On Nov. 19, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham announced that, “during post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies have been discovered” in the 2020 United States Census. Dillingham said he had directed the bureau “to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiously as possible.” Also on Nov. 19, The New York Times reported that “a growing number of snags in the massive data-processing operation that generates population totals had delayed the completion of population calculations at least until Jan. 26, , and perhaps to mid-February.”
This expected delay could postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021. At least one state (California) has already extended its redistricting deadlines in light of the uncertainty surrounding the conclusion of the census. On July 17, the California Supreme Court unanimously ordered the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to release draft district plans by Nov. 1, 2021, and final district plans by Dec. 15, 2021. The original deadlines were July 1, 2021, and August 15, 2021, respectively.
The census, apportionment, and redistricting: Every ten years, the United States conducts the census, a complete count of the U.S. population. Census results determine congressional apportionment (i.e., the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives). Because the U.S. Constitution requires that seats in the House be apportioned to the states on the basis of population, a state can gain seats if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states.
Federal law requires congressional and legislative districts to have substantively equal populations. States use census data during their redistricting processes to ensure compliance with this requirement. The standard census timeline calls for the bureau to submit apportionment counts to the President by Dec. 31 and redistricting data to the states by April 1, 2021.
In the 2010 cycle, redistricting authorities enacted 43 new congressional district maps and 50 new state legislative district maps. The majority of these – 63 maps (31 congressional and 32 state legislative), 67.74 percent of the total– were enacted in 2011. In 2012, 28 maps (12 congressional and 16 state legislative) were enacted, 30.11 percent of the total. The remaining maps were enacted in the first six months of 2013.
Following the 2020 elections, two states saw changes to the partisan makeup of their state legislatures that could affect redistricting, which is set to begin in 2021 following the publication of the U.S. Census.
Republicans in New Hampshire gained control of the Congressional and state legislative redistricting process after the 2020 elections. Republicans won new majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, forming a Republican state government trifecta with Gov. Chris Sununu (R). New Hampshire’s legislature will draw Congressional and state legislative district lines in 2021, and they are subject to a possible gubernatorial veto.
Vermont’s redistricting process will fall under divided party control in 2021.
Heading into the election, Democrats and third-party representatives who caucus with Democrats held supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. This coalition lost its supermajority status in the state House. The Democratic-majority legislature will create redistricting plans in 2021, but will not have the two-thirds supermajority votes in each chamber necessary to override a possible veto from Republican Governor Phil Scott.
Thirty-four states task their legislatures with Congressional redistricting (not including states with a single at-large U.S. House district), and 35 with state legislative redistricting.
Republican legislatures will control 20 Congressional redistricting processes and 20 state legislative redistricting processes. Democratic legislatures will control 10 Congressional redistricting processes and 11 state legislative redistricting processes.
Four Congressional redistricting and state legislative redistricting processes, respectively, are under divided party control. These include Minnesota, where Republicans maintained control of the state Senate and Democrats maintained control of the state House. Other states—like Louisiana, Wisconsin, Vermont (state legislative only), and Pennsylvania (Congressional only)—have single-party majorities in the legislature and a governor of another party. Vermont has a Democratic legislature and a Republican governor, while the other three states have a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor.
A citizen-initiated constitutional amendment that was designed to make changes to elections and redistricting procedures in North Dakota was removed from the 2020 ballot by the North Dakota Supreme Court on August 25.
The measure was certified for the ballot by Secretary of State Al Jaeger on August 11 after his office found that proponents submitted around 32,000 valid signatures for the initiative on July 6. To qualify for the ballot, 26,904 valid signatures were required.
Brighter Future Alliance, which opposed the initiative, filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court on August 12, 2020, seeking to block the measure from the ballot by ordering Secretary Jaeger to declare all signatures for the measure invalid. Brighter Future Alliance argued that the measure’s sponsors failed to meet the initiative petition requirements under the state constitution and state law because the petitions did not include the full text of the measure and that the ballot title did not accurately describe the measure. Under Section 2 of Article III of the state constitution, petitions that are being circulated must include the full text of the proposed measure. Under state law, the petition title must be a “short and concise statement that fairly represents the measure.” In North Dakota, the petition titles are drafted by the secretary of state and approved by the attorney general.
On August 25, 2020, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that the measure must be blocked from appearing on the ballot because the text of the constitutional amendment referenced statutory law and that “embedding a statute into the Constitution, which by definition is a law inferior to the Constitution and subject to change by normal legislative procedure, would threaten the sanctity of our fundamental law.” The court did not address the claims related to the petition title’s sufficiency.
Section 1 of the proposed constitutional amendment stated, “In order to provide military-overseas voters with ample opportunity to vote … the secretary of state shall transmit ballots and balloting materials to all covered voters who submit a valid military-overseas ballot application. This shall apply for all elections covered in N.D.C.C. section 16.1-07-19.”
Secretary of State Jaeger said, “The court made its decision, and it will not go on the ballot.” Brighter Future Alliance Chairman Pat Finken said, “We are gratified the court agreed with our position to keep Measure 3 off the ballot. It was ill-conceived, poorly written and the forces behind the measure showed contempt for our initiated measure processes and safeguards. This outcome further demonstrates why we must not allow out-of-state special interests to tamper with our constitution and our elections to further their political agenda.” North Dakota Voters First Chairwoman Carol Sawicki said, “There can be little doubt that Measure 3 was a threat to political insiders and career politicians in North Dakota. The proof is in the way they banded together in a coordinated and unprecedented effort to ensure North Dakota voters never had the chance to cast their ballot.”
The state legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the ballot: one measure would change the structure of the State Board of Higher Education; the other measure would require initiated constitutional amendments passed by voters to be submitted to the legislature.
Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years, 56% of which were approved.
Two Arkansas citizen-initiated measures—one that would establish ranked-choice voting and another that would establish a redistricting commission—were provisionally certified for the ballot on August 21, 2020. Whether or not votes will be counted for the measures is a question pending before the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Sponsored by Open Primaries Arkansas, the ranked-choice voting measure would (a) change primary elections so that all candidates for an office are listed on a single primary ballot, rather than on separate partisan ballots, and (b) create a top-four ranked-choice voting system for general elections for federal congressional office, state general assembly, and statewide elected offices, including Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer of State, Auditor of State, Attorney General, and Commissioner of State Lands.
The redistricting measure, sponsored by Arkansas Voters First, would create the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission for state legislative and congressional redistricting. The commission would be comprised of nine commissioners who are registered Arkansas voters and would replace the Board of Apportionment, which is currently responsible for state legislative redistricting in Arkansas. The current Board of Apportionment is comprised of the governor, the secretary of state, and the attorney general. Currently, in Arkansas, the state legislature is responsible for federal congressional redistricting. The measure would also establish criteria for drawing district maps. All meetings of the commission would be publicized and open to the public.
The campaigns each submitted around 100,000 signatures on July 6. To qualify for the ballot, 89,151 valid signatures are required.
Secretary of State John Thurston (R) found on July 14 that signatures for the initiatives were insufficient on the grounds that petition circulators’ background check certifications did not comply with state law.
Under Arkansas Code § 7-9-601(b)(3), sponsors are required to certify to the Secretary of State that each paid canvasser passed a state and federal criminal background check. Arkansas Voters First and Open Primaries Arkansas campaigns submitted certifications stating that the background checks were acquired but did not say they were passed. The statements of insufficiency for the two measures came a day after Special Master Mark Hewett determined signatures submitted on January 31 for an optometry law referendum were invalid for the same reason. Hewett’s report was filed with Arkansas Supreme Court for a final determination.
The campaigns asked the state Supreme Court on July 17 to order Secretary of State John Thurston to give the campaigns at least 30 days to collect additional signatures. In Arkansas, if petitioners fail to meet the signature requirement, but the petitioners have gathered at least 75% of the valid signatures needed, petitioners have 30 days to collect additional signatures or demonstrate that rejected signatures are valid. The campaigns were granted a provisional 30-day cure period. Arkansas Voters First reported submitting an additional 50,000 signatures on August 5. Open Primaries Arkansas reported submitting an additional 59,000 signatures on August 20.
Retired Circuit Judge John Fogleman was appointed by the Arkansas Supreme Court on July 24 as a special master to resolve the disputes between Arkansas Voters First, Open Primaries Arkansas, and the secretary of state concerning petition circulator background check certifications and signature validity. Fogleman’s report was submitted to the state Supreme Court on August 10, 2020. Fogleman concluded that the Supreme Court must decide whether or not the campaigns’ background check certifications comply with Arkansas Code § 7-9-601(b)(3).
On August 21, Secretary of State John Thurston certified both measures for the ballot “for coding purposes and preparation purposes only, pending the outcome of the litigation.” Under Arkansas Code § 7-5-204, if the secretary of state has not determined a petition’s sufficiency by the 75th day before the general election or if a measure is being challenged in court, the measure must be placed on the ballot. If the measure is later declared insufficient or invalid, votes for the measure will not be counted or certified.
Two measures on the 2018 ballot in Arkansas were declared invalid by the state Supreme Court and votes for the measures were not counted. Similarly, in 2016, the supreme court declared two measures on the ballot to be invalid and votes were not counted.
On August 17, 2020, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia S. Joyce ruled against the ballot title drafted by the Missouri General Assembly for Amendment 3, the Redistricting Process and Criteria, Lobbying, and Campaign Finance Amendment. The lawsuit against the ballot title was filed by petition circulators for Clean Missouri, the campaign that sponsored Missouri Amendment 1 (2018). The lawsuit argued that the ballot title of Amendment 3 was misleading because it did not mention the elimination of the nonpartisan demographer, which was the office established by Amendment 1 to conduct legislative redistricting in the state. Missouri Amendment 1 (2018) was approved with 62% of the vote. Besides establishing the nonpartisan demographer, the amendment also prohibited the state legislature from passing laws allowing for unlimited campaign contributions to candidates for the state legislature and set campaign contribution limits for legislative candidates and candidate committees.
In Joyce’s ruling, she said, “While [Amendment 3] proposes several other changes to Article Ill of the Constitution, all of them pale in comparison to the scope and magnitude of undoing a recent voter mandate to change Missouri’s legislative redistricting rules. The ‘central purpose’ or ‘primary objective’ of [Amendment 3] is to effectively repeal Amendment 1. Accordingly, the summary statement must alert voters to that change in some fashion. Instead, the General Assembly’s statement does not mention the change at all. It is insufficient, unfair, and must be rewritten.” State officials requested an appeal in the Missouri Court of Appeals.
The original ballot title read:
“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
• Ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators and their employees;
• Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits; and
• Create citizen-led independent bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative districts based on one person, one vote, minority voter protection, compactness, competitiveness, fairness and other criteria?”
The new title drafted by Judge Joyce reads:
“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
• Repeal rules for drawing state legislative districts approved by voters in November 2018 and replace them with rules proposed by the legislature;
• Lower the campaign contribution limit for senate candidates by $100; and
• Lower legislative gift limits from $5 to $0, with exemptions for some lobbyists?”
Missouri Amendment 3 was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 38 (SJR 38) on January 8, 2020. On February 10, the state Senate passed SJR 38 in a vote of 22-9. Of the 23 Republicans in the Senate, 22 voted in favor of SJR 38, one voted against it. All eight Democrats voted against it. On May 13, the state House passed SJR 38 in a vote of 98-56 with eight absent. House Republicans voted 97-16 for SJR 38, and House Democrats voted 1-40.
Fair Missouri is leading the campaign in support of Amendment 3. According to the last campaign finance reports submitted on June 30, the campaign had raised over $246,000. Clean Missouri is registered in opposition to the amendment and has raised $1.3 million. In 2018, Clean Missouri and an allied committee raised $5.63 million.
Missouri Senator Dan Hegeman (R), the sponsor of the amendment in the legislature, said, “This would give the voters another opportunity to weigh in on this monumental change that could have ramifications for years, if not generations.”
In November, Missouri voters will also be deciding Amendment 1, the State Executive Term Limits Amendment, which would limit the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, and attorney general, along with the governor and state treasurer, to two terms of office.
Between 1996 and 2018, an average of seven measures appeared on the ballot in Missouri during even-numbered election years. A total of 82 measures appeared on statewide ballots during that period with 63% approved.
North Dakota voters will decide on three constitutional amendments in November. The third measure, a citizen initiative, was certified for the ballot on Tuesday, August 11.
The initiative would amend the state constitution to make multiple changes to the election and redistricting procedures in North Dakota.
The measure would establish top-four open primaries for all statewide, legislative, and congressional races. Candidates would all appear on the same ballot with the option of listing political affiliation. Anyone could vote in the primaries regardless of their political affiliation or lack of political affiliation. The top-four candidates would proceed to the general election ballot. Voters could rank up to four candidates on the general election ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of votes, he or she would be elected. If not, the candidate with the least votes would be eliminated and votes redistributed according to voters’ next choices. This would occur in rounds until one candidate has a majority of votes.
As of 2020, in North Dakota, parties’ primary elections were open to all voters regardless of their partisan affiliation. As of 2020, in North Dakota, the winner of a party’s primary election is the candidate who receives the greatest number of votes (plurality), even if he or she does not win a majority of votes cast. The winners of each party’s primaries advance to the general election.
The measure would also make the state’s ethics commission, which was created by voters through a 2018 citizen initiative, responsible for state legislative redistricting. The initiative would require a unanimous vote by the ethics commission to set state senate districts, which would then be divided equally by population to create state house districts. It would also require public hearings on the redistricting plan, set criteria for district maps, and set other requirements and processes.
Another provision of the initiative would require a paper record for all ballots and audits of each election within 120 days by the secretary of state. And the measure would require ballots to be sent to military and overseas voters by 61 days before an election.
North Dakota Voters First reported submitting over 36,000 signatures for the initiative to the Secretary of State’s office on July 6, 2020. Secretary of State Al Jaeger (I) said that around 4,300 of the signatures submitted were rejected, meaning around 32,000 signatures were accepted. To qualify for the ballot, 26,904 valid signatures were required.
North Dakota Voters First said, “Without competition, lawmakers secure reelection even if they don’t have the best ideas or vision for their constituents. Measure 3 gives voters more than one choice in elections and incentivizes legislators to more closely listen to their constituents. […] This amendment would ensure voters are picking their politicians — not the other way around — by preventing politicians from drawing their own political boundaries. Measure 3 would establish a nonpartisan redistricting process that is transparent and fair.”
According to campaign finance reports that covered information through July 6, the campaign had raised $922,720 and had spent $676,912. The top four donors— Action Now Initiative, Campaign Legal Center, Represent.Us, and Unite America—donated 99.99% of the contributions.
The measure is opposed by Brighter Future Alliance, which said, “Until we defeat these groups at the polls, they will keep coming with measures to further upend our political institutions and undermine our state’s economy and our North Dakota way of life.”
The group filed a lawsuit in the state supreme court on August 12, 2020, seeking to block the measure from the ballot by ordering Secretary Al Jaeger to declare all signatures for the measure invalid. Brighter Future Alliance argued that the measure’s sponsors failed to meet requirements of the constitution and state law because the petitions did not include the full text of the measure and the ballot title does not accurately describe the measure. Under Section 2 of Article III of the state constitution, petitions that are being circulated must include the full text of the proposed measure. Under state law, the petition title must be a “short and concise statement that fairly represents the measure.” In North Dakota, the petition titles are drafted by the secretary of state and approved by the attorney general.
Maine is the only state with ranked-choice voting for federal and statewide primary elections and general elections for U.S. Congress.
As of 2020, no states utilized a top-four primary for state or federal elections. Top-two primaries are used in California, Nebraska, and Washington. A similar initiative to create a top-four primary and ranked-choice general system is on the 2020 ballot in Alaska. A top-four ranked-choice voting initiative may also appear on the ballot in Arkansas.
A measure to create top-two open primaries will appear on the 2020 ballot in Florida, and Massachusetts voters will decide a ranked-choice voting initiative.
In 36 of the 50 states, state legislatures are primarily responsible for state legislative redistricting. Independent commissions draw state legislative district lines in 10 states. In four states, politician commissions are responsible for state legislative redistricting.
The North Dakota state legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot in North Dakota. One measure would change the structure of the State Board of Higher Education, and the other measure would require initiated constitutional amendments passed by voters to be submitted to the legislature and passed a second time by voters if not approved by the legislature.
Fair Maps Nevada, the campaign behind the Nevada Independent Redistricting Commission Initiative, did not submit signatures by the August 3 deadline. Originally the deadline was June 24, but it was extended by a court ruling. On July 24, 2020, Doug Goodman, founder and executive director of Nevadans for Election Reform; Sondra Cosgrove, chair of Fair Maps Nevada; and Vivian Leal, a member of Indivisible Northern Nevada Fair Democracy Team, wrote that “Fair Maps Nevada will not be able to collect the necessary signatures by the court-set, and county election official agreed to deadline of August 3.” The campaign said that it would attempt to put the initiated constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot.
The ballot measure would have transferred the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a seven-member independent redistricting commission.
The signature deadline was extended from June 24 to August 3 after Fair Maps Nevada filed a lawsuit against the state on May 7 seeking permission to use electronic signatures and asking for a six-week extension of the signature deadline. In their lawsuit, petitioners argued that the state’s actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus made it “extremely difficult to collect signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot in a traditional in-person manner.”
On May 29, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du ruled partially in favor of the petitioners granting them more time to gather signatures. In her decision, she argued that Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) stay-at-home order made it impossible for the campaign to gather signatures and that not changing the statutory deadline was “unreasonable and unfair.” Judge Du did not grant the petitioners’ request to use electronic signatures citing concerns of fraud and legal precedent on courts changing election rules. In her ruling, the new deadline was August 5, but the campaign and state officials later agreed to move it to August 3.
The ruling only applied to the petitioners in this case and did not extend to the Fountainhead Society, the campaign behind the Single Transferable Vote and Multimember Senate Districts Initiative. Benjamin Pennington, the founder of the Fountainhead Society, said that the campaign would submit an “improved initiative” for the 2022 cycle.
In Nevada, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated constitutional amendment for the ballot is equal to 10% of the total votes cast in the most recent general election. Moreover, signature gathering must be distributed equally among each of the state’s four congressional districts. Initiated constitutional amendments that qualify for the ballot must be approved at two consecutive general elections.
Nevada voters will be deciding on five statewide ballot measures in November—four legislatively referred constitutional amendments and one initiated constitutional amendment.
• Question 1, Remove Constitutional Status of Board of Regents Amendment: Removes the constitutional status of the Board of Regents
• Question 2, Marriage Regardless of Gender Amendment: Recognizes the marriage of couples regardless of gender
• Question 3, State Board of Pardons Commissioners Amendment: Revises duties of the State Board of Pardons Commissioners
• Question 4, State Constitutional Rights of Voters Amendment: Creates a constitutional right to certain voting procedures and policies
• The Renewable Energy Standards Initiative: Requires utilities to acquire 50% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030
Between 1995 and 2018, the Nevada State Legislature referred 31 constitutional amendments to the ballot, while voters decided 26 citizen-initiated constitutional amendments. The legislature’s proposed amendments were approved at a lower rate (48.39%) than citizen-initiated amendments (73.08%).
On July 30, 2020, the Oregon Secretary of State’s office announced that People Not Politicians, the campaign behind the Independent State and Congressional Redistricting Commission Initiative, had submitted 59,493 valid signatures. People Not Politicians submitted its first batch of 64,172 unverified signatures on July 13. The campaign submitted an additional 1,819 signatures on July 17 and 1,063 signatures on July 24 for a total of 67,054 unverified signatures. The signature validity rate for the petition was 88.7%.
A federal judge ruled on July 10 that Secretary of State Bev Clarno (R) had to place the measure on the ballot or lower the threshold to 58,789 signatures and extend the signature deadline to August 17. The reduced number of signatures of 58,789 is equal to the required amount for 2018 veto referendum petitions. The original deadline was July 2, and the required number of signatures was 149,360 valid signatures.
People Not Politicians filed the lawsuit against the state seeking relief from the signature deadline and requirements on June 30. The state appealed the federal court’s decision allowing the campaign to submit signatures after the original deadline. On July 23, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Oregon’s request for an emergency stay on the lower court’s ruling.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) filed an emergency stay with the U.S. Supreme Court on July 29 that has not been decided yet. A panel of the 9th Circuit Court is expected to hear oral arguments for the lawsuit on August 13. It will also be hearing oral arguments for a similar initiative lawsuit in Idaho on the same day. Reclaim Idaho, the sponsors of the Idaho Income Tax Increases for Education Funding Initiative, filed the lawsuit back in June and a federal judge allowed the campaign to gather electronic signatures and have extra time to gather signatures. On July 30, the Supreme Court granted an emergency stay on the judge’s order.
The Oregon initiative would amend the Oregon Constitution to establish a 12-member redistricting commission. If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, it will be the third initiative appearing on the November ballot in Oregon. The Oregon Secretary of State certified the Psilocybin Program Initiative and the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative for the ballot after both met the original July 2 deadline and submitted more than the required number of valid signatures (112,020).
At the election on November 3, New Jersey voters will decide a constitutional amendment to postpone state legislative redistricting until after the 2021 election if federal census data isn’t received by February 15, 2021. Therefore, the current state legislative districts, which have been used since 2011, would remain in use for the 2021 election. New districts would be used beginning in 2023. The constitutional amendment would also use this delayed timeline in future redistricting cycles if census data isn’t received by February 15 of the year after the census (2031, 2041, 2051, and so on).
Both chambers of the New Jersey State Legislature passed the constitutional amendment on July 30, 2020. A 60% vote was required in both legislative chambers. In the General Assembly, the vote was 51 to 26. In the State Senate, the vote was 25 to 15. Legislative Democrats, along with one Senate Republican, supported the amendment. All other legislative Republicans opposed it.
Asm. John McKeon (D-27), a legislative sponsor of the amendment, said that because the coronavirus pandemic has had the effect of delaying the completion of the federal census, “there’s just not a lot of good options here.” Currently, the U.S. Census Bureau has delayed the expected delivery of redistricting data to states to July 31, 2021. The state’s primary elections are scheduled for June 8, 2021. Senate Majority Whip Nicholas Scutari (D-22) stated, “[A delay in receiving census data] will make it all but impossible to get the accurate information needed to draw legislative districts that are fair and accurate. An undercount will not only result in reduced federal funding, but also will have a negative impact on fair representation in the Legislature.”
Doug Steinhardt, chairperson of the New Jersey Republican Party, said his party was opposed to the constitutional amendment. He stated, “The people of New Jersey deserve legislators that reflect the political and demographic makeup of our great state, and they haven’t enjoyed that in at least a decade. Democrats pushing this amendment to delay redistricting are trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer, and are aiming to extend their majority for an additional two years.”
In New Jersey, a redistricting commission is responsible for developing state legislative district maps. The party affiliation of the commission’s 10 members is based on the results of the last gubernatorial election. The state political party committees of the gubernatorial candidates who placed first and second get to each select five members. Typically, these are Democrats and Republicans. If they deadlock on a state legislative redistricting map, the state Supreme Court Chief Justice appoints an 11th member.
The constitutional amendment is the third to be referred to the 2020 general election ballot in New Jersey. Voters will also decide a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana and a constitutional amendment to make veterans eligible to receive the state’s veterans’ property tax deduction.
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.
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.
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.