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


Sinner v. Jaeger

Closed. Settled and/or Withdrawn (Dismissed without prejudice)

Sinner v. Jaeger, No. 3:20-cv-00076 (D.N.D.), 2020 WL 3244143

  Case Summary Suit challenged North Dakota constitutional and statutory provisions governing the signature process to place a constitutional amendment on the November 3, 2020 ballot that would create a nonpartisan legislative redistricting process. These provisions require persons to sign a petition in the presence of the individual circulating it and they do not permit electronic signatures. Plaintiffs are the 501(c)(4) organization sponsoring the amendment and 4 individuals. The complaint sought declaratory judgment that the challenged provisions violate 1st Amendment rights under the circumstances presented by Covid-19. The Governor had declared a Covid state of emergency on March 13 and implemented certain restrictions, but no stay-at-home order was issued and nearly all restrictions were revoked on May 1. The petition was approved for circulation beginning April 30; the complaint was filed on May 6 followed by a motion for preliminary injunction on May 7; and some in-person signature collection began May 26 using precautions such as masks and gloves. Two of the individual plaintiffs stated they declined to help gather signatures due to health risks, and two said they wanted to sign the petition but decided not to for the same reason. The defendant is the Secretary of State.
Filed 05/06/2020
State North Dakota
Type of Court Federal
Circuit Eighth Circuit
Status Closed. Settled and/or Withdrawn (Dismissed without prejudice)
Last Updated 09/01/2020
Issue Tag(s) Petition Signature Requirement (E-signatures, Witness/Notary)
Complaint(s) 05/06/2020: Complaint filed.
Dispositive Ruling(s) 06/15/2020: Order/Ruling, PI Denied by Peter D. Welte, Chief Judge. Court first found that the in-person requirements do implicate the 1st Amendment because combined effect is to circumscribe supporters' ability to circulate petitions and express political views. However, strict scrutiny was not required because the requirements did not severely limit the ability to convey plaintiffs' message; rather it was the effect of the pandemic, and courts are "poor arbiters of public health." And even assuming the pandemic created a severe burden in March, strict scrutinty also was not warranted because of plaintiff's delay in submitting and finalizing its petition, as the pandemic presented an obstacle for, at most, 1/3 of the time statutorily available for signature collection. Given the less exacting review standard, Court said that "asserted regulatory interests need only be sufficiently weighty to justify the limitation imposed on plaintiffs' rights." It found that state's interest in preventing fraud is important and that in-person petition requirements advance this goal by ensuring petition signatories are qualified electors. Plaintiffs' argument that electronic signatures will not significantly change review process or diminish ability to detect fraud was "purely speculative," especially considering the "condensed timeline." Accordingly, Court held that plaintiffs failed to meet burden of showing likelihood of success on the merits, "obviating the need for a preliminary injunction."
06/22/2020: Order/Ruling, Case Dismissed
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