Georgia: Hand recounts of Georgia’s paper ballots barred by election proposal | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly said paper ballots will give Georgia voters “a physical recount.” But under a proposed elections rule, the only physical part of the recount would occur when poll workers feed ballots into the machines. The rule calls for recounts to be conducted by ballot scanning machines that read votes encoded in bar codes. Election officials won’t review the ballot text to check the accuracy of vote totals until the state develops auditing rules. Election integrity organizations say recounts of paper ballots should be done by hand to help ensure that the printed text matches votes tabulated from the bar code. “You have to have a manual process to confirm a computerized process,” said Marian K. Schneider, the president of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan organization that promotes accurate and verifiable elections. “The best way is to do a hand recount that can look at the human-readable text on the paper output.”

National: Election officials get training before 2020 voting begins | Christina A. Cassidy/Associated Press

When state election officials gathered ahead of the last presidential election, major topics were voter registration, identity theft and ballot design. This year, the main theme is election security. The change since 2016 underscores how election security has become a top concern with presidential nominating contests set to begin next week. Kicking off Thursday’s meeting was a training exercise coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security. Election officials from 44 states joined officials with 11 federal agencies and representatives from more than a dozen voting technology companies to participate in the half-day exercise to help them keep votes secure. “We’ve come a long ways,” said Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. “That’s the strength of doing these tabletops: putting everyone in the same room so we have that contact and preparing for whatever scenarios might come up.” The vast majority of panels at the biannual meetings of the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors are dedicated to cybersecurity, from what states can do to disrupt hacking attempts to the threat of ransomware.

National: House GOP introduces bill to secure voter registration systems against foreign hacking | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Republicans on the House Administration Committee on Wednesday introduced legislation that would seek to update a long-standing federal election law and secure voter registration databases from foreign hacking attempts. The Protect American Voters Act (PAVA) would require the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to establish the Emerging Election Technology Committee (EETC), which would help create voluntary guidelines for election equipment, such as voter registration databases, not covered under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA was signed into law in 2002 following problems with voting during the 2000 presidential election. The law established the EAC and set minimum election administration standards.  The EETC would be empowered to bypass the existing Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines process, which is a voluntary set of voting requirements that voting systems can be tested against to ensure their security and accessibility. The new bill would also establish an Election Cyber Assistance Unit within the EAC, which would help connect state and local election officials across the country with cybersecurity experts who could provide technical support. 

National: Securing elections starts with securing voter registration | Samuel S. Visner/StateScoop

It’s Nov. 3, Election Day: You go to the polls at the school where you’ve cast your ballots for the last 15 years, only to be told you are no longer on the voter registration list. And according to your state’s online database, you’re now supposed to be voting at a church 15 miles away. You’re confused, angry and late for work. So, you don’t vote. And your candidates of choice lose. How would you feel about those who won, much less the democratic process, after that? Attacking voter registration databases is one of the many ways threat actors could attempt to tamper with this year’s presidential election. After the 2016 election cycle, U.S. intelligence officials concluded that hostile nation-state actors attempted to access voter files in all 50 states and succeeded in some states, including Illinois. These and other kinds of compromises, such as ransomware that could deny election officials’ access to critical voter data during the 2020 election, could undermine confidence in U.S. institutions and the perceived legitimacy of those elected.

National: There’s a new cross-country effort to train election and campaign pros on digital security | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

A team from the University of Southern California has embarked on a 50-state tour to give cybersecurity training to poll workers and state and local campaign staffers who will be the last line of defense against Russian hacking in 2020. The group, called the Election Cybersecurity Initiative, views itself as a bottom-up, grass-roots counterpart to national-level election security efforts led by the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of Russia’s election interference in 2016. It’s hoping to advise local election officials, Election Day volunteers, ground-level campaign door-knockers and even interns in both political parties who national officials are unlikely to reach. The group also wants to build a network of cybersecurity experts at universities across the nation who can help secure local races and polling sites. “There are incredible grass-roots resources and folks who are highly educated,” Justin Griffin, the group’s managing director, told me. “We’re really going to the states to touch those folks who could never take the time or have the budget to come to Washington for a session like this.” The cross-country effort, which launched in Maryland this week, is yet another example of how the threat of hacking and disinformation is affecting every part of the elections and campaign process. The group, which is funded with a grant from Google, is modeling itself after an election campaign and using the tagline: “Our candidate is democracy.”

Verified Voting Blog: New Verifier Map and Data

We’ve made some changes to the Verifier Map and Data. The maps now display voting equipment usage in election day polling places only and makes a distinction between jurisdictions in which most voters are hand marking paper ballots with Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) provided primarily for accessibility and those in which BMDs are used by all voters to mark ballots. The national map now displays voting system types by county rather than by state, which provides a more accurate representation of voting equipment usage. Since we started the Verifier database in 2006 we have always tracked voting equipment in terms of tabulation, distinguishing equipment in terms of paper ballot voting systems, Direct Recording Electronic voting systems, and a mix of the two systems in the same polling place. Ballot marking devices served primarily as assistive devices in jurisdictions that used a paper ballot voting system. With the advent of BMDs intended for use by all voters in 2016 and the significant increase in this voting method, we recognized the need for a different classification, and this is reflected in the new map and database.

California: Long Beach’s District 1 special election at the center of lawsuit over Los Angeles County’s new voting systems | Hayley Munguia /Press Telegram

Long Beach’s most recent election is at the center of a lawsuit against Los Angeles County over new voting machines that will go into widespread use during the March 3 elections. Beverly Hills filed a complaint last week against the county, arguing the new voting technology — known as Voting Solutions for All People 2.0 — could impact the results of an election with more than four candidates. The new machines have been in the works for more than a decade and are intended to make voting more accessible. They can display the ballot in 13 languages, and voters who are visually impaired can use an audio headset. But the lawsuit centers on a different aspect of the design: The “more” button that voters must press to see beyond the first screen of candidates, which only includes four names. Voters do not need to scroll through the entire list of candidates before selecting one. The Beverly Hills lawsuit, filed Wednesday, Jan. 22, argues that people may simply pick one of the first four names they see and move on without pressing the “more” button to reveal the rest of the candidates. That city’s evidence? The special election Long Beach held in November to pick District 1’s next representative on the City Council.

Illinois: Elections officials disclose fresh problems with voter registration | Sophia Tareen/Associated Press

Illinois elections officials disclosed fresh problems Wednesday with the state’s automatic voter registration program, including at least one eligible voter who said she registered to vote but ended up on an opt-out list. The program is already under fire for mistakenly registering over 500 people who indicated they weren’t U.S. citizens, of which 15 people voted in 2018 and 2019 elections. Election officials said at least eight of the people have long voting histories and were likely U.S. citizens, leaving seven voters in question. The individuals involved were applying for standard drivers’ licenses at secretary of state’s offices. Details were scarce on the new issues, disclosed at a State Board of Elections meeting. Brenda Glahn, an attorney with the secretary of state, said registrations of eligible voters who appeared to decline to be registered were still sent to election officials. The problems stem from those applying for a REAL ID, which requires proof of citizenship.

Illinois: From arrows to ovals and ‘giant iPads,’ voters in Chicago and Cook County will see new voting machines at the polls | Dan Petrella/Chicago Tribune

Voters in Chicago and the rest of Cook County will see brand-new voting machines when they head to the polls for the March 17 primary elections. All Chicago polling places will be equipped with new voting machines for paper ballots and each will have at least one new touch-screen voting machine, Chicago Board of Election spokesman James Allen said Monday. The most noticeable change will be that voters will fill in an oval rather than connecting to sides of an arrow when filling out a paper ballot, Allen said. The new touch-screen voting machines, which will resemble “giant iPads,” will print out a paper ballot, which voters will then feed into a scanner, much like they do with handwritten ballots. The city elections board is spending $21 million on the machines, with nearly $19 million coming from the city. The City Council approved a measure Jan. 15 that moves $18.7 million from city’s streetlight replacement program to pay for the new equipment. The city and the local election authority are paying for the new equipment because “everybody’s grown weary of waiting” for new federal funding for election equipment, Allen said. “Numerous jurisdictions around the state are just turning to their local pocketbooks,” he said. Fifty-five early voting sites across the city open March 2 and will all be equipped with the new touch-screen machines, Allen said.

Ohio: Boards of Election face Friday deadline to finish security updates ahead of March primary | John Kosich/News5Cleveland

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose will tell you that talk of efforts to interfere in our elections isn’t talk, it’s a reality. “There are foreign adversaries who want to undermine the credibility of this thing that is really fundamental to our way of life as Americans and that is the ability to elect our leaders,” LaRose told News 5 from Israel, where he was asked to speak this week at a cyber-security conference in Tel Aviv. “They’ve heard about some of the work we’re doing in Ohio where in many ways we’re leading the nation with a very aggressive cyber-security posture that we’ve put in place to protect the integrity of our elections,” he said. “While I’ve been here I’ve had the chance to meet with my counterparts from Israel’s electoral commission as well, so there’s a great exchange of information between the Israeli experts that work to keep their election’s safe and secure and myself.” The state’s county boards of election this week have been busy completing LaRose’s task of making sure they are all individually protected against attack — a 34-point checklist that they have until January 31 to complete.

Pennsylvania: Northampton County Election Commission Board says no to electronic poll books | Peter Blanchard/The Morning Call

Fears of another Election Day fiasco in Northampton County have public officials feeling uneasy about implementing modernized voting technology — even at the risk of waiting weeks after votes are cast for official election results. Despite the urging of Northampton County Director of Administration Charles Dertinger, the election commission board voted 4-1 Thursday against recommending a roughly quarter-million dollar purchase of 350 electronic poll books ahead of the April 28 primary election. Last week, Tenex Software Solutions representatives provided a demonstration of the electronic poll books — iPads containing Apple’s encryption technology and reconfigured to disable Wi-Fi capabilities — to election board members and County Council last week. Dertinger requested the board make its decision at that meeting, but board Chairwoman Maudeania Hornik said it would be imprudent to rush into a decision given the numerous issues with new voting machines in the November election.

Pennsylvania: New voting machines. Sweeping election reforms. What could go wrong in 2020? | Ford Turner/The Morning Call

Held three months to the day before the Pennsylvania’s presidential-year primary, a legislative hearing on the readiness of the state’s voting infrastructure was a mixture of reassurance and concern. The focal point of those who testified before an all-Republican array of senators on the Senate Majority Policy Committee was implementation of the just-passed Act 77 of 2019, the most sweeping set of Pennsylvania election reforms in decades. Worries also were expressed about voter privacy and delays in seeing the results election night. Faced with the welter of changes state and county officials must adopt before the April 28 primary ― mail-in ballots, changed registration deadlines and the elimination of straight-party voting among them ― the guarded tone was obvious in an answer given by Lehigh County Chief Clerk Tim Benyo. Asked by committee Chairman Sen. David Argall of Schuylkill County what might happen in the coming election, Benyo said, “I don’t foresee anything worse than what we saw in November, even with the addition of Act 77.”

Puerto Rico: Internet Voting Plan Threatens Election Security: ACLU | Shannon Bond/ NPR

Puerto Ricans could be casting their ballots online only in the next eight years, according to a bill that is expected to pass this week. Civil liberties advocates are ringing alarm bells over this plan to shift voting online, warning that the move threatens election security and voting rights. The American Civil Liberties Union and its Puerto Rico chapter urged the island’s governor, Wanda Vázquez, to veto a bill containing the Internet voting plan. “There is no secure way to hold elections online,” they wrote in a letter to the governor on Wednesday. “This measure is misguided, dangerous, and will needlessly expose Puerto Rico’s voting system to hacking and disruption.” The ACLU said “such disruption will only result in greater public mistrust of key democratic institutions.” The online voting plan is part of a bill to reform the U.S. territory’s electoral code. The bill is expected to be approved by the legislature by the end of this week. The measure calls for Puerto Rico’s electoral commission to create an Internet voting program that could overhaul the way all the island’s citizens cast their ballots within eight years.

Editorials: Shelby County Tennessee needs cheap, secure hand-marked paper ballots | Joe Towns and Marlene Strube/The Daily Memphian

Sometimes, the low-tech solution is the better one. Let’s say you want a dedicated tool to look up local phone numbers confidentially. You could buy a $500 computer plus subscription fee to search the online White Pages, hope you’ll have reliable Internet connection, and bet that no one is monitoring your searches. Or, you could get the phone book for free and use it reliably and in privacy. Shelby County is faced with a similar choice right now. Everyone agrees we need to buy new voting equipment for the 2020 election. And that it should have some kind of paper record of votes which can be checked against the computer in case of a computer glitch, hacking or just a really close race. But the Shelby County Election Commission (SCEC) is currently considering an expensive “electronic pen” system in which voters would use a touch-screen computer to mark paper ballots, when we could just give voters a paper ballot and a pencil. The low-tech, hand-marked paper ballot approach would be simpler, more secure and half the price.