Courts across the country are playing a critical role in protecting our democracy from the onslaught of ridiculous, but nevertheless potentially damaging, lawsuits from right-wing, conspiracy-driven Republicans. From Arizona to Pennsylvania, a slew of anti-voting lawsuits have been dismissed or rejected this summer to the great benefit of voters.
Arizona: Finchem v. Fontes
Filed: Dec. 9, 2022 | Voluntarily Dismissed: Aug. 1, 2023
On Dec. 9, 2022, an election contest was filed by Mark Finchem, the GOP candidate for Arizona secretary of state who lost to now-Secretary of State Adrian Fontes (D) by over five points, and Jeff Zink, the GOP candidate for Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District who lost in a landslide to Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz). The contest was filed against Fontes, Gallego and then-Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D). The plaintiffs alleged that widespread failures in the state’s conduct of the midterm elections, specifically in Maricopa County, cost Finchem and Zink their elections and “resulted in Arizona becoming a laughingstock among the 50 states.”
On Dec. 16, 2022, a trial court dismissed the lawsuit, writing that Finchem’s arguments “are not well-pled facts; they are legal conclusions masquerading as alleged facts. As such, this court is not obliged to assume their truth.” On Dec. 21, Finchem appealed the trial court’s order dismissing the lawsuit to the Arizona Supreme Court. On Dec. 29, the Arizona Supreme Court denied the appeal. On Aug. 1, 2023, Finchem voluntarily dismissed his appeal in the Arizona Court of Appeals.
California: Election Integrity Project California v. Weber
Filed: Jan. 4, 2021 | Court Dismissed: July 18, 2023
On Jan. 4, 2021, an “election integrity” group, Election Integrity Project California, and voters, including two failed congressional and Senate candidates, filed a federal lawsuit against California Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D), California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) and several county registrars of voters. The lawsuit originally included a radical independent state legislature theory argument that suggested the defendants “violated the Elections Clause by usurping the California State Legislature’s constitutional authority to set the manner of elections,” but the complaint was later amended to drop that claim along with certain plaintiffs.
On July 18, 2023, the case was dismissed after a federal judge found that the plaintiffs did not show that these laws place a burden on their right to vote and that the plaintiffs’ vote dilution claims “based on potential or actual voter fraud are noncognizable.”
Critically, the judge concluded that: “For the reasons explained above, any amendment to the complaint would be futile. Plaintiffs have not demonstrated differential treatment and have not alleged facts that support constitutional claims,” thereby dismissing the lawsuit and preventing the plaintiffs from filing a new complaint.
Illinois: Bost v. Illinois State Board of Elections
Filed: May 25, 2022 | Court Dismissed: July 27, 2023
On May 25, 2022, a lawsuit was brought on behalf of three Republicans, including the current representative for the 12th Congressional District, Michael Bost, alleging that Illinois’ mail-in ballot receipt deadline violates federal law. The plaintiffs argued that federal law requires states to hold Election Day on the first Tuesday in November, but Illinois allows mail-in ballots to be received and counted for up to two weeks after Election Day. They argued this ballot receipt deadline effectively extends Election Day and, as a result, their votes are allegedly “diluted by illegal ballots received in violation of the federal Election Day statutes.”
In countering the Republicans’ arguments, the defendants asserted that excluding validly cast mail-in ballots received after Election Day from the total vote tally would result in the disenfranchisement of millions of Illinoisans who rely on mail-in voting and whose ballots might not arrive by Election Day due to “delayed mail delivery and/or inconsistent postmarking practices.”
On July 26, 2023, a district court judge dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. The judge also rejected the Republicans’ assertion that the challenged ballot receipt deadline burdens their right to vote: “Plaintiffs’ votes here are not diluted by other valid, lawfully cast votes.”
Michigan: Ickes v. Whitmer
Filed: Sept. 2, 2022 | Court Dismissed: Aug. 2, 2023
On Sept. 2, 2022 Macomb County Republican Party, a candidate for governor in Michigan, a non-profit organization, a county clerk and voters filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the 2020 election in Michigan. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the electronic voting machines and tabulators used during the presidential election “were not certified or accredited in accordance with” Michigan election law.
The Republicans requested that the state “rerun the Michigan 2020 presidential election as soon as possible, by way of a special election, with paper ballots only, on a single election day, with the votes being counted by hand, with members of all political parties present to observe, with a public livestream of all vote counting.”
On Aug. 2, 2023, a federal judge dismissed the case for lack of standing, concluding: “This lawsuit appears to be yet another brought by misguided individuals who reject the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Many of Plaintiffs’ allegations rely on tired examples of alleged malfeasance that have been debated for several years, most without proof or resolution.”
Nevada: Nevada Republican Party v. Nevada
Filed: May 26, 2023 | Court Denied Temporary Relief: July 10, 2023
On May 26, 2023, the Nevada Republican Party (NV GOP) brought a lawsuit against the state of Nevada and Nevada Secretary of State Francisco Aguilar (D) challenging Nevada’s presidential primary system. In 2021, then-Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed Assembly Bill 126, which transitioned the state from a caucus system to a primary system for nominating presidential candidates.
In the complaint, NV GOP alleged that the “mechanism/procedures by which a state political party votes for/choose presidential candidates (which in practice means selecting and binding delegates to a nominating convention), is expressly within the constitutionally-protected right to freedom of association” and therefore, A.B. 126 “threatens to obstruct the rights of the NV GOP and Nevada citizens under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to freely associate.”
The plaintiff asked the court to deem the results of the 2024 presidential primary non-binding if the GOP is compelled to participate in a primary. On July 10, a judge denied the plaintiff’s request to temporarily block the enforcement of A.B. 126, holding that “the NV GOP has little likelihood of succeeding on the merits of its claims.” Litigation is ongoing.
Pennsylvania: Bonner v. Chapman
Filed: July 20, 2022 | Voluntarily Dismissed: Aug. 1, 2023
On July 20, 2022, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Republican members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives against Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Leigh M. Chapman (D) challenging Act 77 of the Pennsylvania Election Code. Act 77 is 2019 law that largely expanded mail-in voting opportunities in the Commonwealth. (The same plaintiffs already tried to eliminate no-excuse mail-in voting in the state in McLinko v. Degraffenreid, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the law.)
On June 27, 2023, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court denied the Republicans’ requests, thereby leaving Act 77 in place. On July 21, the Republican petitioners appealed this decision. On Aug. 1, the petitioners withdrew their appeal.
As demonstrated by these six voter victories, courts — both state and federal — serve as critical bulwarks against right-wing lawsuits seeking to undermine our democratic system. From continued attacks on mail-in voting to a dumbfounding commitment to baseless election conspiracies, we can expect more attention on the courts at every level as we head into another presidential election year.