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How Will the Coronavirus Crisis Affect 2020 Elections?

Client Alert

Gibbons Special Alert

March 20, 2020

One of the most cherished rights that American citizens have is the right to vote and elect those who will govern them. With the virulent effects of the coronavirus increasing virtually every day, and extraordinary measures to combat these effects being taken virtually every day, an important concern of all Americans is preventing the coronavirus from having a deleterious effect on their right to vote.

A number of government officials, aware of the importance of not allowing the health risks of in-person voting from adversely affecting the right to vote, have taken action to protect the integrity of elections. On March 17, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that the state’s primary election, originally scheduled for April 28, would take place on June 2. In addition, the special election for the state’s 7th Congressional District would take place as originally scheduled, but with all-mail voting. The Governor also directed the state board of elections to develop a comprehensive plan by April 3 to conduct the primary election in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process.

Closer to home, on March 14, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that reduced the number of signatures required for ballot access. Candidates would only need to collect only 30 percent of the statutory minimum. For Congress, candidates would need 375 signatures, rather than 1,250. For State Senate, candidates would need 300 signatures, rather than 1,000, and for State Assembly, candidates would need 300 signatures, rather than 1,000. The executive order also moved the filing deadline from April 2 to March 17. In addition, the order changes procedures to allow New Yorkers to vote absentee for the Queens Borough President special election on March 24. It extends the deadline to register to vote absentee to March 23, the day before the election. Absentee ballots may be postmarked or delivered in person until the day of the election.

The United States Congress has also begun to focus on the dual goals of protecting the health of voters and the integrity of elections. This week, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden introduced the National Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, and New Jersey’s Senator Corey Booker is a co-sponsor. The bill expands early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states, and allows any voter who did not receive an absentee ballot to use a printable ballot currently provided only to military and overseas voters. Eligible voters who can use printable federal write-in absentee ballots include anyone who requested an absentee ballot from the state where they are registered to vote but never received it, and any voter who resides in an area or state affected by a natural disaster or emergency declared by the government of that area or state, including a national emergency.

Clients that have executives and employees who are politically active, or that lobby the executive and legislative branches, should closely monitor these developments. The electoral process will affect their ability to support the candidacies and elect those persons who are most likely to support a client’s regulatory and legislative agenda.

For more information on the pandemic’s impact on this year’s elections, please contact Steven Sholk. We will, of course, continue monitoring the election situation and provide updates as necessary.

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