What kind of issues can post-election lawsuits address?

If a dispute arises during an election, one way of resolving it is through the courts. Government officials, voters, candidates, campaigns, and satellite groups all may, in various circumstances and states, file election-related lawsuits. Plaintiffs most commonly file election-related lawsuits on one of the following four topics:

  • Voting procedures
  • Recounts
  • Ballot challenges and ballot rejections
  • Ballot measure lawsuits

Voting procedure lawsuits

Voting procedure litigation refers to any cases that might challenge the validity of voting procedure changes in the United States. Challenges to voting procedures include challenges to eligibility for absentee/mail-in voting, mail-in voting deadline extensions, absentee/mail-in ballot vote fraud, and mail ballot return and collection laws

Ballot challenges and ballot rejections

Ballot challenges

An individual can challenge a voter if he or she suspects that the voter is not qualified to vote. Specific voter qualifications vary from state to state, but every state requires an individual to be a U.S. citizen, a state resident, and 18 years or older in order to vote.[1]

All but four states (Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Washington) provide a way for individuals to challenge the qualifications of a voter on Election Day. The classes of individuals qualified to make challenges vary from state to state.

A lawsuit over ballot challenges might arise if an unauthorized individual challenges the ballot of a voter in a way that is inconsistent with the challenge process outlined by state law. There are both federal and state laws which determine the process whereby a ballot may be challenged. In the event that an unauthorized individual challenges a ballot, a suit can be brought to court.

poll watcher is an individual authorized under state law to observe activities at a polling place, usually as the representative of a political party.[1]

Absentee and mail-in ballot rejections

Absentee/mail-in ballots can be rejected for a number of reasons ranging from a missed deadline to the use of an incorrect return envelope. The exact criteria for an absentee/mail-in ballot’s rejection is determined on a state-by-state basis.

All states establish mechanisms for verifying the validity of absentee/mail-in ballots. These mechanisms include signature matching, which is a process wherein an election official checks the signature included on absentee/mail-in ballot return paperwork with a signature on file, and witness/notary requirements. States also enforce ballot collection laws to regulate who can return a voter’s ballot on the voter’s behalf. Click here to learn more about each of these verification measures.

A case may be brought about if absentee mail-in ballots are improperly rejected, or if absentee mail-in ballots are accepted beyond the date outlined in state law.

Ballot measure lawsuits

Lawsuits can be filed before an election specifically to keep a measure from being put on the ballot. Such pre-election lawsuits often allege one or more of the following:

  • invalid signatures,
  • unqualified signature gatherers,
  • the unconstitutionality of the measure,
  • biased or misleading petition language, or
  • other criticisms that—if agreed to by a judge—could cause the measure to be removed or blocked from the ballot.
  • Pre-election lawsuits are most often filed against citizen initiatives and veto referendums; very infrequently are they filed against measures referred to the ballot by the legislature.

Lawsuits alleging the invalidity or unconstitutionality of a measure can also be filed after the election. Sometimes these court cases extend for years after a measure has been approved.

Information sourced from Ballotpedia.

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