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

 

DNC v. Bostelmann

Active

DNC v. Bostelmann, No. 3:20-cv-00249 (W.D. Wis.); consolidated w/ Lewis v. Knudson, No. 3:20-cv-00284; Gear v. Knudson, No. 3:20-cv-00278, 2020 WL 1638374

  Case Summary Plaintiffs originally filed this suit against the state of Wisconsin prior to the April 2020 primary election to enjoin the enforcement of several Wisconsin voting laws. They alleged under the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the coronovirus pandemic would otherwise pose an undue burden on their right to vote, and under the Fourteenth Amendment that the pandemic would result in a denial of procedural due process, since Wisconsin procedure for registering to vote and for absentee voting must comport with due process. Finally, they alleged a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, since some Wisconsin cities and counties had taken measures in response to the pandemic to facilitate voting and others had not. In their prayer for relief, Plaintiffs sought to extend the March 18, 2020 deadline for by mail voter registration to April 3, suspend the requirements that copies of documents and photo IDs be included with voter registration and absentee ballot applications, enjoin the Election Day Receipt Deadline, while allowing all ballots postmarked on or before election day but received within a minimum of 10 days thereafter to be counted, and enjoin the requirement that voters submitting absentee ballots have a witness certify to the accuracy of the voter’s information on the ballot. Legal Claims: Federal constitutional claims: The provisions unduly burden the federal constitutional right to vote (1st and 14th Amendments). Enforcement of the rules during the pandemic deprives plaintiffs of procedural due process (14th Amendment). The witness requirement violates the equal protection clause (14th Amendment) in the pandemic context.
Filed 03/18/2020
State Wisconsin
Type of Court Federal
Circuit Seventh Circuit
Status Active
Last Updated 01/21/2021
Issue Tag(s) Vote-by-Mail (Mail Voting Deadlines (for Applying, Receiving, Postmark), Witness and/or Notary Requirement, Claim that Mail Voting Leads to Fraud and/or Vote Dilution, Failure to Include ID/Documentation)
Voter Registration Deadline
Complaint(s) 03/18/2020: Complaint, Original Complaint filed.
03/18/2020: Complaint, Amended Complaint filed.
Dispositive Ruling(s) 03/20/2020: Order/Ruling, TRO Granted in Part. TRO GRANTED with respect to plaintiffs’ request to extend the deadline by which individuals may register to vote electronically. The court however could not conclude that plaintiffs are likely to succeed with respect to their challenge to (1) mail in registation and (2) the voter identification requirements.
04/03/2020: Order/Ruling, PI Granted in Part. Defendants are enjoined from (1) enforcing the requirement that absentee ballots must be received by 8:00 p.m. on election day to be counted; (2) releasing any unofficial election results until April 13, 2020, at 4:00 p.m. or as soon thereafter as votes can be tabulated; (3) enforcing the state law requirement that absentee ballot requests must be received by April 2, 2020; and (4) enforcing Wis. Stat. § 6.87(2) as to any absentee voter who, prior to their ballot being tabulated, provides a written affirmation or other statement that they were unable to safely obtain a witness certification despite reasonable efforts to do so.
04/03/2020: Order/Ruling, PI Stayed in Part. Court DENIED stay as to the portions of the district court’s order that enjoined the enforcement of the requirement that (1) absentee ballots must be received by 8:00 p.m. on election day to be counted; and (2) absentee ballot requests must be received by April 2, 2020. Court GRANTED stay with respect to the district court's order that waives witness requirement for absentee voters who provide a written affirmation or other statement that they were unable to safely obtain a witness certification despite reasonable efforts to do so finding that the court did not give adequate consideration to the state’s interests in suspending this requirement. Court also found that the Wisconsin State Legislature had standing to pursue the appeal, and that the district court erred in refusing to permit the Legislature to intervene.

DNC v. Bostelmann, Nos. 20-1538, 20-1539, 20-1545, 20-1546 (7th Cir.); consolidated w/ Lewis v. Knudson, No. 3:20-cv-00284; Gear v. Knudson, No. 3:20-cv-00278, 2020 WL 3619499

  Case Summary Facts: As part of a suit challenging the enforcement of several laws/practices during COVID-19, the DNC challenges: Wisconsin’s requirement that voters return absentee ballots to polling places by 8 p.m. on Election day (Wis. Stat. § 6.87). Wisconsin’s by-mail and electronic registration deadlines, which require the registration to “be delivered to the office of the municipal clerk or postmarked no later than the 3rd Wednesday preceding the election” Wisconsin’s requirements that voters provide a copy of their proof of residence to register “burden voters during the current crisis. (Wis. Stat. § 6.34). Wisconsin’s requirement that they must provide a copy or scan of their voter ID when applying for an absentee ballot. (Wis. Stat. § 6.86). Wisconsin’s requirement that a voter must have a witness certify the truth of the information the voter provides on the ballot, id. § 6.87(2). Wisconsin’s failure to provide “sufficient financial, personnel, and other resources to ensure an adequate number of early in-person absentee voting sites and election-day polling places throughout the State to accommodate in-person voters in a safe and secure manner” is unconstitutional [claim added in amended complaint, filed 4/30/2020]. Legal Claims: Federal constitutional claims: The provisions unduly burden the federal constitutional right to vote (1st and 14th Amendments). Enforcement of the rules during the pandemic deprives plaintiffs of procedural due process (14th Amendment). The witness requirement violates the equal protection clause (14th Amendment) in the pandemic context.
Filed 04/01/2020
State Wisconsin
Type of Court Federal
Circuit Seventh Circuit
Status Active
Last Updated 09/01/2020
Issue Tag(s) Vote-by-Mail (Mail Voting Deadlines (for Applying, Receiving, Postmark), Witness and/or Notary Requirement, Claim that Mail Voting Leads to Fraud and/or Vote Dilution, Failure to Include ID/Documentation)
Voter Registration Deadline
Dispositive Ruling(s) 04/03/2020: Other, The Wisconsin Legislature filed an emergency appeal to the Seventh Circuit from the Order Granting a Preliminary Injunction in each of the consolidated cases under DNC v. Bostelmann.
04/03/2020: Order/Ruling, The 7th Circuit denied Wisconsin's motion to stay the lower court ruling as to the portions as to the portions of the district court’s order that (1) enjoin the enforcement of the requirement under Wis. Stat. § 6.87(6) that absentee ballots must be received by 8:00 p.m. on election day to be counted and extend the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots to 4:00 p.m. on April 13, 2020; and (2) enjoin the enforcement of the requirement under Wis. Stat. §6.86(1)(b) that absentee ballot requests must be received by April 2, 2020, and extend the deadline for receipt of absentee ballot requests by mail, fax or email to 5:00 p.m. on April 3, 2020. The Court granted the motion with respect to the portion of the District Court order that would have prevented enforcement of Wis. Stat. §6.87(2) for absentee voters who provide a written affirmation or other statement that they were unable to safely obtain a witness certification despite reasonable efforts to do so. Finally, the Court overruled the District Court in ruling that the Wisconsin State Legislature does have standing to pursue this appeal, find that the lower court had erred in refusing to permit the Legislature to intervene.
05/14/2020: Order/Ruling, Appeals dismissed as moot

DNC v. Bostelmann, sub nom., RNC v. DNC, No. 19A1016 (S. Ct.); consolidated w/ Lewis v. Knudson, No. 3:20-cv-00284; Gear v. Knudson, No. 3:20-cv-00278, 140 S.Ct. 1205

  Case Summary Facts: As part of a suit challenging the enforcement of several laws/practices during COVID-19, the DNC challenges: Wisconsin’s requirement that voters return absentee ballots to polling places by 8 p.m. on Election day (Wis. Stat. § 6.87). Wisconsin’s by-mail and electronic registration deadlines, which require the registration to “be delivered to the office of the municipal clerk or postmarked no later than the 3rd Wednesday preceding the election” Wisconsin’s requirements that voters provide a copy of their proof of residence to register “burden voters during the current crisis. (Wis. Stat. § 6.34). Wisconsin’s requirement that they must provide a copy or scan of their voter ID when applying for an absentee ballot. (Wis. Stat. § 6.86). Wisconsin’s requirement that a voter must have a witness certify the truth of the information the voter provides on the ballot, id. § 6.87(2). Wisconsin’s failure to provide “sufficient financial, personnel, and other resources to ensure an adequate number of early in-person absentee voting sites and election-day polling places throughout the State to accommodate in-person voters in a safe and secure manner” is unconstitutional [claim added in amended complaint, filed 4/30/2020]. Legal Claims: Federal constitutional claims: The provisions unduly burden the federal constitutional right to vote (1st and 14th Amendments). Enforcement of the rules during the pandemic deprives plaintiffs of procedural due process (14th Amendment). The witness requirement violates the equal protection clause (14th Amendment) in the pandemic context.
Filed 04/03/2020
State Wisconsin
Type of Court Federal
Circuit US Supreme Court
Status Active
Last Updated 09/01/2020
Issue Tag(s) Vote-by-Mail (Mail Voting Deadlines (for Applying, Receiving, Postmark), Witness and/or Notary Requirement, Claim that Mail Voting Leads to Fraud and/or Vote Dilution, Failure to Include ID/Documentation)
Voter Registration Deadline
Dispositive Ruling(s) 04/04/2020: Other, Wisconsin appealed the 7th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court, requesting a stay of the District Court injunction insofar as it requires the state to count absentee ballots postmarked after April 7.
04/06/2020: Order/Ruling, The District Court’s order granting a preliminary injunction is stayed to the extent it requires the State to count absentee ballots postmarked after April 7, 2020.

DNC v. Bostelmann, Nos. 20-2835, 20-2844 (7th Cir.)

  Case Summary Appelants appeal the preliminary injunction against several Wisconsin statutes issued by the District Court.
Filed 09/23/2020
State Wisconsin
Type of Court Federal
Circuit Seventh Circuit
Status Active
Last Updated 10/15/2020
Issue Tag(s) Vote-by-Mail (Mail Voting Deadlines (for Applying, Receiving, Postmark), Witness and/or Notary Requirement, Claim that Mail Voting Leads to Fraud and/or Vote Dilution, Failure to Include ID/Documentation)
Complaint(s) 04/30/2020: Complaint, In their Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs challenged the same regulations as their previous complaint for all elections up to an until the November 3rd General Election. filed.
09/23/2020: Complaint filed.
Dispositive Ruling(s) 09/21/2020: Order/Ruling, The District Court provided injunctive relief on four consolidated cases. The court extended the voter registration deadline; issuing guidance on the proper use of “indefinitely confined” status; extending the ballot receipt deadline to Nov. 9; allowing online access to replacement absentee ballots; and suspending a requirement that election officials be an elector of their county, for this general election only. Most of this relief necessitated enjoining Wisconsin state laws. The court issued a stay on its own order in anticipation of appellate review.
09/29/2020: Other, The appeal by the intervenors does not present a case or controversy within the scope of Article III. The circuit panel denied the motions for a stay. The District Court's extension of deadlines stands.
10/06/2020: Other, The Wisconsin Supreme Court accepted the Seventh Circuit certification. It concluded that § 803.09(2m) authorizes Wisconsin’s legislative branch to represent the state’s interest in defending its statutes. The court cabined its ruling in Vos. The state legislature is permitted to intervene.
10/08/2020: Order/Ruling, In a per curiam decision, the Seventh Circuit stayed the lower court's injunction that extended the deadline for registration and for ballot receipt. The circuit court agreed with the legislature's two contentions that, first, that a federal court should not change the rules so close to an election (Purcell); second, that political rather than judicial officials are entitled to decide when a pandemic justifies changes to rules that are otherwise valid. The court stayed the following injunctions: the lower court's extended deadline for online and mail-in registration from October 14 (see Wis. Stat. §6.28(1)) to October 21, 2020; the one-week extension (October 22 to October 29) of the enforcement of the requirement that the clerk mail all ballots, but only for those voters who timely requested an absentee ballot but did not receive one; and the lower court's extension of the deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots from November 3 (Election Day) to November 9, provided that the ballots are postmarked on or before November 3.

DNC v. Wisconsin State Legislature, Nos. 20A64, 20A65, 20A66 (S. Ct.)

  Case Summary Plaintiffs are the Democratic National Commitee as well as multiple political organizations, whose cases were consolidated in the District Court. Plaintiffs brought challenges to Wisconsin's election procedures, requesting that the court change them in light of COVID-19. Plaintiff DNC had previously requested an extension to the mail-in ballot deadline before the Wisconsin primary elections, which the Supreme Court approved, althought it added a requirement that ballots be postmarked by election day. On remand, the District Court issued an injunction again extending the mail-in ballot deadline for the November election, requiring the state to permit polls to employ workers from different counties, and granting some voters a window by which they could submit votes electronically if they had not yet received their mail-in ballot. Defendants appealed this injunction, and the Seventh Circuit stayed it, explaining that the injunction had been issued too close to the election, in violation of the Supreme Court's precedent in Purcell v. Gonzales. Plaintiffs then filed an emergency application to vacate the Seventh Circuit's stay, arguing that the Seventh Circuit panel misapplied Supreme Court precedent.
Filed 10/14/2020
State Wisconsin
Type of Court Federal
Circuit US Supreme Court
Status Active
Last Updated 10/27/2020
Issue Tag(s) Vote-by-Mail (Mail Voting Deadlines (for Applying, Receiving, Postmark))
In-Person Voting COVID Concern (Number/Location of Polling Places)
Online Voting
Dispositive Ruling(s) 10/14/2020: Appellant Brief, Emergency Application to Vacate Stay
10/26/2020: Order/Ruling, On October 26, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote, rejected Democrats’ and voting rights groups’ request to strike down the Seventh Circuit’s stay. The Court did not issue a majority opinion, but in multiple concurrences, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh criticized the federal court’s intervention in state election procedures. Chief Justice Roberts leveled criticism not only at the federal district court that ordered an extension of Wisconsin’s receipt deadline, but at district courts more broadly. In describing the court’s deadline extension as “improper,” Roberts noted that “[i]n this case, as in several this Court has recently addressed, a District Court intervened in the thick of election season to enjoin enforcement of a State’s laws.” Justice Gorsuch similarly found the district court’s order inappropriate on the basis of both separation of powers and voter confusion concerns. Under the Constitution, according to Justice Gorsuch, judges cannot “improvise with their own election rules in place of those the people’s representatives have adopted.” He stressed the measures already taken by the Wisconsin legislature to respond to COVID-19 to state that the district court was simply complaining that “the state hasn’t done enough,” and voiced concern that there were no clear rules for a judge to use in determining exactly when a ballot receipt deadline would be acceptable. Additionally, Gorsuch raised the possibility that “[l]ast-minute changes” to election procedures run the risk of “confusion and chaos and eroding public confidence in electoral outcomes.” Concurring, Justice Kavanaugh articulated three reasons why the district court's injunction was unwarranted. First, the injunction violated the Purcell principle by altering state election laws close to an election. Justice Kavanaugh explained that the Purcell principle serves to ensure that the “rules of the road” are clear leading up to the election, reducing voter and election official confusion, promoting efficiency, and giving citizens confidence in the election result. He articulated further that an application of the Purcell principle that states that a federal appellate court should not overturn a district court order close to the election would “turn Purcell on its head.” Instead he saw such action as the appellate court correcting the violation of Purcell. Second, Justice Kavanaugh stated that the district court’s injunction “misapprehended the limited role of the federal courts in COVID-19 cases,” because it is the role of the state legislature to “address the health and safety of the people.” While asserting that federal courts lack the expertise needed to make changes to election laws due to the pandemic, he listed cases in which the Supreme Court has recently stayed federal court injunctions that “second-guessed state legislative judgments about whether to keep or make changes to election rules during the pandemic. Third and finally, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that “the District Court did not sufficiently appreciate the significance of election deadlines. Under the Anderson-Burdick test, he said, a state's “reasonable deadlines” for election steps do not raise constitutional issues because “a State cannot conduct an election without deadlines.” In particular he claimed that states with election day receipt deadlines “want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flop the result of an election.” He further stated that quick election results help to preserve the stability of elections. Justice Kavanaugh endorsed in a footnote Chief Justice Rehnquist’s view in Bush v. Gore that state courts are limited in their ability to “rewrite state election laws for federal elections” because Article II states that rules in Presidential elections are to be established by state legislatures. Justice Kagan, in dissent, took issue with what she deemed Justice Kavanaugh’s and the Seventh Circuit’s “misunderstanding of Purcell’s message.” Purcell instructs courts to “consider all relevant factors, not just the calendar.” While an autumn injunction could confuse voters, “there is not a moratorium on the Constitution as the cold weather approaches.” The federal district court was correct in issuing its order, Kagan argued, since a ballot receipt deadline extension would not confuse voters about how to cast their ballots or discourage Wisconsinites from exercising their right to vote. Kagan also emphasized what she viewed as the detrimental effects of the Court’s decision on Wisconsin voters’ enfranchisement. “Tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, through no fault of their own, may receive their mail ballots too late to return them by Election Day,” Kagan wrote. “Without the district court’s order, they must opt between ‘brav[ing] the polls,’ with all the risk that entails, and ‘los[ing] their right to vote.’”
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