As part of Ballotpedia’s coverage on the coronavirus pandemic, we are compiling a daily summary of major changes in the world of politics, government, and elections happening each day. Here is the summary of changes for May 4, 2020.
State stay-at-home orders
- So far, 43 of the 50 states issued statewide shutdown orders. Eight of those orders are set to last until modified or rescinded by the governor, while the other 35 announced end dates.
The 1918 influenza pandemic
The 1918 midterm elections occurred during the 1918 flu pandemic, one of the most severe in history. Each day, we’ll look back at a story from the 1918 elections to see how America met the challenges of holding elections during a national health emergency.
On November 6, 1918, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, published an article “Flu Prevents Night Parties.” The article discussed how quiet election night was due to the influenza pandemic of 1918.
“Darkest night, pierced only by lame street lights and far-scattered horns. A quiet stream of pedestrians and automobiles, moving east and west or stopping on side streets to wait for news.
Such was election night. Someone dared recall the nights of torchlight parades, when red flares and drums aided shouts and blows in expressing partisan fervor. Though tourchlights fell from favor, horns were still ‘aces high’ when election night last came around. Memories of hilarious hands of young men, older men and old men–even girls and women joining them–parading the streets with banners and blatant horns, prompted search for such troops last night.”
- The Supreme Court heard arguments for the first time by conference call. Over the next two weeks, the Court will hear oral arguments in a number of cases originally scheduled for March and April. Last week, the Court released a set of procedures guiding the structure of the remote arguments.
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 58 lawsuits, spanning 30 states, relating to governmental actions undertaken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 15 of those lawsuits.
- Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 40 lawsuits, spanning 24 states, dealing with the administration of elections in light of the pandemic. Orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 13 of those lawsuits.
- Twenty states and one territory have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
- Twelve states have modified candidate filing requirements.
- Twenty-five states have made modifications to voting procedures.
- Political parties in 18 states have adjusted party events on a statewide basis.
Ballot measure changes
- Ballotpedia tracked 20 statewide initiative petition drives that suspended signature gathering.
- Six states changed ballot measure procedures.
- At least eight lawsuits have been filed seeking court orders suspending or changing requirements and deadlines.
- At least one initiative campaign is reporting it has enough signatures but is delaying signature submission so its measure appears on the ballot in 2022 instead of 2020.
- Forty-six states have closed schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year. Those states account for 97% of the 50.6 million public school students in the country. The four states that have not are: Connecticut, Maryland, Montana, and Wyoming.
- Of the four states that have not announced that schools will close for the remainder of the year, one has a Democratic trifecta, one has a Republican trifecta, and two have divided governments.
- All 50 states ordered a statewide school closure in some form.
- North Dakota – On Friday afternoon, Gov. Doug Burgum (R) announced that schools would remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools were closed indefinitely.
- New Jersey – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that schools would remain closed to in-person instruction for the rest of the academic year. The order applies to public and private schools. Private schools must remain closed until June 30.
- Twenty governors or state agencies have issued an executive order placing restrictions on out-of-state travelers.
State court changes
- Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide.
- Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings on the local level.
- Arizona – Arizona’s COVID-19 Continuity of Court Operations During a Public Health Emergency Workgroup released a memo outlining recommendations for best practices to reopening or restarting court operations, such as maintaining health conditions when court operations resume and local transition planning and management.
- Arkansas – The Arkansas Supreme Court issued two memos, one for circuit courts and one for district courts, that issued guidance as courts return to in-person proceedings and jury trials following the coronavirus pandemic.
- Kansas – The Kansas Supreme Court issued two administrative orders, one for counties with stay-at-home orders or orders closing courts and one for counties without those types of orders, that address court operations following the coronavirus pandemic. For counties with stay-at-home orders, directives include performing essential court operations through video or phone conferencing to the greatest extent possible and allowing chief judges to authorize employees to telework whenever possible. For counties without stay-at-home orders or orders closing courts, directives detail what is required to resume court operations, which include allowing chief justices to determine how best to distribute personal protective equipment and recommending that hearings be conducted remotely when possible.
- Michigan – The Michigan Supreme Court issued a Full Capacity Toolkit to help courts in the state plan to return to full operation following the coronavirus pandemic.
- Minnesota – The Minnesota Supreme Court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings through May 18. Jury trials are suspended until June 1.
- Georgia – The Georgia Supreme Court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings and suspended jury trials through June 12. Under the order, courts are encouraged to develop plans for resuming nonessential court operations that can be conducted through video or phone conferencing or by maintaining social distancing measures. The order also urges judges to use technology for conducting remote proceedings as an alternative to in-person. In addition, the order announced that Chief Justice Harold D. Melton will create a task force to assist courts with remote proceedings and to develop reopening plans so that in-court proceedings can resume safely.
Prison inmate responses
- Eighteen states have ordered the release of inmates at the state level.
- Fourteen states have ordered the release of inmates on the local level.
- Twelve states have not released inmates due to coronavirus.
- Two states have prohibited the release of certain inmate populations.
- Four states have temporarily released certain populations of inmates.
- Hawaii – Since March 2, 811 inmates have been released from Hawaii state prisons to slow the spread of coronavirus. 655 of the inmates released early followed expedited court reviews of motions filed by the Hawaii Office of the Public Defender.
- Nevada – On April 30, the Nevada Supreme Court declined a petition filed by an inmate to release vulnerable and elderly prisoners due to the coronavirus pandemic. The court stated that there was a dispute of facts between the inmate who filed the petition and the Nevada Department of Corrections. The court also dismissed, on procedural grounds, efforts to make the case a class action that applies broadly to other vulnerable inmates. In their unanimous opinion, the court stated that their observations were consistent with other state courts faced with the same issue, citing similar decisions in Kansas and Washington.
Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Forty one states have implemented policies related to evictions or foreclosures on either the state or local level.
- Colorado – On April 30, Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed an executive order that temporarily suspends evictions and foreclosures in the state through the month of May, except in cases where a tenant poses a safety risk.
State legislative responses
- To date, 825 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
- To date, 101 significant bills have been enacted into law, 12 percent of the total number that have been introduced. This total omits ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.
State legislative session changes
- Twenty-three state legislatures have suspended their sessions. Five of those have since reconvened.
- Nineteen legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
- Five state legislatures are in regular session.
- Three state legislatures are in special session.
- Alabama – The Alabama State Legislature reconvened on May 4.
- California – The California State Legislature reconvened on May 4.
- New Hampshire – The New Hampshire General Court has suspended legislative activity indefinitely. The suspension was previously set to expire on May 4.
- Oklahoma – The Oklahoma State Legislature reconvened on May 4.
- Rhode Island – The Rhode Island State Legislature extended its suspension through May 8. The legislature has been extending the suspension on a weekly basis since April 3.
Read more: Multistate agreements to reopen after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020
- Multi-state Council – On May 3, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a seven-state regional purchasing consortium to obtain personal protective equipment, tests, ventilators, and other medical equipment. Included in the agreement are Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.