Wisconsin: ‘Your Health or the Right to Vote’: A Battle in Wisconsin as Its Primary Nears | Nick Corasaniti and Stephanie Saul/The New York Times

With April elections rapidly approaching in Wisconsin, local officials were issuing stark warnings about holding in-person voting amid the escalating coronavirus outbreak, saying the state was forcing voters to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote. For weeks, both the Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers remained unmoved, pledging to keep the polls open even as other states postponed elections. But on Friday, as the coronavirus cases in the state topped 700, Gov. Tony Evers reversed his position, instead requesting that absentee ballots be sent to every one of the state’s 3.3 million registered voters ahead of its April 7 presidential primary. The sudden request to print and mail millions of ballots in less than two weeks, a task Republican leaders in the state immediately dismissed as impossible, is the latest example of how the pandemic is roiling democratic institutions as states across the country scramble to protect voters and poll workers.

Editorials: Amid coronavirus, give clerks support to conduct the November election | Tina Barton, Kammi Foote and Paddy McGuire/Detroit Free Press

COVID-19 comes 102 years after the Spanish Flu epidemic that coincided with 1918 midterm elections, during Woodrow Wilson’s second term as president. Technology and the political climate have changed drastically in the last century, but protective measures such as quarantines, are eerily similar to today. In 1918, our country managed to hold its November election during a pandemic, suspending quarantines to do so, but it wasn’t without great cost to the health and safety of our nation. We election officials have confidence that we can hold the November 2020 presidential election if this pandemic continues, but we are going to need to act quickly, and without partisanship, if we are going to be successful in that endeavor. Today, more than ever before, local and state election officials across this country have the capacity to provide safe and transparent elections to all voters. We are calling on Congress and States to act now to provide the funding and local autonomy needed to protect the sanctity of this November’s election.

National: How Elections Got So Vulnerable—and What We Can Do Now | Alejandro de la Garza/Time

America’s democracy is at risk from more than Russian Twitter trolls. Our voting systems, the information technology that undergirds our elections, are dangerously outdated and vulnerable to attack. And for Finnish data security expert Harri Hursti, the best defense we have might be counting paper ballots. We don’t have to count every vote by hand, he says — just enough to prove with a reasonable standard of certainty that the electronic results are valid. And for Hursti, who founded a string of companies before becoming involved in the area of election security, such a low-tech solution might be our best chance to protect the core mechanisms of our democracy. Hursti is the subject of the new HBO documentary Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections, directed by Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels and Sarah Teale. The film, which premiered March 26, follows Hursti as he exposes the vulnerabilities of America’s election systems. Watching the doc and learning the extent of those weaknesses won’t necessarily help you sleep at night, but for activists and ethical hackers, the first step in fixing a system is showing that it was broken to begin with. Hursti spoke with TIME in advance of the film’s release, taking a deep look at the realities of American election security, psychological warfare and the information landscape in the age of coronavirus. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

National: Nationwide voting by mail will be a massive undertaking say those who’ve done it | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

It will take a massive effort of time and resources to increase voting by mail across the nation if the coronavirus pandemic is still jeopardizing in-person voting in November. And the $400 million appropriated by Congress is nowhere near enough to make it feasible. That’s the warning from election officials in states that vote almost entirely by mail, who say it took years of careful planning for them to make the transition. “It’s going to be a herculean effort, but failure is not an option,” Washington state Secretary of State Kim Wyman, whose state is among five that vote that way, told me. By contrast, there are 13 states that don’t currently even offer all their voters the option of casting ballots by mail, according to a tally released yesterday by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. The warnings underscore the unprecedented challenge facing officials who are beginning to contemplate a complete overhaul of their election operations during just seven months and in the midst of a global health crisis. The shift to better secure elections against hacking after Russian interference in 2016, by contrast, took place over more than three years and still produced mixed results.

National: Unease at the Polls Over Election Integrity | George Leopold/EE Times

The polling place in the gym at Buzz Aldrin Elementary School in northern Virginia was humming like a well-oiled machine on Super Tuesday morning, March 3. Poll workers were efficiently checking in voters, briskly directing them to cardboard cubicles where citizens filled out paper ballots tallied by electronic vote scanners. I handed my drivers’ license to a poll worker who placed it in a holder while pulling up the county database on a tablet device to confirm my eligibility to vote in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. “State your name and address,” she instructed. I was handed a ballot, directed to a tabletop voting “booth”, filled in the circle next to my choice, placed my ballot in the scanner that verified my vote had been duly recorded. Another poll worker handed me a be-flagged “I Voted” sticker and I was on my way. Exercising the franchise took all of ten minutes. Nothing to it. That is, if you live in the genteel suburbs of Washington, DC. Elsewhere, casting a vote can be an ordeal. Accurate votes counts are becoming more problematic. In many areas, touchscreen voting machines based on electronic pen technologies like “ballot marking devices” remain vulnerable. Recent legislation ostensibly designed to secure the 2020 presidential elections lack safeguards such as encryption, election security experts note.

National: The Coronavirus Could Change How We Vote, In 2020 And Beyond | Lee Drutman/FiveThirtyEight

The 2020 election will likely be different thanks to the new coronavirus. In fact, COVID-19 has already left its mark on the Democratic nomination race, with many states postponing their primaries. So it’s likely that in the coming months, states will begin to move toward allowing more voters to mail in their ballots, or at least cast votes early to spread people out. It’s entirely possible that Election Day 2020 will be more like Election Month (or perhaps months, depending on how long it takes to count the ballots). That means between now and November, states and election administrators are going to have to make lots of decisions about how they conduct elections. How they manage this may affect who votes and whose vote is counted, how campaigns operate, and perhaps even the level of uncertainty in the polls. In short, the mechanisms of the voting process may turn out to be as important this year as what the candidates say. We’re not starting from scratch, however. In 2016, roughly two in five voters cast their ballots early or by mail, which marked a record share of ballots cast by methods other than in person on Election Day.

National: Facebook, Google and Twitter Struggle to Handle November’s Election | Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel and Nicole Perlroth/The New York Times

The day after the New Hampshire primary last month, Facebook’s security team removed a network of fake accounts that originated in Iran, which had posted divisive partisan messages about the U.S. election inside private Facebook groups. Hours later, the social network learned the campaign of Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, had sidestepped its political ad process by directly paying Instagram meme accounts to post in support of his presidential bid. That same day, a pro-Trump group called the Committee to Defend the President, which had previously run misleading Facebook ads, was found to be promoting a photo that falsely claimed to show Bernie Sanders supporters holding signs with divisive slogans such as “Illegal Aliens Deserve the Same as Our Veterans.” Facebook, Twitter, Google and other big tech companies have spent the past three years working to avoid a repeat of 2016, when their platforms were overrun by Russian trolls and used to amplify America’s partisan divide. The internet giants have since collectively spent billions of dollars hiring staff, fortifying their systems and developing new policies to prevent election meddling. But as the events of just one day — Feb. 12 — at Facebook showed, although the companies are better equipped to deal with the types of interference they faced in 2016, they are struggling to handle the new challenges of 2020.

National: Pandemic pushes states to vote-by-mail, bringing new challenges | Gopal Ratnam/Roll Call

States and local election jurisdictions across the country are preparing for a surge in voting by mail this November stemming from people’s reluctance to gather in crowds or even venture out if the coronavirus pandemic persists through late fall. The switch to mail-in ballots is likely to heighten security challenges both on cyber and physical fronts. While many western states including Oregon, Washington, Colorado and parts of California already rely heavily on vote-by-mail, states east of the Mississippi are likely to see an increase in absentee voter requests and for vote-by-mail, and are preparing for that, Ben Hovland, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, told CQ Roll Call in an interview. In conference calls with state officials, Hovland said he has heard them discuss changes in processes and procedures to prepare for a surge in vote-by-mail and the risks that could stem from the shift. “It adds to an already difficult job that state election officials face,” Hovland said. “People need to be aware of potential new risk vectors in as far as some jurisdictions are talking about creating an online portal for voters to request mail-in ballots.”

National: Coronavirus emerges as major threat to U.S. election process | John Whitesides and Jarrett Renshaw/Reuters

U.S. election officials looking to construct a safe voting system in a worsening coronavirus pandemic are confronting a grim reality: there may not be enough time, money or political will to make it happen by the November election. The possibility the pandemic could last into the fall, or flare again as millions of voters are set to choose the nation’s next president, has state and local officials scrambling for alternatives to help keep voters safe. The most-discussed proposals are to make mail-in voting available to all eligible voters nationwide, and to expand early in-person voting to limit the crowds on Election Day. But election officials say those changes will be costly and complex in a country where traditional voting remains ingrained. About six of every 10 ballots were cast in person on Election Day in 2016, Census data shows. Democrats fell far short in their effort to include at least $2 billion to help virus-proof the November elections as part of a $2.2-trillion coronavirus stimulus bill that was passed by the U.S. House on Friday. The package devotes $400 million to bolster vote by mail and early voting, expand facilities and hire more poll workers.

National: States Explore More Vote-By-Mail Options to Cope With Coronavirus | Alexa Corse and Dustin Volz/Wall StreetJournal

States are exploring ways to expand voting by mail and early voting ahead of the November general election to make sure balloting proceeds if the coronavirus pandemic persists. Election officials from state and local governments across the country held conference calls over the past week with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies on the logistical, financial and legal obstacles to rolling out expanded vote-by-mail initiatives, according to people who participated in the calls. A call last Friday featuring the U.S. Postal Service looked at the feasibility of implementing widespread mail voting, including the costs for mail-in ballot services and whether they could be reduced. Another call this week included the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess the coronavirus threat over the rest of the year. Early voting and voting by mail have increased across the country over the past two decades. Election experts said the coronavirus pandemic could supercharge that trend, overhauling how elections are conducted and accelerating the shift away from voting in person at a local polling site on Election Day.

Editorials: We know how much it will cost to safeguard voting from effects of the pandemic. Congress approved only one-fifth of that. | Wendy Weiser and Lawrence Norden/Politico

Federal lawmakers have reached a bipartisan agreement for a $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at ameliorating the public health and economic crises wreaked by the coronavirus. But in one critical respect, the deal is a colossal failure: it includes less than one-fifth of what is needed retrofit our voting systems for a nationwide pandemic in time for the November election. Unless Congress remedies this failure quickly, the coronavirus will add our democracy to its casualties. Don’t be lulled into complacency by the fact that there are seven months until November. The country needs to start making significant changes to our national election infrastructure now, or else it will be nearly impossible to hold a safe and fair election in the fall. Election officials across the country must have the funding to begin the enormous project before them. A bipartisan group of over 50 state and local election officials toldcongressional leaders this week that they face “unprecedented challenges” in carrying out their responsibility to “protect every voter and every vote.” To ensure a safe and secure election during the pandemic, these essential workers must receive significant financial assistance — immediately.

Arkansas: Federal suit asks to extend state’s deadline on absentee ballots | Linda Satter/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

The nonprofit Christian Ministerial Alliance, backed by a national legal group, turned to federal court Friday hoping to force state officials to extend the deadline by which absentee ballots must be submitted to be included in results of Tuesday’s runoff elections, in light of the covid-19 pandemic. On March 20, Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued an executive order suspending this week’s Tuesday deadline for absentee ballot applications to be emailed, faxed or mailed. But the requirement that election officials receive absentee ballots by 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday — election day — for the ballots to be counted has not been suspended, a federal lawsuit filed in Little Rock complains. It asserts “that provision poses a direct and severe obstacle to absentee voting.” “We don’t have the authority to alter election deadlines,” Chris Powell, spokesman for Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston, said Friday in response to the lawsuit, which he said Thurston was aware of and which followed discussions about the deadline between the governor’s office and the secretary of state’s office.

Editorials: It’s time for Connecticut to allow voting by mail | Denise Merrill/Hartford Courant

In Connecticut, we pride ourselves on ensuring that every citizen has the opportunity to make their voice heard, whether it be in town meetings, at the ballot box, or in referenda that many towns hold every year. Despite that legacy, we have fallen behind most states in one crucial area: making it easy for registered voters to actually cast their ballots. Forty-one states allow their voters to mail in a ballot without a reason, vote early in a polling place or both. Five states conduct all of their elections by mail, and California, Pennsylvania and others are moving in that direction by allowing permanent mail-in voting status. Connecticut stands with Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Rhode Island as the only states in the country that won’t let voters vote before Election Day and won’t let them vote by mail without an excuse. And of those states, we have the ignominious distinction of having the most restrictive absentee ballot laws in the country. The argument for flexibility in voting methods isn’t that Connecticut is behind most other states, although we are, or that it would make it more convenient for voters to vote, although it would — the argument right now is that we are in a public health emergency, and our inflexibility is threatening our democracy.

District of Columbia: Officials To Encourage Absentee Voting By Mail, Limit In-Person Voting For June Primary | Martin Austermuhle/WAMU

D.C. officials say they plan on encouraging more residents to use absentee ballots to vote by mail and will limit the number of physical voting sites for the June 2 primary. The changes are part of a plan to let the primary proceed as planned, while also addressing concerns raised by the coronavirus pandemic. “We have two major priorities during this unprecedented emergency. One, make sure D.C. voters and D.C. Board of Elections staff and poll workers remain safe. Number two, make sure voters have an opportunity to vote and every vote is counted,” D.C. Board of Elections Chair Michael Bennett said on Friday. Bennett said they’re asking as many voters as possible to request absentee ballots, which require no excuse or explanation. They can be requested online or through the election board’s app, and the city will also open phone centers for anyone who wants to call to request a ballot. Those ballots, which will be ready for distribution by May 1, can be mailed in or dropped off at designated locations.

Georgia: Stamps become issue in Georgia’s absentee ballot plan | Susan McCord/The Augusta Chronicle

As Georgia begins to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters this week, the plan is raising questions about whether it goes far enough to protect voters. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Tuesday that his office is mailing absentee ballot applications to all 6.9 million registered voters in the state, an effort to limit possible transfer of the coronavirus at polling places. The cost to taxpayers is up to $13 million, but the plan only includes postage to mail the applications and the requested ballots to voters. The price tag does not cover the 55-cent stamp needed to return the application or the 65 cents in postage — more than the 55-cent Forever stamp — that area voters need to mail back the ballots. Gregg Murray, a political science professor at Augusta University, said the stamps are an added expense that could discourage some from participating. “Having to go get a stamp is a new cost for people that don’t usually do mail,” he said. “Voting is kind of a cost-benefit analysis that probably most people go through. If the benefits outweigh the costs, they will do it.” The stamps themselves could befuddle some younger voters. Murray said he wasn’t sure all his students were familiar with them.

Maryland: Election board’s plan for no in-person voting is ripe for legal challenge, voting rights groups say | Emily Opilo/Baltimore Sun

When members of the Maryland Board of Elections convened, they knew they would be asked to make a near-impossible decision. Offer in-person centers to ensure every possible voter could participate in the June 2 primary, but risk the exposure of election staff and volunteers to a mysterious and deadly viral pandemic? Or hold an election exclusively with ballots sent by mail, a system that would exclude some of the most disadvantaged voters — people with disabilities, those without housing and people temporarily displaced by the spreading outbreak? Having listened to stern advice on both sides of the issue, board members came down on the side of public health, opting for a draft plan that does not include in-person polling. But such a decision would leave Maryland vulnerable to legal challenge, according to the heads of several voting rights groups and the Maryland attorney general’s office. “I just want to make clear that it is excluding that subset of the population from being able to independently and privately vote,” Andrea Trento, a lawyer from the attorney general’s office who serves as counsel to the state Board of Elections, warned the board Wednesday.

New York: Cuomo Postpones New York’s Primary Election From April 28 to June 23 | Stephanie Saul/The New York Times

New York will postpone its April 28 presidential primary until June 23, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Saturday, buying time for the state to administer an election as it struggles to respond to the escalating coronavirus outbreak. “I don’t think it’s wise to be bringing a lot of people to one location to vote, a lot of people touching one doorknob, a lot of people touching one pen,” Mr. Cuomo said in a news conference. “So we are going to delay that and link it to an election that was previously scheduled on June 23.” A primary for state legislative and congressional races had already been set for June 23, and now all of the state’s primary elections will be held on the same date, he said. Ten other states, as well as Puerto Rico, have rescheduled their primary elections as the campaign calendar has been upended by the outbreak, citing guidance from health officials who have urged people to avoid gathering spots, including polling places. A handful of other states have switched to voting entirely by mail and have extended deadlines for doing so. Under rules set by the Democratic National Committee, the state risks forfeiting some delegates at the national convention for voting so late in the party’s nomination cycle.

Ohio: Groups Say New Plan for Ohio’s Primary Falls Short, Voting Should Extend Into May | Mary Kuhlman/Cleveland Scene

Civil-rights groups caution that Ohio’s new plan to address the state’s postponed primary could deprive people of their right to vote. To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine closed the polls for the state’s March 17 primary. House Bill 197 was passed by the Legislature this week, extending mail voting for the primary to April 28. Mike Brickner, state director with All Voting is Local Ohio, says it’s too tight of a timeline for voters to request an absentee ballot and send it back to boards of elections. “Systems are not operating in an optimal way,” says Brickner. “Printers and mail houses and the United States Postal Service are all also reeling from COVID-19. Will there be other delays? Boards of Elections are also not operating optimally. Many have closed or are operating on very skeleton staffs.” 
Brickner and other election watchdog organizations contend the primary date should be set for no earlier than mid-May, with the voter registration deadline extended to 30 days prior as required by law.

South Dakota: Municipal elections, presidential primary could be delayed due to COVID-19 | Bart Pfankuch and Nick Lowrey/South Dakota News Watch

Amid growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, South Dakota lawmakers will consider a bill to postpone upcoming city elections in Sioux Falls, Brookings and other cities at least until June, and to allow Gov. Kristi Noem to delay the presidential primary from June 2 to July 28. The elections bill is one of at least nine last-minute bills related to COVID-19 that lawmakers will consider on the last working day of the 2020 legislative session on Monday, March 30. Among the the other bills proposed on Friday, March 27, labeled Drafts 928-936, are measures that would: speed delivery of unemployment benefits; require treatment of anyone with COVID-19; give the governor, health secretary and counties more authority in the crisis; allow for education standards to be changed; exempt schools from standardized testing; and extend driver’s licensing expiration dates. Lawmakers are expected to discuss and vote on bills remotely by using communication technology that will allow them to take action without gathering in-person in Pierre.

Washington: Officials say April election will take place despite coronavirus concerns | Joseph O’Sullivan/The Seattle Times

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office will let Washington’s April 28 special election proceed despite worries among county election officials about safely administering and counting ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. Those concerns earlier this month led Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Washington’s county auditors to write a letter to Inslee requesting the election be canceled. The April elections are not considered a high-profile affair. Only 18 of Washington’s counties are scheduled to have issues on the ballot. Those elections don’t involve any candidates running for office, but present proposed bonds and levies to voters. Washington’s vote-by-mail system limits the contact voters have, compared with other places – think long lines at polling places in other states.

Wisconsin: Spring election still on for April 7 despite a chaotic week of political, legal wrangling | Mitchell Schmidt/Wisconsin State Journal

The spring presidential primary and Supreme Court election remain on track to take place April 7, but a flurry of related activity Friday left major concerns about the safety and practicality of holding the election as scheduled unresolved. With lawsuits continuing to mount, Gov. Tony Evers on Friday called on the Legislature to send an absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state to minimize in-person voting during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic — a request that drew a quick rebuke from GOP leaders. On Friday evening the Wisconsin Elections Commission approved Election Day procedures to mitigate the risks, including curbside, drive-through and outdoor options at polling places. Procedures to limit contact between voters and poll workers also were approved. The commission also recommended that anyone over the age of 65 and those with underlying health problems not serve as poll workers, a move that would drastically cut the already limited supply of poll workers in the state. In other developments, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit filed by the city of Green Bay seeking to delay the election because of a shortage of poll workers and concerns about the respiratory disease. And the Republican Party of Wisconsin asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to intervene in Dane and Milwaukee counties, where clerks have advised voters they can indicate they are indefinitely confined to avoid uploading a photo ID when voting absentee, something a nonpartisan legislative agency warned could be unlawful.

Wisconsin: GOP Calls Evers’ Mass Ballot Mailing Idea ‘Complete Fantasy’ | Todd Richmond/Associated Press

Wisconsin Republicans signaled Friday that they have no interest in postponing or adjusting the state’s April 7 presidential primary despite the coronavirus threat, branding Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ call for the Legislature to send absentee ballots to every registered voter a “complete fantasy.” Evers called on Republican legislative leaders to convene quickly and change the state’s election statutes to allow for the mass-mailing and to give local clerks more time to count ballots. But Evers and Republicans have been at odds since he took office in January 2019, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s response to his request was all but expected. “Governor Evers just proposed procuring, printing, verifying and mandating the mailing of millions of ballots within 10 days,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Even he knows that’s not logistically feasible. The clerks of this state should know this is a complete fantasy. The Legislature on both sides of the aisle has to know this is ridiculous.” Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, had no immediate comment on Fitzgerald’s statement. Earlier Friday, she said Evers was prepared to call the Legislature into special session to authorize the mailing but that he first wanted to try to reach consensus with Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Both have said they want the election to take place as scheduled.