Ohio: Primary vote halted at last minute by health officials amid coronavirus court battle | Daniel Strauss/The Guardian

Heath officials in Ohio have postponed the state’s primary vote just hours before polls were set to open, an 11th-hour decision that came after a judge denied the Governor’s request to postpone the vote because of the coronavirus. Health director Amy Acton declared a health emergency that would prevent the polls from opening out of fear of exposing voters and volunteer poll workers, many of them elderly. Arizona, Florida and Illinois were proceeding with their presidential primaries. Earlier on Monday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine recommended that his state postpone in-person voting during Tuesday’s primary elections. DeWine said he alone did not have the authority to postpone the election, but lawyers would file a lawsuit to try to move the in-person voting date to 2 June. “We cannot conduct this election tomorrow,” DeWine said, adding that Ohioans should not be forced to make the “choice between their health and their constitutional rights and their duties as [an] American citizen”. Later on Monday, in an interview with CNN, DeWine said without drastic moves tens of thousands of pollworkers, many of them “over the age of 65” would be in places where the virus could spread.

National: Audit finds severe vulnerabilities in Voatz mobile voting app | Benjamin Freed/StateScoop

An extensive audit published Friday of Voatz, the mobile app that’s been used to collect live ballots from overseas voters in multiple states since early 2018, revealed 16 “severe” technical vulnerabilities. These include sensitive user data being exposed to the company’s developers and improper use of cryptographic algorithms, a blow to a company that has staked its reputation on its use of blockchain technology. The audit confirmed the findings revealed last month by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who found, among other flaws, that Voatz’s use of third-party vendor to authenticate the identity of its users could compromise the anonymity of ballots the app collects. But unlike other reviews of Voatz’s technology, including the MIT study, the new audit, which was prepared by the cybersecurity firm Trail of Bits, was authorized by the company and Tusk Philanthropies, the venture capital-backed foundation that’s been promoting online voting by funding pilot uses of Voatz around the United States for nearly two years. Among the most glaring vulnerabilities Trail of Bits found was that Voatz had been storing authentication key passwords, which are required to release new versions of the app and could give an attacker an opening to masquerade as Voatz to distribute malware. Researchers also criticized Voatz for its reliance on unvalidated client data and weak security procedures, including a lack of insufficient continuous monitoring and risk-assessment plans. The audit’s executive summary chalks up Voatz’s flaws as a result of the company’s rush to get its app to market.

National: Our Full Report on the Voatz Mobile Voting Platform | Trail of Bits Blog

Voatz allows voters to cast their ballots from any geographic location on supported mobile devices. Its mobile voting platform is under increasing public scrutiny for security vulnerabilities that could potentially invalidate an election. The issues are serious enough to attract inquiries from the Department of Homeland Security and Congress. However, there has been no comprehensive security report to provide details of the Voatz vulnerabilities and recommendations for fixing them—until now. Trail of Bits has performed the first-ever “white-box” security assessment of the platform, with access to the Voatz Core Server and backend software. Our assessment confirmed the issues flagged in previous reports by MIT and others, discovered more, and made recommendations to fix issues and prevent bugs from compromising voting security. Trail of Bits was uniquely qualified for this assessment, employing industry-leading blockchain security, cryptographic, DARPA research, and reverse engineering teams, and having previously assessed other mobile blockchain voting platforms. Our security review resulted in seventy-nine (79) findings. A third of the findings are high severity, another third medium severity, and the remainder a combination of low, undetermined, and informational severity.

Read our Voatz security report and threat model for full details.

National: Election Assistance Commission Issues Guidance on Handling Primaries and Caucuses During Coronavirus | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive

As the novel coronavirus outbreak occurs during the presidential primary and caucus season, the nation’s elections information clearinghouse issued guidance last week to mitigate public health risk during voting. The independent and bipartisan Election Assistance Commission, which certifies voting systems and provides best practices in election administration, published a list of resources for state election officials, voting system vendors and federal agencies on Thursday on how to deal with the coronavirus. Primary and caucus season kicked off on Feb. 3 and runs until June 7, which is followed by the Democratic convention in July and the Republican one in August. So far only Louisiana and Georgia have postponed their primaries because of the coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said on ABC News on Sunday that it could take “several weeks to a few months” before things go back to normal. Then on Sunday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there should be no large events or mass gatherings with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

National: Pandemic Planning Should Ensure All Votes Can Be Cast by Mail in November, Experts Say | Robert Mackey/The Intercept

As Ohio’s Governor ordered that his state’s primary be delayed until June, citing the need for social distancing in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Senate Democrats and election experts pressed Congress to act immediately on legislation to ensure that voters in all 50 states will be able to cast ballots by mail or vote early in the general election if the public health emergency lasts into November. That is particularly urgent because, as Marc Elias, a lawyer who represents the Democratic Party on voting rights issues, explains, while states can set their own primary days, “the federal general election is set by federal statute as the the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. This date cannot be changed by a state nor by the President.” Democratic senators Ron Wyden, of Oregon, and Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, introduced legislation on Monday that would require all states to offer an option for voters to mail in or drop off hand-marked paper ballots if 25 percent of the states have declared a state of emergency related to an infectious disease, like Covid-19, or a natural disaster. “The pandemic could hit like a tsunami,” Wyden told The Intercept by phone from his home in Portland. “How can we tell people, particularly elderly veterans, that they have to choose between their health and their vote?”

National: Closed locations, a lack of poll workers: How coronavirus is affecting Tuesday’s election | Rebecca Morin/USA Today

Tuesday’s primary elections have seen some changes, large and small, amid the coronavirus outbreak. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday afternoon that he is requesting a delay to in-person voting from Tuesday until June 2, making it the only state holding contests on Tuesday to try to delay its primary. After a judge denied the request, the polls are likely still closing after all after an 11th hour manuever. Three other states – Arizona, Florida, and Illinois – will for sure head to the polls Tuesday, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders leading the Democratic race. Rep Tulsi Gabbard is still in the race, but she trails Biden and Sanders by hundreds of delegates. Many states and cities have taken extra precautions to slow the spread of the virus. Dozens of K-12 schools and universities have suspended classes or moved classes online. Restaurants are doing delivery or takeout only. Many Americans have begun working from home and practicing social distancing. Last week, officials from all four states said they were taking extra precautions to keep voting machines sanitized and will post guidance from local health officials at voting locations. Arizona Secretary of State Kathy Hobbs, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Illinois Elections Board Chairman Charles Scholz and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a joint statement last week that they are working closely “with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe.”

National: Hackers Attack Health and Human Services Computer System | David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg/The New York Times

A crude effort by hackers to test the defenses of computer systems for the Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday evening escalated Monday, with administration officials saying they were investigating a significant increase in activity on the department’s cyberinfrastructure. But officials backed off earlier suggestions that a foreign power was behind the attack, coming as the nation and the world struggle to cope with the coronavirus. The incident appeared to be a particularly aggressive, if somewhat conventional, effort to scan the department’s networks for vulnerabilities, and perhaps to try to break into its email system. But while the effort set off alarms, given sensitivities around the work on the coronavirus, officials said they could not determine whether the action was the result of foreign actors or just hackers seizing on the moment to create chaos. The first reports came from White House officials, some of whom said that Iran may have been seeking revenge for American-led sanctions or for the U.S. drone strike in Iraq that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the country’s most important military commander. While some officials embraced that view, cyberexperts who examined the incident said it was little different than the thousands of routine attempts that companies and government agencies fend off daily, as hackers and security researchers scan the internet for weak spots.

Editorials: Can Russia Use the Coronavirus to Sow Discord Among Americans? | Thomas Rid/The New York Times

Close observers of Russian disinformation tactics in electoral interference have two big questions as the 2020 election approaches: How large is the appetite for escalation among Russian intelligence agencies this time around? And where was, and is, S.V.R., Russia’s counterpart to the C.I.A.? The internal competition between Russian spy agencies is fierce, and S.V.R., a potent and storied foreign intelligence agency, is widely recognized as more competent, and stealthier, than Russia’s bumbling military spy agency, G.R.U. It was G.R.U. that was caught red-handed in 2016 meddling in the presidential election. At stake is what kind of election interference we should expect as November is coming: a lackluster rerun of leaking and trolling and fake social media activity, which would most likely be harder to do and less effective than in 2016 — or more pernicious operational innovation and escalation, perhaps even tactics that take advantage of the coronavirus outbreak. American intelligence officials reportedly reached a preliminary conclusion last week, and that answer points to escalation — as well as to S.V.R. Russian intelligence operatives, according to reports on the United States intelligence assessment, are working to support and amplify white supremacist groups in order to try to incite violence. The goal of an aggressive foreign active measures campaign is not, as a recently departed senior intelligence official implied, to strengthen President Trump. It is to weaken the United States.

Arizona: Primary Will Go on, With Officials Saying COVID-19 Risk Is Manageable | Elizabeth Whitman/Phoenix New Times

Arizona is among four states that will proceed with its Democratic primaries on Tuesday, as public health officials call for social distancing and an end to mass gatherings during the new coronavirus pandemic. Officials say that there will not be a better time to hold elections, and they maintain that they can do it safely. But they have stopped short of urging people to go out and vote. The risks of voting on Tuesday depend on several factors, including who else goes, where and how one votes, and how well-sanitized polling stations are. “We have no guarantee that there will be a safer time to hold this election in the near future,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said Monday afternoon during a press conference with other state leaders, including Governor Doug Ducey. “The longer we wait, the more difficult and dangerous this will become.” She urged voters to “make a decision that is right for you.” Characterizing voting as different from other gatherings, like concerts or sporting events, Hobbs and three other secretaries of state, from Florida, Illinois, and Ohio, said in a joint statement on Friday that voting could be done safely, in part because “polling locations see people from a nearby community coming into and out of the building for a short duration.”

Florida: On eve of vote, election chiefs, campaigns adjust to coronavirus | Antonio Fins and Christine Stapleton/The Palm Beach Post

Florida elections officials will hold the primary on Tuesday. But questions about turnout, polling locations and poll workers abounded statewide on Monday for an election that could decide the Democratic presidential nomination. On the eve of a consequential Florida primary, campaign staffers rallied their volunteers, party officials again called for a list of polling place changes and elections officials worked feverishly to enlist extra poll workers. Turnout is impossible to predict, but as of Monday 1.9 million Floridians had cast a ballot by mail or during the early voting window that closed on Sunday evening. State Democratic Party officials say that more than 100,000 Floridians who may be voting in-person on Tuesday have had their precincts changed. They again demanded Monday that Florida’s secretary of state release a master list of substitute statewide polling locations to avoid confusion and voter disenfranchisement. The one sure thing: The primary election is a go and polls will open in Florida at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, along with counterparts in Arizona and Illinois have made that clear enough.

Georgia: Judge: Cancellation of high court election was legal | Kate Brumback/Associated Press

Georgia’s secretary of state legally canceled a scheduled May 19 election for a seat on the state’s highest court, a judge ruled Monday, saying the governor can rightfully fill the post even though a judge who is resigning won’t leave until November. Two would-be candidates had accused Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of violating the law by canceling the election for the outgoing judge’s seat. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell last month told Gov. Brian Kemp that he planned to resign but would remain on the bench until Nov. 18. In announcing Blackwell’s decision, the high court said the Republican governor would name Blackwell’s replacement. But John Barrow, a former Democratic congressman from Athens, and former Republican state lawmaker Beth Beskin of Atlanta had both planned to challenge Blackwell when he was up for reelection in May. When the two tried to qualify for the race earlier this month, they were told the election had been canceled. They filed separate lawsuits in Fulton County Superior Court asking a judge to order Raffensperger to put the judicial election back on the calendar and allow candidates to qualify. Judge Emily K. Richardson held a hearing on the issue Friday.

Illinois: A primary like no other: Low turnout, poll worker shortage expected amid coronavirus | Rick Pearson, Hal Dardick and Bill Ruthart/Chicago Tribune

Illinoisans readied for a primary Election Day like no other Tuesday, with fear of the spread of coronavirus raising concerns of low turnout and too few poll workers as government leaders exhorted healthy voters to do their part to move democracy forward at the ballot box. With polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., the push to get people to vote came despite new federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to avoid crowds of 50 people or more. Chicago election officials stressed safety and encouraged voters to practice social distancing, even offering alternative less-crowded voting sites. But they acknowledged a “tsunami” of calls from poll workers opting not to show up at polling places and took the unusual step of urgently asking healthy people to show up and serve as judges. “We are in an untenable position at this point, and we understand and refuse to punish the judges whose age or health condition might prevent them from going out,” said Marisel Hernandez, chair of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. The board, she said, was “bracing for the most difficult election, under the most trying of times.” But Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaking to reporters, sought to reassure the voting public, saying an “all-call for volunteers” resulted in “more than sufficient election judges at the ready to staff the polling places.” The result, she said, “has been nothing short of phenomenal.”

Maryland: Primary date unchanged, but Gov. Hogan says state is working on ‘contingencies’ | Emily Opilo/Baltimore Sun

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the state is “working on contingencies” for the April 28 primary as other states postpone or offer mail-only voting for their upcoming elections due to the new coronavirus. During a news conference Monday in Annapolis, Hogan was asked about the primary after he announced a decision to close bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms across the state. The governor said he was “actively taking a look” at the issue, but chose to focus on restricting public gatherings Monday due to the St. Patrick’s Day holiday coming up on Tuesday. “We’ll try to maybe tackle that one tomorrow,” Hogan said of the primary. “But we are working on contingencies and getting input about what we have to do about the April primary.” Hogan has declared a “state of emergency” in Maryland due to the coronavirus. With that in place, state law allows the governor to issue a special proclamation to specify alternate voting locations, specify alternate voting systems or even postpone elections. No legislative approval is necessary.

Ohio: Governor Mike DeWine’s coronavirus response has become a national guide to the crisis | Griff Witte and Katie Zezima/The Washington Post

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a ban on spectators at the Arnold Classic, a juggernaut of a sports festival that brings tens of millions in revenue, the move seemed radical. It was March 3, and the state, after all, had not even had a single confirmed case of the novel coronavirus. But within days, large-capacity events were being canceled nationwide. A week later, DeWine recommended that his state’s colleges suspend in-person classes. Across the country, they soon did. He then closed Ohio’s public schools. Other states followed. And on Sunday, DeWine ordered all restaurants and bars be shuttered. By Monday, they were turning out the lights in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, too. As a global pandemic each day transforms the unthinkable into America’s new reality, the path is being guided by an unlikely leader: the short and bespectacled 73-year-old Republican governor of America’s seventh-most-populous state. DeWine might have helped set the national agenda for responding to the coronavirus again Monday, announcing a lawsuit against his state to delay in-person voting in the primary that had been slated for Tuesday. Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard A. Frye rejected DeWine’s lawsuit Monday night, throwing the primary into chaos. The plaintiffs planned to immediately appeal.

Wisconsin: Delaying Wisconsin’s April 7 presidential primary amid coronavirus pandemic would be difficult | Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Top Wisconsin officials so far are not advocating for postponing the April 7 presidential primary because of the coronoavirus pandemic, and doing so would be much more difficult here than it has been in other states. Louisiana and Georgia last week postponed their presidential primaries amid fears of the deadly outbreak sweeping the globe. Wisconsin officials have not taken similar steps, and there may be no easy way to do it here, experts in election laws said. The cleanest way to do it would be for the Legislature to pass a law changing the election date. That would require Republicans who control the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to get on the same page — something they have rarely been able to do. Evers said Monday he was not considering delaying the election “at this time,” even as he banned gatherings of more than 50 people. “We’re hoping to hold it on the date if we possibly can,” he told reporters. He made his comment as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced he would bring a lawsuit to try to extend his state’s primary, which is scheduled for Tuesday, to June 2. Three other states — Arizona, Florida, and Illinois — are supposed to have presidential primaries on Tuesday.

Russia: Justice Department abandons prosecution of Russian firm indicted in Mueller election interference probe | Spencer S. Hsu/The Washington Post

The Justice Department on Monday dropped its two-year-long prosecution of a Russian company charged with conspiring to defraud the U.S. government by orchestrating a social media campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The stunning reversal came a few weeks before the case — a spinoff of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe — was set to go to trial. Assistants to U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea of Washington and Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers cited an unspecified “change in the balance of the government’s proof due to a classification determination,” according to a nine-page filing accompanied by facts under seal. Prosecutors also cited the failure of the company, Concord Management and Consulting, to comply with trial subpoenas and the submission of a “misleading, at best” affidavit by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a co-defendant and the company’s founder. Prigozhin is a catering magnate and military contractor known as “Putin’s chef” because of his ties to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. “Upon careful consideration of all of the circumstances, and particularly in light of recent events . . . the government has concluded that further proceedings as to Concord . . . promotes neither the interests of justice nor the nation’s security,” federal prosecutors wrote.