Illinois state court blocks new law that changed ballot access rules after primary

Back on May 5, I highlighted a new election law in Illinois that changed the rules for ballot access after the primary election, blocking a number of candidates from obtaining major party ballot access through the alternative “slating” route that they were relying on. (I also noted the unusual lack of media coverage, and since then, there hasn’t been much more, but this AP story did cover it, and the president of the League of Women Voters of Illinois had this op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times critiquing the law.)

Yesterday afternoon, a state court judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law. You can see early coverage from the Chicago Tribune, the Center Square, and the Daily Northwestern. (And as with last time, no other apparent media coverage outside the state of Illinois.) Of note from the Daily Northwestern:

Attorney Hal Dworkin, who represented the Illinois Attorney General, argued the preliminary injunction could set several negative precedents for the Illinois government. For one, several previous court cases have applied strict scrutiny only when a change in electoral policy completely negated the election results, Dworkin said. 

The case may well be appealed, and this is only a preliminary injunction (final hearing is June 3), but it’s a swift reprisal in a state court, using (it appears) a state constitution’s “right to vote” provision, against a law enacted just a couple of weeks ago. We’ll see if we get a written order in the near future and how that might be used in future litigation.

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WTF Justice Alito?

NYT:

Last summer, two years after an upside-down American flag was flown outside the Virginia home of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., another provocative symbol was displayed at his vacation house in New Jersey, according to interviews and photographs.

This time, it was the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, which, like the inverted U.S. flag, was carried by rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Also known as the Pine Tree flag, it dates back to the Revolutionary War, but largely fell into obscurity until recent years and is now a symbol of support for former President Donald J. Trump, for a religious strand of the “Stop the Steal” campaign and for a push to remake American government in Christian terms.

Three photographs obtained by The New York Times, along with accounts from a half-dozen neighbors and passers-by, show that the Appeal to Heaven flag was aloft at the Alito home on Long Beach Island in July and September of 2023. A Google street view image from late August also shows the flag.

The photographs, each taken independently, are from four different dates. It is not clear whether the flag was displayed continuously during those months or how long it was flown overall.

An “Appeal to Heaven” flag and other flags flying outside a beach house owned by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
A Google street view photo taken in August 2023 shows the flag flying at the Alitos’ house.

Justice Alito declined to respond to questions about the beach house flag, including what it was intended to convey and how it comported with his obligations as a justice. The court also declined to respond….

In coming weeks, the justices will rule on that case, which could scuttle some of the charges against Mr. Trump, as well as on whether he is immune from prosecution for actions he took while president. Their decisions will shape how accountable he can be held for trying to overturn the last presidential election and his chances at regaining the White House in the next one.

The disclosure about the new flag is troubling, several ethics experts said in interviews, because it ties Justice Alito more closely to symbols associated with the attempted election subversion on Jan. 6, and because it was displayed as the obstruction case was first coming for consideration by the court.

Judges are not supposed to give any impression of bias, yet the flag could be seen as telegraphing the Alitos’ views — and at a time when the justices were on the cusp of adopting a new ethics code. “We all have our biases, but the good judge fights against them,” said Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University Bloomington. “When a judge celebrates his predispositions by hoisting them on a flag,” he added, “that’s deeply disturbing.”

I was uncertain if the initial revelation of the first flag merited Justice Alito’s recusal in the first case, but I now believe he must recuse in the Trump immunity and related cases. His impartiality could be reasonably questioned here. There’s no blaming it on his spouse this time in any credible way.

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“Milwaukee election shakeup triggers doubts about whether new leader is ready to run 2024 vote”

Votebeat:

Several members of Milwaukee’s election staff have voiced concerns to the mayor’s office about the inexperience of the new leader chosen to replace the Election Commission’s recently ousted executive director, two people close to the matter told Votebeat.

The new head, Paulina Gutiérrez, became deputy director of the commission in 2023 and had worked in several other positions in city and state government before that. But during her tenure at the commission, she has not worked a federal general election.

In addition to staff members raising concerns in a meeting with the mayor’s chief of staff and Gutiérrez herself, two employees wrote letters to the mayor’s office noting their doubts about whether she is equipped to lead the commission during a critical time in Wisconsin’s largest city, said a person close to the commission who requested anonymity to avoid professional consequences.

The concerns sprang from Mayor Cavalier Johnson’s surprise move not to reappoint Claire Woodall, who has been with the commission for about a decade and executive director since 2020. Woodall told Votebeat that she was ousted because she was quoted in a recent news article criticizing election staff over a ballot error. A spokesperson for the mayor said there was more to it but declined to be more specific.

The mayor’s office didn’t directly address multiple Votebeat questions about the mayor’s selection process, and Gutiérrez declined to answer Votebeat’s questions….

Woodall faced questions this year over an error in which more than 220 Milwaukee residents received absentee ballots for the incorrect ward. Much of the criticism came after Woodall told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, about the commission’s mistake, “I can’t express how frustrating and infuriating it is that it just seems like there was no critical thinking involved or communication.”

Woodall had to rebuild trust and strengthen morale after that comment went public, she told Votebeat shortly after her removal.

“I regretted being that forthright … but also don’t feel like I can skirt details or sidestep questions in my line of work,” she said. “Folks didn’t follow procedure, and I was extremely frustrated when I uncovered that.”

Woodall said the comment to the newspaper was the sole reason Milwaukee officials cited for not reappointing her. Fleming disputed that.

“There were multiple … non-operational issues, management issues that were of significant concern,” he said, declining to elaborate….

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“‘Shortsighted’: Florida election officials say new rule could threaten their jobs”

Politico:

Florida election officials are warning that an obscure new ballot rule being put in place by the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis could force them to break state law or face removal from office.

A wave of exasperated election supervisors — meeting at their summer conference — vented to top officials from the Department of State about a recently rolled out proposal that they contend would violate the right to a secret ballot. They also said they worried it would put them in the crosshairs of activists who continually question the validity of elections.

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“Voting machine firm Smartmatic alleges Newsmax has deleted evidence in lawsuit over false vote-rigging claims”

NBC News:

Smartmatic alleges that Newsmax has destroyed evidence in the voting machine company’s lawsuit against the right-wing news channel over false claims that Smartmatic helped “rig” the 2020 election, according to court documents made public this week. 

Lawyers for Florida-based Smartmatic allege that Newsmax engaged in a “cover-up” by destroying texts and emails of key executives that would demonstrate the network’s knowledge that voting fraud claims being pushed by former President Donald Trump and his allies were untrue. Smartmatic says the deletions occurred after Newsmax had received notice to preserve evidence for the pending suit.

In a statement, Newsmax said it “categorically” denies the allegations.

The lawsuit is just one of many major defamation cases filed by Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems against news organizations over false claims about fraud in 2020 election. Most are still pending, and several may go to trial this fall — ensuring that Trump’s claims about a “rigged election” in 2020 will continue to be a focus even as the next presidential election nears.

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Must-Read Andy Kroll: “Scenes From a MAGA Meltdown: Inside the ‘America First’ Movement’s War Over Democracy”

Kroll deep dive in ProPublica:

What divides the Republican Party of 2024 is not any one policy or ideology. It is not whether to support Donald Trump. The most important fault line in the party now is democracy itself. Today’s Republican insurgents believe democracy has been stolen, and they don’t trust the ability of democratic processes to restore it….

I grew up in Michigan. My own political education and my early years as a journalist coincided with a stunning Republican resurgence in my home state. Over several decades, Michigan’s dynastic families — the DeVoses and Meijers and Van Andels on the west side, the Romneys and Fords on the east — poured money and manpower into the Michigan Republican Party, building it into one of the most vaunted political operations in the country. They transformed Michigan from a bastion of organized labor that leaned Democratic into a toss-up state that, until recently, had a right-to-work law and put Republicans in control of all three branches of government for eight of the last 14 years. Michigan Republicans were so successful that other states copied their tactics. As Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway fortune and a prolific Republican donor, once told a gathering of conservative activists, “If we can do it in Michigan, you can do it anywhere.”

Several years ago, however, my home state stopped making sense to me. I watched as thousands of political newcomers, whose sole qualification appeared to be fervor of belief, declared war on the Republican establishment that had been so dominant. Calling themselves the “America First” movement, these unknowns treated the DeVoses and other party leaders as the enemy. I had covered the DeVoses and the Michigan Republican Party long enough to know that they were not just pro-business but staunch conservatives who wanted to slash taxes, abolish regulations and remake the public education system in favor of vouchers and parochial schools. Yet the new “America First” activists disparaged prominent Michigan Republicans as “globalist” elites who belonged to a corrupt “uniparty” cabal. That cabal had denied Trump a rightful second term and needed to be purged from the party.

With a consequential election looming, I traveled back to Michigan earlier this year to understand how this all happened. I sought out the activists waging this struggle, a group of people who don’t trust institutions or individuals except Trump and one another — and sometimes not even that. Could they triumph over the elites? I found chaos, incompetence, strife, a glimpse of a future post-Trump Republican Party and, all around me, danger for our system of government and the state of the country.

“We can’t keep going through election after election like this where a large plurality of the country just does not accept the outcome of the majority and refuses to abide by it,” said Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who now works with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “That’s when the system falls apart.”

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