Policy Analysis | July 2020

Coronavirus Impacts on State Legislatures and Elections

Mikko Lindberg, Anne Brody, Roger Moore, Cody Allen and Nick Bowman

Last updated: August 11, 2020

Alabama

On March 31, House members arrived at staggered times and reported directly to their offices. Speaker Mac McCutcheon cautioned members who had been sick or around someone sick not to attend. Department of Public Health employees checked temperatures at State House entrances to prevent anyone with a fever from entering the building. Members came to the House chamber in small groups, with ample space between members. The Senate followed similar social distancing guidelines. After reaching quorum in both chambers, the session was suspended until May 4.

The Senate General Fund Budget Committee convened on April 28 to pass a budget for fiscal year 2021. The $2.4 billion budget increases funding for Medicaid, Department of Public Health, and Department of Corrections. Committee members followed social distancing guidelines, with some wearing face masks.

The Legislature reconvened on Monday, May 4. Members of the media will be granted access, but in different locations than usual due to social distancing. The House of Representatives will offer live streaming video of the session, with the Senate offering live audio streaming. The Legislature adjourned sine die on May 18.

U.S. Senate Republican Runoff Election moved from March 31 to July 14.

Arkansas

The General Assembly convened for a special session on Thursday, March 26 and sine died on March 28. The session was limited to a single bill that would transfer $173 million in surplus funds to a special COVID-19 fund. In order to follow recommended public health guidelines for “social distancing,” the session will feature a unique format. The House met at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s basketball arena to allow members and staff to adequately space out. Meanwhile, the majority of the Senate gathered in the chamber at the Capitol, with 20 members evenly spread out on either side of the chamber, and the remaining 10 senators sitting upstairs in the gallery space.

Both chambers of the General Assembly established similar temporary emergency rules allowing for proxy voting for members of the Assembly who are unable or unwilling to be physically present when either chamber is in session due COVID-19 concerns. These temporary rules are in place for all committees and proceedings until June 30, 2020.

To vote by proxy, a member must submit a written request (electronic submission is acceptable) to either the Speaker of the House or Senate President Pro Tempore, respectively. Leadership will then provide the requesting member’s party leader – either Majority or Minority Leader – with the member’s request and allow the party leader to assign a designee to vote on the requestor’s behalf. The Majority or Minority Leader is allowed to serve as designee. A designee may serve as proxy for more than one member, and all votes via proxy shall be indicated in writing by the absent member.

The fiscal session sine died on April 24. The General Assembly implemented the same arrangements previously used to comply with public health guidelines during the special session.

General Primary Runoff elections were held on March 31, as scheduled.

Florida

Session adjourned sine die on March 19.

Presidential Preference Primary election was held March 17, as scheduled. State primary election scheduled for August 18.

Georgia

The General Assembly will resume session on Monday, June 15.

The state’s primary election has been postponed until June 9. At that time, voters will chose candidates for president, Congress, the General Assembly, county commission, sheriff and other offices. Primary runoffs are scheduled for August 11.

Kentucky

The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 150, a COVID-19 response bill, on March 26 and sine died on April 15. The House of Representatives amended the rules to allow for proxy voting during the 2020 Legislative Session via House Resolution 133-1.

House leadership limited the number of members allowed on the floor to 25 at a time and amended the rules to allow for proxy voting via paper ballots. Most members watched proceedings from their respective offices, or other on-site locations, and recorded their votes on a paper ballot as each measure was before the chamber. Members were then instructed to electronically notify a special proxy – who was physically present on the chamber floor – as to their vote and allow the proxy to notify the clerk on their behalf. This process also set aside time before and during votes to allow members to confer with their proxies electronically and submit any questions regarding the measures before them.

General Primary Elections moved from May 19 to June 23.

Louisiana

The Legislature adjourned on Monday, June 1. A 30-day special session was convened immediately following the regular session for lawmakers to address the budget and consider legislation to support the state’s economic recovery. The session adjourned sine die on June 30.

Presidential Preference Primary election postponed from April 4 to July 11.

Mississippi

After a recess, the Legislature reconvened on May 1 to pass a bill allocating funds for emergency expenses. State medical officials took the temperatures of and distributed masks and hand sanitizer to all entering the Capitol. Anyone with a temperature above 100.1 was asked to leave. After passing the bill, the Legislature temporarily adjourned, reconvening on May 26. In June, an employee of the Department of Finance and Administration was diagnosed with COVID-19. In response, the House of Representatives adopted social distancing protocols and Speaker Gunn encouraged all legislators to wear masks. Legislators adjourned on July 1, after passing a resolution allowing them to reconvene for up to six days through Oct. 10 for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic. As of August 10, 2020, at least 49 legislators have tested positive for COVID-19, according to State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs.

The Legislature reconvened on August 11 to address measures vetoed by Governor Reeves. During the new session, House members are permitted to vote via text message and required to socially distance. An executive order by Governor Reeves limits indoor gatherings and events at the Capitol to 10 people.

Republican U.S. Senate primary runoff moved from March 31 to June 23. Special election for House District 88 has been postponed from April 21 to June 23

Missouri

Session adjourned sine die on May 15.

The Presidential Preference Primary election was held on March 10.

North Carolina

The General Assembly convened on Tuesday, April 28, for their short session, held on even-numbered years and usually focused on second-year adjustments to the state’s biennial budget cycle. Lawmakers spent the first week of session directing $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding, then adjourned for two weeks. The General Assembly reconvened on May 18.

The House is providing live video streams of its floor proceedings and remote committee meetings. Its members also adopted several procedural rule changes to facilitate voting processes during social distancing.

State and federal primary elections were held Tuesday, March 3, and certified Friday, March 20.

On June 12, Governor Roy Cooper signed into law House Bill 1169: Bipartisan Elections Act of 2020. The measure includes several recommendations made by election administrators to make voting safer and more accessible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It also transfers $4.4 million to the State Board of Elections to match federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and Help America Vote Act funding.

A Republican primary runoff election for the state’s 11th Congressional District was originally scheduled for May 12; State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell used her emergency powers to postpone the runoff election date by six weeks, setting it to June 23.

Oklahoma

The Legislature convened for a special session on Monday, April 6, to approve Governor Stitt’s declaration of a statewide health emergency, which grants the governor additional powers under the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act. Under the declaration, the governor has the authority to waive statutory and regulatory requirements and redirect state agency or employee efforts to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The governor also will be able to activate the Oklahoma National Guard and transfer up to $50 million in state funds to respond to the crisis. The emergency declaration lasts for 30 days and the Legislature will be able to reconvene the special session at any time to revoke the declaration.

The Legislature convened on Monday, May 4, at 1:30 PM. to address the FY 2021 budget and a handful of other legislative priorities. Lawmakers are constitutionally obligated to sine die by 5:00 PM on Friday, May 29. The session adjourned sine die on May 15.

During the session, the Capitol was open to the public with several safety precautions in place. Visitors were screened by a medical professional for symptoms of COVID-19 upon entry, public health and infectious disease experts from the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center implemented social distancing protocols throughout the building and everyone were encouraged to wear masks. The lobbies of the House and Senate chambers were closed, while events, Capitol tours and large groups remain prohibited. Access to chamber galleries, committee meeting rooms and other areas throughout the Capitol were controlled by safety personnel to ensure adequate social distancing.

Previously, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 661, which temporarily expands the state’s Open Meetings Act to include video and teleconferencing. These special provisions will terminate on November 15, 2020, or at the end of Oklahoma’s statewide emergency designation, whichever comes first.

The Presidential Preference Primary election was held on March 3.

South Carolina

The General Assembly adjourned on Tuesday, May 12. Lawmakers are scheduled to convene for a special session in mid-September to pass a new budget and take up legislation that was passed by either chamber earlier in the year.

The State Election Commission announced that the June 9 state and congressional primaries will proceed as scheduled.

Texas

No legislative session in 2020. Primary held as scheduled on March 3. Runoff elections, originally scheduled for May 26, are postponed until July 14. Early voting will begin June 29.

Tennessee

Lawmakers recessed their annual session on March 19 after passing an emergency budget, then reconvened on June 1. After further budget negotiations and revisions, the House and Senate adopted a total state budget of $39.45 billion for fiscal year 2021 – approximately $1.4 billion less than the $40.83 billion state budget originally proposed by Governor Lee in February – and adjourned sine die on June 19.

On June 4, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle of Tennessee’s Twentieth Judicial District ruled the state must temporarily lift its “excuse requirement” for absentee voting, until further order of the court. Further, the state was ordered to “provide any eligible Tennessee voter, who applies to vote by mail in order to avoid transmission or contraction of COVID-19, an absentee ballot in upcoming elections during the pendency of pandemic circumstances …  [and] prominently post on their websites and disseminate to County Election Officials that voters who do not wish to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 virus situation are eligible to request an absentee ballot by mail.”

The Presidential Preference Primary election was held on Tuesday, March 3, and primaries for the House and Senate are scheduled for Thursday, August 6.

Virginia

Session adjourned sine die on Thursday, March 12.

West Virginia

Session adjourned sine die on March 7. May 12 state primary election postponed to June 9. All registered voters are permitted to vote absentee in the June 9 primary election and November 3 general election. For the primary, the Secretary of State's office mailed absentee voting applications to all registered voters. For the general election, must request a ballot from their county clerk's office.

State Session sine died Session Suspended/Delayed Federal/State Elections Rescheduled Special Accommodations for Legislators
Alabama Yes, on May 18 Reconvened on May 4 U.S. Senate Republican Runoff Election moved from March 31 to July 14 Social distancing guidelines
Arkansas Yes, special session on March 28, fiscal session on April 24 No General Primary Runoff scheduled for March 31 House met at UA Little Rock basketball arena, both chambers permitted proxy voting
Florida Yes, on March 19 No Presidential Primaries held on March 17 House allowed proxy voting
Georgia No Yes, House will resume on June 11, Senate hasn't announced a return date Primaries postponed from May 19 to June 9 Limiting number of entrances to the Capitol and legislative office building, installing temperature scanners, and encouraging wearing face masks.
Kentucky Yes, on April 15 No General Primary Elections moved from May 19 to June 23 None
Louisiana No Reconvened on May 4 Presidential Primaries postponed from April 4 to July 11 Leaders are encouraging legislators to work via email and telephone to refine legislation until reconvening
Mississippi No Yes, suspended until May 7, reconvened on May 26, reconvened on August 11 Congressional Elections moved to June 23 Taking temperature of and issuing masks and hand sanitizer to all entering the Capitol. Social distancing protocols for legislators. House members permitted to vote via text message.
Missouri Yes, on May 15 Convened on April 27 No None
North Carolina No Convened on April 28, reconvened on May 18 State and federal primary elections held on March 3, U.S. House District 11 Runoff scheduled for June 23

The House is providing live video streams of its floor proceedings and remote committee meetings. Its members also adopted several procedural rule changes to facilitate voting processes during social distancing.

Oklahoma Yes, on May 15 Special session convened April 6, reconvened on May 4 Presidential Primaries held on March 3 House of Representatives has authorized proxy voting. Open Meetings Act expanded to included video and teleconferencing. Visitors will be screened by a medical professional for symptoms of COVID-19 upon entry. Social distancing protocols will be enforced throughout the building and everyone will be encouraged to wear masks. The Capitol will be disinfected daily in accordance with clinical cleaning protocols. 
South Carolina Yes, on May 12 No None None
Tennessee Yes, on June 19 Yes, until June 1 Presidential primaries held on March 3, primaries for House and Senate scheduled for August 6 None
Texas No session in 2020 n/a Primary held on March 3. Runoff elections scheduled for May 26 are postponed until July 14 None
Virginia Yes, on March 12 No No None
West Virginia Yes, on March 7 No May 12 state primary election postponed to June 9 None