National: Election officials rush to make changes to address coronavirus concerns | Sam Levine/The Guardian

Election officials around the country are rushing to make last-minute changes to address coronavirus concerns – seeking to avoid panic, staff shortages and delays that could impose additional hurdles for primary voters on election day.Many of the changes have to do with protecting older people, the demographic most at risk for having serious complications from the virus. In Ohio Frank LaRose, the secretary of state, ordered all polling stations located in senior centers and nursing homes to be moved. The change is expected to affect 128 of the state’s polling locations for its 17 March primary, and local officials are identifying alternative sites. Election officials in Chicago, also holding its primary next week, announced the city was relocating polling stations out of nursing homes. It’s not just voters, however, who are at risk. In 2016, about 56% of poll workers across the country were over 61 years old, according to the US Election Assistance Commission, which collected data from about half of the workers that year. Tammy Patrick, a former election official in Arizona, said administrators should consider hiring youth poll workers and overstaff to prepare for cancellations.

National: Voting by mail, already on the rise, may get a $500 million federal boost from coronavirus fears | Craig Timberg/The Washington Post

Sen. Ron Wyden (D) is proposing $500 million of federal funding to help states prepare for possible voting disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Wyden’s bill also would give Americans the option to vote by mail in case of a widespread emergency. The legislation, to be filed Wednesday, could boost a national trend toward voting by mail. In the 1990s, Wyden’s home state of Oregon became the first state to vote entirely by mail, and the practice has grown to the point that more than 31 million Americans — about one-quarter of all voters — cast ballots by mail in 2018. Election officials and experts in recent days have been considering how they would handle a major disease outbreak in which quarantines or closures of facilities would affect Americans’ ability to vote in primary elections, party caucuses and the November general election. While all states allow voting by mail in some circumstances, the availability of the option remains uneven, with some states allowing it to only seniors or those with excuses for why they can’t appear at polling places on Election Day. Five Western states conduct all of their statewide voting by mail, and a sixth, California, is gradually shifting to the practice. The wide variation in practices could make it difficult to rapidly expand voting by mail in time for this November’s election. States that handle few mail-in ballots might struggle to build the systems and acquire the machinery, such as high-speed optical scanners, needed to expand the option.

National: Russia stoking U.S. racial, social differences ahead of election: sources | Mark Hosenball/Reuters

American intelligence and security officials on Tuesday will brief Congress about how Russia has been using social media to stoke racial and social differences ahead of this year’s general election, three sources familiar with the presentations said. U.S. government experts will say, in classified briefings to the full U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, that Russian social media efforts are currently more directed at stirring up social divisiveness than promoting particular U.S. presidential candidates, the sources said. Among specific issues Russian trolls are seeking to exploit are gun control, ethnic group rivalries, tensions between police and local communities, and abortion, the sources said. On abortion, the United States has evidence that Russian cyber-operatives are using social media to stir up antagonism on both sides of the issue, one of the sources said. One of the Russians’ objectives appeared to be to use disagreements over social issues to stir violence, the source said.

National: Trump administration officials brief Congress on election security | Olivia Gazis/CBS

Top law enforcement and intelligence community officials briefed members of Congress on election security in a pair of panels Tuesday afternoon, telling lawmakers they had “nothing to support” the notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin favored one candidate or another or had ordered actions on any given candidate’s behalf. They said the Russian government’s objective was to sow discord in U.S. political processes, sources said. Three sources familiar with Tuesday’s briefing said there were inconsistencies between the election security assessment delivered Tuesday and the one given to the House Intelligence Committee last month. It appeared to two sources familiar with both February’s and Tuesday’s briefings that the assessment delivered Tuesday was crafted to avoid saying the Russian government had established a preference for Mr. Trump, a conclusion that had been expressed by representatives from multiple intelligence agencies before that panel in February. Lawmakers were also briefed last month on Russia’s efforts to boost Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign.  Separately, three sources also said the intelligence community has not yet furnished intelligence that members of both parties had requested in the February closed-door session that supported the assessment that the Russian government had developed a preference for President Trump.

California: Voting issues prompt a probe, grilling of Los Angeles County election chief | Matt Stiles/Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ordered an investigation into complaints about long waits and equipment malfunctions that hampered voting at many poll centers during last week’s primary election. At a hearing on Tuesday, the supervisors ordered the county’s chief elections official, Dean Logan, to explain what they called “serious problems” for voters — and to address them before the general election in November. They didn’t mince words in telling Logan that they were dissatisfied and concerned with the performance of a new $300 million electronic voting system that his office unveiled for the primary. “We made it less accessible for people on Election Day. We made it less convenient. We made it less desirable to vote,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose motion prompted the hearing. “I’m sorry to say I’ve lost confidence, and I know the public has lost confidence. We have to fix this.” Logan, who, in his more than decade on the job, has weathered controversies without such a public rebuke from the supervisors, apologized for the problems that voters experienced, but stood by his long-developed vision for a new voting system. “I hear you, and I hear the voices of our voters and of our poll workers. It was not the implementation we were hoping for. I regret that and I apologize,” Logan said. “I also accept and take seriously my responsibility for addressing these issues.”

Florida: Is Faster Ballot Counting Worth Risking Election Security? Legislature cuts a corner to get faster vote recount | Mary Ellen Klas/Miami Herald

In the interest of speeding the process of recounting votes in a close election, the Florida House passed legislation Monday to allow county supervisors of elections to purchase special equipment to conduct both machine and manual recounts. But there’s only one vendor — ClearAudit digital imaging system from Clear Ballot Group of Boston — and the prospect that the state could be dependent on a single proprietary software tool has supporters worried that security could be undermined. “Technology is a tool not a process. This recount concept is not ready for prime time,” said Liza McClenaghan, Common Cause Florida state board chair. Both Common Cause and the League of Women Voters say the technology offers promise as a way to give supervisors of elections another tool to store and track paper ballots, but they say the state’s rush to encourage counties to start using digital images of ballots for recounts is a mistake. If the measure passes both chambers, they will urge Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto it.

Georgia: Hearing to be held after county ditched new voting machines | Kate Brumnack/Associated Press

Georgia’s state election board plans to hold an emergency hearing Wednesday to discuss whether election officials in one county violated state law or election rules when they decided not to use the state’s new voting machines for the presidential primary. The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections voted 3-2 last week to sideline the new machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots. Board Chairman Jesse Evans said the board found it “impracticable” when using the new machines to protect ballot secrecy and allow sufficient monitoring to prevent tampering as required by state law. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who chairs the State Election Board, issued a notice two days later setting the Wednesday hearing in Athens. Athens, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) east of Atlanta, is home to the University of Georgia, and surrounding Clarke County represents about 1% of the state’s active voters, according to voter numbers on the secretary of state’s website.

Georgia: New Voting Machines Come With The Promise Of Trust. But Can They Deliver? | Emil Moffatt/WABE

It was one year ago when Republican state Rep. Barry Fleming kicked off two hours of debate on the floor of the state House over how Georgians would cast their votes securely, in the age of computer hacking and international election interference. “Today, in passing House Bill 316, we can put our voters first in Georgia…” Fleming began. His bill set aside $150 million to replace the old machines with new electronic touchscreens. These devices would produce a paper copy of the ballot – something that had been missing in Georgia for nearly two decades. “The paper ballot enables voters to double-check their choices before casting their ballot and allows the counties to audit election results,” Fleming said. The new machines were meant to increase trust in the system, but there are still lingering questions as to whether they will accomplish that goal. House Bill 316 became law over the objection of dozens of Democrats, many of whom preferred hand-marked paper ballots, to cut down on the technology involved in the process. In late July, Georgia awarded the contract for the new voting machines to Dominion Voting System. Rolling out the new equipment for all 159 counties would be the largest undertaking of its kind in the country. A handful of elections were used to test the new system last fall and early this year, but for the rest Georgia voters, public demonstrations were how they learned introduced to the new machines.

Idaho: Precincts experience problems with new Hart InterCivic voting equipment | Rachel Spacek/Idaho Press

Some Canyon County voters were unable to vote on school levies Tuesday because of issues with the county’s new election equipment. Others experienced problems with their entire ballot and were instructed to come back later in the day to vote. Problems started soon after polls opened, according to Middleton School District spokeswoman Vickie Holbrook, when a Middleton voter was unable to vote on the district’s supplemental levy at their polling place, the Notus Community Center. Holbrook told the Idaho Press in an email that Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto went to the precinct and explained how poll workers could work around the ballot issue, so that people could vote on the correct ballot. Yamamoto told the Idaho Press on Tuesday evening he’s unsure how many voters were affected, but he believes the number is low based on the precincts he visited Tuesday. “I have no way of knowing how many people didn’t vote this morning but we have a good idea in certain places,” he said. The county is gathering information to see how many voters were impacted by the ballot problems, Yamamoto said.

Indiana: Tippecanoe County, companies shift to voting machines with printable paper ballots | Jordan Smith/Purdue Exponent

Four companies that manufacture voting equipment for Tippecanoe County presented new machines with printable paper ballots to a packed room of voters Monday night, seeking to instill trust in the updated technologies through public input. Each company had some variation of a similar technology. Candidates are selected on electronic machines — some use touchscreens while others use buttons — and a summary of choices displays when finished. The machines then print ballots, which can be reviewed by voters and then inserted into a scanner that counts them electronically and physically. The paper copies are then deposited into a locked bin connected to the scanner, while the machine’s memory drive stores the results separately. “There has been such a groundswell for paper ballots,” said Lawrence Leach of Hart InterCivic, Inc., a company offering a hybrid electronic-paper machine. “There’s a lot of focus on voting and everything around that process — you cannot get it wrong. It has to be done right, you have to be 100% correct, so we’re striving to make sure every vote gets counted correctly and audited.”

Louisiana: State Restarting Bid Process for New Voting Machines | Melinda Deslatte/Associated Press

Louisiana is restarting its stalled effort to replace its voting machines, with the solicitation for bidders expected to go out shortly, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said Tuesday. New machines, however, won’t be in place quickly. Louisiana will continue casting ballots this fall on the same types of voting system that it has used for 15 years, without the paper backup advocated by many elections security experts. “It’ll be after the election. It won’t be for the presidential election, because we don’t have the time to get through the (bid) process completely,” Ardoin, the state’s chief elections official, told lawmakers during a House Appropriations Committee budget hearing. Allegations of improper bid handling derailed a previous effort to replace Louisiana’s voting machines, so the secretary of state’s office has had to redo its vendor search process. Ardoin’s office has $5.8 million in federal money for voting machines set aside whenever his agency enters into a new contract. He’s asking lawmakers to steer another $1.3 million in state financing to the plan in next year’s budget, to draw down additional federal dollars.

Editorials: Don’t expect fast Michigan primary results. We’re focused on accuracy and security. | Jocelyn Benson/USA Today

Millions across the nation will be looking to Michigan’s voters today in what could be a decisive moment for the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States. Indeed, as the state’s chief election official, I am keenly aware that the eyes of the country will be awaiting the outcome of our presidential primary this evening. And they will need to wait a little longer than usual. Because it is a new day for democracy in our state, with new rights for voters and greater security measures in place than ever before. This election will be our first statewide election since 2018, when Michiganders overwhelmingly voted to amend our state constitution to expand access to our democracy. Among the changes they made were giving all Michigan voters the right to vote by mail and to register to vote up to and on Election Day itself. These are historic changes that have made our elections more accessible for every voter.

New Hampshire: Ballot machines clog due to increased use of hand sanitizer | Erin Nolan/Eagle Tribune

Locals’ coronavirus concerns appear to have prompted some difficulties during Tuesday’s municipal elections in New Hampshire, according to Atkinson Town Clerk Julianna Hale. Hale said that both of Atkinson’s ballot scanners were temporarily clogged by ballots that were wet with disinfectant or hand sanitizer. “It is definitely the year of coronavirus,” she said, referencing the highly contagious, flu-like illness commonly called COVID-19 that has prompted multiple states, including Massachusetts, to declare a state of emergency. She said that some voters brought their own alcohol-based disinfectant to clean both their hands and the voting booths. When ballots came into contact with the disinfectant, she said, they began to break down and clog the machine. “The disinfectant is weakening the paper structure,” Hale said. “That’s what I’m seeing, anyway. I am not an expert, but that is what I am seeing.” The issue was only able to be remedied by calling LHS Associates, the company that distributes the machines.

North Carolina: Two ‘Russian’ Ransomware Attacks Take Down Durham North Carolina City And County Government Systems | Davey Winder/Forbes

The same Russian ransomware that is thought to have been responsible for the City of New Orleans state of emergency last year has now struck Durham City and the County of Durham in North Carolina. As 2019 wound down to an end, the City of New Orleans was hit by a ransomware attack, thought to be attributable to Ryuk. That attack was severe enough for Mayor LaToya Cantrell to declare a state of emergency. Now the City of Durham and Durham County, in North Carolina, have had to shut down networks after being hit by the same Russian ransomware. The City of Durham and Durham County Government IT systems were subject to a successful cyber-attack late Friday evening, March 6. Malware detection systems kicked in to provide immediate notification of the attack, and networks were closed down to prevent further spread. The incident was described as a cyber malware attack, or rather “two separate attacks” at a press conference held by officials Monday, March 9. Thomas Bonfield, Durham City manager, said that while the malware had “been contained ” and the city was in recovery mode, “most city networks and phones remain intentionally offline during the initial stages of the recovery process.” Bonfield said that the National Guard cybersecurity team was helping with the recovery effort. It should be noted, however, that critical public safety systems, including access to the 911 network, remained operational thanks to the emergency cyber-attack remediation process.

Texas: Judge allows Dallas County recount of missed ballots to move forward | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune

A week out from Super Tuesday, a recount is moving forward in Dallas County. State district Judge Emily Tobowlowsky on Tuesday approved the county’s request to redo the tally of votes cast in the March 3 primary after it discovered that an unknown number of ballots from 44 tabulating machines were missed in the initial count. It is unclear how many ballots were missing, and if the missing ballots might affect the outcome of any races. Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole made the request for a recount late Friday after finding discrepancies in her vote count. The county will not recount all ballots cast in the election, but will reopen the tabulation on Wednesday to add the missing ballots to its initial tally. Dallas County officials realized they were missing votes when they were unable to reconcile the count of voters who checked in at some polling places and the number of votes recorded. The initial vote count was compiled from flash drives taken from the county’s tabulating machines. There were 454 polling places running on Election Day, and some sites had more than one machine into which voters fed their marked paper ballots to be scanned and tabulated. The county initially believed it had received flash drives from all of the machines distributed throughout the county, Pippins-Poole wrote in an affidavit filed with the court. But officials later discovered that ballots from 44 of the tabulating machines were “unaccounted for.”

Texas: Dallas County’s Super Tuesday re-do stems from philosophical differences in elections | Nic Garcia/Dallas Morning News

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dallas County election employees will unseal dozens of boxes containing thousands of paper ballots from last week’s primary and feed them to a high-speed scanner. It’s an attempt to close a gap between the number of voters who showed up to the polls last week and the number of ballots originally counted. The re-do, approved by a judge Tuesday, is the latest development in a primary election that for months teetered on the brink of disaster behind the scenes as both parties scrambled to get enough election judges, while public officials hurled accusations, and ultimately left thousands of voters waiting in long lines late into the evening wondering if their vote was counted. Estimates put the number of ballots that will be counted Wednesday between 6,000 and 8,000 from 44 different polling locations spread across the county. Those were the ones the elections department identified as the root of the undercount. But that likely won’t change the outcome of any election given that they are a fraction of the total number of votes cast.

Wyoming: Secretary of State’s Office Awards Contract for Election Equipment to ES&S | The Cheyenne Post

Today the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office announces that a final contract has been awarded to Election Systems & Software (ES&S) for the purchase of election equipment for all 23 Wyoming counties. New equipment will be in place for the 2020 Election. “Wyoming’s elections are held with integrity from beginning to end, and Election Day 2020 will be no different. After a diligent and thorough evaluation process, made possible thanks to an appropriation from the legislature in 2019, Wyoming has signed a contract, formed a new partnership and purchased the most secure and up-to-date voting equipment on the market.” said Secretary of State Edward Buchanan. A working group established by the Secretary of State’s Office chose ES&S after a competitive bidding process. The group included five current county clerks, one former county clerk and four staff members from the Secretary of State’s Office. “Security measures on election equipment have certainly advanced in the 15 years since the State of Wyoming last purchased equipment. Wyoming’s elections will benefit from these security advancements. Each ballot will be printed on paper – always creating an audit trail that can be used to confirm the accuracy of every single vote. Voting systems are air-gapped and will never connect to the internet,” said State Election Director Kai Schon. “ES&S has implemented the best security measures and their systems have been tried and tested over years of successful elections in Wyoming.”