The Coronavirus Weekly Update summarizes major changes due to the coronavirus pandemic in politics, government, and elections. Today, you will find updates on the following topics, with comparisons to our previous edition released on August 6:
- Stay-at-home orders
- School closures and reopenings
- Federal responses
- Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- Election changes
- Ballot measure changes
- Travel restrictions
- State legislation
- State legislative sessions
- State courts
- Prison policies
- Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Diagnosed or quarantined public officials
For daily news on state reopening plans and which industries and activities are permitted across the country, subscribe to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery.
State stay-at-home orders
As of Aug. 13, stay-at-home orders have ended in 41 states. Nineteen of those states have Republican governors and 22 have Democratic governors (including Wisconsin, where the state supreme court invalidated the stay-at-home order). Seven states never issued stay-at-home orders.
California and New Mexico, both of which have a Democratic governor, are the only remaining states with an active stay-at-home order.
The United States held midterm elections as scheduled during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. More than 50 million people perished from the disease worldwide, including about 675,000 in the U.S., making it one of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history. Each week, 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 Oct. 17, The Indianapolis Star reported on how the spread of the flu was affecting fall campaigning and speaking events.
The outlook last night was that the epidemic of influenza will further demoralize the plans of the Republican and Democratic state committees for speaking campaigns. Secretary Hurty of the state board of health stated yesterday afternoon that it is probable the prohibition of all public gatherings may be extended for a week from next Monday, which is the date set by the Republicans and Democrats for opening the campaign. Secretary Hurty will determine Friday what course shall be taken.
Chairman Omar Jackson of the Democratic speakers’ bureau received a telegram yesterday from Vice President T.R. Marshall saying that he will speak in Indiana two days in the last week of the campaign if event speaking is permitted. Mr. Jackson also received word that Martin J. Glynn, former Governor of New York, probably will be assigned to Indiana for two days. Mr. Glynn delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic national convention at St. Louis in 1916. At both headquarters plans are being made for the opening of the brief speaking campaign with the understanding that the epidemic may upset everything.
- On Aug. 8, President Trump (R) signed four executive orders for economic relief including:
- a deferment of payroll taxes through the end of 2020 for Americans earning less than $100,000 per year,
- a deferment of student loan payments through the end of 2020,
- an extension of eviction moratoriums, and
- an extension of unemployment benefits with weekly payments at $400.
- On Aug. 10, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pentagon, and the White House’s Operation Warp Speed initiative began testing vaccine distribution plans in California, Florida, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The goal is to prepare for distributing a coronavirus vaccine.
- On Aug. 11, the Trump administration, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense, announced a $1.5 billion agreement with Moderna Inc. to develop and deliver 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine, clinical trials of which are underway.
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 694 lawsuits, in 49 states, dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 273 of those lawsuits.
- Since Aug. 6, we have added 62 lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional 35 court orders and/or settlements.
- Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 169 lawsuits, in 41 states, dealing with election issues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 92 of those lawsuits.
Here are three lawsuits that have either garnered significant national media attention or involve major advocacy groups.
- Forrer v. Alaska: On Aug. 7, Juneau Superior Court Judge Phillip M. Pallenberg dismissed a lawsuit alleging that state appropriation of federal funds received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act violated the Alaska Constitution. In his complaint, Juneau resident Eric Forrer argued that the use of a legislative committee, instead of the full state legislature, to approve appropriation of the federal aid violated Article IX, Section 13, of the Alaska Constitution. In response to the lawsuit, the Alaska Legislature convened in late May and ratified the actions of the legislative committee. Following that ratification, Pallenberg declined to stop the legislature’s activity pending his final decision on the merits, ruling in July that there are no “special procedural requirements for appropriations bills in the Alaska Constitution.” Pallenberg added that, given the “rapidly evolving circumstances of a public health emergency,” ratification of the legislative committee’s actions was likely constitutional. Following oral arguments, Pallenberg ruled in favor of the state and dismissed the case. Forrer’s attorney said an appeal may be filed.
- Lang v. Texas Health and Human Services: On Aug. 3, five Texas state lawmakers filed suit in Travis County District Court, asking the court to invalidate a $295 million-dollar COVID-19 contact tracing contract. At issue in the case is Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) use of emergency powers to procure and sign the contract outside normal procurement processes and without legislative approval. The plaintiff lawmakers are Texas state Reps. Mike Lang (R), Kyle Biedermann (R), Bill Zedler (R), Steve Toth (R), and Sen. Bob Hall (R). In their complaint, the lawmakers allege Abbott’s emergency actions are incompatible with Texas law, saying the “request for proposal for the contract was inadequate, the contract bid process was a sham, and the contract impermissibly exceeds two years.” The legislators allege the contract was awarded in violation of Tex. Gov’t Code § 2155.063, which requires “a purchase of or contract for goods or services shall, whenever possible, be accomplished through competitive bidding.” The lawmakers argue the law is “designed to ensure smooth operation during emergencies.” The legislators allege the executive branch cannot spend “essentially unlimited funds toward a goal unidentified by the legislature.” Abbott said, “Every lawsuit that has been filed against me has either been won in court or dismissed … this lawsuit will meet that exact same fate.” The judge assigned to the case has not yet been announced to the public.
- Tillis v. Manatee County: On Aug. 2, a lawsuit seeking to stop Manatee County’s mask mandate was filed in Florida’s Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court. The lawsuit, one of fourteen filed by attorney and Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R) on behalf of plaintiffs across the state, challenges the constitutionality of Manatee County’s Resolution No. R-20-116. The July 27 resolution requires individuals to wear face coverings while inside public businesses. In his complaint, the plaintiff, a Manatee County resident and pastor of a local Baptist church, argues the mask mandate violates his religious freedom and “should not apply within churches, synagogues and other houses of worship because it interferes with the ability to pray.” The plaintiff also alleges the mask mandate violates guarantees of privacy and due process under the Florida Constitution, arguing it is impermissibly vague and overbroad, could lead to public disclosure of private medical information, and is an arbitrary and unreasonable deprivation of liberty. Sabatini has filed similar lawsuits against Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Seminole, Orange, Leon, Pinellas, Collier, and Hillsborough counties, as well as the cities of St. Augustine, Key West, DeLand, and Jacksonville. Manatee County officials have not made any public statements concerning the pending suit.
- Twenty states have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
- No new states have postponed elections since Aug. 6.
- Nineteen states have modified their candidate filing requirements.
- No new states have made candidate filing modifications since Aug. 6.
- Forty states have made modifications to their voting procedures.
- Five states have made voting procedure modifications since Aug. 6.
- Political parties in 19 states have made modifications to party events on a statewide basis.
- No state parties have made modifications to party events since Aug. 6.
- Arkansas: On Aug. 7, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) issued an executive order extending absentee ballot eligibility to all voters in the Nov. 3 general election “who conclude their attendance at the polls may be a risk to their health or the health of others due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The order formalized a policy Hutchinson and Secretary of State John Thurston (R) announced on July 2.
- California: On Aug. 6, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed SB 423 into law, authorizing counties to consolidate polling places in the Nov. 3 general election, among other modifications to administration procedures.
- Connecticut: On Aug. 10, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) issued an executive order directing election officials to accept absentee ballots postmarked by Aug. 11 and delivered by Aug 13. The order applied only to the Aug. 11 primary election.
- Montana: On Aug. 6, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued a directive permitting counties to conduct the Nov. 3 general election entirely by mail. Bullock also authorized counties to expand early voting opportunities for the general election.
- Rhode Island: On Aug. 7, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued an opinion denying an effort from the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Rhode Island to block the consent decree suspending witness/notary requirements for mail-in ballots in Rhode Island.
Ballot measure changes
- At least 19 lawsuits were filed in 13 states seeking court orders suspending or changing signature requirements and deadlines.
- Rulings or settlements have been issued in 18 cases, with appeals and motions for stays pending in some.
- Ballotpedia has tracked 27 statewide initiative petition drives that suspended signature gathering.
- Seven states and D.C. changed ballot measure procedures through executive orders or legislative action.
- At least four initiative campaigns initially targeting 2020 reported they would shift their focus to 2022.
- Oregon: On Aug. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the Oregon Attorney General an emergency order blocking a lower court’s ruling that had lowered the signature requirement for the Oregon Independent State and Congressional Redistricting Commission Initiative.
- Governors or state agencies in 25 states issued executive orders placing restrictions on out-of-state visitors. At least 11 of those orders have been rescinded.
- Since Aug. 6, five states have modified their travel restrictions.
- Alaska – On Aug. 11, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s (R) updated travel restrictions went into effect for resident and nonresident travelers. Nonresident travelers must take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure and upload the results to the Alaska Travel Portal or show proof of the test to an airport screener. If the traveler arrives before receiving a test result, the traveler must self-quarantine until the results arrive. All travelers who test negative must social distance for 14 days or until receiving a second, negative test result taken between 7-14 days after arrival. Travelers who arrive without having taken a test can buy one for $250. Nonresident travelers are no longer permitted to skip the test and self-quarantine for 14 days, although that is still an option for Alaska residents.
- Connecticut, New York, New Jersey – Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that Hawaii, South Dakota, and the Virgin Islands had been added to the tristate quarantine list. The governors removed Alaska, New Mexico, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
- Kansas – On Aug. 11, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment removed Florida from its travel quarantine list and added a requirement that anyone who has traveled to or attended an out-of-state mass gathering of 500 or more people quarantine for 14 days upon entering or returning to Kansas. Anyone who traveled to or from Florida between June 29 and Aug. 11 must still complete a two-week quarantine.
State court changes
- Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide
- Since Aug. 6, three courts have extended restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials.
- Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings at the local level
- Georgia – On Aug. 11, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton issued an order extending the state’s judicial emergency, which had been set to expire on Aug. 11, through Sept. 10. Jury trials and most grand jury proceedings remain prohibited.
- Texas – On Aug. 6, the Supreme Court of Texas extended the prohibition on jury trials through October 1.
- Alaska – On Aug. 6, Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger extended a ban on most jury trials through November 2.
Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Twenty-one states have current moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
- Since Aug. 6, one state implemented a moratorium on evictions, while one state extended a moratorium on evictions.
- Twenty-one states have ended moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
- California has current local moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
- Seven states did not issue a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures on the state or local level.
- New York – On Aug. 10, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) extended the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through Sept. 5.
- Colorado – On Aug. 10, Gov Jared Polis (D) extended a requirement that landlords give tenants who are late on their rent 30 days notice before beginning eviction proceedings. The requirement was extended for 30 days.
- Virginia – On Aug. 7, In a 5-3 ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court granted Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) request to extend an eviction moratorium. The moratorium is set to last through Sept. 7.
State legislative responses
- To date, 2,820 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
- We have tracked 57 additional bills since Aug. 6.
- Of these, 390 significant bills have been enacted into law, 14 percent of the total number that has been introduced. This total omits ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.
- We have tracked seven additional significant bills since Aug. 6 (also omitting ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.)
State legislative session changes
- Six state legislatures have suspended their sessions. All six of those have since reconvened.
- Thirty-seven legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
- Five state legislatures are in regular session.
- Two state legislatures are in special session.
- Two legislatures have convened special sessions since Aug. 6.
- Minnesota – The Minnesota legislature convened a special session on Aug. 12.
- Tennessee – The Tennessee legislature convened a special session on Aug. 10.
Officials Diagnosed with Coronavirus
- One federal official has died of COVID-19.
- Ten members of Congress have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Forty-three federal officials quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
- Four state-level incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
- Seventy-one state-level incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19
- Seventy-six state-level incumbents or candidates quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
- At least two local incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
- At least 22 local incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- At least 27 local incumbents or candidates quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
Since Aug. 6, one state representative, one local official, and one state supreme court justice have tested positive for coronavirus. One federal judge died of coronavirus, and one mayor self-quarantined.
- Judge Stephen F. Williams, who sat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, died Aug. 7 of complications related to the coronavirus.
- On Aug. 8, Utah state Rep. Deidre Henderson (R), who represents District 7, announced on Twitter she tested positive for coronavirus. Henderson is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.
- North Dakota Supreme Court officials announced on Aug. 6 that Justice Gerald VandeWalle had tested positive for coronavirus and was receiving medical treatment.
- Chicago Alderman Michael Scott Jr., who represents Ward 24, announced on Aug. 6 he tested positive for coronavirus.
- Kansas state Rep. Ron Ryckman (R), who represents District 78, announced on Aug. 6 he had contracted coronavirus in July and was briefly hospitalized.
- Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced on Aug. 10 he was self-quarantining after someone in his office tested positive for coronavirus. He announced on Aug. 11 that his test came back negative.