Coronavirus Weekly Update: September 24, 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. 17:

  • 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 voting procedures for the general election. 
    • Six states have made voting procedure modifications since Sept. 17.
  • Twenty states have modified their candidate filing requirements. 
    • No states have made candidate filing modifications since Sept. 17.

Details:

  • Michigan: On Sept. 18, Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Michigan Court of Claims issued a ruling extending Michigan’s absentee/mail-in ballot receipt deadline to Nov. 17 for ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 2. Stephens also authorized voters to allow anyone of their choosing to return their ballots between 5:01 p.m. on Oct. 30 and the close of polls on Nov. 3.
  • Mississippi: On Sept. 18, the Mississippi State Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that had extended absentee/mail-in voting eligibility to individuals with “pre-existing conditions that cause COVID-19 to present a greater risk of severe illness or death.”
  • New York: On Sept. 18, the League of Women Voters reached a settlement agreement with New York election officials over ballot curing provisions for the general election.
  • Pennsylvania: On Sept. 17, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued rulings that extended the mail-in ballot receipt deadline to Nov. 6 and authorized the use of drop boxes for returning mail-in ballots in the general election.
  • South Carolina: On Sept. 18, Judge J. Michelle Childs of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina issued a preliminary injunction barring election officials from enforcing South Carolina’s witness requirement for absentee/mail-in ballots in the general election.
  • Wisconsin: On Sept. 21, Judge William M. Conley of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin issued an order extending the absentee/mail-in ballot receipt deadline in Wisconsin to Nov. 9 for ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3. Conley immediately stayed his ruling, giving defendants seven days to file an emergency appeal of the order. 

School closures and reopenings

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

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 to close 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:

  • Maryland – On Sept. 22, Karen Salmon, the Maryland Superintendent of Schools, approved in-person reopening plans for every school district in the state. 
  • Vermont – On Sept. 22, Vermont Education Secretary Dan French announced schools would advance to step 3 of reopening, which allows for inter-scholastic competitions, on Sept. 26. Step 3 also permits schools to use common areas like gyms and small groups of students. 

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 991 lawsuits, in all 50 states, dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 332 of those lawsuits. 
    • Since Sept. 17, we have added 57 lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional eight court orders and/or settlements. 
  • Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 237 lawsuits, in 47 states, dealing with election issues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 166 of those lawsuits.

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

  • Barry v. University of Washington: On Sept. 16, a University of Washington (UW) student filed a class-action lawsuit seeking tuition reimbursement for campus closures. In the complaint, filed in King County Superior Court, UW graduate student Alexander Barry alleges that “[d]espite sending students home, transitioning to online instruction, and closing its campuses, the University of Washington continued to charge for tuition … as if nothing changed, continuing to reap the financial benefit of millions of dollars from students.” The suit alleges the university’s “failure to provide in-person instruction and shutdown of campus facilities amounts to a material breach of the contract.” The complaint alleges that contract law, constitutional guarantees, and “good conscience require that the University of Washington return a portion of the monies paid in tuition and fees.” In a statement, UW representative Victor Balta said university officials “understand and share the frustration and disappointment that students and their families are experiencing as we navigate the unprecedented limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” but declined to comment directly on the pending litigation. The judge assigned to the case has yet to be announced.
  • Eden LLC v. Justice: On Sept. 17, a joint group of businesses and the parents of public school children filed suit against West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. Plaintiffs are challenging what they call his “never-ending executive orders mandating restrictions of constitutionally protected activities.” The plaintiffs allege Justice’s COVID-19 orders violate the U.S. Constitution’s Takings Clause, violating guarantees of substantive due process, procedural due process, equal protection, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression. The plaintiffs allege Justice’s “actions in classifying business as ‘non-essential’ are arbitrary and irrational,” as is his “blanket closure of private or public schools.” Neither Justice nor his office has commented. The case has not yet been assigned to a judge.
  • Miller v. Himes: On Sept. 10, a group of parents filed suit in the Putnam County Court of Common Pleas challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s mask mandate for schools. The mandate requires public and private students in kindergarten through 12th grade to wear facial coverings while on campus, with some exceptions. The parents allege the order infringes on their religious beliefs, and those of their children, as well as their constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit. The plaintiffs also allege mask-wearing has become politicized, making the mandate an unconstitutional form of compelled speech. Lastly, the parents allege the mandate “destroys basic expressive communication, deletes peoples’ sense of self,” and violates their privacy rights “in violation of traditional common law as well as Ohio tort law.” Lance Himes, interim director of the Ohio Department of Health, has not commented. The case is assigned to Judge Keith Schierloh.

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. 17, six states have modified their travel restrictions. 

Details:

  • Maine – On Sept. 23, Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced that Massachusetts travelers entering Maine would no longer be required to test negative or quarantine for 14 days. Other exempt states include New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. Travelers from all other states must present a negative COVID-19 test or self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Maine. 
  • New Mexico – On Sept. 23,  Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) added Colorado, Oregon, and Rhode Island to the list of high-risk states. Travelers from high-risk states must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New Mexico. Michigan and Hawaii were moved from high-risk to low-risk, exempting travelers from those states from the quarantine requirement.
  • Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York – On Sept. 22, Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Wyoming had been added to the tristate quarantine list, which includes 33 states plus Guam and Puerto Rico. 
  • Massachusetts – On Sept. 19, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health removed Wyoming from its list of low-risk states. Travelers from Wyoming must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Massachusetts.

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 20 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. 
  • 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.

Details:

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. 2, 1918, the Deseret Evening News previewed Utah’s general election, which took place under the pall of the influenza pandemic.

After the most unusual campaign in the history of Utah politics—owing chiefly to the influenza quarantine—the general election will take place next Tuesday, Nov. 5. Three justices of the state supreme court, two congressmen, a judge of the district court, state senators, state representatives, and full county ticket will be chosen.

The Australian ballot system will be used. A list of nominations has been prepared by county clerks throughout the state, and voters have been asked to make themselves familiar with the names of the candidates so that voting may be expedited. To vote a straight ticket, a cross should be placed in the circle at the top of the column on the ballot which will be provided. This circle is placed under the official party emblem. Three parties are represented, the Democratic, Republican, and Socialist.

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. 22, Adm. Brett Giroir, the Assistant Secretary for Health and testing czar on the White House coronavirus task force, confirmed that the Trump administration has sent more than 250,000 rapid coronavirus tests to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as part of an effort to prevent outbreaks in high-risk communities.
  • On Sept. 21, the U.S. Department of Defense announced travel restrictions had been lifted on 51% of U.S. military installations around the world.
  • On Sept. 18, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced on Twitter that the Department of Homeland Security would extend its prohibition on nonessential travel with Canada and Mexico through Oct. 21.

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.

Details:

  • New Mexico Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel extended the state’s stay-at-home order through Oct. 16.

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. 17, 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:

  • New York – Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) extended the statewide moratorium on commercial evictions and foreclosures through Oct. 20.

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. 17, one governor, one state representative, and one candidate for state representative have tested positive for coronavirus.

Details:

  • Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) announced on Sept. 23 he and his wife had tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Illinois state Rep. Sam Yingling (D), who represents District 62, announced on Sept. 21 he had tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Fred Hawkins (R), a candidate for Florida’s House of Representatives District 42, announced on Sept. 22 he had tested positive for coronavirus. 

State legislation

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

Overview: 

  • To date, 3,209 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
    • We have tracked 63 additional bills since Sept. 17.
  • Of these, 426 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 six additional significant bills since Sept. 17 (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. 17.

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, two courts have relaxed restrictions on in-person proceedings.
  • Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings at the local level

Details:

  • South Carolina – On Sept. 21, state courts were allowed to resume normal scheduling and in-person hearings.
  • New Jersey – On Sept. 21, courts in the state were allowed to resume jury trials.

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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