States begin modifying general election voting procedures in response to COVID-19 outbreak

With the primary election season coming to a close, election administrators across the country are turning their attention to Nov. 3, modifying voting procedures in response to the continued effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

To date, at least 21 states have modified voting procedures for the Nov. 3 general election.

  • Six states (Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Tennessee) have expanded absentee/mail-in voting eligibility. These states are shaded in light purple in the map below.
  • Eight states (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) are automatically sending absentee/mail-in ballot applications to all voters in the Nov. 3 general election. These states are shaded in medium purple in the map below.
  • Two states (California and Vermont) are automatically sending absentee/mail-in ballots to all voters in the Nov. 3 general election. These states are shaded in blue in the map below.
  • Five states (Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas) have made other procedural changes to the conduct of the Nov. 3 general election. These states are shaded in dark gray in the map below.

Election administration changes since our last issue

Since our July 15 edition, we’ve tracked the following election administration modifications:

  • Alabama: On July 17, Secretary of State John Merrill (R) issued an emergency rule allowing any qualified voter to cast an absentee ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.*
  • Iowa: On July 17, Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) announced that absentee ballot application forms would be automatically sent to all active registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election.
  • Maryland: On July 20, Judge Richard Bennett of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland halved the signature requirement for unaffiliated candidates in Maryland.
  • New Hampshire: On July 17, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signed HB1266 into law, which formally established concern over COVID-19 as a valid reason for voting absentee in both the Sept. 8 primary and Nov. 3 general elections. The legislation also temporarily allowed voters to submit one absentee ballot application for both elections.
  • North Carolina: On July 17, Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, issued an emergency order mandating a number of modifications to in-person voting in the Nov. 3 general election.
  • Texas:
    • On July 18, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed a district court ruling that had allowed the Republican Party of Texas to proceed with its in-person state convention. This ruling effectively reinstated the cancellation order Houston officials issued on July 8.
    • On July 27, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a proclamation extending the early voting period for the Nov. 3 general election by six days. Originally scheduled to begin on Oct. 19, early voting will now begin on Oct. 13.
  • Vermont: On July 20, Secretary of State Jim Condos (D) issued a directive that a mail-in ballot be sent automatically to every active registered voter in the Nov. 3 general election.

Redistricting developments since our last issue

The effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the conduct of the United States Census are poised to postpone or otherwise alter redistricting efforts, which generally begin in earnest at the beginning of the calendar year following completion of the census. Beginning today, we’ll devote some space in each issue to this subject.

  • California: On July 17, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court extended the constitutional and statutory deadlines for congressional, state legislative, and Board of Equalization redistricting by at least four months because of possible delays in receiving data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The court directed the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to release draft district plans by Nov. 1, 2021, and final district plans by Dec. 15, 2021. The original deadlines were July 1, 2021, and August 15, 2021, respectively. The court provided for further extensions if the federal government does not provide the necessary data by July 31, 2021.

Litigation tracking

To date, we have tracked 145 lawsuits and/or court orders involving election policy issues and the COVID-19 outbreak. In each issue of The Ballot Bulletin, we shine a spotlight on what we consider one of the more interesting recent events in this area. Click here to view the complete list of lawsuits and court orders.

This week, we turn our attention to a case out of Florida, Grimes v. Florida Department of State.

  • Case name: Grimes v. Florida Department of State
  • Case number: 2020 CA 000908
  • State of origin: Florida
  • Court: Second Judicial Circuit Court
  • Summary: In May, three Florida residents filed suit against state and local election officials, requesting that the Second Judicial Circuit Court order these officials to automatically send mail-in ballots, complete with prepaid return postage, to all voters in the Nov. 3 general election. The defendants moved to dismiss. On July 20, Judge Charles W. Dodson granted the motion to dismiss, writing the following in his order: “The court finds that [plaintiffs’ complaint] fails to state a justiciable controversy at this time. Rather, the allegations appear to seek an advisory opinion. Plaintiffs have not alleged a burden or harm personal to them. No difficulty is alleged in requesting a vote-by-mail ballot or otherwise voting by mail. Further, there is no specific constitutional claim or violation alleged.”
  • Court documents:

Legislation tracking

To date, we have tracked 264 bills that make some mention of both election policy and COVID-19. States with higher numbers of relevant bills are shaded in darker blue on the map below. States with lower numbers of relevant bills are shaded in lighter blue. In states shaded in white, we have tracked no relevant bills.

Legislation related to elections and COVID-19, 2020

COVID-19 election bills July 29.png