active
Last Updated 09/06/2020
Issue Tag(s) Vote-by-Mail (Witness and/or Notary Requirement, Failure to Allow Fear of COVID to Qualify as “Excuse”, Mail Voting Deadlines (for Applying, Receiving, Postmark), Failure to Include ID/Documentation)
Complaint(s) 04/22/2020: Complaint filed.
07/13/2020: Complaint, Amended Complaint filed.
Dispositive Ruling(s) 05/25/2020: Order/Ruling, PI Granted in Part. The court grants the Motions for Preliminary Injunction as to the Witness Requirement only during the June 2020 primaries and resulting runoff elections occurring in the State of South Carolina.
09/24/2020: Order/Ruling, The court stays the instant proceedings because, while Plaintiffs seek relief beyond the November 2020 General Election, their claims were principally tied to the upcoming election. The suspension of the Challenged Provisions (by the passage of new legislation H.B. 5303 and the enjoinment of the Witness Requirment by the court in Middleton v. Andino) for the November 2020 General Election has all but mooted Plaintiffs’ claims at this point. When the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic or future statewide elections in South Carolina are sufficiently determinable, it shall be incumbent on Plaintiffs’ counsel to notify the court of a request to lift the stay no later than three months before the next scheduled statewide election in South Carolina.
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