Coronavirus weekly update: September 11 – September 17, 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 Sept. 10:

  • 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: 

  • Thirty-eight states have made modifications to their general election voting procedures. 
    • Six new states have made voting procedure modifications since Sept. 10.
  • Twenty states have modified their candidate filing requirements. 
    • No states have made candidate filing modifications since Sept. 10.

Details:

  • Arizona: On Sept. 10, Judge Douglas Rayes of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ordered Arizona election officials to give voters until 5:00 p.m. on the fifth business day after an election to sign their vote-by-mail ballot envelopes if they failed to sign at the time they submitted the ballots.
  • Louisiana: On Sept. 16, Chief Judge Shelly Deckert Dick of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ordered Louisiana election officials to make available to voters in the Nov. 3 general election the same COVID-19 absentee ballot application used in the state’s summer elections. This application offered COVID-19-specific reasons for requesting an absentee ballot.
  • Ohio
    • On Sept. 15, Judge Richard Frye of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas ruled that secretary of State Frank LaRose’s (R) order directing counties to provide no more than one absentee/mail-in ballot drop box per county “lacked a legitimate basis in evidence” and was “unreasonable and unlawful.” Frye, however, stopped short of rescinding the order. A representative for LaRose said the order remained in force. On Sept. 16, Frye ordered LaRose to stop directing counties to provide no more than one absentee/mail-in ballot drop box per county. However, Frye immediately suspended his order anticipating LaRose would appeal. The limit remains in effect pending appeal. 
    • On Sept. 11, Judge Stephen L. McIntosh of Ohio’s Franklin County Court of Common Pleas blocked LaRose from rejecting absentee ballot applications submitted via fax or email.
  • Pennsylvania: On Sept. 14, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh dropped a lawsuit against the state over mail-in ballots. The group withdrew their suit when election officials issued guidance preventing counties from rejecting mail-in ballots solely because of possible mismatches between the signature on the return envelope and the signature on the voter’s registration record.
  • Rhode Island: On Sept. 11, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) announced her office would send absentee/mail-in ballot applications to all active registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election.
  • South Carolina: On Sept. 16, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed H5305 into law, extending absentee voting eligibility to all qualified electors in the Nov. 3 general election. The legislation also established Oct. 5 as the start date for in-person absentee voting (i.e., 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 require 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:

  • Washington, D.C., has a district-ordered school closure
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 85,850 students (0.17% of students nationwide)
  • Five states (Calif., Hawaii, N.M., Ore., W.V.) have a state-ordered regional school closure
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 7,679,753 students (15.18% of students nationwide)
  • Two states (Del., Va.) are open for hybrid or remote instruction only
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 1,686,326 students (3.33% of students nationwide)
  • Four states (Ark., Fla., Iowa, Texas) have state-ordered in-person instruction
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 9,180,918 students (18.15% of students nationwide)
  • Thirty-nine states have reopenings that vary by school or district
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 31,955,012 students (63.17% of students nationwide)

Details:

  • Rhode Island – In-person K-12 classes were allowed to resume statewide on Sept. 14. Cumberland and Warwick school districts are starting the school year fully remotely. Most school districts resumed with a hybrid schedule.
  • West Virginia – On Sept. 15, Gov. Jim Justice (R) announced he was adding a new color—gold—to the color-coding system that determines how schools can reopen. Counties with between 10 and 14.9 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people will be classified as gold. While in-person learning is allowed in gold counties, there are limits on gatherings and sports travel. 

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 934 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 324 of those lawsuits. 
    • Since Sept. 10, we have added 40 lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional five court orders and/or settlements. 
  • Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 234 lawsuits, in 47 states, dealing with election issues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 155 of those lawsuits.

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

  • County of Butler v. Wolf: On Sept. 14, Judge William Stickman IV of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania struck down some of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) COVID-19 orders. The suit was brought on behalf of various Pennsylvania counties, businesses, and elected officials. It challenged Wolf’s restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, the continued closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses, and prolonged stay-at-home orders. Writing that the “liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms,” Stickman, an appointee of President Donald Trump (R), ruled that the “Constitution cannot accept the concept of a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures.” In his order, Stickman found: 
    • “(1) that the congregate gathering limits … violate the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment;” 
    • “(2) that the stay-at-home and business closure components of defendants’ orders violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; 
    • “and (3) that the business closure components of defendants’ orders violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” 
    • Stickman limited remedy to the plaintiff individuals and businesses, dismissing the counties for lacking standing to sue. Thomas E. Breth, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “You can’t tell 13 million Pennsylvanians that they have to stay home. That’s not America. It never was. That order was horrible.” 
    • Lyndsay Kensinger, Wolf’s press secretary, said Wolf would seek to block the decision while seeking an appeal, adding that the “ruling does not impact any of the other mitigation orders currently in place including … mandatory telework, mandatory mask order, worker safety order, and the building safety order.”
  • Illinois Republican Party v. Pritzker: On Sept. 3, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit refused the Illinois Republican Party’s request to block Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) COVID-19 restrictions on the size of political gatherings. In its appeal, the state party claimed Pritzker’s orders unconstitutionally imposed a content-based limitation on speech because it allowed religious gatherings to exceed the 50-person limit. The state party also alleged Pritzker had selectively enforced his restrictions on political gatherings when he permitted, supported, and participated in a Black Lives Matter protest. The Seventh Circuit panel disagreed, finding that precedent “does not compel the Governor to treat all gatherings alike.” The panel further concluded that “free exercise of religion enjoys express constitutional protection, and the Governor was entitled to carve out some room for religion, even while he declined to do so for other activities.” Finally, the court emphasized that re-subjecting religious gatherings to the mandatory cap would “leave the Republicans no better off than they are today.” U.S. Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood, an appointee of President Bill Clinton (D), and Judges Amy St. Eve and Amy Coney Barrett, appointees of President Donald Trump (R), sat on the panel and were unanimous in their decision. Daniel Suhr, counsel for the Republican Party, said, “We are disappointed in the decision, respectfully disagree with it, and are considering our options.” Pritzker has not yet made a statement.
  • Renneberg v. Abbott: On Sept. 8, two families filed suit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in the Travis County District Court challenging COVID-19 visitation restrictions for nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The plaintiffs, who have been unable to visit their family members in care facilities, argue that Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) are violating their constitutional and statutory rights “by prohibiting essential family visitors, damaging the health of residents in these facilities, and costing precious time to the residents and their families.” Citing the Texas Human Resources Code, which guarantees an elderly individual “a private place for receiving visitors,” with limited exceptions, plaintiffs argue that officials are “impeding this right and … suspending this portion of the law without authority.” The plaintiffs are asking for the court to “issue a temporary and permanent injunction allowing for safe and limited family visits for essential family caregivers.” Abbott’s office has not commented on the lawsuit, and HHSC has declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

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 Sept. 10, five states have modified their travel restrictions. 

Details:

  • Connecticut, New Jersey, New York – On Sept. 15, Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that Puerto Rico had been re-added to the joint travel advisory, while California, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, and Ohio had been removed.
  • Pennsylvania – On Sept. 13, Pennsylvania removed California and Texas from its travel advisory and added Illinois.
  • Massachusetts – On Sept. 12, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health removed Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia from the list of low-risk states. The state had designated Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and Colorado low risk at the end of August. Travelers from low-risk states are exempt from the 14-day quarantine requirement.

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. 8, 1918, the Oakland Tribune reported on an unexpectedly large number of general election votes cast in the midst of a pandemic.

In spite of the influenza epidemic and all the predictions, the general election vote came within 2789 votes of the primary total. The figure of the primary is 77,148 and for the general election, 74,359.

The big vote is attributed to the fact that the election, robbed of the appearance of being bitterly fought by reason of the orders prohibiting meetings, was nevertheless one of the most stubbornly contested elections of recent years. Letter writing, advertising, and telephoning took the place of speech-making.

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 Sept. 16, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Defense (DoD) released the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy. It includes guidance for working with states, tribes, territories, and local public health programs and a plan for distributing a vaccine as soon as one receives Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • On Sept. 15, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) announced the House would remain in session until lawmakers come to an agreement on another coronavirus stimulus bill.
  • On Sept. 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed a requirement that international travelers from countries like China, Iran, and the United Kingdom deplane at one of 15 designated airports and undergo enhanced health screening. The new strategy for international travelers to the U.S., based on evidence that individuals can be asymptomatic, relies on education, illness response, and developing a testing framework with other countries.

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. 17, 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.

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 Sept. 10, one state has extended a moratorium on evictions.
  • 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:

  • Illinois – Gov. J.B. Pritzker extended the statewide moratorium on evictions through Oct. 22. It was scheduled to expire on Sept. 19.  

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.
    • Eighty-five state-level incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19
    • Seventy-eight 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 Sept. 13, two lieutenant governors, one state senator, and one state Supreme Court justice have tested positive for coronavirus. One state senator self-quarantined. 

Details:

  • Ohio state Sen. Bob Peterson (R), who represents District 17, announced on Sept. 14 he had tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Ohio state Sen. Larry Obhof (R), who represents District 22, announced on Sept. 14 he was self-quarantining at home after interacting with Sen. Bob Peterson, who later tested positive for coronavirus.
  • South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette (R) announced on Sept. 14 she had tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush announced on Sept. 13 she had tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Hawaii Lt. Gov. Joshua Green (D) announced on Sept. 11 he had tested positive for coronavirus.

State legislation

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

Overview: 

  • To date, 3,146 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
    • We have tracked 57 additional bills since Sept. 10.
  • Of these, 420 significant bills have been enacted into law, 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 11 additional significant bills since Sept. 10 (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. 
  • Forty-one legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
  • Four state legislatures are in regular session. 
  • One state legislature is in special session. 

Details:

  • We have tracked no legislative session changes since Sept. 10.

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 Sept. 10, one court has extended restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials. One state court permitted jury trials to resume.
  • Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings at the local level

Details:

  • North Carolina –  On Sept. 15, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued an order extending and modifying emergency directives issued in response to the coronavirus for the next 30 days. The directives include a ban on jury trials, among other restrictions on in-person proceedings.
  • Iowa – On Sept. 14, jury trials resumed in Iowa after several pilot trials received positive feedback from participating jurors and judges.

Learn more

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About the author

Cory Eucalitto

Cory Eucalitto is a managing editor at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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