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 20, 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 Eight of those orders were set to last until modified or rescinded by the governor, while the other 35 had announced end dates.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 20, stay-at-home orders have ended in 27 states. Eighteen of those states have Republican governors and nine have Democratic governors (including Wisconsin, where the state Supreme Court invalidated the stay-at-home order). Of the 16 states with active stay-at-home orders, one has a Republican governor and 15 have Democratic governors.
- Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced Ohioans Protecting Ohioans Urgent Health Advisory, which replaces the state’s stay-at-home order, Stay Safe Ohio. Under the new order, residents are strongly encouraged but not required to stay home as much as possible.
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 October 22, 1918, the Detroit News published an article titled, “Couzens Calls Off Meetings.” The article discussed how mayoral candidate James Couzens called off speaking engagements for his campaign due to the influenza pandemic.
“James Couzens has canceled all political meetings at which he was scheduled to talk in the interests of his campaign for mayor.
‘I regard it as highly inconsistent with the campaign against the influenza to hold public meetings, even in the open air, when the municipal authorities have closed all other forms of gatherings,” said Mr. Couzens. ‘I have canceled all my meetings.’
As a means of presenting the issues and his interpretation of them, Mr. Couzens plans to issue statements to the people through the press from time to time.”
- Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced the U.S. would extend travel restrictions in place at the Canadian and Mexican borders another 30 days to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The restrictions were enacted in late March in cooperation with both countries, and extended for an additional 30 days on April 20. Essential travel, including for trade and commerce, is still allowed, but travel for tourism or recreation is prohibited.
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 82 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 26 of those lawsuits.
- Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 63 lawsuits, spanning 27 states, dealing with the administration of elections in light of the pandemic. Orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 25 of those lawsuits.
- Twenty states and one territory have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
- Fourteen states have modified their candidate filing requirements.
- Twenty-eight states have made modifications to their voting procedures.
- Political parties in 18 states have made changes to party events on a statewide basis.
- Texas – Judge Samuel Frederick Biery, of the United States District for the Western District of Texas, has ordered that all eligible Texas voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots in order to avoid transmission of COVID-19.
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 seven.
- 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.
- Ohio – U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus ordered Ohio to accept electronic signatures and extended the signature deadline from July 1 to July 31 for certain ballot measure campaigns that were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
- 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.
- California – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said that schools in the state would not have a shared common reopening. Instead, individual districts will set reopening dates, with some targeting reopening as early as June. This is similar to the way the schools were closed to in-person instruction. The state recommended that all schools close on March 20, but many districts had already closed by that time.
- New York – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced that the city’s schools would conduct summer school virtually. De Blasio said that more than 177,000 students were enrolled in summer programs, up from 44,000 last year.
- Of the 20 executive orders issued by governors or state agencies placing restrictions on out-of-state visitors, at least four have been rescinded.
State court changes
- Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide
- Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings on the local level
- Illinois – The Illinois Supreme Court issued an order authorizing courts to return to normal operation starting on June 1. Under the order, chief judges in each judicial circuit may implement plans specific to the county they serve. Local plans should continue to promote the use of video and phone conferencing where appropriate.
- Kentucky – The Kentucky Supreme Court extended its suspension of jury trials through August 1. Grand juries were permitted to restart immediately.
- Ohio – The Ohio Jury Trial Advisory Group issued a report and recommendations titled, “Standards and Practices Essential to the Resumption of Jury Trials in Ohio.” The recommendations, prepared for Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, outline how the court might safely resume jury trials following the coronavirus pandemic, including social distancing during voir dire, and sanitization of courthouse facilities.
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.
- Ohio – U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin for the Northern District of Ohio ordered the Bureau of Prisons to expedite the release of 837 medically vulnerable inmates in Elkton Federal Correctional Institute through home confinement or compassionate release due to the coronavirus pandemic. In his order, the judge cited “poor progress in transferring the subclass members out of Elkton through the various means referenced in the Court’s preliminary injunction Order.” The ruling follows a class action habeas petition filed by the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.
Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Forty one states have implemented policies related to evictions or foreclosures on either the state or local level.
State legislative responses
- To date, 1,347 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
- Of these, 119 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-one state legislatures have suspended their sessions. Ten of those have since reconvened.
- Twenty-three legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
- Five state legislatures are in regular session.
- One state legislature (Wyoming) is in special session.
- Alabama – The Alabama legislature adjourned on May 18.
- Alaska – The Alaska legislature resumed its session on May 18.
- Delaware – The Delaware legislature is scheduled to resume its session on May 26.
- Illinois – The Illinois legislature resumed its session May 20.