The First Circuit Court of Appeal in Florida dismissed a lawsuit against eight county supervisors of elections arguing that elections offices should be required to save digital copies of paper ballots, known as Digital Ballot Copies.
The suit was filed by The Florida Democratic Party and Democratic lawmakers against Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews, and the “Supervisors”.
The eight supervisors represent Broward, Orange, Lee, Duval, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Pinellas, and Miami-Dade counties.
The defendant’s original appeal, before Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson in August 2020, granted Matthews’ motion for dismissal but denied the rest. The Supervisors argued that the plaintiffs violated “home venue privilege” which “entitles governmental entities to be sued where they are headquartered.”
Dodson denied the Supervisors’ appeal, stating, “Florida Statutes, in pertinent part, states ‘actions against two or more defendants residing in different counties may be brought in any county in which any defendant resides. In this case venue in Leon County is certainly proper as to the secretary of state, thus venue as to the county supervisor defendants is also proper in Leon County.” Dodson also referenced the ability to join court proceedings remotely due to Covid-19 as an argument against home privilege.
Monday’s decision by First Circuit Judges Thomas Winokur, Stephanie Ray, and Robert Long reversed Dodson’s order and accepted the Supervisors’ motion for dismissal of the suit.
In a six-page opinion written by Winokur, it states, “The sole issue in this case is whether the appellants, the supervisors of elections in eight Florida counties, are entitled to exercise the home venue privilege in a suit seeking to compel them to retain digital copies of paper ballots. We hold that they are, and reverse the order below denying their motion to dismiss on this ground.”
He further states, “In this case, the appellees have alleged that the Supervisors have put their First Amendment rights at risk, but they have not explained how. They also argue that equal-protection rights may be violated if Digital Ballot Copies are destroyed because paper ballots lost before a recount would not be tallied and some voters’ voices would not be heard. But this possible danger does not show that the Supervisors are invading the appellees’ constitutional rights in Leon County, and certainly does not satisfy the requirements of the sword-wielder exception, allowing them to be sued in Leon County.”
As far as COVID-19 being an exception to home venue privilege, Winokur rejects that argument, saying there is “no remote-proceedings exception to the privilege,” and that “creating such an exception not only is outside the power of this Court, but would be short-sighted.”
Secretary Lee will seek dismissal of the case “on other grounds,” given that her original motion was denied and unreviewable through “interlocutory appeal.”
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