TagElection policy

Mississippi to vote on changing gubernatorial and state office election procedures

The Mississippi Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2020 ballot that would change election requirements for candidates for governor and statewide elected office.

Currently, in Mississippi, a candidate for Governor or elected statewide offices (Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture, and Commissioner of Insurance) must win the popular vote and the highest number of votes in a majority of the state’s 122 House districts (the electoral vote).

If no candidate secures majorities of both the popular and the electoral vote, under Article V, Section 141, the Mississippi House of Representatives considers the two highest vote-getters and chooses the winner. The election system was adopted in the state constitution of 1890.

The constitutional amendment would remove the electoral vote requirement and the House of Representatives’ role in choosing a winner. The amendment would provide that if a candidate for Governor of Mississippi or statewide elected office does not receive a majority vote of the people, the candidates will proceed to a runoff election.

The details of the runoff election would be provided through state law. A runoff election is a second election conducted to determine which of the top vote-getters in the first election will be elected to office. Runoffs occur in states that require candidates to receive a majority (as opposed to a plurality) of the vote to win an election.

A majority voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received more than half (50%+1) of the votes cast. A plurality voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received the highest number of votes. The candidate does not need to win a majority of votes to be elected.

The amendment was introduced as House Concurrent Resolution 47 by Rep. Jim Beckett (R) on February 17, 2020. The House adopted the measure in a vote of 109-6 on June 28, and the Senate adopted the measure in a vote of 49-2 on June 29, 2020.

The Mississippi House of Representatives has decided a gubernatorial election one time. In 1999, Ronnie Musgrove (D) received a plurality of the vote, 8,300 more votes than the next highest vote-getter, Mike Parker (R) in a contest with four candidates. Musgrove received 49.6% of the vote and Parker received 48.5% of the vote. Musgrove and Parker each won 61 of the state’s 122 House districts. Since neither candidate won a majority (over 50%) of the vote and a majority of the state’s House districts, the Democratic-controlled Mississippi House of Representatives decided the election. The House chose Musgrove on January 4, 2000, in a vote of 86-36 along party lines.

The National Redistricting Foundation, the 501(c)(3) arm of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, supports the constitutional amendment. The foundation said the amendment would “remove a racially discriminatory law designed to restrict the voting rights of African Americans. Due to pressure from a National Redistricting Foundation lawsuit filed last year, the state is finally casting out a post-Reconstruction era electoral scheme designed to maintain white control of the state government and prevent African-American voters in Mississippi from having a real voice in their representation.”

Four African-American citizens filed a federal lawsuit (McLemore v. Hosemann) backed by the National Redistricting Foundation on May 30, 2019, alleging that the electoral vote requirement was racially discriminatory and violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the electoral vote requirement for the 2019 gubernatorial election.

On November 1, 2019, the court acknowledged that the electoral vote requirement was likely unconstitutional, but noted that “courts have allowed elections to proceed under unconstitutional rules where it is simply too late to make a change” and denied to grant a preliminary injunction. On December 13, 2019, the court stayed litigation surrounding the election requirements to give the state legislature a chance to remove the constitutional provisions during the 2020 legislative session and said that “if the amendment process falls short, then there would be ample time to resume this litigation and resolve the matter before the 2023 election cycle.”



Maine Republican Party files signatures for veto referendum to repeal ranked-choice voting for presidential elections

On June 15, signatures were filed for a veto referendum to repeal Maine LD 1803, which established ranked-choice voting for presidential elections. Under LD 1803, Maine is slated to use ranked-choice voting to elect the president for the first time on November 3, 2020.

The Maine Republican Party led the signature-gathering efforts for the veto referendum. Demi Kouzounas, chairperson of the Maine Republican Party, filed the veto referendum on February 3, 2020. Proponents needed to collect 63,067 valid signatures. The office of Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that proponents reported filing 68,000 signatures. Dunlap’s office has 30 days (from June 15) to review the signatures. The measure would appear on the November ballot.

A successful signature drive would suspend the law until voters decide the law’s fate, meaning ranked-choice voting would not be used for the presidential election on November 3, 2020.

LD 1803 was passed by the legislature on August 26, 2019. Gov. Janet Mills (D) said she would hold LD 1083 until the following year. By holding the bill until the next legislative session, LD 1083 did not go into effect until after the state’s presidential primary election on March 3, 2020.

The veto referendum would be the third ranked-choice voting ballot measure in Maine since 2016. Voters approved Question 5, which established a first-in-the-nation statewide system of ranked-choice voting, in 2016. In 2017, the legislature passed a bill that was written to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting unless the legislature referred and voters approved a constitutional amendment. The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting, which sponsored Question 5, launched a veto referendum campaign to overturn LD 1646. On the ballot as Question 1, the veto referendum was approved with 53.9 percent of the vote. Therefore, LD 1646 was repealed and ranked-choice voting remained in effect, except for general elections for state legislative and executive offices.

At the election on November 6, 2018, ranked-choice voting (RCV) was used for the first time in a general election. Both Sen. Angus King (I) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) won their respective seats without the need for ranked-choice tabulations. In the 2nd congressional district, the initial vote count showed that incumbent Bruce Poliquin (R) had received 46.3 percent of the vote, and challenger Jared Golden (D) had received 45.6 percent of the vote. Independents received 8.1 percent of the vote. On November 15, 2018, Dunlap announced that after the lowest vote-getters were eliminated and votes were reallocated, incumbent Rep. Poliquin received 49.4 percent of the vote, and challenger Golden received 50.6 percent of the vote. The race was the first in U.S. history where ranked-choice voting was used to decide a congressional election.

Voters in Alaska and Massachusetts could also decide ranked-choice voting ballot measures in November. In Alaska, a measure is certified for the ballot that would, among other policies, establish ranked-choice voting for general elections. In Massachusetts, a ranked-choice voting campaign is expected to file a second round of signatures before the deadline on July 1, 2020.

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Ballot Bulletin: Super Junesday voter turnout

June 2 primaries mark highest concentration of voting activity since March 

On June 2, nine states held statewide primary elections (and the District of Columbia conducted its district-wide primary). This represented the busiest single day of voting since March 3. The reason? The COVID-19 outbreak prompted a series of election postponements and other modifications.     

How many of the June 2 primaries were postponements? 

Of the 10 jurisdictions conducting statewide or district-wide primaries on June 2, five had originally scheduled their primaries for an earlier date: 

  • Idaho (originally May 19)
  • Indiana (originally May 5) 
  • Maryland (originally April 28) 
  • Pennsylvania (originally April 28) 
  • Rhode Island (originally April 28) 

How did voter turnout on June 2 compare to turnout in 2016? 

The table below compares voter turnout in primary elections in 2020 versus 2016. In the five states for which information is available, turnout increased between 6.24 and 15.10 percentage points between 2016 and 2020. 

Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are not included in this table because the figures needed to calculate voter turnout in those states have not yet been fully released. 

How many votes were cast by mail, relative to 2016? 

Most of the jurisdictions that held primaries on June 2 have not yet released complete information on the number of votes cast by mail. In the District of Columbia, 71.11 percent of all votes cast on June 2 were cast by mail, an increase of 62.82 percentage points over 2016. In Idaho, 57.51 percent of all votes cast were cast by mail, an increase of 43.41 percentage points over 2016. 

Of the remaining eight states, seven modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures, suggesting a possible increase in the share of votes cast by mail in those states: 

  • Indiana: Absentee/mail-in voting eligibility requirements suspended, allowing all voters to cast ballots by mail.
  • Iowa: Mail-in ballot applications automatically sent to all voters.
  • Maryland: Mail-in ballots automatically sent to all voters (at least one in-person voting center open in each county).
  • Montana: Counties authorized to automatically send mail-in ballots to all voters.
  • Pennsylvania: In Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, absentee ballot receipt deadline extended to June 9.
  • Rhode Island: Mail-in ballot applications automatically sent to all voters.
  • South Dakota: Mail-in ballot applications automatically sent to all voters.

Although New Mexico did not modify its absentee/mail-in voting procedures for the June 2 primary, it already provided for universal absentee voting eligibility (i.e., no excuse required). Iowa, Maryland, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island likewise already allowed for no-excuse absentee voting. 

Absentee/mail-in voting modifications

Since our June 3 edition, we’ve tracked the following absentee/mail-in voting modifications: 

  • Alabama: On June 15, Judge Abdul Kallon, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, issued a preliminary injunction barring election officials from enforcing witness and photo ID requirements for select voters casting absentee ballots in the July 14 runoff elections.
  • Missouri: On June 4, Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed SB631 into law, permitting any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot in any 2020 election, subject to a notarization requirement.
  • New York: On June 7, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law legislation extending the submission deadline for absentee ballots in the June 23 election to June 23.
  • North Carolina: On June 12, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed HB1169 into law, reducing the witness signature requirement on completed absentee ballots from two to one.
  • Tennessee: On June 4, the Chancery Court for Tennessee’s Twentieth Judicial District ruled that Tennessee’s absentee voting law, which limits eligibility to those meeting certain criteria, “during the unique circumstances of the pandemic, constitutes an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.” The court ordered the state to extend absentee voting eligibility to all Tennessee voters during the course of the pandemic.
  • Texas: A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed a district court decision ordering that all eligible Texas voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots in order to avoid transmission of COVID-19.


To date, 32 states have modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures. These modifications can be divided into five broad categories:

  • Automatic mail-in ballots: Five states (California, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, and New Jersey) have opted to automatically send mail-in ballots to all eligible voters in certain elections to ensure that most voting takes place by mail. These states are shaded in yellow in the map below. 
  • Automatic mail-in ballot applications: Twelve states (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and West Virginia) are automatically sending mail-in ballot applications to all eligible voters in certain elections. These states are shaded in dark blue in the map below. 
  • Eligibility expansions: Nine states (Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) have expanded absentee voting eligibility in certain elections. These states are shaded in light blue in the map below. 
  • Deadline extensions: Four states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin) have extended absentee/mail-in ballot request or submission deadlines in certain elections. These states are shaded in dark gray in the map below. 
  • Other process changes: Two states (Alabama and North Carolina) have made other modifications to their absentee/mail-in ballot procedures in certain elections. These states are shaded in light gray in the map below. 

Litigation tracking 

To date, we have tracked 98 lawsuits and/or court orders involving election policy issues and the COVID-19 outbreak. Beginning this week, in each issue of The Ballot Bulletin, we’ll shine a spotlight on what we think is one of the more interesting recent events in this area. Click here to view the complete list of lawsuits and court orders. 

This week, we turn our attention to a case out of California, Gallagher v. Newsom.

  • Case name: Gallagher v. Newsom
  • Case number: CVCS-20-0912
  • State of origin: California
  • Court: Sutter County Superior Court
  • Summary: On June 12, Judge Perry Parker, of the Sutter County Superior Court, issued a temporary restraining order suspending Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) Executive Order N-67-20. The order, issued June 3, had permitted counties to consolidate polling places in the Nov. 3 general election, provided they offer three days of early voting. Parker’s order came as the result of an action filed by two Republican state Assembly members, James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley. Gallagher and Kiley alleged Newsom’s order usurped the legislature’s authority, in violation of the state constitution. Parker enjoined Newsom’s order pending further proceedings in the case. 
  • Court documents

 

 

 

Legislation tracking 

To date, we have tracked 196 bills that make some mention of both election policy and COVID-19. States with higher numbers of relevant bills are shaded in darker blue on the map below. States with lower numbers of relevant bills are shaded in lighter blue. In states shaded in white, we have tracked no relevant bills. 

Legislation related to elections and COVID-19, 2020 

Current as of June 16, 2020



Texas Democrats appeal absentee voting decision to U.S. Supreme Court

On June 16, the Democratic Party of Texas appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court an appellate court order staying a district court decision that had extended absentee voting eligibility in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

On May 19, Judge Samuel Frederick Biery of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ordered that all eligible Texas voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots in order to avoid transmission of the coronavirus. The state appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On June 4, a three-judge panel of the appeals court stayed the district court decision, allowing election officials to enforce state laws limiting absentee voting to those meeting specified eligibility criteria.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs presented the following question: “Does Texas’s limitation of the right to cast a no-excuse mail-in ballot to only voters who are ’65 years of age or older on election day,’ Tex. Election Code § 82.003, violate the Twenty-Sixth Amendment’s directive that the right to vote ‘shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age’?”



Judge rules that Tennessee must provide absentee ballots to all eligible voters on request

Ellen Hobbs Lyle, a judge on the Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville, Tennessee, ruled on June 4 that the state must give all eligible voters the option to vote by mail in upcoming elections because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision is expected to be appealed.

In Tennessee, voters can request an absentee ballot if they meet certain requirements. For example, voters who will be outside their county during the early registration period and all day on election day and voters over the age of 60 are eligible for absentee ballots.

The Secretary of State’s office has put together a coronavirus plan for upcoming elections that focuses on sanitary measures and social distancing.

Tennessee is holding a primary on August 6. The general election is scheduled for November 3. Tennessee has a Republican state trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.



California governor issues executive order authorizing counties to consolidate polling places in Nov. 3 general election

On June 3, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order giving counties permission to consolidate polling places in the Nov. 3 general election, provided they offer three days of early voting. Newsom authorized counties to operate one polling place per 10,000 registered voters, provided that those locations are open eight hours per day from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 for early voting.

On May 8, Newsom issued an executive order directing county officials to deliver mail-in ballots to all registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election. California is one of five states that have opted to send absentee/mail-in ballots automatically to all eligible voters in certain elections. It is the first state to extend that practice to the Nov. 3. general election.



Tracking the 90+ lawsuits related to COVID-19 election changes

Lawsuits involving election policy proliferate in response to COVID-19 outbreak 

The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States has prompted election postponements, alterations to absentee/mail-in voting procedures, and modifications to candidate filing protocols. It has also resulted in at least 90 lawsuits filed in state and federal courts touching on various aspects of election administration. These lawsuits span 32 different states. 

In this edition of The Ballot Bulletin, we take a closer look at five of what we think are the most noteworthy lawsuits filed to date. We selected these lawsuits because they deal with a variety of election-related issues and originate in different regions of the country. For a complete list of all the election lawsuits we’re tracking, click here.

Esshaki v. Whitmer (Michigan) 

The parties to the suit: The plaintiffs were Eric Esshaki, Matt Savich, and Deana Beard, candidates for Congress, the Forty-Seventh Judicial District Court, and the Third Circuit Court, respectively. The defendants were Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), and Elections Director Jonathan Brater.

The issue: Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which disallowed large gatherings and closed numerous businesses, prevented them from collecting the number of signatures needed to earn a place on the ballot. They argued that these conditions imposed a severe burden on the plaintiffs’ ability to seek elective office, violating their constitutional free-speech and associational rights. 

The outcome: On April 20, Judge Terrence Berg, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an order reducing the petition signature requirements for certain primary candidates to 50 percent of their statutory thresholds. Berg also extended the filing deadline from April 21 to May 8 and directed election officials to develop procedures allowing for the collection and submission of electronic petition signatures. Berg’s order applied only to candidates for offices without a filing-fee option: U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, and judicial offices. The order did not apply to state legislative candidates, who could pay filing fees to get on the ballot.

Berg’s order was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which ruled on May 5 that Berg had erred in his initial order. Although the appeals court agreed that the original ballot requirements were unconstitutional, it ruled that Berg had exceeded his authority in mandating new requirements. The appeals court directed the state “to select its own adjustments so as to reduce the burden on ballot access, narrow the restrictions to align with its interest, and thereby render the application of the ballot-access provisions constitutional under the circumstances.”

On May 8, state authorities announced they would abide by the requirements laid out in Berg’s original order. Jake Rollow, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, said, “As the district court declined to amend its order, and with the revised filing deadline today, May 8, the best course of action to reduce further uncertainty in advance of the rapidly approaching August elections is to maintain the procedures that have been in place for the last two and a half weeks.”

Issa v. Newsom (California) 

The parties to the suit: The plaintiffs are former U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R) and four registered California voters: James Oerding, Jerry Griffin, Michelle Bolotin, and Michael Sienkiewicz. The defendants are Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D).

The issue: On May 8, Newsom issued an executive order directing county election officials to deliver mail-in ballots to all registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election. California law allows any eligible voter to vote by mail, but the voter is required to submit a mail-in ballot application first in order to receive an actual ballot. Under Newsom’s order, all voters will automatically receive the mail-in ballots. 

On May 21, the plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. In their complaint, attorneys for the plaintiffs allege that Newsom’s order violates both the Elections Clause and the Electors Clause of the United States Constitution. The Elections Clause (Article I, Section 4) establishes that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.” The Electors Clause (Article II, Section 1) establishes that each state may appoint presidential electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that neither Newsom nor Padilla meet the definition of a “Legislature” for the purposes of these provisions. 

The outcome: The case is pending before Judge Morrison England, who was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush (R).

League of Women Voters of Oklahoma v. Ziriax (Oklahoma) 

The parties to the suit: The plaintiffs were the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma and two qualified Oklahoma voters, Angela Zea Patrick and Peggy Jeanne Winton. The defendant was Paul Ziriax, in his capacity as secretary of the Oklahoma State Election Board.

The issue: Attorneys for the plaintiffs alleged that official absentee ballot forms and other instructional materials were misleading voters by suggesting that a notarized affidavit was required in order for absentee ballots to be counted. The plaintiffs argued instead that a personally signed statement, under penalty of perjury, was sufficient in lieu of a notarized affidavit. 

The outcome: On May 4, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the plaintiffs, striking down the contested requirement. The court ruled that the requirement did not qualify as an exception under a state law establishing that statements, signed and dated under the penalty of perjury, carry the force of an affidavit. 

However, on May 7, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed SB210 into law, reinstating the absentee ballot notarization requirement. The legislation also included provisions applicable only to the 2020 election cycle. SB210 permitted voters to submit copies of their identification in lieu of fulfilling the notarization requirement in the event of a state of emergency occurring within 45 days of an election. The legislation also specified that individuals experiencing symptoms indicative of COVID-19, and individuals classified as vulnerable to infection could cast absentee ballots under the ‘physical incapacitation’ eligibility criterion.

Wisconsin Legislature v. Evers (Wisconsin) 

The parties to the suit: The plaintiff was the Wisconsin Legislature, in which Republicans have majorities in both chambers. The defendant was Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat. 

The issue: On April 6, Evers issued an executive order postponing in-person voting in the spring election, scheduled to take place on April 7, to June 9. Evers also extended the receipt deadline for absentee ballots to June 9. 

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) argued that Evers’ order exceeded his constitutional authority. They filed suit in the state supreme court, seeking an emergency stay of Evers’ order. In their motion for the stay, plaintiffs’ attorneys said, “Given that the Governor’s order comes mere hours before the in-person election is set to begin, the Legislature will suffer irreparable harm if Executive Order 74 is not immediately enjoined. Moreover, such sweeping changes to an election made just before the election is set to begin will undoubtedly cause voter confusion and call into question the integrity of the electoral process.” 

The outcome: On April 6, the state supreme court voted 4-2 to stay Evers’ order, allowing the election to proceed as scheduled. Justices Annette Ziegler, Rebecca Bradley, Patience Roggensack, and Brian Hagedorn formed the majority. Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet dissented. Justice Daniel Kelly, who ran for re-election on April 7, did not participate in the decision.

In an unsigned opinion, the court majority wrote, “The question presented is not whether the policy choice to continue with this election is good or bad, or otherwise in the public interest. … Rather, the question presented to this court is whether the Governor has the authority to suspend or rewrite state election laws. Although we recognize the extreme seriousness of the pandemic that this state is currently facing, we conclude that he does not.” 

Bradley wrote the following in her dissent, which Dallet joined: “[The] majority gives Wisconsinites an untenable choice: endanger your safety and potentially your life by voting or give up your right to vote by heeding the recent and urgent warnings about the fast growing pandemic. These orders are but another example of this court’s unmitigated support of efforts to disenfranchise voters.”

Yang v. Kellner (New York) 

The parties to the suit: The plaintiffs were Andrew Yang, a former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and several candidates for New York’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention. The defendants were Robert Brehm, Douglas Kellner, Peter Kosinski, Andrew Spano, and Todd Valentine, all members of the New York State Board of Elections, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

The issue: On April 27, the New York State Board of Elections moved to cancel the Democratic presidential preference primary, which had been scheduled to take place on June 23. The Republican presidential preference primary had already been canceled. The statewide primary election was scheduled to proceed as planned on June 23. Earlier in April, the state enacted a law authorizing the board of elections to remove candidates’ names from the ballot upon the suspension or termination of their campaigns. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) suspended his presidential campaign on April 8, making former Vice-President Joe Biden (D) the presumptive Democratic nominee.

In their complaint, filed April 28, attorneys for the plaintiffs alleged that “this unprecedented and unwarranted move infringes the rights of Plaintiffs and all New York State Democratic Party voters … as it fundamentally denies them the right to choose our next candidate for the office of President of the United States.” 

The outcome: On May 5, Judge Analisa Torres, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered the New York State Board of Elections to reinstate the Democratic presidential primary. Torres wrote, “[T]he removal of presidential candidates from the primary ballot not only deprived those candidates of the chance to garner votes for the Democratic Party’s nomination, but also deprived their pledged delegates of the opportunity to run for a position where they could influence the party platform, vote on party governance issues, pressure the eventual nominee on matters of personnel or policy, and react to unexpected developments at the Convention.” Torres joined the court in 2013, having been nominated by President Barack Obama (D). 

On May 6, the state board of elections appealed the decision. On May 19, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed Torres’ ruling. The panel comprised Judges Amalya Kearse, Dennis Jacobs, and Jose Cabranes. Kearse, Jacobs, and Cabranes were appointed to the court by Presidents Jimmy Carter (D), George H.W. Bush (R), and Bill Clinton (D), respectively. The state board of elections indicated it would make no further appeal. 

Election postponements

Since our May 20 edition, we’ve tracked the following election postponement updates: 

  • Puerto Rico: On May 21, the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico announced its presidential preference primary would take place on July 12. The primary was originally scheduled for March 29. It was first postponed to April 26. It was then postponed indefinitely. 


To date, 20 states and one territory have postponed upcoming state-level elections. These states are shaded in dark blue on the map below.

Absentee/mail-in voting modifications

Since our May 20 edition, we’ve tracked the following absentee/mail-in voting modifications: 

  • Connecticut: Gov. Ned Lamont (D) issued an executive order extending absentee voting eligibility to any registered voter in the Aug. 11 primary if there is no “federally approved and widely available vaccine for prevention of COVID-19” at the time he or she requests an absentee ballot.
  • Montana: On May 27, the Montana Supreme Court voted 5-2 to halt a lower court order that had extended the absentee ballot receipt deadline for the June 2 primary to June 8.
  • Pennsylvania: On June 1, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) issued an executive order extending the absentee ballot receipt deadline for the June 2 primary to 5:00 p.m. on June 9 (with a postmark deadline of June 2) in Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
  • South Carolina: On May 25, 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 ballots in the June 9 primary and subsequent runoff elections.
  • Texas: On May 27, 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.

To date, 28 states have modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures. These modifications can be divided into five broad categories:

  • Automatic mail-in ballots: Five states (California, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, and New Jersey) have opted to send mail-in ballots automatically to all eligible voters in certain elections to ensure that most voting takes place by mail. These states are shaded in yellow in the map below. 
  • Automatic mail-in ballot applications: Twelve states (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and West Virginia) are automatically sending mail-in ballot applications to all eligible voters in certain elections. These states are shaded in dark blue in the map below. 
  • Eligibility expansions: Seven states (Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia) have expanded absentee voting eligibility in certain elections. These states are shaded in light blue in the map below. 
  • Deadline extensions: Four states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin) have extended absentee/mail-in ballot request or submission deadlines in certain elections. These states are shaded in dark gray in the map below. 

Legislation tracking 

To date, we have tracked 165 bills that make some mention of both election policy and COVID-19. States with higher numbers of relevant bills are shaded in darker blue on the map below. States with lower numbers of relevant bills are shaded in lighter blue. In states shaded in white, we have tracked no relevant bills. 

Legislation related to elections and COVID-19, 2020 

Current as of June 2, 2020

Looking ahead 

On June 2, Ballotpedia covered 1,990 primary elections for 1,011 offices across 12 states and Washington, D.C. In our June 17 issue, we’ll examine the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the conduct of these elections, turning our attention to the use of absentee/mail-in voting, consolidation of polling places, and preliminary data on voter turnout rates.



Pennsylvania extends absentee ballot receipt deadline to June 9 in six counties; postmark deadline remains June 2

On June 1, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) issued an executive order extending the absentee ballot receipt deadline for the June 2 primary to 5:00 p.m. on June 9 (with a postmark deadline of June 2, 2020) in Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. In all other counties, a return deadline of June 2 remains in effect.

Pennsylvania’s primary was originally scheduled to take place on April 28. On March 27, Wolf signed into law legislation postponing the primary to June 2. The law also authorized counties to consolidate polling places without court approval and begin processing mail-in ballots beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.

Pennsylvania is one of 28 states that have modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.


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.



FEC regains quorum to enforce campaign finance laws

The Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) nearly nine-month period without a functioning quorum came to a close on Tuesday when the United States Senate voted 49-43 along party lines to confirm Republican attorney Trey Trainor as the commission’s newest member. Trainor’s confirmation created the quorum of members necessary for the FEC to oversee campaign finance disclosures, perform audits, and enforce fundraising violations.

The FEC had lacked a quorum since Republican Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen resigned on August 31, 2019. Trainor joins Republican Chairwoman Caroline Hunter, independent Vice Chairman Steven Walther, and Democratic member Ellen Weintraub on the six-member commission.

The Federal Election Campaign Act requires a vote of at least four of the FEC’s six members for the commission to undertake a number of key policy duties such as promulgating rules, issuing advisory opinions, and deciding enforcement actions. As a result, all of the commission’s four active members must reach a consensus in order to proceed with substantive actions.

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