Given the wave of voter suppression legislation since 2011, and the threats to
voting rights discussed following the 2016 general election, litigation has become
more important than ever to defend and protect our citizens’ right to vote.
The Center investigates under-the-radar violations of the right to vote and has sued to enforce federal and state law requirements in novel and economical ways. We do not have a single approach to litigation and this frees us to discover new methods. By studying state election codes, including ID requirements and voter registration procedures, Fair Elections Center identifies opportunities to expand equal access to the ballot. We force state officials to explain why they treat similar groups of eligible voters differently and obtain court orders requiring them to stop such discriminatory practices. Below are some examples of past and current litigation.
Arizona: Voter Registration Restrictions
A complaint on behalf of civic engagement organization Poder Latinx in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, seeking to block a new state law’s arbitrary and vague procedures for investigating the citizenship status of Arizona voters. Poder Latinx works to register and engage Latinx voters in Arizona, and its efforts will be frustrated by a voter registration system that is ever-changing and complicated, and that will baselessly harass naturalized voters.
Florida: Voter Registration and Assistance
Fair Elections Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit challenging two provisions of a Florida law known as SB 90. One provision makes it less likely that potential voter applicants will submit registrations through community groups. The other violates the Voting Rights Act, which entitles voters who require assistance in voting by reason of disability or inability to read or write to receive help from almost anyone of the voter's choosing.
Kentucky: Arbitrary Rights Restoration (ongoing)
In 2019, Fair Elections Center and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center joined a lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s arbitrary process for voting rights restoration for felons. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight former felons.
Wisconsin: Voter Purge Litigation
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin moved to intervene in a state court lawsuit filed in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. The lawsuit alleged that Wisconsin law required the Wisconsin Elections Commission to use information provided by the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to flag voters who may have moved, and to cancel the registration of voters who do not respond within 30 days to a letter sent by the Commission, asking the voters to update or confirm their addresses.
Kentucky: Arbitrary Rights Restoration
Our client submitted his voting rights restoration application to the previous Kentucky Governor, Matt Bevin, but Bevin never acted on his application. Bevin's successor, Andrew Beshear, concluded that our client’s and all of the other nearly 900 applications pending, were denied by Bevin's inaction. He also concluded that these nearly 900 individuals would need to reapply. Due process requires that these applicants be provided with notice of the change in their applications' status. We have sued in state court to enforce this.
Wisconsin: COVID-19 Litigation
Because of Wisconsin's witness requirement for mail-in absentee ballots, at-risk voters who live alone must choose between endangering their lives and exercising their right to vote, or foregoing their vote altogether. On March 26, 2020, we filed a lawsuit challenging this rule as unconstitutionally burdensome during the pandemic. Our clients include individual voters who are at risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.
Pennsylvania: COVID-19 Litigation
Fair Elections Center and Hogan Lovells filed a complaint in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of a voter who in June, 2020 was disenfranchised when she was forced to choose between her health and her right to have her voice heard. The lawsuit seeks options to ensure voters who haven't received their requested ballots and who cannot vote in person due to Covid-19 risk can still receive their ballots in time to vote.
Kentucky: COVID-19 Litigation
Despite the success of expanded, no-excuse absentee voting in Kentucky’s June 2020 primary election state officials did not take action to use the same rules to make voting safe for the general election during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair Elections Center, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, and Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP filed a case to force the state to use the same successful process and ensure a safe election in November.
North Carolina: COVID-19 Litigation
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Fair Elections Center and pro bono counsel from the law firm WilmerHale have filed a lawsuit demanding North Carolina take the necessary steps to guarantee a fair, safe election in November, given the likelihood that the state and the country will still be experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Louisiana: COVID-19 Litigation
Fair Elections Center joined Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the law firm Arnold & Porter in filing a federal lawsuit against Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, and other officials over the state’s lack of safe and accessible voting processes during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Amendment 4 Advisory Opinion (ongoing)
Fair Elections Center and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed a brief with the Supreme Court of Florida arguing that under the Florida Constitution as amended by Amendment 4, people with felony convictions do not need to pay administrative costs and fees to regain their voting rights. These costs fund the criminal justice system, but do not serve as punishment and are not part of the criminal sentence.
League of Women Voters Tennessee v. Harget: Tennessee Voter Registration Drive Penalties
Fair Elections Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Tennessee, and Campaign Legal Center filed a federal lawsuit in May, 2019 challenging a new Tennessee law that imposes substantial penalties on groups that foster political participation via voter registration efforts.
Kentucky: Arbitrary Voting Rights Restoration
In December 2018, Fair Elections Center and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center joined a lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s arbitrary process for voting rights restoration for felons. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of eight former felons.
In March, 2017, Fair Elections Legal Network and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed a class action lawsuit that seeks to automatically restore former felons’ voting rights upon the completion of a sentence and end Florida’s arbitrary process for re-enfranchisement.
Joint Memo with ACLU-NH: NH Residency Requirements Target Students (2018)
Fair Elections Center joined the ACLU-NH in a joint memorandum before the New Hampshire Supreme Court arguing that HB 1264 should not be reviewed by the Court at this time, and if it is reviewed, is unconstitutional. This bill imposes motor vehicle fees on voters who live in New Hampshire, but who know they will be leaving the state at some point in the future, which would have a particular impact on college students.
In late July 2016, FELN filed an amicus brief as part of a suit over changes to the national mail voter registration form.
In June 2016, the Fair Elections Legal Network and Jenner & Block filed an amicus brief in the challenge to the Virginia ex-felon restoration order, Howell v. McAuliffe, which was filed in the Supreme Court of Virginia.
In the Spring of 2016, FELN and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit claiming that Louisiana was discriminating against naturalized citizens by requiring them to provide citizenship documents when registering to vote...
As the 2016 primary season heated up, young voters in Ohio were dealt a surprise when the Secretary of State ordered that 17-year-olds who would be 18 by the time of the general election were not eligible to cast a vote in the presidential primaries.
Tennessee: Using a Student ID Card as Voter ID
In 2015, Fair Elections Legal Network and Nashville law firm, Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC filed a federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s voter ID law as violating the voting rights of Tennessee students.
Florida: Illegal Purge of Voter Rolls (2014)
When Florida started removing voters from its rolls within the 90 days before a federal election, FELN and other national partners stepped in to defend those voters’ rights.