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 18, 2020.
State stay-at-home orders
- Forty-three states issued statewide stay-at-home orders. Eight of those orders were set to last until modified or rescinded by the governor, while the other 35 had announced end dates.
- As of May 18, stay-at-home orders have ended in 23 states. Governors ended stay-at-home orders in 22 states—16 Republican governors and six Democratic governors. Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Tony Evers’ (D) administration overstepped its authority in extending that state’s stay-at-home order. Of the 20 states with stay-at-home orders in place, three have Republican governors and 17 have Democratic governors.
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 St. Paul Pioneer Press published an article titled, “Influenza Affects Vote.” The article discussed how the influenza pandemic kept many people away from the polls.
“Influenza is impartial anyway. It hit the Seventh ward, in St. Paul, and the Nonpartisan League districts of Otter Tail county with equal force, butting the vote in both places. On the Mesabi Iron range, the judges of election were compelled to wear masks for safety’s sake, and reports declare that the influenza reduced the size of the vote materially.”
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 78 lawsuits, spanning 32 states, relating to governmental actions undertaken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 24 of those lawsuits.
- Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 58 lawsuits, spanning 26 states, dealing with the administration of elections in light of the pandemic. Orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 21 of those lawsuits.
- Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker: On May 16, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied a motion for a temporary stay against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) Executive Order 2020-32, which generally barred gatherings of more than 10 people, including religious gatherings. In an unsigned order, the panel wrote, “The Executive Order does not discriminate against religious activities, nor does it show hostility toward religion. It appears instead to impose neutral and generally applicable rules.” The panel did grant the plaintiffs’ motion for an expedited appeal. The plaintiffs, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries, allege that the governor’s order violated their First Amendment rights.
- Berean Baptist Church v. Cooper: On May 16, Judge James Dever, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, issued a temporary restraining order against a provision of Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) Executive Order 138 that barred indoor religious services involving more than 10 people. The plaintiffs alleged that this provision of the order violated their First Amendment rights. Dever agreed: “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their Free Exercise claim concerning the assembly for religious worship provisions in Executive Order 138, that they will suffer irreparable harm absent a temporary restraining order, that the equities tip in their favor, and that a temporary restraining order is in the public interest.” Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper’s office, said the governor would not appeal the decision.
- Twenty states and one territory have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
- Fourteen states have modified candidate filing requirements.
- Twenty-eight states have made modifications to voting procedures.
- Political parties in 18 states have adjusted party events on a statewide basis.
- New Jersey – Gov. Phil Murphy (D) ordered that all elections taking place on July 7 be conducted largely by mail. All registered, active Democratic and Republican voters will automatically receive mail-in ballots. Unaffiliated and inactive voters will receive mail-in ballot applications automatically.
Ballot measure changes
- Ballotpedia has tracked 21 statewide initiative petition drives that suspended signature gathering.
- Seven states and D.C. changed ballot measure procedures.
- At least 11 lawsuits were filed seeking court orders suspending or changing signature requirements and deadlines. Rulings or settlements have been issued for six.
- At least two initiative campaigns reported they had enough signatures but are delaying signature submission so their measures appear on the ballot in 2022 instead of 2020.
- Colorado – Governor Jared Polis (D) signed an executive order allowing initiative petition signatures to be gathered through the mail and email once rules are finalized by the secretary of state. The rules are expected by early June. The order also suspended the law setting six-month circulation windows for initiatives and creating individual signature deadlines, which means signatures for all 2020 Colorado initiatives are due by August 3, regardless of when they were cleared for circulation.
- Forty-eight states have closed schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year. Those states account for 99.4% of the 50.6 million public school students in the country. The two states to not close schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year are Montana and Wyoming.
- All 50 states ordered a statewide school closure in some form.
- Kentucky – The Department of Education released initial guidance for schools and districts on reopening to in-person instruction this fall. The 16-page document outlined potential start dates for schools ranging from July to October and included guidelines for employee training, contacting tracing, and preparedness for sudden closures.
- Michigan – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced the formation of the Return to Learning Advisory Council. The group will make recommendations to the COVID-19 Task Force on Education on returning the state to in-person instruction in the fall.
- Twenty governors or state agencies have issued an executive order restricting out-of-state travelers.
- Alaska – Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) extended travel restrictions on out-of-state travelers and residents returning to the state through June 2. Visitors are required to complete a travel declaration and self-quarantine for 14 days. The restrictions had been set to expire on May 19.
State court changes
- Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide.
- Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings on the local level.
- Kentucky – The Kentucky Supreme Court ordered that, effective June 1, courts can resume hearing civil and criminal cases remotely using video or phone conferences. If a judge determined that a proceeding should be held in-person, safety and health precautions should be followed.
- Louisiana – The Louisiana Supreme Court announced that restrictions on in-person proceedings were lifted and authorized courts to conduct in-person proceedings on all matters. Jury trials remain suspended through June 30.
- Minnesota – The Minnesota Supreme Court ordered judges and court staff to implement transitional case strategies approved by the Judicial Council for district court proceedings. Under the order, courts were expected to meet criteria outlined in the Minnesota Judicial Branch COVID Preparedness Plan, including social distancing measures and face masks for public facing staff. The court also authorized pilot jury trials to proceed on or after June 1.
- New Mexico – The New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order that requires the use of face masks in courts.
- Oregon – Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha L. Walters ordered that bench trials could restart on June 1, and jury trials could resume on July 1.
- Rhode Island – The Rhode Island Supreme Court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings through June 1. Jury trials were suspended through August 1.
- Wisconsin – The Wisconsin Courts COVID-19 Task Force released its final report, which includes a framework for counties and circuit courts to work together to reopen court facilities and return to in-person proceedings.
- Wyoming – The Wyoming Supreme Court extended its suspension of jury trials through August 3. Judges were encouraged to use phone and video conferences for hearings. The Supreme Court also issued Court COVID-10 Reopening Guidelines for Court and Employees and Public Proceedings and COVID-19 Operating Plan Template to help courts prepare to resume normal operations.
Prison inmate responses
- Twenty-one states have released inmates at the state level
- Twelve states have released inmates on the local level
- Eleven 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
Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Forty one states have implemented policies related to evictions or foreclosures on either the state or local level.
- Vermont – Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed a bill that placed a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in the state for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
State legislative responses
- To date, 1,264 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
- Of these, 118 significant bills have been enacted into law, about 9 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. Ten 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.
- Rhode Island – The Rhode Island State Legislature extended its suspension through May 22. The suspension, which has been in place since March 16, was originally scheduled to last through April 3. It has been extended on a weekly basis since.
Read more: Multistate agreements to reopen after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020
- Governors Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), John Carney (D-Del.), and Phil Murphy (D-N.J), announced plans to reopen public and private beaches, with certain restrictions in place, effective May 22.