The threat of interference with our election systems became a major issue following the 2016 election. Media coverage focused on social media influences by foreign nation-states and other bad actors, and on voting machine insecurities. Yet at least as far back as the 2000 election, cybersecurity experts were warning us that election system infrastructure is vulnerable to getting hacked. In 2018, the US federal government allocated $380 million in federal funding for states to begin improving cybersecurity. Most states have used some of this money to update their election systems and processes, according to a report by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). But this is a huge job, because the attack surface in election systems is vast and complex, much more so than the those in both an IT network and an industrial control, or operational technology, network. In 2020, another $425 million was allocated to EAC to distribute for additional election security measures. That body is now telling states they can use those funds instead for disinfecting the polls due to the Covid-19 coronavirus. Meanwhile, there’s growing concern that Russia and other nation states will try to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that Russia’s social media-driven election interference is both “more brazen” and more difficult to detect than it was in 2016.
National: Mail-in election mandates from Congress could be ‘recipe for disaster,’ says top state official | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
State and local officials are warning that congressional efforts to prepare states for a possible national surge in mail-in voting in November may result in chaos instead of smoother balloting. They say more federal funding for such an effort, currently being debated as part of the $1.8 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill stuck in Congress, could overwhelm election officials with just seven months left to prepare for a presidential and congressional elections. Federal mandates for a largely mail-in election could well be a “recipe for disaster,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R), president of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), told me. Pate worries there may inadequate machinery to process ballots, poorly trained poll workers and a confused voting public. “You have 50 states with different levels of resources and history of how they do voting,” he said. “I want to caution Congress that there is no one-size plan that fits all of us.” The problem is symptomatic of the divide between Washington, where efforts to protect elections against myriad threats tend to happen in last minute compromises, compared with states and localities where it’s common to spend years developing new voting procedures and to lock them in place many months before elections. “Congress always seems to operate on a crisis basis, and sometimes that doesn’t work in reality,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, who served as NASS president until 2019, told me.
A new report from the House Rules Committee expresses skepticism that remote voting in Congress could be conducted securely. The report, written by the Democratic majority staff, said that allowing members to cast votes outside the halls of Congress would represent “one of the biggest rule changes in the last century” and would raise constitutional issues. It also questioned whether technology to facilitate remote voting would be secure from cyber attacks, citing ongoing threats to election security from foreign governments. “In the wake of the 2016 election interference and potential 2020 election interference, implementing a secure method for voting would be critical and require an expert staff dedicated to ensuring there are no foreign or domestic attacks threatening the integrity of a vote by any Member, or threatening the system’s functionality as a whole,” the committee wrote. “Even with such a staff, we may not be able to thwart a cyber-attack that could prevent Congress from acting or delegitimize any vote Members take.”
National: Will COVID-19 force a massive absentee vote in November election? | Louis Jacobson and Amy Sherman/Politifact
The coronavirus pandemic has already forced more than a half dozen states to delay their Democratic primaries, with more states likely to follow. This has raised an urgent question: Could the pandemic still be dangerous enough in November that the general election will have to be held mostly or entirely by mail? On the federal level, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have introduced a measure that would greatly increase the role of voting by mail, including the allocation of federal money to purchase equipment and cover printing and mailing costs. The bill would also expand in-person early voting to decrease lines on Election Day. Some election officials, including those who have advocated vote-by-mail for years, say that dramatically expanding mail balloting is feasible, given the amount of time between now and the November election. But making it happen would require aggressive action and governmental cooperation, experts say. “Every state will have to think about the possibility that the November elections will be mostly by mail, or potentially all by mail,” said Ohio State University law professor Edward B. Foley. While many states now have either all-mail elections or no-excuse absentee voting, those that don’t would have to change their laws to allow “fear of becoming infected” to be counted as a legitimate reason for securing an absentee ballot, he said. For states that aren’t used to counting large numbers of absentee ballots, Foley said, “the ramp-up will be huge.” Still, “if there is political will to create postal voting for the entire nation in time for the November election, it can be done,” said Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News.
National: Election officials in both parties call for emergency funding to expand voting by mail before November | Amy Gardner, Elise Viebeck and Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
A bipartisan push to expand mail-in voting is underway across the country as election officials brace for a spike in demand from voters spooked by the coronavirus pandemic — despite Republican reluctance in Washington to help pay for it. House Democrats have asked for as much as $2 billion in emergency funding to distribute to election officials who are scrambling to expand absentee balloting and take other steps to avoid pandemic-related chaos on Election Day in November. Dozens of state and local election officials, both Republican and Democratic, have signaled their desire for the funding — a sign of how the crisis is altering the usually sharply divided politics around voting measures. Still, Republicans in Washington say they are inclined to oppose an effort to include the funding along with new rules on how states run their elections in a $2 trillion coronavirus response package, with some casting the effort as part of a Democratic strategy to try to load up the bill with unrelated pet priorities.
Editorials: Coronavirus could prompt the U.S. to finally improve its voting system | Carl P. Leubsdorf/Dallas Morning News
Long before the coronavirus outbreak, the American voting system was in trouble. The evidence: the long lines and delayed counts that beset states and localities struggling to cope with the country’s growing electorate. But perhaps the current crisis will finally create sufficient concern to do something about it. So far, nine states and territories have delayed primary elections in hopes the virus will ebb sufficiently to enable voters to go safely to polling places and perform their duty as American citizens. The situation has prompted a series of ad hoc proposals. In Wisconsin, the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit to extend last week’s registration deadline for the state’s April 7 primary. And in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine cited health concerns as he abruptly suspended voting on the eve of last week’s primary, a questionable act in even a time of troubles. But if we are to avoid repetitions of this kind of unilateral, undemocratic action, as well as repeated court challenges and a possible electoral disaster in November, far more sweeping steps need to be taken. The goal should be to enable the voting machinery to function in an election that might produce so large a turnout it overwhelms the system, even if current health concerns decline.
Alaska: Emergency law may require Alaskans to vote by mail in August election | James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News
The Alaska Senate approved a proposal Tuesday that would give the lieutenant governor the power to order statewide elections by mail if warranted by the spread of COVID-19. That power was among several the Senate sought to give Alaska’s executive branch as it unanimously approved a sweeping emergency bill intended to address the health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would extend the governor’s declaration of a public health emergency through Sept. 1 and grant him special powers. The bill passed unanimously by the Senate allows by-mail elections only for the August statewide primary and any special election before Sept. 1, such as the proposed recall of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. If the Legislature were to extend the public health emergency through November, the lieutenant governor would have the power to order the November general election to be conducted by mail, also. Anchorage conducts municipal elections by mail and the Alaska Democratic Party is holding a by-mail election for president. The state does not universally conduct elections by mail, although tens of thousands of absentee ballots are cast each election by mail.
California: As Coronavirus threatens general election, California could be example for states expanding vote-by-mail | Casey Tolan/San Jose Mercury News
The coronavirus cases spreading across the country have already overturned the 2020 presidential campaign, forcing multiple states to postpone their primaries and raising fears that the November general election could be marred by the pandemic. Now states are rushing to expand the use of vote-by-mail, laying the groundwork for an unprecedented shift in voting procedures. California, which has massively ramped up its use of mail-in voting over the last few decades, could be a model for others to follow. In Congress, lawmakers are debating a proposal from House Democrats to require states to allow mail-in voting and send $2 billion to election officials to help expand the process as part of a larger coronavirus relief package. But the idea has faced opposition from Republicans who argue that the bill should focus on economic relief, not voting rights. California is ahead of the curve. While less than 20 percent of voters in the 1992 general election cast their ballot by mail, nearly two-thirds did during the 2018 election, according to state data. That’s likely to be even higher this year.
California: The Presidential Election In November May Be Held At Your Mailbox Thanks To COVID-19 | Libby Denkmann/LAist
When governor Newsom signed an executive order last week to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Southern California elections, he included this provision: counties must send mail-in ballots to all registered voters in three upcoming special elections. The Orange County Registrar has already canceled in-person voting for the Apr. 7 Westminster City Council special recall election. Vote centers were scheduled to open this weekend for that contest. “Pursuant to Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order (N-34-20), the generalized use of in-person voting may present risks to public health and safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and could risk undermining social distancing measures imposed by the State Public Health Officer,” O.C. Registrar Neal Kelley said in a statement. These moves give us a glimpse of what the future could hold: voting during a pandemic, when election officials have to weigh the risks of gathering at polling places versus the need to make voting accessible to everyone. “We’re having to adjust exactly how we administer the elections so that we maintain the right to vote but keep everybody as healthy as possible,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Georgia: All active voters will be mailed absentee ballot request forms | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
All of Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters will be mailed absentee ballot request forms for the May 19 primary, a major push to encourage voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Tuesday. The absentee voting effort will allow Georgians to decide on their choices for president and other elected offices from home, without having to visit in-person voting locations where the coronavirus could more easily spread. Early voting and Election Day precincts will remain open. A large number of people voting by mail would be a significant change in the way elections are run in Georgia. While the state has allowed any voter to cast a ballot by mail since 2005, just 7% of voters did so in the 2018 election for governor. The state’s absentee ballot initiative follows an agreement by Raffensperger, a Republican, and the Democratic Party of Georgia to delay the previously scheduled March 24 presidential primary because of the coronavirus. The presidential primary will now be held May 19, along with races for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, the Georgia General Assembly and local offices.
Mississippi: Secretary of state’s visit brings up question of potential paper ballot switch | Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal
Newly elected Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson has embarked on a listening tour through all of the state’s 82 counties to gather concerns from circuit clerks and election commissioners. He made his Monroe County visit March 9, and one of the talking points was the potential of mandated paper ballots for elections. While he is unsure of what the future may hold with electronic versus paper ballots, Monroe County Circuit Clerk Dana Sloan later said she is preparing if it is mandated. “If it comes through a federal mandate, it would come with funds. I’ve heard rumors of a potential push from Washington about a mandate to bring back paper ballots, but nothing is confirmed. Right now, I just heard there was a possibility but I want to gather as much information as I can to be prepared in case it happens,” she said. Monroe County switched from paper ballots to electronic TSX voting machines in 2006. A ballpark estimate for one scanner at each of Monroe County’s 26 voting precincts and four additional scanners at the four largest ones to tabulate paper ballot results is $285,000.
Nebraska: State Officials Say Nebraska Primary Will Not Be Delayed, Encourage Voting By Mail | Becca Costello/NET News
Nebraskans can already vote by mail in every county across the state – they just have to apply for the ballot ahead of time. Six counties are sending every registered voter an application for a mail-in ballot: Douglas, Lancaster, Cass, Gage, Buffalo, and Sarpy. Gage County Clerk and Election Commissioner Dawn Hill says her concerns about COVID-19’s impact on voting were growing in early March. “I had a little trouble sleeping one night and I thought maybe this is the answer — I’m going to send out applications for every active voter in my system to give everyone the possibility or the option to be able to vote,” Hill said. “I knew it was kind of a large task. But I felt that that was the right thing to do.” Hill says as long as in-person voting in May is still on the calendar, she has other concerns — like some of her usual poll worker volunteers who are worried about possible exposure. And one of the polling sites was supposed to be in an assisted living facility, so Hill is looking for a replacement site.
Nevada: Election officials plan mail-only primary election, no in-person voting amid coronavirus fears | Riley Snyder and Jackie Valley/Nevada Independent
Nevada election officials are planning to effectively cancel in-person voting and move the state’s primary election on June 9 to mail ballots only in the wake of the coronavirus crisis gripping the nation, two knowledgeable sources confirmed. An official announcement is expected today. It’s the latest activity facing a logistical change as officials try to prevent the spread of the upper-respiratory disease. Questions have surfaced regarding the safety of in-person voting, a process that can trigger lines of people and multiple surface touch points as voters make their selections. A recent legislative change allows any voter to request a ballot by mail, but must make the request by no later than the 14th calendar day preceding the election — May 26 for this election cycle. Delivery of mail ballots begins no later than 20 days before Election Day.
Saying they face critical shortages of poll workers and places to vote that aren’t off-limits, the state’s county elections commissioners want the upcoming April 28 Democratic presidential primary delayed because of the spreading novel coronavirus. On Tuesday, the state Election Commissioners’ Association urged Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Legislature to take action as soon as possible to postpone the vote, saying deadlines for training personnel and testing voting machines ahead of the primary are approaching, and the pandemic is making it difficult to recruit poll workers. “Election boards throughout the state are risking personnel safety and health to prepare for impending elections on April 28,” the group said in a statement. “We are facing critical shortages of inspectors and polling places due to the ongoing public health crisis.” Schenectady County’s elections commissioners are having trouble getting permission to use some of the polling places they normally use, which include senior citizen centers, schools and other buildings that have been emptied as people are told to stay away to prevent virus transmission. “A lot of the locations we use say they wouldn’t be able to give us access,” said Amy Hild, Schenectady County’s Democratic election commissioner. ‘We’re having an issue with locations, and difficulty in recruiting staff to work.”
South Carolina: Coronavirus could impact elections, including possible delay of June party primaries | Caitlin Byrd/The Post and Courier
South Carolina election officials may recommend postponing the statewide June 9 primary, citing concerns about safe and secure elections amid the spread of the contagious new coronavirus. Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission, confirmed the discussions to The Post and Courier on Tuesday. “We’re concerned about the June primaries and the general election, and really all of the elections that are scheduled to occur for 2020,” Whitmire said. The statewide primary will determine who will be the respective Republican and Democratic nominees for different races, including the high profile battles for U.S. Senate and U.S. House, as well as for other contests. All 124 seats in the state House of Representatives are up for reelection this year, along with the 46 seats in the state Senate. The discussions here mirror conversations among election officials nationwide.
Pennsylvania: House unanimously backs proposal to delay the 2020 primary due to the coronavirus | Jonathan Lai and Chris Brennan/Philadelphia Inquirer
The Pennsylvania House on Tuesday approved a bipartisan proposal to postpone the 2020 primary by five weeks, until June 2, and allow counties to consolidate polling places amid concerns about the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Representatives unanimously approved the changes in an amendment to a preexisting Senate bill, increasing the prospects the legislation will be on its way to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature by the end of the week. The proposal also would make several permanent changes to election law, most notably allowing county officials to begin counting absentee and mail-in ballots by 7 a.m. on election days to speed up the posting of returns. “With elections only a month away, and positive coronavirus tests increasing daily, we are at a crossroads,” Rep. Kevin Boyle (D., Phila.) said on the House floor before the vote. He noted the risk of infection to voters and poll workers, especially older citizens: “Pennsylvania must be realistic regarding the impact of the virus on the April 28 election.”
Wisconsin: Groups want mail-only election, Governor’s order’s effect unclear | Todd Richmond/Associated Press
Voting advocacy groups and the mayor of Wisconsin’s largest city on Tuesday urged Gov. Tony Evers to close polling sites and conduct the state’s spring election entirely by mail to protect voters and a dwindling pool of election workers from the coronavirus. Evers has refused calls to postpone the April 7 election in the face of the crisis. The election features the state’s presidential primary, a state Supreme Court race and hundreds of races for local office. Most local officials terms expire April 21 and delaying the election could leave those spots vacant, Evers has argued. However, the governor said Monday he was considering conducting the election entirely by mail. The governor on Tuesday issued an executive order restricting all nonessential travel and mandating all nonessential businesses to close. It’s unclear how the order applies to the election. It includes pages of exemptions but doesn’t mention elections. Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said he didn’t know if the order prohibits in-person voting. The governor dodged questions about how the order might apply to elections during his now-daily conference call with reporters to discuss efforts to stop the virus.