Coronavirus daily update: March 18, 2020

As part of Ballotpedia’s coverage on the coronavirus pandemic, we are compiling a daily summary of major changes in the world of politics, government, and elections happening each day. Here is the summary for March 18, 2020.

Federal responses
• The Senate passed the coronavirus relief bill sent by the House earlier this week.
• The U.S.-Canada border is closed to nonessential travel.

Election changes
• Alabama – Governor Kay Ivey (R) announced that the state would postpone its primary runoff election, originally scheduled for March 31, 2020, to July 14.
• Missouri – Governor Mike Parson (R) ordered the postponement of all municipal elections originally scheduled for April 7, 2020, to June 2.
• Ohio – On March 17, the Democratic Party of Ohio sued Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) over his postponement of in-person voting in the primary to June 2.

State legislative changes
• California – Session suspended until April 13.
• Hawaii – Session suspended indefinitely effective March 17.
• Iowa – Session suspended for at least 30 days.
• Louisiana – Session adjourned until March 31.
• Maine – Session adjourned effective March 16.
• Maryland – Session adjourned effective March 18.
• Minnesota – Legislative activity conducted remotely through April 14.
• Nebraska – Session suspended effective March 17.
• New York – Session suspended until at least March 18.
• Pennsylvania – Lawmakers voted to allow remote voting on legislative actions.

School closures
• Nationwide – Forty states have ordered statewide closures of public schools. The schools impacted by these closures served 33.9 million students as of the 2016-17 school year (most recent available data), accounting for 67 percent of the 50.6 million public school students nationwide.
• Kansas – Governor Laura Kelly (D) closed all schools in the state from March 23 through May 31.
• Wisconsin – Governor Tony Evers (D) announced that the statewide closure, originally ordered to end April 5, would instead last indefinitely.

Judicial changes
• Arkansas – The Supreme Court of Arkansas suspended in-person proceedings in all appellate, circuit, and district courts.
• Connecticut – The Judicial Branch announced it would curtail courthouse operations. One courthouse in each of the 13 judicial districts will remain open for priority court business.
• Massachusetts – All courts will be closed to the public from March 18 until at least April 6.

Diagnosed or quarantined politicians
• Colorado – U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R) and U.S. Representative Jason Crow (D) both announced they entered a self-quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
• Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David Wecht announced a self-quarantine on March 17 after one of his children tested positive for coronavirus.

Additional Reading:
Changes to election dates, procedures, and administration in response to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020
Changes to state legislative sessions in response to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020
School closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020
State Court closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020
Political incumbents, candidates, and government officials diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020

Chandler voters approve Proposition 426

Proposition 426 amended the city’s charter to say that primary, regular, and special elections may be held on election dates authorized by state law. Before the election, the city charter said the municipal primary election shall be held on the 10th Tuesday before the general election. According to election night results, 92% of voters were in favor of the charter amendment.
This change was proposed to make the city charter comply with state law after SB 1154 (2019) was passed moving the state’s primary election to the 1st Tuesday of August before the general election.

So far, Florida residents are set to vote on six constitutional amendments

The Florida Legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the ballot during its 2020 legislative session, which ended on March 13. Five other proposed constitutional amendments had passed one chamber of the state legislature but were not approved in the other chamber before the session adjourned. Also on the Florida 2020 ballot are four citizen-initiated constitutional amendments.

The two amendments referred by the legislature concern property taxes.

House Joint Resolution 877, sponsored by Rep. Sam Killebrew (R-41), would allow a homestead property tax discount to be transferred to the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran. The state House approved the amendment 115-0 with five not voting on March 4, 2020. The state Senate passed the measure unanimously on March 5, 2020.

House Joint Resolution 369, sponsored by Rep. Rick Roth (R-85), would increase the period during which a person may transfer “Save Our Homes” benefits (limitations on homestead property tax assessments) to a new homestead property from two years to three years. The state House approved the amendment unanimously with two Democratic representatives not voting on March 9, 2020. The state Senate approved the amendment unanimously on March 11, 2020. The tax assessment limitations, referred to as Save Our Homes benefits, were established through Amendment 10, a citizen initiative, in 1992. Amendment 10 modified Article VII of the Florida Constitution to limit homestead property valuations to a maximum of 3% annually.

Summaries of the four citizen-initiated amendments on the ballot are as follows:

  • Amendment 1: adds language to state constitution saying that only U.S. citizens can vote in federal, state, local, or school elections
    Amendment 2: increases minimum wage to $15 by 2026
    Amendment 3: establishes a top-two open primary system for state office primary elections
    Amendment 4: requires voter-approved constitutional amendments to be approved by voters at a second general election

A total of 91 measures appeared on the Florida ballot between 1996 and 2018, 75.82% of which were approved and 24.18% were defeated. From 1996 to 2018, an average of between seven and eight measures appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years in Florida.


New Jersey, Texas schedule upcoming state legislative special elections

Two new state legislative special elections have been added to our list. The special elections are for the District 25 seat in the New Jersey State Senate and the District 25 seat in the New Jersey General Assembly on November 3, 2020. The primary is on June 2, and the filing deadline is on March 30.

A new state legislative special election has been added to our list. The special election is for the District 14 seat in the Texas State Senate on July 14, 2020. There is no primary, and the filing deadline is on May 13.

Georgia is second state to postpone presidential primaries amid coronavirus concerns

On March 14, Georgia postponed its presidential primary elections by eight weeks due to concerns regarding the coronavirus outbreak. The state rescheduled its presidential primaries from March 24 to coincide with the May 19 statewide primaries. The postponement also applies to any special elections in the state originally scheduled to take place on March 24.

Early voting for the presidential primary began on March 2. All early voting ballots already cast for president—in-person or absentee—will be counted in the newly scheduled May 19 presidential primary.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement on March 14, “In light of the public health emergency posted by COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, in-person voting presents increased risk to voters and poll workers.” He stated that the average age of poll workers in Georgia is over 70.

Georgia was the second state to postpone its presidential primaries due to coronavirus concerns following Louisiana, which postponed its presidential primaries from April 4 to June 20. Four states—Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio—have presidential primaries scheduled to take place on March 17.

Additional reading:
Coronavirus outbreak, 2020
Presidential elections in Georgia, 2020

South Carolina Supreme Court judicial selection

The five justices of the South Carolina supreme court are selected by the state legislature and serve 10-year terms. South Carolina and Virginia are the only two states to use some form of legislative selection when choosing supreme court justices.

The South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission screens and selects candidates for judgeships then submits a list of three names to the general assembly. The assembly then votes on the candidates, either choosing one of the three recommendations or rejecting the entire slate. Of the five justices currently on the court, only one, Justice John Few, has faced a challenger for election. The other four justices ran unopposed for their respective selections.

The commission is composed of 10 members. The speaker of the House and the president of the Senate each appoint five members to the commission. Three of the five must be members of the General Assembly. The other two members are laypersons. Because of the roles of the speaker of the House and president of the Senate, the majority party in the legislature controls membership on the judicial nominating commission. If one party controls the House and another party controls the Senate, then control of commission membership is split.

South Carolina has had a Republican state government trifecta since 2003. All five of the justices serving on the supreme court were appointed during Republican control of the legislature and, thus, of the selection process.

This might indicate that all the justices on the supreme court would be Republican. However, the current chief justice, Donald Beatty, is a former Democratic state representative. He ran unopposed for the role of the chief justice and was legislatively elected in May 2016. He was the most senior member on the court prior to his selection as chief justice.

Additional Reading:
South Carolina Supreme Court
Legislative election of judges
Donald Beatty

Indiana’s longest-serving House speaker steps down, Huston assumes leadership role

Indiana’s House of Representatives saw a change in leadership on March 9, 2020, when House speaker Brian Bosma (R) stepped down from his position. Having served in the role for 12 years total, Bosma is the longest-serving speaker in the history of Indiana’s legislature.

Bosma served as speaker of the House twice, from 2004 to 2006 and again from 2010 to 2020. When Democrats controlled the state House from 2007 to 2010, Bosma served as House minority leader of the Republican party. He was again selected as speaker after Republicans took control of the House in 2010.

House Republicans selected Todd Huston (R) to succeed Bosma as speaker in December 2019. Huston was first elected to represent House District 37 in 2012 and is running for re-election this year. After his selection for House leadership, he worked alongside Bosma for the remainder of the 2020 legislative session in what The Northwest Indiana Times called a “kind of apprenticeship” for the role. Huston was sworn in as speaker on March 9.

The 100-person Indiana House of Representatives currently has 67 Republicans, 33 Democrats, and zero vacancies. From 1990 to 2010, the distance between the two major parties in the House was never more than 12 seats. Since 2010, Republicans have held a majority by at least 20 seats, peaking at 71-29 after the 2014 elections. All 100 seats are up for election in 2020.

Additional reading:

Special elections being held in three Pennsylvania House districts

Special elections are being held on March 17 for District 8, District 18, and District 58 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. All three seats were previously held by Republican incumbents. Candidates running for special elections in Pennsylvania are selected by their respective political parties.

  • Phil Heasley (D) and Tim Bonner (R) are facing off in District 8. The seat became vacant after Tedd Nesbit (R) resigned on January 2 to join the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas in Ohio.
  • Harold Hayes (D) and K.C. Tomlinson (R) are facing off in District 18. The seat became vacant after Gene DiGirolamo (R) resigned on January 6 when he was sworn in as a Bucks County commissioner.
  • Robert Prah Jr. (D), Eric Davanzo (R), and Ken Bach (L) are facing off in District 58. The seat became vacant after Justin Walsh (R) resigned on December 26 after he was elected as a Westmoreland County judge.

Regularly scheduled elections are being held in Pennsylvania House districts in 2020. The primary is taking place on April 28. The general election will be held on November 3.

Heading into the special elections, Republicans have a 107-93 majority in the Pennsylvania House with three vacancies. Pennsylvania has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of March, 34 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Additional reading:

Seven candidates file to run for governor of Montana

The statewide filing deadline to run for elected office in Montana passed on March 9, 2020. Seven candidates filed to run for governor of the state. Steve Bullock (D), Montana’s current governor, was prohibited from running for re-election due to state term limits that restrict a governor to two four-year terms within a 16-year period. Bullock was first elected to the office in 2012 and won re-election in 2016.

Candidates from the Democratic, Republican, Green, and Libertarian parties filed for the 2020 governor’s race.

Democratic Party:
• Mike Cooney
• Whitney Williams

Republican Party:
• Tim Fox
• Greg Gainforte
• Albert Olszewski

Green Party:
• Robert Barb

Libertarian Party:
• Lyman Bishop

Each candidate must participate in his or her party’s respective primary scheduled for June 2, 2020. The primary winners will advance to the general election on November 3, 2020.

Candidates for Montana governor run on a joint ticket with their chosen lieutenant governor running mate. This means that voters select the governor and lieutenant governor together as one unit, rather than voting separately for the two offices.

Montana is one of 11 states holding gubernatorial elections in 2020. Of those 11 seats up for election, Democrats hold four and Republicans hold seven.

Montana has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. As of March 13, 2020, there are 21 Republican trifectas, 15 Democratic trifectas, and 14 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control.

Additional reading:
Governor of Montana
Montana elections, 2020
Gubernatorial elections, 2020

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has appointed all seven justices on New York’s court of last resort

A court of last resort is the highest judicial body within a jurisdiction’s court system. It is a court with the highest appellate authority, meaning that its rulings are not subject to further review by another court. A court of last resort is often, but not always, referred to as a supreme court.

New York is one of those states which does not refer to their court of last resort as a supreme court. This can cause some confusion, as New York’s 62 highest general jurisdiction trial courts are named collectively the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

Founded in 1847, the New York Court of Appeals is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. As of September 2019, all seven justices on the court were appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), the 56th governor of New York. The current chief of the court is Janet DiFiore. The other six justices are Rowan Wilson, Michael Garcia, Leslie E. Stein, Eugene Fahey, Jenny Rivera, and Paul G. Feinman.

The seven justices of the New York Court of Appeals serve 14-year terms. New York uses a form of assisted appointment when selecting its justices for the Court of Appeals. Justices are appointed by the governor from a list of candidates provided by the New York Commission on Judicial Nomination. After appointment by the governor, candidates must get confirmation from the New York Senate.

Additional Reading:
Court of last resort
Judicial selection in New York
Andrew Cuomo
Assisted appointment