COVID-19 and Elections

7/2/2020

Alternative Text

NOTE: We are updating this page regularly as states respond to the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on elections. We welcome any input from election officials or members of the public. For more detailed information on state laws involving election emergencies generally, please visit NCSL Election Emergencies. For more information on absentee, all-mail and other voting at home options, see our recent report, Voting Outside the Polling Place. Please also see our webinar series on this topic.

Introduction

Voters standing in line close to each other, handling ballots and using touch screens make for a potentially toxic stew of community transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Election officials and policymakers are giving full attention to possible mitigation strategies. These include reviewing their state’s continuity of government constitutional provisions, continuity of legislatures during emergencies plans, election emergency statutes and election contingency plans at the state and local levels. On contingency planning, the National Association of Secretaries of State released State Laws & Practices for the Emergency Management of Elections in 2017.

The goal is to address both the practical and legal questions around running elections while also decreasing the potential for spreading the virus. Much of the responsibility lies with local jurisdictions or the executive branch. However, policymakers are thinking ahead as well. Legislation is just beginning to be introduced to address how elections can be well-executed even as public gatherings are discouraged in many locations. See the Legislative ActionExecutive Action and State Election Official Action sections on state responses to COVID-19 and elections, along with Policy Options at the bottom of the page.

Legislative Action

Legislatures have taken a number of steps to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on elections. We have captured these bills by topic, and below you will see three tables—bills relating to delaying elections, bills relating to absentee and mail voting and miscellaneous bills relating to public health and elections.

2020 Bills Relating to Delaying Elections

State

Bill Summary

Alabama

AL HB 419: Establishes Election Emergency Act, allowing for suspension or delay of election. Pending

Massachusetts

 

 

 

 

MA HD 4928: Expands powers of the Secretary of State over elections during emergencies, including the ability to postpone elections. Pending

 

MA SB 2608: Grants the state authority to postpone municipal elections and also expands voting options. Enacted

 

MA SB 2609: Postpones certain special elections in the state until May 19. Pending

Pennsylvania PA SB 422: Postpones the state's primary until June 2. Enacted
South Dakota SD HB 1298: Postpones all elections in the state to be held through May 2020 to June 2020. Enacted
2020 Bills Relating to Absentee and Mail Voting

State

Bill Summary

Alaska AK SB 241: Authorizes the state to direct that any primary or special election in 2020 be conducted by mail. Enacted
California CA AB 860: Requires county election officials to mail ballots to all registered voters for elections in 2020. Enacted
Delaware DE HB 346: Establishes vote by mail elections for 2020 primary and general elections. Enacted
Illinois IL SB 1863: Requires election officials to send ballot applications to any voter who voted in the last 3 years, and allows voters to electronically request and return ballot applications. Applies to all elections in 2020. Enacted
Louisiana

LA HB 419: Authorizes voting by mail; it does not mention COVID-19 specifically but provides specific provisions for voters who are hospitalized. Pending

 

LA SB 497: Allows a voter to request their absentee ballot be rescinded in the event an election is delayed due to a declared state of emergency. Pending

Massachusetts

MA HB 4623: Expands absentee voting to all voters. Pending

 

MA HB 4699: Establishes vote by mail elections for 2020. Pending

 

MA HB 4737: Provides that all registered voters shall be mailed a ballot for all elections in 2020. Pending

 

MA SB 2653: Expands early voting and allows vote by mail for elections in 2020. Pending

Missouri MO SB 631: Expands absentee voting to voters in at-risk categories for contracting COVID-19. Also allows any registered voter to vote by mail in elections in 2020. Enacted
New York

NY SB 8015: Authorizes voters to vote absentee due to concern for public health risk. Pending

 

NY AB 10169: Permits absentee voting in the event of a threat resulting from a disease outbreak. Pending

 

NY AB 10271: Expands definition of "illness" to qualify for absentee voting to include spread or potential spread of communicable disease. Pending

 

NY SB 8106: Extends absentee voting to all residents for all primaries or special elections occuring before June 24, 2020. Pending

 

NY SB 8120: Directs the state board of elections to create a plan to permit voting by mail. Pending

 

NY SB 8130: Permits electronic application for absentee ballots and removes the requirement that such application be signed by the voter. Enacted

North Carolina NC HB 1169: Reduces the number of witness signatures required for absentee ballots from two to one and allows absentee ballot requests to be submitted by email or fax. Enacted
Ohio

OH HB 197: Voids the previous order by the secretary of state moving the state primary election to June 2 and instead extends absentee voting through April 28, with no in-person voting except for a limited category of voters who need to use an accessible voting machine or cannot receive mail. Enacted

 

OH HB 680: Creates a procedure by which state executives can request the General Assembly to approve an election to be conducted entirely by mail during a public health emergency. Pending

Pennsylvania

PA HB 2367: Appropriates money for the purpose of providing mail ballots to all qualified voters for the 2020 primary and general elections. Pending

 

PA HB 2563: Requires that all registered voters be mailed an application for a vote by mail ballot for the 2020 primary. Pending

South Carolina

SC HB 5478: Allows all voters to vote by absentee ballot in the 2020 primary and runoff elections. Pending

 

SC HB 5483: Expands eligibility for absentee voting due to COVID-19. Pending

 

SC SB 635: Allows any voter to vote by absentee ballot if they are in an area subject to a state of emergency. Applies to 2020 primary election. Enacted

Utah UT HB 3006: Makes temporary changes to the Election Code relating to the 2020 primary, including conducting the primary entirely by mail, with some exceptions. Enacted
2020 Miscellaneous Bills Relating to Public Health and Elections

State

Bill Summary

Colorado CO HB 1359: Modifies party candidate designation requirements to accommodate public health concerns. Enacted

Kentucky

KY HB 351: Allows the Governor to declare by executive order a different time, place, or manner for holding elections during a state of emergency. (please see current bill text, page 242) Enacted

New Jersey

NJ AB 3863: Extends petition filing deadlines by two weeks for all candidates and waives signature requirements for candidates for party office. Only applies to the 2020 primary election. Pending

 

NJ AB 4037: Allows electronic signature collection and submission for candidate petitions. Pending

New York

NY AB 10151: Shortens time frames related to petitions for the June 2020 primary election due to the coronavirus outbreak. Enacted

 

NY AB 10160: Decreases the number of signatures needed for candidate petitions in counties where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed. Pending

Vermont VT HB 681: Expands the powers of the Governor and Secretary of State to order changes to election procedures and suspends requirements for candidate petitions to allow ballot access without gathering signatures. Enacted

Executive Action

In addition to legislative action, states are also using executive action to adjust elections in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

2020 Executive Actions Relating to Public Health and Elections, Chronological

Date

State

Action

March 13

Louisiana 

Louisiana postponed its April 4 presidential primary until June 20.
March 14

Georgia

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that Georgia's March 24 presidential preference primary will be postponed until May 19.
March 16 Colorado Colorado's Governor issued an executive order, incorporating a bill passed by the legislature, to allow political parties to amend their rules relating to conventions and assemblies in order to limit in-person contact.
March 16 Kentucky Kentucky's Governor and Secretary of State made a joint announcement that the state's presidential primary, originally scheduled for May 19, will be delayed until June 23.
March 17 Maryland Maryland postponed its April 28 primary until June 2. The Governor's order also directed the State Board of Elections to conduct a special election to be held on April 28 entirely by mail.
March 18

Alabama

Alabama postponed its March 31 runoff election until July 14.
March 18 Missouri Missouri postponed all municipal elections in the state until June 2.
March 19 Connecticut Connecticut postponed its April 28 presidential primary until June 2.
March 19 New Jersey New Jersey's Governor issued an executive order implementing various changes to state elections, including allowing online candidate petitions and requiring that certain municipal and local elections be conducted solely by mail.
March 20 Indiana Indiana postponed its May 5 primary until June 2.
March 20 Mississippi Mississippi postponed its state primary runoff election until June 23.
March 20 Texas Texas postponed its state primary runoff election until July 14.
March 23 Rhode Island Rhode Island postponed its primary until June 2. The Governor's order also directs the Board of Elections to conduct the election predominantly by mail.
March 24 Delaware Delaware's Governor issued an executive order postponing the state's presidential primary until June 2 and directing municipalities to reschedule any elections set to be held before May 15. The Governor's order also expands the excuses under state law that a voter may use to qualify for absentee voting to include self-isolation or quarantine related to COVID-19.
March 25 Montana Montana's Governor issued a directive that permits counties to conduct elections by mail and to expand early voting.
March 26 North Dakota North Dakota's Governor issued an executive order implementing multiple changes to the state's election laws, including suspending the requirement that each county operate at least one polling place for in-person voting. The order directs state and local officials to take all necessary steps to conduct upcoming elections by mail.
March 26 Utah Utah's Governor issued an executive order suspending requirements relating to candidate petitions in order to allow campaigns to distribute petitions electronically and voters to return physically signed petitions by electronic means.
March 27 Michigan Michigan's Governor issued an executive order implementing multiple changes to the state's election laws, including ordering that the May 5 primary be conducted by absentee voting to the greatest extent possible.
March 28 New York New York postponed its presidential primary election until June 23. The Governor's order also postpones any special elections set for April 28 to June 23.
April 1 West Virginia West Virginia postponed its primary election until June 9.
April 1 Utah Utah's Governor issued an executive order suspending requirements related to referendum petitions in order to allow campaigns to distribute petitions electronically and voters to return physically signed petitions by electronic means.
April 8 New Jersey New Jersey postponed their primary elections until July 7.
April 8 Virginia Virginia's Governor announced that he will delay the June 9 state primary election to June 23. The Governor also asked the legislature to move elections scheduled in May to November 3.
April 9 Georgia Georgia's Secretary of State announced a second postponement of the state's primary to June 9.
April 10 Maine Maine's Governor issued an executive order postponing the state's primary to July 14. The order also allows all voters to request an absentee ballot up to Election Day, and delays the deadline for non-party candidates to file petitions to appear on the general election ballot to correspond with the primary postponement.
April 10 Maryland Maryland's Governor issued an executive order ratifying the State Board of Election plan for conducting their upcoming primary and special elections by mail. The order also implements various safety measures for those elections.
April 14 Louisiana Louisiana's Governor issued an executive order postponing the state's presidential primary for a second time to July 11.
April 17 Connecticut Connecticut's Governor and Secretary of State announced a second postponement of the state's presidential primary to August 11.
April 24 Kentucky Kentucky's Governor issued an executive order that will allow all registered voters to vote by absentee ballot in the state's upcoming primary.
April 24 New York New York's Governor issued an executive order mandating that the State Board of Elections send every voter an absentee ballot application.
May 7 Delaware Delaware's Governor announced a second postponement of the state's presidential primary to July 7. The Governor also announced that the state will send out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters for the primary.
May 8 California California's Governor issued an executive order requiring every county to send mail ballots to all registered voters for the General Election in November.
May 15 New Jersey New Jersey's Governor issued an executive order implementing a vote by mail election for the state's July 7th primary.
May 20 Connecticut Connecticut's Governor issued an executive order allowing all eligible voters to vote by absentee ballot for the state's August 11 primary.

State Election Official Action

State

Action

Alabama

Alabama’s Secretary of State issued an emergency rule allowing any qualified voter who determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote at their polling place for the upcoming primary election to vote absentee under the physical illness excuse provision. Voters are still required to submit an application with proper identification.

Connecticut Connecticut's Secretary of State released a comprehensive plan outlining measures the state is taking in response to the current pandemic, including sending out an absentee ballot application to all voters, ensuring the safety of in-person voting, and new cybersecurity measures.

Georgia

Georgia’s Secretary of State announced that his office will send absentee ballot applications to all active voters for their upcoming primary.

Idaho

Idaho has launched a “Vote Early Idaho” campaign and a new online absentee request portal and will conduct their upcoming primary mainly through absentee voting.

Indiana

Indiana’s Election Commission issued an emergency order suspending absentee eligibility requirements and will allow voters to the option to vote absentee.

Iowa

Iowa will mail all registered voters an absentee ballot request form for their upcoming primary and extend the absentee voting period to 40 days.

Michigan

Michigan’s Secretary of State will mail all voters an absentee ballot application for elections in August and November.

Nebraska

Nebraska’s Secretary of State announced that election offices will send early mail-in ballot request applications to voters for their upcoming primary.

Nevada

Nevada’s Secretary of State announced that the state will mail ballots to all active voters for their upcoming primary election.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s Secretary of State announced that the state will allow any voter who has concerns about in-person voting to request an absentee ballot for any election this year, including the general election in November.

North Carolina The North Carolina State Board of Elections rescheduled their congressional primary runoff election to June 23.
Oklahoma The Oklahoma State Board of Elections declared an election emergency requiring counties to postpone local elections that were to be held on April 7. Additionally, the Secretary of State tolled the circulation period for initiative petitions; a new deadline for signatures will be calculated once the Governor lifts the emergency declaration.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island will send all registered voters a mail ballot application for their upcoming primary.

South Dakota

South Dakota’s Secretary of State announced that the state will mail absentee ballot request applications to all registered voters for their upcoming primary.

Virginia

Virginia’s State Department of Elections has clarified that concerns related to COVID will qualify as an excuse to request an absentee ballot for upcoming elections.

West Virginia

West Virginia’s Secretary of State will send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters for their upcoming primary.

Wisconsin The Wisconsin Election Commission announced the state will send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters for November.

Policy Options

As legislators work to ensure fair elections in times of public health emergencies, they may look for policy options. NCSL does not recommend legislative changes or provide opinions on policy options. Instead, we have gathered ideas that have surfaced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Review your state’s existing election emergency statutes. NCSL's Election Emergencies resource provides citations by state. In general, these laws either allow elections to be delayed or rescheduled, or for polling places to be relocated. Some explicitly give the governor the authority to change the election date. Most do not, yet governors are likely to have broad authority under general emergency management declarations which could include changing dates.
  • Some states request, or require, that local election authorities provide contingency plans to the state. The chief election officer may provide guidance to the local authorities.
  • Many states are planning for an increase in the use of absentee, or mail, ballots. In preparation, they may want to clarify how absentee voting works: Are requirements for witness signatures (in addition to the voter’s signature) required? What is the deadline for requesting a ballot, and does it need to be extended? When must completed ballots be received? When can ballot processing begin? States coud also review their capacity to tabulate larger numbers of absentee ballots, and more. See NCSL’s Voting Outside the Polling Place report, and particularly the section, Policy Decision Points.
  • In states where a voter must provide a reason to vote absentee, often there is a list of accepted reasons. This list could be expanded either through an interpretation of existing provisions that allow absentee voting for health reasons (Alabama's secretary of state has made it clear that anyone who has self-quarantined can apply for an absentee ballot), or through a legislative change to add a public health risk as an acceptable reason. See NCSL’s Voting Outside the Polling Place report, and particularly the section, Qualifying for an Absentee Ballot, to review accepted reasons for requesting an absentee ballot.   
  • When polling places are located in long term care facilities, moving them to locations with fewer vulnerable people may make sense. State laws often require that notice of polling place changes be provided two or three months in advance. Does this require a change in law, or can a relocation be done with emergency authority?
  • Review provisional ballot laws. It is possible that voters might not be able to get to their designated polling place but might turn up at an election office or polling place elsewhere in the state. Would a ballot voted for just the statewide or applicable races count?
  • Poll workers may not be as willing to serve due to health risks, which can make running an election more challenging. Moving to consolidated polling places—in which several precincts vote at the same location—or moving to vote centers—in which any voter from a jurisdiction can vote at any polling place, usually a larger facility—can reduce the total number of poll workers required.
  • In many states, people with disabilities have the option to use curbside voting; bipartisan teams of poll workers bring a ballot or ballot marking device to the car so the voter does not have to come inside. This option could be expanded.
  • Shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines may make it difficult to collect signatures for candidate and initiative petitions. States may consider expanding various ballot measure and candidate filing deadlines. 

Blogs

The NCSL Elections Team will be posting regular blogs about coronavirus and its effect on elections. You can find these pieces on the NCSL Blog or below.

Additional Resources