Millions of voters across the country will cast ballots during Super Tuesday on old, insecure election equipment — even after nearly four years of handwringing and warnings about Russian election interference. The jurisdictions at risk include three of Tennessee’s biggest counties — Shelby, Knox and Rutherford — where the paperless voting machines at the polls will include devices with security flaws so alarming that voters tried suing to have the equipment removed from precincts. Dozens of small counties in Texas are also sticking with risky touchscreen machines that have no paper trail to help detect tampering or malfunctions. And in California, Los Angeles County is debuting new voting machines that have drawn scrutiny for security weaknesses, as well as their developer’s past alleged ties to the Venezuelan government. The news is better in other parts of the Super Tuesday map, as some counties and states have successfully replaced their old paperless voting equipment with more secure paper-based machines. But even some of this new technology presents vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit to tamper with the primaries. Other states holding primaries on Tuesday, including Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont, predominantly use the technology that most experts consider the most secure: paper ballots that voters fill out by hand.
Elections can be very tactile. Touchscreen voting machines, paper ballots, large crowds. With concern growing about the spread of the coronavirus, officials in a number of Super Tuesday states are taking extra precautions to assure voters that it’s safe to go to the polls. Millions of people are expected to cast ballots tomorrow in 14 states, including some where cases of the disease have already emerged. John Gardner, the assistant registrar of voters in Solano County, Calif. — where two health care workers tested positive for COVID-19 — says they’ve added an extra curbside location where people can drop off their completed ballots, “so voters don’t have to get out of their cars if they don’t want to.” Gardner says they have also sent out additional supplies of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and gloves to every polling site in the county. Still, he’s seen no indication that the virus is discouraging either voters or pollworkers.
National: Some states encourage mail-in ballots as coronavirus worries grow | Alice Miranda Ollstein/Politico
Officials in some states with upcoming primaries are encouraging more people to avoid in-person polling sites amid heightened worries about the spread of coronavirus in the United States. Some are even increasing the opportunity for drive-by voting on Super Tuesday. California’s Solano County, the site of the country’s first identified case of the virus’ spread within the community, added new curbside sites where people can drop off their ballots without having to leave their cars. “If you can stay in your car to get service, lots of people want to take advantage of that even in a normal situation, but especially when they might be concerned about congregating in close proximity to a lot of other people,” said county election official John Gardner. Meanwhile, some election experts are urging states to relax their absentee voter policies in light of the new public health threat, though some state officials dismissed the idea of hastily rewriting election policies.
National: Officials fear coronavirus could be next front in election interference | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
U.S. officials fear adversaries might weaponize public fears about coronavirus ahead of Super Tuesday to spread disinformation, amplify rumors and tamp down voter turnout. The concern comes as people test positive for the virus in numerous states, including California, Texas and Alabama – which are among the 14 states that will hold their Democratic primaries Tuesday. The virus, which has killed nearly 3,000 people worldwide, could offer a near-perfect test case for how operatives from Russia or elsewhere seeking to undermine confidence in the election could boost public fears to stop people from heading to the polls – maybe enough to swing a tight race or at least raise doubts in the results. It’s “one of a number of scenarios” of potential interference federal officials are monitoring, the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division chief Chris Krebs told Kevin Collier at NBC News. Krebs’s office declined to comment this weekend when I asked for more information about the possible response. “This is a new and obviously very scary virus, and misinformation can leverage off of that,” Peter Singer, a fellow at the New America think tank who has written extensively about information warfare, told me. “I would almost be surprised if we don’t see it.”
Many will remember the infamously confusing Palm Beach County butterfly ballot, which led to 26,000 misvotes, a recount, and ultimately handed George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. Twenty years later, we have new ballot design problems to deal with—and there’s one you’ve probably never heard of. Most of the ballot design flaws detailed in a recent resource from the Brennan Center for Justice seem rather innocuous. But there’s one in that, if fixed, could reduce margin of error and thereby make the voting system overall more reflective of voters’ intent: ballot design that splits one contest into two columns on a bubble-style page. There are a few other permutations of this layout, and they all share one key flaw: They split up information that should be categorized together. The first contest on a ballot might fall below the ballot instructions in the first column, causing voters to miss it. A contest might be split into two columns because there’s a large number of candidates to consider—or, on an electronic voting system, there might be two contests on the same page.
Editorials: Enough finger-pointing on Russian interference. Here’s how to prepare for 2020. | Suzanne Spaulding/The Washington Post
The November election is just around the corner, and it’s clear the Russian government continues to wage an assault on our electoral process. But this time, it has had four years to practice and enhance its tactics. Finger-pointing about which candidate Vladimir Putin prefers doesn’t help; instead, we should try to better anticipate and understand how Russian information operations are intended to work against democracy. Inauthentic online activity never stopped after Russia deployed its troll farms, hackers and advertising campaigns on social media in 2016. But the Russians have grown more adept at amplifying domestic voices and exploiting weaknesses of our own making. This maximizes the reach and perceived authenticity of divisive rhetoric. Moreover, the Russians no longer need to post during the Russian workday. They intersperse human activity with bot networks that infiltrate online conversations and distort legitimate online dialogues. The Russian government may no longer pay for online ads in rubles, but the lack of legal requirements for transparency — some of which could have been addressed with the stalled Honest Ads Act — means that there are still loopholes whereby bad actors can push dark money into politics. Russia uses its state-sponsored media outlets such as RT and Sputnik to push one-sided narratives, conspiracy theories and half-truths to its audiences. These reinforce and are fed by social media accounts that create pipelines for disinformation. Local media, often trusted alternatives to mainstream media, are also vulnerable, as they often don’t have large fact-checking departments. And because local media is more trusted, the Russian information operations include creating fake “local” news outlets.
Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Data Shows Super Tuesday Voting Systems and Polling Equipment Trends Across States
This Super Tuesday, voters in the 14 states holding primaries will encounter a range of voting methods and polling equipment. Verified Voting maintains a comprehensive database of voting systems being used across the United States (see the Verifier) and is observing a number of trends across Super Tuesday states, including:
- California – Los Angeles County is rolling out Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP), their in-house designed and publicly-owned ballot marking device (BMD) for all voters
- North Carolina – More than half of North Carolinians are voting with new equipment, and seven counties are using BMDs for all voters. Verified Voting opposes the use of commercially-available BMDs for all voters because research suggests few voters actually check the paper outputs with enough attention to catch errors
- Tennessee – 70% of registered voters will vote on unverifiable direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines; a few counties are using hand-marked paper ballots or BMDs
- Texas – 36% of registered voters are voting on unverifiable DREs, and about half of all Texans will be using new voting equipment
California: State has pushed to beef up election security, but ultimately the fate rests with local officials | Sam Metz/Palm Springs Desert Sun
The California Secretary of State’s office sent Riverside County scrambling in February 2019 when it decertified the voting systems the county registrar of voters intended to use in the March 2020 primary election. “I knew the Secretary of State had security concerns with the old, antiquated voting system, but for it to be completely decertified within a year of the election was definitely a surprise,” Riverside County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer said. The 2016 election sparked nationwide conversations about election security and foreign interference and raised new questions about whether the United States was taking adequate measures to safeguard against tampering. In response, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson designated election equipment as “critical infrastructure” in January 2017, to increase oversight and open new funding streams for state and local governments to update voting machines. With 20.7 million registered voters, California has a larger electorate than any state in the nation. And the responsibility to secure the vote falls on the state’s 58 counties and their Registrars of Voters, including Spencer.
Last month, the delayed results of the Iowa caucuses caused a crisis within the political world. Fundraising boosts were lost. Momentum was not enjoyed. It did not seem like democracy’s best week. If the measure of a successful election were only how quickly the results are released, then California would be a disaster. But that’s not how election officials in the state see it as they prepare for the primary election on Tuesday, or Super Tuesday, when California and 13 other states vote. They’re focused on accuracy over speed. “We prioritize the right to vote and election security over rushing the vote count,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a Feb. 27 statement. “In California, we’d rather get it right than get it fast.” In other words, don’t stay up for California results on Tuesday. How long a wait are we talking about? County election officials have 30 days to count all ballots and audit the tally. Padilla will then certify the results by April 10. By the end of this week, elections officials in California’s 58 counties will release their first report of how many ballots remain uncounted. After the 2016 primary, the first report showed some 2.4 million ballots left to be verified and counted.
The LaSalle County government is seeing a big interruption to its services this week. The LaSalle County government is seeing a big interruption to its services this week. The county is dealing with a ransomware attack on its computers discovered by the Sheriff’s Office last Sunday around 3:30 a.m. Ransomware is a type of virus which locks up all the files on a computer, as hackers demand a ransom, usually money or Bitcoin, to release them. The county’s IT Director, John Haag, said this virus is locking up about 200 computers and about 40 servers in the county government. He said the two areas not affected are the county courts and circuit clerk’s office. About a week later, county employees still do not have access to their emails.
Indiana: Commissioners won’t vote on Madison County vote center proposal | Ken de la Bastide/The Herald Bulletin
A lack of a quorum at a called special meeting of the Madison County Commissioners has stopped the attempt to implement vote centers in the county. Commissioner John Richwine called the special meeting for Monday evening to discuss vote centers, but late in the day County Attorney Jonathan Hughes sent out an email stating because of prior commitments there would not be a quorum. Richwine said he was going to attend the meeting and allow anyone to speak on becoming a vote center county. Commissioners Kelly Gaskill and Mike Phipps notified Hughes they would not be in attendance. Both were at the Madison County Government Center, but didn’t attend an Election Board meeting earlier Monday.
Voting Blogs: Counties in North Carolina Gamble on New Voting Machines | Margaret Lowry/State of Elections
Super Tuesday is tomorrow and voters in North Carolina might use new voting machines. Since the 2018 election, several counties in North Carolina have had to make a critical decision for their voters–what voting machines should they purchase? A shortened timetable and heightened concern about election security have made for a contentious process. A 2013 bill required all voting systems in the state to produce a paper ballot, and set a schedule to decertify existing machines that did not meet the requirement. Originally, the bill set the decertification date as January 1, 2018, but subsequent legislation in 2015 and 2018 pushed the deadline to December 1, 2019. About one-third of the counties in North Carolina have Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting systems that will need to be replaced by the decertification date. DREs are paperless. Voters use a touchscreen to select their choice, and the machine then stores and tabulates that choice electronically.
South Carolina: Election leaders call for extra time to count absentee ballots | Caroline Balchunas/WCIV
There were no major hiccups during Saturday’s primary election, but there’s some who say it could be a much different story in November’s general election. South Carolina’s new voting machines may work efficiently, but election officials say counting absentee ballots may be an issue. The State Election Commission noted a sharp increase in absentee voting ahead of Saturday’s Democratic primary. “What’s different about this new system is we would have to open up each ballot, not just the mail ballots. So, if you come and cast a ballot in person, we now have to open up those ballots,” said Isaac Cramer, Project Manager for the Charleston County Board of Elections. “That took a lot more time than we had anticipated, and we believe this might be a problem for future elections when we have more absentee ballots cast. In presidential election years, we have a huge turnout of absentee.” Cramer said in-person absentee ballots must now be printed, sealed in an envelope and placed in a ballot box. Under current law, absentee ballots cannot be opened and counted until 9 a.m. on Election Day. He said they had roughly 60,000 absentee ballots in the 2016 general election and they’re expected upwards of 80,000 this time around.
West Virginia: After damaging report, West Virginia moves away from Voatz internet voting app | Anthony Izaguerre/Associated Press
West Virginia is opting not to use a widely criticized voting app in the state’s coming primary elections after a blistering report found potential security flaws in the platform. Donald Kersey, general counsel in the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, said Monday that an MIT analysis of the Voatz app “gave us enough pause” to instead use a different system for the May elections. The decision came as state officials had to choose an online voting system to comply with a new law requiring electronic ballots for people with physical disabilities. Last month, an MIT study found that Voatz, which has mostly been used for absentee ballots from overseas military personnel, has vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to change a person’s vote without detection. The researchers said they were forced to reverse engineer an Android version of the app because the company hasn’t allowed transparent third-party testing of the system. The Voatz app was used to tally fewer than 200 ballots in West Virginia’s 2018 elections and didn’t have any problems, state officials said. The app has also been used in pilots in Denver, Oregon and Utah.
Israel: Over 70% of ‘coronavirus voters’ cast their ballots in special stations | Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman/The Jerusalem Post
More than 70% of the 5,600 citizens who were placed under quarantine due to fear of possible exposure to the coronavirus turned out to vote on Monday at special polling stations set up to allow them to safely cast their ballots. Sixteen special booths were originally set up across the country and were scheduled to be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. But long lines and frustrated voters led the Central Elections Committee (CEC) to open additional booths in Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv and to extend voting time until 7 p.m. Israelis in quarantine were asked to come to the stations in private vehicles and not to stop on the way. When they completed voting, they were asked to return straight home. The voters were met by trained paramedics dressed in full head-to-toe protective gear, including gloves and masks. Votes were collected in a specially lined ballot box and were to be counted by election officials also dressed in protective gear. “MDA volunteers enlisted for the mission, operating at the special polling stations, and will be protected at the highest level, with dedicated anti-infection kits,” said MDA director-general Eli Bin. “Magen David Adom works in full cooperation and coordination with the Health Ministry, the Central Elections Committee and other parties, and will continue to do everything possible to assist in the national effort of preventing the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.”