National: Elections officials scramble for options as coronavirus worries mount | Elise Viebeck /The Washington Post

Elections officials have stocked up on hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Many are urging voters to cast absentee ballots or vote early to avoid crowds. But as the coronavirus pandemic worsens, local and state officials are scrambling to identify other options if public health leaders ultimately determine that there are risks to visiting polling places — an assessment that could change the basic mechanics of running an election midstream in a presidential campaign year. “If you’re talking about something on that level, then we’re clearly facing a crisis and not just an emergency, and public health and safety will have to dictate whatever we do,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who said he would follow the advice of public health officials and law enforcement. “One of the very few things that would take precedent over a free and fair election is public health and safety, right?” LaRose said, adding that such a move would be a last resort. The spiraling covid-19 pandemic that has shaken the global economy and upended millions of Americans’ routines in the past month has emerged in the past week as a unique and unprecedented challenge for elections officials already grappling with a range of threats such as online disinformation and security vulnerabilities. While many jurisdictions have emergency plans in cases of natural disasters or power grid failures, there has been little planning for a health pandemic that could keep the public quarantined inside their homes, experts said.

National: Government report offers guidelines to prevent nationwide cyber catastrophe | Maggie Miller/The Hill

A much-anticipated government report aimed at defending the nation against cyber threats in the years to come opens with a bleak preview of what could happen if critical systems were brought down. “The water in the Potomac still has that red tint from where the treatment plants upstream were hacked, their automated systems tricked into flushing out the wrong mix of chemicals,” the Cyberspace Solarium Commission wrote in the opening lines of its report. “By comparison, the water in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool has a purple glint to it. They’ve pumped out the floodwaters that covered Washington’s low-lying areas after the region’s reservoirs were hit in a cascade of sensor hacks,” it continues. So begins the report two years in the making from a congressionally mandated commission made up of lawmakers and top Trump administration officials, pointing to the vulnerabilities involved with critical systems being hooked up to the internet.

National: Coronavirus threatens to pose an unprecedented challenge to the 2020 elections | Isaac Stanley-Becker and Elise Viebeck/The Washington Post

When asked what kept him up at night, Ben Wikler, who is responsible for delivering a must-win state in November as chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, used to answer, “unknown unknowns.” He no longer has to wonder what such a risk might look like. Presidential campaigns, parties and state election officials are scrambling to heed health warnings while safeguarding the democratic process against a growing coronavirus epidemic whose scope is difficult to predict. Their planning has included advising voters not to lick their mail-in ballots, relocating polling places away from senior living communities, and weighing whether to move forward with plans to bring tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to Milwaukee and Charlotte for the planned Democratic and Republican summer conventions, respectively. Former vice president Joe Biden’s digital staff was envisioning options for virtual campaigning if sweeping changes were necessary. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign already has an elaborate streaming operation, which it said it could tap in the event that campaigning is curtailed. Already, both campaigns have been providing hand sanitizer at events. Over the weekend, the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of unions, canceled a presidential forum scheduled for Thursday in Orlando, where Biden and Sanders (I-Vt.), the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, had been scheduled to appear. It was the first such cancellation to have been attributed to the coronavirus’s spread.

National: Primaries show high volume of absentee voting as states grapple with coronavirus | Meg Cunningham , Kendall Karson and Quinn Scanlan/ABC

Against a backdrop of coronavirus concerns, early signs from across the six states voting in Tuesday’s primaries showed a high volume of voters turning to absentee options. Yet several state and party officials who ABC spoke with pushed back against the notion that turnout would be affected. Washington, which is vote-by-mail only, is the state with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19. But Kylee Zabel, the communications director in the secretary of state’s office, said they “haven’t heard of any concerns that people have expressed” regarding the coronavirus. As Washington uses only mail-in ballots, a tweet last week instructed voters, “Whether healthy or sick, please don’t lick!” after state health officials recommended voters seal ballots using alternative methods like a sponge. The secretary of state’s office said it recommended that ballot counters use gloves, but in King County — which includes Seattle — Elections Division Chief of Staff Kendall Hodson told ABC News that the practice is mandatory. Hodson also said that there were regular hand-washing breaks for ballot counters, and at the six vote centers in the county where people can do same-day registration, there was extra hand sanitizer available. The Elections Division was also asking people who were feeling sick to contact them so they could try to accommodate them.

Editorials: Another reason to worry: Coronavirus could upend our election | Greg Sargent/The Washington Post

As if there weren’t enough to worry about already, it’s becoming clear that coronavirus could wreak untold havoc in an area that’s only beginning to garner attention: our coming presidential election. This is already happening in a very visible way: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both canceled their election-night rallies on Tuesday, citing fears of coronavirus’s spread. Vice President Pence, too, announced that future rallies by President Trump will be decided on a “day-to-day basis.” But there’s a less visible way the disease could shake up our politics. And Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is often focused on election security issues, is sounding the alarm about it, by proposing $500 million in federal funding to help states prepare for voting disruptions caused by coronavirus. Wyden has also filed legislation to make it possible for all Americans to vote by mail if necessary:

Wyden’s bill would give all Americans the right to vote by mail if 25 percent of states declared an emergency related to the coronavirus outbreak. The bill also would require state and local officials to prepare for possible coronavirus disruptions and to offer prepaid envelopes with self-sealing flaps to minimize the risk of contagion from voters’ licking envelopes.

All states allow vote by mail in certain circumstances, and this trend has been advancing here and there. But what Wyden is envisioning is something much broader: a federal mandate that states make this option fully available, if one quarter of them declare an emergency requiring it.

California: Los Angeles County greenlights probe into Election Day voting-system failures | Ryan Carter/Los Angeles Daily News

L.A. County will investigate how an overhauled county vote system failed during the March 3 primary, leaving many voters confused and frustrated while waiting in long lines — and thousands of votes still uncounted a week after the election. The action — which would tap an independent, outside firm to analyze the voting system — came after a fiery Board of Supervisors meeting in which supervisors, voters and pollworkers laid into the county’s top voting official, Dean Logan, some calling for his dismissal. That election-day meltdown led to three-hour waits to vote and numerous bottlenecks amid the introduction of the $300 million system. “There were a lot of things that probably did go right, but to me that doesn’t mitigate everything that did go wrong,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, worried that the issues with the system need to be worked out before the general election in November. “A lot went wrong. I’ve got to tell you I was very, very, very disappointed.”

Georgia: State election board requires touchscreen voting in Athens-Clarke County | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The State Election Board on Wednesday unanimously ordered Athens-Clarke County to immediately switch back to Georgia’s touchscreen voting system, a rebuke of its decision to use paper ballots filled out by hand. The board, led by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, found that voters’ right to a secret ballot can be protected on the state’s new $104 million voting system, which combines touchscreens and printers to create paper ballots.“There are reasonable concerns about ballot secrecy in some limited number of precincts,” said David Worley, a member of the State Election Board. “The reasonable way to deal with that is not to make a wholesale change.” State election officials said voter privacy can be protected by turning large, bright touchscreens so they face walls instead of voters. The Athens-Clarke County Elections Board last week rejected the touchscreens, deciding on a 3-2 vote that they exposed voters choices to their neighbors. It was the only county in the state that had attempted to use hand-marked paper ballots. More than 100 supporters of hand-marked paper ballots packed the seven-hour emergency hearing Wednesday, wearing stickers saying “Protect the Secret Ballot.”

Georgia: Athens-Clarke County punished for ditching voting machines | Kate Brumback/Associated Press

Georgia’s State Election Board voted on Wednesday to punish election officials in one county for their decision not to use the state’s new voting machines for the presidential primary, and it ordered them to immediately start using the machines again. The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections voted 3-2 last week to sideline the new machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots, citing concerns over protecting ballot secrecy when using the machines with large, bright touchscreens that sit upright. Board Chairman Jesse Evans said it was “impracticable” when using the new machines to protect ballot secrecy and allow sufficient monitoring to prevent tampering as required by state law. The State Election Board, chaired by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, unanimously ordered the county to cease and desist and to pay a fine of $2,500 for investigative costs, plus $5,000 a day until the machines are back in place. County elections director Charlotte Sosebee said she could have the machines back up by Thursday for a continuation of early voting. Evans said he was disappointed with the state board’s decision and that he would talk to the board and its attorneys to determine next steps.

Idaho: Canyon County working to determine how many voters affected by Hart InterCivic voting machine errors | Rachel Spacek/Idaho Press

The Middleton School District’s supplement levy request fell short Tuesday, while three other school districts in Canyon County successfully passed levies. Some Middleton district voters, however, contacted the school district Tuesday morning to say they weren’t given a chance to vote on the levy because of issues with the county’s new election equipment. The issue was resolved early in the day, school district spokeswoman Vickie Holbrook told the Idaho Press Wednesday. “I think there were a few (affected voters), but do I think it affected the outcome? No,” she said. Nampa voters also experienced issues with the equipment, and some were told to come back later in the day to vote. County Clerk Chris Yamamoto said Wednesday the county is compiling information and talking to the poll workers to try to get an estimate on the number of affected voters. Estimates are expected by Thursday, county spokesman Joe Decker said. The Idaho Press emailed county commissioners Wednesday morning requesting comment on the scope of the issue and what the county would do next. Commissioner Leslie Van Beek responded, saying she needed more time to talk with the clerk and learn more before commenting.

Idaho: Tenex Voter Registration Software Leads to Issues with Election Results in Idaho | Joel Mills/Lewiston Tribune

A 2-year-old, $4 million Idaho Secretary of State’s Office contract with a Florida election software company continued to cause headaches during Tuesday’s presidential primary, with botched reporting of results for the second election in a row. Nez Perce County Auditor/Recorder Patty O. Weeks said that while local results were counted accurately by her office, the information was garbled when election workers tried to upload it to the state-run voter information interface designed by Tenex Software Solutions of Tampa, Fla. Weeks said the county had to hide an erroneous initial voter turnout figure that showed 933 percent participation, as well as precinct-by-precinct results that have been available in past elections. Similar problems cropped up during the 2019 municipal elections last November, when incorrect early results had to be removed, leaving the public guessing late into election night. Last November, Weeks had to report those final election results to the Lewiston Tribune by texting a photo of a printed page to a reporter. “I’ve been trying to work with the Secretary of State’s office to get things working correctly,” Weeks said. “But it’s frustrating.” Weeks said she heard reports of similar problems from other counties, including Bannock and Power. A report last month by KPVI television in Boise quoted Bannock County Elections Administrator Julie Hancock saying the new system “lacks functionality.”

Illinois: Secretary of State can’t explain latest voter registration gaffe | Neal Earley/Chicago Sun-Times

In the latest gaffe in the state’s voter rolls, 1,151 Illinois residents were improperly classified as not registered to vote in next week’s primary before officials caught the mistake. State election officials sent out letters Monday to local election authorities, ahead of the March 17 primary, alerting them to the problem and telling them to allow the people mistakenly listed as not registered, to vote. All 1,151 people affected by the problem were attempting to apply for REAL ID, but a spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he does not know what caused the error, saying it could have been any one of a number of problems. A spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections said he doesn’t think anyone who was mistakenly listed as not registered was inappropriately turned away during early voting, which began last week, since anyone not registered to vote has the option to do so on the spot and election judges are trained to tell people about that option. “This is our way of making sure that these folks got registered in time for the election,” said Matt Dietrich, board spokesman. Dietrich said the 87 local election authorities impacted by the error should work to make sure those wrongly classified as not registered are allowed to vote.

New York: Groups warn against ExpressVote XL voting machine being considered for New York | AnneMarie Durkin/The Legislative Gazette

Common Cause New York and Disability Rights New York are calling attention to new voting technologies they say will make it difficult for disabled voters to cast their ballot in upcoming elections. As the state Board of Elections is in the final stages of certifying the new machines, disability rights groups are asking the agency to reject the new machines because they say they are hard to read, can be confusing for those who are hard of hearing, are expensive and they are prone to undercounting votes. The voting machines, ExpressVoteXL, operate as a touch-screen machine and are completely technology centered, as opposed to the traditional paper-ballot voting system that has been in place up until now. Common Cause/NY also dropped off thousands of petitions from New Yorkers across the state against the machine. The New York State Board of Elections is currently in the final stages before it does, or does not, certify the new voting machine. Common Cause says that the company that makes the machine has spent more than $600,000 lobbying New York state officials. Common Cause released a report that details reasons they say the machine should not be used in the upcoming elections.

Texas: Bexar County GOP Chair, Former Constable Question Election Integrity | Jackie Wang/Rivard Report

Cynthia Brehm, who heads Bexar County’s Republican Party, criticized the Bexar County Elections Department’s handling of the March primary election and demanded that the election be redone at a county commissioners meeting Tuesday. “Not a recount,” Brehm said. “Throw it out. Bexar County citizens deserve better than a system that is faulty and flawed.” Brehm, who will face candidate John Austin in a May runoff election for her second term as party chair, pointed to the software issues that caused a delay in early voting result publication. “I can tell you right now – I’ve already talked to the people above me that I don’t have the confidence in this election at all,” Brehm told reporters Tuesday. “And my constituents don’t trust it.” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said the comments made by Brehm and Michelle Barrientes Vela, a former constable and Democratic sheriff candidate, were “misinformation.” “I stand behind this election,” Callanen said.

Texas: Dallas County recount turns up 9,149 ballots that were missed | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune

A Dallas County recount turned up 9,149 ballots that were missed on Super Tuesday, but the new votes did not affect the outcome of any race. Through the recount — which was prompted by vote discrepancies discovered last week — county election officials found 6,818 votes Wednesday that were not included in their initial tally of votes in the March 3 Democratic primary and 2,331 votes that were left off the results of the Republican primary. More than 329,000 votes were cast in Dallas County during early voting and on election day. The county is still processing mail-in ballots and provisional votes. A state district judge ordered the recount Tuesday at the request of Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. The county asked to redo its vote count after discovering it missed ballots from 44 tabulating machines used on election day. 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.

Wyoming: State makes switch to new election equipment vendor | Jackson Hole Buckrail

The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office this week announced that a final contract was awarded to Election Systems & Software (ES&S) for the purchase of election equipment for all 23 Wyoming counties. The 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. Locally, not much will change. County Clerk Sherry Daigle told Buckrail Teton County has been ahead of the curve for years now. “We’re pretty excited it is going to them. We’ve been using their updated system for four years now and, really, since the ‘80s when we were using BRC’s punchcard ballot machines, and then ES&S bought out BRC in the ‘90s.