Coronavirus weekly update: August 28 – September 3, 2020

Ballotpedia, The Encyclopedia of American Politics: Coronavirus Weekly Updates
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 Aug. 27:

  • Election changes
  • School closures and reopenings
  • Lawsuits about state actions and policies
  • Travel restrictions
  • Ballot measure changes
  • 1918 story
  • Federal responses
  • Stay-at-home orders
  • Eviction and foreclosure policies
  • Diagnosed or quarantined public officials
  • State legislation
  • State legislative sessions
  • State courts

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.

Election changes

Read more: Changes to election dates, procedures, and administration in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview: 

  • Twenty states have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
    • No states have postponed elections since Aug. 27.
  • Nineteen states have modified their candidate filing requirements.
    • No states have made candidate filing modifications since Aug. 27.
  • Forty states have made modifications to their voting procedures.
    • Six states have made voting procedure modifications since Aug. 27.
  • 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. 27.

Details:

  • Georgia: On Aug. 31, Judge Eleanor L. Ross of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued an order extending the return deadlines for absentee ballots in the general election. Ross ordered officials to accept as valid any absentee ballots postmarked Nov. 3 and received by 7:00 p.m., Nov. 6.
  • Maine: On Aug. 27, Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed an executive order extending the mail-in voter registration deadline from Oct. 13 to Oct. 19.
  • New Jersey: On Aug. 28, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed three bills into law, making a number of modifications to the state’s absentee/mail-in voting procedures for the general election (including the extension of the receipt deadline for ballots postmarked on or before Election Day to Nov. 9).
  • New York: On Sept. 2, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the launch of an online absentee ballot request portal for the general election.
  • Oklahoma: On Aug. 28, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) issued an executive order extending Oklahoma’s state of emergency by 30 days. This triggered the implementation of several modifications to Oklahoma’s absentee ballot procedures (including suspension of the notarization requirement, provided the voter submits a copy of his or her identification).
  • Utah: On Aug. 31, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed into law legislation making several changes to administration procedures for the general election (including the requirement that counties provide some form of in-person Election Day and early voting).

School closures and reopenings

Read more: School reopenings in the 2020-2021 academic year after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Overview:

In March and April, 48 states closed schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Those states accounted for 99.4% of the nation’s 50.6 million public school students. Montana and Wyoming did not end in-person instruction for the year. Montana schools were allowed to reopen on May 7 and Wyoming schools were allowed to reopen on May 15.

The current status of school reopenings is as follows:

  • Four states (N.M., R.I., Vt., W.V.) have a state-ordered school closure
  • Two states (Calif., Hawaii) have a state-ordered regional school closure
  • Three states (Del., N.C., Va.) are open for hybrid or remote instruction only
  • Five states (Ark., Fla., Iowa, Mo., Texas) have state-ordered in-person instruction
  • Thirty-six states have reopenings that vary by school or district

Details:

  • Connecticut – On Aug. 31, schools were allowed to reopen for in-person instruction. Schools in the state were initially closed on March 16.
  • Florida – On Aug. 28, Florida’s First District Court of Appeals put a hold on Leon County Judge Charles Dodson’s ruling that Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order requiring schools to open for in-person instruction was unconstitutional.
  • Maryland – On Aug. 27, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that all 24 school districts met the state’s benchmarks for opening to at least some in-person instruction. All school districts have previously announced a return to school with full online learning, while 16 have announced plans to resume at least some in-person instruction starting in mid-September. On Sept. 1, the state Board of Education approved new minimum requirements for instruction. Schools must be open at least 180 days and offer at least six hours of instruction, of which 3.5 hours must be synchronous instruction (all students taught at the same time) for grades K-12.
  • Rhode Island – On Aug. 31, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) announced every public school district in the state except Providence and Central Falls will be permitted to resume in-person instruction when schools reopen for the 2020-2021 academic year. Raimondo said in-person classes are still scheduled to start Sept. 14. Raimondo also signed an executive order extending Phase III of the state’s reopening plan.

Lawsuits about state actions and policies

Read more: Lawsuits about state actions and policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 879 lawsuits, across all 50 states, dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 318 of those lawsuits.
    • Since Aug. 27, we have added 60 lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional nine court orders and/or settlements.
  • Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 227 lawsuits, in 46 states, dealing with election issues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 141 of those lawsuits.

Here are three lawsuits that have either garnered significant national media attention or involve major advocacy groups.

  • 300 West Sahara, LLC v. Nevada: On Aug. 24, a Las Vegas hotel, after being fined for hosting an “Evangelicals for Trump” event, filed suit in the Clark County District Court seeking an order invalidating Gov. Steve Sisolak’s (D) ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. In its complaint, the Ahern Hotel argues that Sisolak’s Directive 21, which allows restaurants and casinos to operate at 50% capacity while limiting other gatherings to a maximum of 50 people, “is unreasonable because there is no rational basis for treating” businesses that host events differently than “similarly situated non-essential business.” The hotel says the disparity is an “unlawful, arbitrary, capricious” and “clearly erroneous” violation of its rights to equal protection and due process. The hotel is seeking a court order allowing convention centers, hotels, and restaurants to host events if they meet other health and safety standards under Phase II of Nevada’s Reopening Response Plan. The city and state have not commented on the suit.
  • New York Independent Venue Association v. Bradley: On Aug. 25, a group of businesses filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging restrictions that prevent venues from hosting ticketed live music events and other events with cover charges. Venues are also barred from advertising live entertainment. The plaintiffs argue that the New York Liquor Authority rule “is not just unworkable, it is unconstitutional.” The plaintiffs allege the rule violates the constitutional guarantees of free speech, procedural and substantive due process, and state agency rulemaking procedures. Justin Kantor, the New York Independent Venue Association co-chair, said, “These venues are doing everything possible to safely reopen and offer work to both artists and employees, even if it is at a financial loss, only to have New York state impose knee-jerk regulations that have now added unnecessary and unlawful restraints to our already devastated industry.” The New York Liquor Authority has not commented publicly on the suit, which has been assigned to Judge Gregory H. Woods, an appointee of President Barack Obama (D).
  • Neville v. Polis: On Aug. 28, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge against more than three dozen executive orders issued by Gov. Jared Polis (D), including a statewide mask mandate. The denial came two days after Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R) and activist Michelle Malkin filed the case. Neville and Malkin alleged the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act, which gives the governor expanded powers during an emergency, is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers doctrine. “[The] chief executive by executive order is purportedly making new laws and implementing new public policies which wholly usurp the power of the legislative department to make the laws, a power which has been delegated by the People through their Colorado Constitution exclusively to the legislative department.” Plaintiffs said that Polis’ actions, and those of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the El Paso and Denver health departments resulted in “unjust injury to [their] fundamental civil rights, liberty interests, and property rights.” Polis said, “We are free to be on the side of a deadly virus that has taken the lives of too many friends, parents, and loved ones, or on the side of Coloradans. I’m on the side of Coloradans.” The plaintiffs said they intended to re-file in the trial court for Denver County.

Travel restrictions

Read more: Travel restrictions issued by states in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • Governors or state agencies in 25 states issued executive orders placing restrictions on out-of-state visitors. At least 14 of those orders have been rescinded.
    • Since Aug. 27, four states have modified their travel restrictions.

Details:

  • Massachusetts –  On Aug. 2, the state added Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to its list of lower-risk states, exempting travelers and returning residents from those areas from having to quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Massachusetts.
  • Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York – On Sept. 1, Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that Alaska and Montana had been placed back on the joint travel advisory list, after having been removed Aug. 25. The travel advisory requires travelers entering the tristate area to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Ballot measure changes

Read more: Changes to ballot measure campaigns, procedures, and policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • 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.

1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish Flu) and the 1918 midterm election cycle

Read more: 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish Flu) and the 1918 midterm election cycle

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 Nov. 5, the Charleston News and Courier reported on the reopening of movie theaters.

In view of the announcement that the Spanish influenza quarantine be lifted at midnight Wednesday, the Pastime Amusement Company announced yesterday that its moving picture theaters would open at the regular hours on Thursday. The remodelled Victory Theater on Society Street, which is to be Charleston’s vaudeville house this winter, will not open until Monday, since it will be impossible to arrange for bookings before that time.

Click here to read the original article, courtesy of the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine and Michigan Publishing’s Influenza Encyclopedia.

Federal responses

Read more: Political responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

  • On Aug. 27, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sent a letter to governors asking states to expedite licensing and permitting so that COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites can be operational by Nov. 1.
  • On Aug. 28, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had authorized the drug Remdesivir to be used on all patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Previously, the FDA had permitted the use of Remdesivir on patients with severe cases of COVID-19.
  • On Sept. 1, White House spokesman Judd Deere announced the U.S. would not join an international initiative called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility, whose goal is to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. The World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, and the Epidemic Preparedness Innovations are spearheading Covax. Deere said, “The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
  • On Sept. 1, the White House announced that the CDC would issue a moratorium on residential evictions through Dec. 31. The moratorium does relieve tenants of the responsibility of paying rent, and landlords can still evict tenants for reasons other than the nonpayment of rent.

State stay-at-home orders

Read more: States with lockdown and stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

As of Sept. 3, 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.

Details:

  • New Mexico – Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunklel extended the state’s stay-at-home public health order through Sept. 18.

Eviction and foreclosure policies

Read more: Changes to rent, mortgage, eviction, and foreclosure policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • Twenty states have current moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
    • Since Aug. 27, one state ended a moratorium on evictions, two states extended moratoriums on evictions, and one state instituted a moratorium.
  • Twenty-three 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.

Details:

  • Pennsylvania – On Aug. 31, the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expired.
  • Florida – On Aug. 31, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) extended the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through Oct. 1. To avoid eviction, the order requires tenants to file a motion in court showing a coronavirus hardship caused them to miss payments. Landlords are permitted to seek an eviction judgment in court, but final judgments are postponed until the end of the moratorium.
  • California – On Aug. 31, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill that prevents evictions for nonpayment of rent through Jan. 31, 2021. Landlords can evict tenants for reasons other than nonpayment. Landlords can also begin eviction proceedings against tenants for nonpayment of rent if the tenant cannot pay 25% of the amount owed and does not provide a declaration that COVID-19 is the cause of the financial hardship. Landlords can begin collecting unpaid rent beginning Jan. 31, 2021.
  • Oregon – On Aug. 31, Gov. Kate Brown (D) issued an order extending the statewide foreclosure moratorium through December. A statewide moratorium on evictions was scheduled to expire at the end of September.

Diagnosed or quarantined politicians identified by Ballotpedia

Read more: Politicians, candidates, and government officials diagnosed with or quarantined due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

  • Federal
    • One federal official has died of COVID-19.
    • Thirteen members of Congress have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • Forty-three federal officials quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • State
    • Four state-level incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
    • Seventy-nine state-level incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19
    • Seventy-seven state-level incumbents or candidates quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • Local
    • 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. 27, one state representative has tested positive for coronavirus.

Details:

  • Florida state Rep. Chris Latvala (R), who represents District 67, announced on Aug. 30 he tested positive for COVID-19.

State legislation

Read more: State laws in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview: 

  • To date, 3,065 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
    • We have tracked 54 additional bills since Aug. 27.
  • Of these, 405 significant bills have been enacted into law, about 13 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 10 additional significant bills since Aug. 27 (also omitting ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business).

State legislative session changes

Read more: Changes to state legislative session dates in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview: 

  • Four state legislatures have suspended their sessions. All four of those have since reconvened.
  • Thirty-nine legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
    • One legislature has adjourned since Aug. 27.
  • Five state legislatures are in regular session.
  • Two state legislatures are in special session.

Details:

  • California – The California legislature adjourned on Aug. 31.

State court changes

Read more: State court closures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide
    • Since Aug. 27, one court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials.
  • Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings at the local level

Details:

  • California – The Superior Court of San Diego announced that jury summons had been mailed out to prospective jurors for the first time since the court closed in March. The summons asks recipients to be at the San Diego courthouse on Oct. 9.
  • Maryland – Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera announced that the Maryland Judiciary would move into Phase IV of the reopening plan on Aug. 31. Phase IV allows most in-person proceedings to resume, with the exception of jury trials, which remain prohibited.

Learn more

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About the author

Joel Williams

Joel Williams is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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