Coronavirus weekly update: September 25 – October 1, 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. 24:

  • 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 courts

Election changes

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

Overview: 

  • Thirty-nine states have made modifications to their voting procedures. 
    • Six states have made voting procedure modifications since Sept. 24.
  • Twenty states have modified their candidate filing requirements. 
    • No states have made candidate filing modifications since Sept. 24.

Details:

  • Alabama: On Sept. 30, Judge Abdul Kallon of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama issued a ruling that made a number of modifications to Alabama’s voting laws, including waiving the absentee/mail-in ballot witness/notary requirement for voters with underlying medical conditions. 
  • Indiana: On Sept. 29, Judge Sarah Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an order extending the postmark and receipt deadline for absentee/mail-in ballots in Indiana to Nov. 3 and Nov. 13, respectively.
  • Iowa: On Sept. 25, Iowa legislators approved Secretary of State Paul Pate’s R(R) emergency request authorizing counties to begin processing absentee/mail-in ballots on Oct. 31, the Saturday before Election Day.
  • South Carolina: On Sept. 25, the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier ruling and removed the state’s witness requirement for absentee/mail-in ballots.
  • Texas: On Sept. 30, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked a lower court’s order that had reinstated Texas’ straight-ticket ballot device, pending further proceedings. 
  • Wisconsin: On Sept. 29, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a district court decision extending voter registration and absentee/mail-in ballot return deadlines in Wisconsin.

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 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)

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 1,013 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 352 of those lawsuits. 
    • Since Sept. 24, we have added 22 lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional 20 court orders and/or settlements. 
  • Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 251 lawsuits, in 47 states, dealing with election issues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 176 of those lawsuits.

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

  • Case v. Ivey: On Sept. 24, seven Alabama residents represented by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) sued Gov. Kay Ivey (R) and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris in U.S. district court. Plaintiffs allege the executive orders Ivey and Harris have issued are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs said the “Orders, Proclamations, and Mandates of both Governor Ivey and State Health Officer Harris” have been enforced as law and “violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Plaintiffs allege the limits on gathering size and social distancing orders “unlawfully and in direct contradiction to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment … effectively prohibited worship services.” A representative for Ivey said, “The governor is pleased with our state’s progress in terms of COVID-19 and reminds everyone to keep at it.” Although the suit was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, it was later moved to the Middle District. A judge has not yet been assigned.
  • Ike’s Korner Grille v. South Carolina: On Sept. 20, a Spartanburg County restaurant sued the state of South Carolina and Gov. Henry McMaster (R), alleging McMaster’s COVID-19 executive orders “are not authorized by the laws of South Carolina and violate the South Carolina Constitution.” Ike’s Korner Grille has received multiple notices for violating mandatory safety measures. The Grille’s owners allege the orders pose “the threat of lasting and permanent harm” to its “business and personal liberty by the restrictive micro-managing of operations.” Plaintiffs also allege McMaster’s orders exceed the statutory time-limit for a state of emergency and unconstitutionally “usurp the legislative power of the General Assembly.” A representative from McMaster’s office said, “[The] governor is confident in the constitutionality of the targeted, deliberate and limited measures that have been put in place to help stop the spread of the virus.” The case is pending in the Spartanburg County Court of Common Pleas.
  • Newman v. Evers: On Sept. 17, a Wisconsin poll worker who was fired for refusing to wear a mask sued his local city clerk and Gov. Tony Evers (D) in the La Crosse County Circuit Court. Poll worker Nicholas Newman asks the court to declare Evers’ Executive Order No. 82 and Emergency Order No. 1 unlawful. The orders declared a public health emergency and mandated masks statewide, respectively. Newman alleges Evers’ mask mandate exceeds “his statutory and constitutional power, and is therefore unlawful, void and unenforceable.” Newman also says the order exempts him from wearing a face covering because he “is an individual who has trouble breathing” and “also has a medical condition which makes it dangerous for him to wear a mask for an extended period of time.” A representative for Evers said, “that masks can save lives, and Gov. Evers continues to ask everyone to do their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask.” The case has been assigned to Judge Ramona A. Gonzalez.

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. 24three states have modified their travel restrictions. 

Details:

  • 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.) that Colorado had been added to the tristate quarantine list. Arizona and Virginia were removed from the list. 

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. 
  • 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, 1918, the Oakland Tribune reported on the shortage of poll workers in Alameda County due to the influenza pandemic.

Oakland and virtually all of Alameda County is handling today’s selection under difficulties. Many of those selected as election booth officials have been made ill by Spanish influenza and substitutes have been difficult to obtain by reason of fear of the epidemic. 

All of the polling places are open, however, although many of them are being run shorthanded. It is the purpose of County Clerk Gross to fill the vacancies by drafting persons who come to work at the polls for candidates or from those who come to vote.

Early morning voting was very light, according to the reports that have been received by the county clerk. It is believed, however, that the pleasant weather will have much to do with getting out a vote somewhere near normal.

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. 28, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the Washington Monument would reopen October 1. Visitors must get tickets online, and masks will be required inside the monument.
  • On Sept. 28, President Donald Trump (R) announced the federal government would send the first batch of a planned 100 million rapid coronavirus tests developed by Abbott Laboratories to states this week. The first shipment was expected to total 6.5 million tests. The tests would be distributed to states based on population.
  • On Sept. 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it was extending a ban on cruise ships with a carrying capacity of more than 250 people through Oct. 31. The no-sail order prohibits passenger operations on cruise ships in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction. 

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 Oct. 1, 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:

  • Nineteen states have current moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
    • Since Sept. 24, one state ended an eviction moratorium. Three states extended moratoriums on evictions.
  • Twenty-four 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 – On Sept. 28, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) extended the statewide moratorium on residential evictions through Jan. 1, 2021.
  • Oregon – On Sept. 28, Gov. Kate Brown (D) issued an order extending the statewide moratorium on residential evictions through Dec. 31. The new order, which goes into effect Sept. 30, does not cover commercial evictions.
  • Connecticut – On Sept. 30, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced he would extend the statewide moratorium on evictions through Jan. 1. The moratorium was set to expire on Oct. 1.
  • Florida – The statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expired on Oct. 1, after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced that he would not extend it.

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-nine 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. 24, one governor and three state representatives have tested positive for coronavirus. One governor has self-quarantined.

Details:

  • On Sept. 24, South Carolina state Rep. Katrina Shealy (R), who represents District 23, announced she had tested positive for COVID-19.
  • On Sept. 25, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced that he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19. 
  • On Sept. 29, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) announced he would self-quarantine for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19. Pritzker self-quarantined on May 11 after a member of his staff tested positive for the virus.
  • On Sept. 29, Michigan state Rep. Beau LaFave (R), who represents District 108, announced he had tested positive for coronavirus.
  • On Oct. 1, Pennsylvania state Rep. Paul Schemel (R), who represents District 90, announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus.

State legislation

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

Overview: 

  • To date, 3,275 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
    • We have tracked 66 additional bills since Sept. 24.
  • Of these, 438 significant bills have been enacted into law, 13% of the total introduced. This total omits ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business. 
    • We have tracked 12 additional significant bills since Sept. 24 (also omitting ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.)

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. 24, two courts have extended restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials.
  • Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings at the local level

Details:

  • Virginia – On Sept. 29, the Virginia Supreme Court issued an order extending the statewide judicial emergency through Oct. 11. The order continues requirements like face coverings in courthouses. Courts are still encouraged to conduct as much business as possible remotely, and jury trials remain prohibited in all but 10 jurisdictions.
  • Alaska –  On Sept. 26, Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger issued an order extending a ban on felony jury trials through the end of the year, but allowing for misdemeanor jury trials to resume in November.

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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