Four Mississippi Supreme Court seats up for election in November

Four Mississippi Supreme Court justices are facing non-partisan elections on November 3, 2020. Incumbent Justice T. Kenneth Griffis is opposed by Mississippi Court of Appeals Justice Latrice Westbrooks. Incumbent Justice Josiah Coleman is opposed by Third Chancery District Justice Percy L. Lynchard. Leslie King and Mike Randolph are both running unopposed.

Currently, five judges on the court were appointed by a Republican governor and four judges were initially selected in a nonpartisan election.

The nine justices on the Mississippi Supreme Court are each elected to eight-year terms in nonpartisan general elections. There are no primary elections for judicial candidates in Mississippi. Justices must face re-election if they wish to serve again.

The governor names a temporary judge whenever a midterm vacancy occurs on the court. If four or fewer years of the term remain, the appointed justice serves out the remainder of the term. If more than four years are remaining, the appointee will run in the next general election, taking place nine months or more after the vacancy occurs, and then serve the remainder of the term.

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Oklahoma moves into Phase 3 of reopening plan today

Oklahoma entered Phase 3 of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R) “Open Up and Recover Safely” plan on June 1, 2020. Church and school summer camps may open, businesses may resume unrestricted staffing at worksites with social distancing and sanitation measures, and businesses that were operating by appointment only may accept walk-ins.

Residents are encouraged to minimize time spent in crowds and vulnerable individuals are urged to continue following safer-at-home guidelines. Also under Phase 3, visits to hospitals can resume, with limitations such as one representative per patient and social distancing measures. Visits to senior care facilities are still prohibited.

All of Virginia now operating under Phase One of reopening plan

On May 29, Northern Virginia, as well as Richmond and Accomack County, moved into Phase One of the “Forward Virginia” reopening plan, leaving no part of the state under a stay-at-home order.

The stay-at-home order ended for parts of the state on May 15, but Gov. Ralph Northam (D) delayed Northern Virginia’s entry into Phase One to give the region more time to bring down the number of COVID-19 cases. Northam also delayed the implementation of Phase One for Richmond and Accomack County after leaders requested more time to prepare for reopening.

Phase One eases restrictions on several types of businesses. Non-essential retail, for example, can reopen at 50% capacity, and restaurants and breweries with outdoor seating permits can allow 50% seating capacity outdoors. Gatherings are limited to 10 people.

Beginning May 29, face coverings are required in public indoor settings for people 10 years and older.

Stay-at-home orders have ended in 31 states. Eighteen of those states have Republican governors and 13 have Democratic governors (including Wisconsin, where the state Supreme Court invalidated the stay-at-home order). Of the 12 states with active stay-at-home orders, one has a Republican governor and 11 have Democratic governors.

Candidate filing period for state executive and legislative races ends in Vermont and Wyoming

The filing deadlines to run for state-level offices in Vermont and Wyoming have passed. Vermont’s deadline was on May 28, and Wyoming’s deadline was on May 29.

In Vermont, prospective candidates filed for the following state offices:
• Governor
• Lieutenant Governor
• Secretary of State
• Auditor
• Attorney General
• Treasurer
• Vermont State Senate (30 seats)
• Vermont House of Representatives (150 seats)

In Wyoming, prospective candidates filed for the following state legislative offices:
• Wyoming State Senate (15 seats)
• Wyoming House of Representatives (60 seats)

Wyoming is also holding retention elections for two state Supreme Court justices on November 3, 2020.

Vermont’s primary is scheduled for August 11, and Wyoming’s primary is scheduled for August 18. The general elections in both states are scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Vermont’s statewide filing deadline was the 39th and Wyoming’s deadline was the 40th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadlines are on June 1 in Alaska, Kansas, and Wisconsin.

Wyoming has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Vermont has a divided government where no party holds a trifecta.

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Filing period ends for congressional offices in Vermont, Wyoming

The major-party filing deadlines to run for elected office in Vermont and Wyoming passed on May 28 and May 29.

Candidates in Vermont filed for the state’s At-Large Congressional District seat.

Candidates in Wyoming filed for the following offices:
  • U.S. Senate (one seat)
  • Wyoming’s At-Large Congressional District (one seat)

U.S. Senate incumbent Mike Enzi (R) announced on May 4, 2019, that he would retire in the fall of 2020.

The primary in Vermont is scheduled for August 11, and the primary in Wyoming is scheduled for August 18. The general election in both states is scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Vermont and Wyoming’s major-party congressional filing deadlines were the 39th and 40th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next major-party congressional filing deadlines are on June 1 in Alaska, Kansas, and Wisconsin.

Entering the 2020 election, the Democratic Party holds the At-Large Congressional District seat from Vermont, and the Republican Party holds the U.S. Senate and At-Large Congressional District seats from Wyoming.

The U.S. Senate has 45 Democrats, 53 Republicans, and two independents who caucus with the Democratic Party. Only 33 out of 100 Senate seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 51 seats. The U.S. House has 233 Democrats, 196 Republicans, and one Libertarian. All 435 seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 218 seats.

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Arizona schools set to reopen in the fall

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced that schools in the state would reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. No firm start date was provided, but Ducey said the state would release guidelines for schools on June 1. Schools in the state have been closed to in-person instruction since March 15.

Forty-eight states were closed schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year. Those states account for 99.4% of the 50.6 million public school students in the country. The two states to not close schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year are Montana and Wyoming.

The League of Women Voters of Michigan sues Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) over implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision

The League of Women Voters of Michigan sues Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) over implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision

In 2018, voters approved Michigan Proposal 3, a citizen-initiated measure that added no-excuse absentee voting to the Michigan Constitution. Before Proposal 3, statute required an excuse related to age, travel, religion, arraignment or trial, or election duties to obtain an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters of Michigan (LWV), along with state chapters of the ACLU and NAACP, sponsored the proposal.

On May 22, 2020, the LWV sued Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) in the Michigan Court of Appeals over the implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision.

Proposal 3 (Article II, Section 4 of the Michigan Constitution) states that electors have a right to vote an absentee ballot in person or via mail during the 40 days before an election. Existing statute says that mail-in absentee ballots need to be received by elections clerks before polls close (at 8 p.m.) on election day to be counted. According to LWV, Proposal 3 rendered the statute unconstitutional.

The lawsuit stated, “For instance, a voter who mails her completed ballot the day before election day will have her ballot rejected if it arrives at the clerk’s office two days later. The received-by deadline thus facially denies voters their express constitutional right ‘to choose’ to submit their absentee ballots ‘by mail’ at any time within 40 days of election day.”

Proposal 3 stated that the constitutional amendment was self-executing and “shall be liberally construed in favor of voters’ rights in order to effectuate its purposes.” In the lawsuit, LWV asked the court to order Secretary Benson to direct local election clerks to count mail-in absentee ballots that were postmarked by election day.

On May 22, a spokesperson for the secretary of state said that the office had no immediate comment while the lawsuit was being reviewed.

Along with creating a state constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot, Proposal 3 established constitutional rights to straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and the auditing of election results.

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U.S. District Judge rules Florida cannot condition voting on financial obligations a felon is unable to pay

On May 24, 2020, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida cannot prevent felony convicts from voting based on fines, fees, or restitution they are unable to pay.

Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a citizen initiative, in 2018 by a vote of 65% in favor to 35% against. The initiative was designed to automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. Under the amendment, voting rights would be restored upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation.

Senate Bill 7066 was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) in June 2019. The bill required convicted felons to complete “all terms of sentence” including full payment of restitution, or any fines, fees, or costs resulting from the conviction before regaining the right to vote. In August 2019, DeSantis asked the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion concerning whether “all terms of sentence” included legal financial obligations (court fees, fines, restitution) and on January 16, 2020, the supreme court found that “all terms of sentence” does include the satisfaction of all legal financial obligations.

Five lawsuits against Senate Bill 7066 were consolidated into one— Kevin Leon Jones et al. vs Ron DeSantis et al.— and the case went to trial on April 27, 2020. Plaintiffs included the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Campaign Legal Fund of Washington, D.C. The original plaintiffs in the case were 17 individual plaintiffs and three organizations: the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Florida.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in that the state can prohibit felons from voting if they have outstanding legal financial obligations (court fees, restitution, fines) that they are able to pay, but that the state cannot prohibit a person from voting if they have outstanding legal financial obligations that they are unable to pay. Hinkle said the system under Senate Bill 7066 was an “unconstitutional pay-to-vote system.”

Hinkle said that felons (a) who could not afford an attorney and were therefore appointed one and (b) who had their legal financial obligations converted to civil liens could register to vote. Other felons who are unable to pay their financial obligations can request a determination from Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee (R), who must issue the determination within 21 days and must include information such as how much money is owed and how the state calculated the amount. If the Secretary of State does not issue the determination within 21 days of receipt, the felon may register to vote.

The plaintiffs argued that provisions of SB 7066 that conditioned voting on the payment of legal financial obligations violated the following:

  • the Eighth Amendment (a prohibition on excessive fines);
  • the First Amendment rights of organizations involved in voter registration activities such as the League of Women Voters;
  • the 19th Amendment by diminishing women’s voting rights “due to their low average incomes compared to men;” and
  • the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

The ruling was expected to be appealed by the state.

In October 2019, Hinkle granted a preliminary injunction in Jones v DeSantis case, which applied only to the 17 individual plaintiffs, and provided that the individuals could not be stopped from voting based on the inability to pay legal financial obligations. The state appealed the ruling, and the ruling was later upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

As of 2018, Florida was one of four states—the three others are Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia—where convicted felons do not regain the right to vote, until and unless a state officer or board restores an individual’s voting rights.

Texas Supreme Court rules that a voter’s lack of immunity does not qualify as a disability for absentee voting purposes

On May 27, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19 does not qualify as a disability under the state’s election laws and, therefore, cannot be cited as an excuse for voting absentee. The court ruled unanimously on the matter.

Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote the following in the court’s opinion: “We agree with the State that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the Election Code. But the State acknowledges that election officials have no responsibility to question or investigate a ballot application that is valid on its face. The decision to apply to vote by mail based on a disability is the voter’s, subject to a correct understanding of the statutory definition of ‘disability.'”

This ruling overturned two lower state court rulings to the contrary. On May 19, a federal district court judge ordered that all voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots, but the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed that order later that same day.

Delaware Governor will end travel restrictions June 1

On May 26, Gov. John Carney (D) announced that restrictions on travelers entering Delaware will expire on June 1, the same day the state is scheduled to begin the first phase of its reopening plan. Carney issued the restrictions, which require travelers who enter the state to self-quarantine for 14 days, on March 29 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The restrictions didn’t apply to people traveling through the state.

Carney also announced that both the ban on short-term rental units and the statewide stay-at-home order will expire June 1. Additionally, outdoor events with of up to 250 people will be permitted in special circumstances, so long as organizers submit a plan to the Delaware Division of Small Business at least seven days in advance.

Ballotpedia is tracking restrictions placed on out-of-state travelers by governors and state agencies.