National: The most pervasive ballot design flaw you don’t notice | Lily Smith/Fast Company

Many will remember the infamously confusing Palm Beach County butterfly ballot, which led to 26,000 misvotes, a recount, and ultimately handed George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. Twenty years later, we have new ballot design problems to deal with—and there’s one you’ve probably never heard of. Most of the ballot design flaws detailed in a recent resource from the Brennan Center for Justice seem rather innocuous. But there’s one in that, if fixed, could reduce margin of error and thereby make the voting system overall more reflective of voters’ intent: ballot design that splits one contest into two columns on a bubble-style page. There are a few other permutations of this layout, and they all share one key flaw: They split up information that should be categorized together. The first contest on a ballot might fall below the ballot instructions in the first column, causing voters to miss it. A contest might be split into two columns because there’s a large number of candidates to consider—or, on an electronic voting system, there might be two contests on the same page.

Editorials: Enough finger-pointing on Russian interference. Here’s how to prepare for 2020. | Suzanne Spaulding/The Washington Post

The November election is just around the corner, and it’s clear the Russian government continues to wage an assault on our electoral process. But this time, it has had four years to practice and enhance its tactics. Finger-pointing about which candidate Vladimir Putin prefers doesn’t help; instead, we should try to better anticipate and understand how Russian information operations are intended to work against democracy. Inauthentic online activity never stopped after Russia deployed its troll farms, hackers and advertising campaigns on social media in 2016. But the Russians have grown more adept at amplifying domestic voices and exploiting weaknesses of our own making. This maximizes the reach and perceived authenticity of divisive rhetoric. Moreover, the Russians no longer need to post during the Russian workday. They intersperse human activity with bot networks that infiltrate online conversations and distort legitimate online dialogues. The Russian government may no longer pay for online ads in rubles, but the lack of legal requirements for transparency — some of which could have been addressed with the stalled Honest Ads Act — means that there are still loopholes whereby bad actors can push dark money into politics. ​Russia uses its state-sponsored media outlets such as RT and Sputnik to push one-sided narratives, conspiracy theories and half-truths to its audiences. These reinforce and are fed by social media accounts that create pipelines for disinformation. Local media, often trusted alternatives to mainstream media, are also vulnerable, as they often don’t have large fact-checking departments. And because local media is more trusted, the Russian information operations include creating fake “local” news outlets.

Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Data Shows Super Tuesday Voting Systems and Polling Equipment Trends Across States

This Super Tuesday, voters in the 14 states holding primaries will encounter a range of voting methods and polling equipment. Verified Voting maintains a comprehensive database of voting systems being used across the United States (see the Verifier) and is observing a number of trends across Super Tuesday states, including:

  • California – Los Angeles County is rolling out Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP), their in-house designed and publicly-owned ballot marking device (BMD) for all voters
  • North Carolina – More than half of North Carolinians are voting with new equipment, and seven counties are using BMDs for all voters. Verified Voting opposes the use of commercially-available BMDs for all voters because research suggests few voters actually check the paper outputs with enough attention to catch errors
  • Tennessee – 70% of registered voters will vote on unverifiable direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines; a few counties are using hand-marked paper ballots or BMDs
  • Texas – 36% of registered voters are voting on unverifiable DREs, and about half of all Texans will be using new voting equipment

California: State has pushed to beef up election security, but ultimately the fate rests with local officials | Sam Metz/Palm Springs Desert Sun

The California Secretary of State’s office sent Riverside County scrambling in February 2019 when it decertified the voting systems the county registrar of voters intended to use in the March 2020 primary election. “I knew the Secretary of State had security concerns with the old, antiquated voting system, but for it to be completely decertified within a year of the election was definitely a surprise,” Riverside County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer said. The 2016 election sparked nationwide conversations about election security and foreign interference and raised new questions about whether the United States was taking adequate measures to safeguard against tampering. In response, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson designated election equipment as “critical infrastructure” in January 2017, to increase oversight and open new funding streams for state and local governments to update voting machines. With 20.7 million registered voters, California has a larger electorate than any state in the nation. And the responsibility to secure the vote falls on the state’s 58 counties and their Registrars of Voters, including Spencer.

California: Why is there a long wait for California election results? | Arit John/Los Angeles Times

Last month, the delayed results of the Iowa caucuses caused a crisis within the political world. Fundraising boosts were lost. Momentum was not enjoyed. It did not seem like democracy’s best week. If the measure of a successful election were only how quickly the results are released, then California would be a disaster. But that’s not how election officials in the state see it as they prepare for the primary election on Tuesday, or Super Tuesday, when California and 13 other states vote. They’re focused on accuracy over speed. “We prioritize the right to vote and election security over rushing the vote count,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a Feb. 27 statement. “In California, we’d rather get it right than get it fast.” In other words, don’t stay up for California results on Tuesday. How long a wait are we talking about? County election officials have 30 days to count all ballots and audit the tally. Padilla will then certify the results by April 10. By the end of this week, elections officials in California’s 58 counties will release their first report of how many ballots remain uncounted. After the 2016 primary, the first report showed some 2.4 million ballots left to be verified and counted.

Illinois: Ransomware attack hundreds of LaSalle County government computers | WEEK

The LaSalle County government is seeing a big interruption to its services this week. The LaSalle County government is seeing a big interruption to its services this week. The county is dealing with a ransomware attack on its computers discovered by the Sheriff’s Office last Sunday around 3:30 a.m. Ransomware is a type of virus which locks up all the files on a computer, as hackers demand a ransom, usually money or Bitcoin, to release them. The county’s IT Director, John Haag, said this virus is locking up about 200 computers and about 40 servers in the county government. He said the two areas not affected are the county courts and circuit clerk’s office. About a week later, county employees still do not have access to their emails.

Indiana: Commissioners won’t vote on Madison County vote center proposal | Ken de la Bastide/The Herald Bulletin

A lack of a quorum at a called special meeting of the Madison County Commissioners has stopped the attempt to implement vote centers in the county. Commissioner John Richwine called the special meeting for Monday evening to discuss vote centers, but late in the day County Attorney Jonathan Hughes sent out an email stating because of prior commitments there would not be a quorum. Richwine said he was going to attend the meeting and allow anyone to speak on becoming a vote center county. Commissioners Kelly Gaskill and Mike Phipps notified Hughes they would not be in attendance. Both were at the Madison County Government Center, but didn’t attend an Election Board meeting earlier Monday.

Voting Blogs: Counties in North Carolina Gamble on New Voting Machines | Margaret Lowry/State of Elections

Super Tuesday is tomorrow and voters in North Carolina might use new voting machines. Since the 2018 election, several counties in North Carolina have had to make a critical decision for their voters–what voting machines should they purchase? A shortened timetable and heightened concern about election security have made for a contentious process. A 2013 bill required all voting systems in the state to produce a paper ballot, and set a schedule to decertify existing machines that did not meet the requirement. Originally, the bill set the decertification date as January 1, 2018, but subsequent legislation in 2015 and 2018 pushed the deadline to December 1, 2019. About one-third of the counties in North Carolina have Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting systems that will need to be replaced by the decertification date. DREs are paperless. Voters use a touchscreen to select their choice, and the machine then stores and tabulates that choice electronically.

South Carolina: Election leaders call for extra time to count absentee ballots | Caroline Balchunas/WCIV

There were no major hiccups during Saturday’s primary election, but there’s some who say it could be a much different story in November’s general election. South Carolina’s new voting machines may work efficiently, but election officials say counting absentee ballots may be an issue. The State Election Commission noted a sharp increase in absentee voting ahead of Saturday’s Democratic primary. “What’s different about this new system is we would have to open up each ballot, not just the mail ballots. So, if you come and cast a ballot in person, we now have to open up those ballots,” said Isaac Cramer, Project Manager for the Charleston County Board of Elections. “That took a lot more time than we had anticipated, and we believe this might be a problem for future elections when we have more absentee ballots cast. In presidential election years, we have a huge turnout of absentee.” Cramer said in-person absentee ballots must now be printed, sealed in an envelope and placed in a ballot box. Under current law, absentee ballots cannot be opened and counted until 9 a.m. on Election Day. He said they had roughly 60,000 absentee ballots in the 2016 general election and they’re expected upwards of 80,000 this time around.

West Virginia: After damaging report, West Virginia moves away from Voatz internet voting app | Anthony Izaguerre/Associated Press

West Virginia is opting not to use a widely criticized voting app in the state’s coming primary elections after a blistering report found potential security flaws in the platform. Donald Kersey, general counsel in the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, said Monday that an MIT analysis of the Voatz app “gave us enough pause” to instead use a different system for the May elections. The decision came as state officials had to choose an online voting system to comply with a new law requiring electronic ballots for people with physical disabilities. Last month, an MIT study found that Voatz, which has mostly been used for absentee ballots from overseas military personnel, has vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to change a person’s vote without detection. The researchers said they were forced to reverse engineer an Android version of the app because the company hasn’t allowed transparent third-party testing of the system. The Voatz app was used to tally fewer than 200 ballots in West Virginia’s 2018 elections and didn’t have any problems, state officials said. The app has also been used in pilots in Denver, Oregon and Utah.

Israel: Over 70% of ‘coronavirus voters’ cast their ballots in special stations | Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman/The Jerusalem Post

More than 70% of the 5,600 citizens who were placed under quarantine due to fear of possible exposure to the coronavirus turned out to vote on Monday at special polling stations set up to allow them to safely cast their ballots. Sixteen special booths were originally set up across the country and were scheduled to be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. But long lines and frustrated voters led the Central Elections Committee (CEC) to open additional booths in Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv and to extend voting time until 7 p.m. Israelis in quarantine were asked to come to the stations in private vehicles and not to stop on the way. When they completed voting, they were asked to return straight home. The voters were met by trained paramedics dressed in full head-to-toe protective gear, including gloves and masks. Votes were collected in a specially lined ballot box and were to be counted by election officials also dressed in protective gear. “MDA volunteers enlisted for the mission, operating at the special polling stations, and will be protected at the highest level, with dedicated anti-infection kits,” said MDA director-general Eli Bin. “Magen David Adom works in full cooperation and coordination with the Health Ministry, the Central Elections Committee and other parties, and will continue to do everything possible to assist in the national effort of preventing the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.”

Georgia: Election officials approve computer recounts of paper ballots | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The State Election Board voted unanimously Friday to conduct recounts of Georgia’s new paper ballots with scanning machines instead of people. The board approved an elections rule that requires recounts to rely on bar codes, despite opposition from protesters who lined the walls of the meeting room. The protesters held signs calling for paper ballots filled out by hand instead of Georgia’s new hybrid voting system, which combines touchscreens and printed-out paper ballots. The board’s decision means that until statewide audits of election results begin in November, the readable text on ballots won’t be counted. Votes will be tabulated based on QR codes printed on paper ballots. Election integrity advocacy groups had argued that recounts by hand were necessary to ensure accuracy of vote counts. A hand count would check whether the printed text that voters see matches the bar codes. But election officials said computer scans of bar codes are more accurate than hand counts, and audits will help catch errors.

National: The 2020 race could become the coronavirus election. Is America ready? | Matt Pearce/Los Angeles Times

It’s hard to run an election during a pandemic, let alone stay healthy. In 1918, as Spanish influenza wreaked havoc in one of the greatest health disasters in United States history, politicians were sidelined as bans on public gatherings made it impossible to hold campaign rallies. There was no vaccine for that virus, which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and the best officials could do was keep people away from each other to limit the microbe’s spread. Voters in that year’s midterm election headed to the polling booths in masks for fear that a simple act of civic participation could be deadly. And for good reason: In Wayne, Neb., officials lifted a public-gathering ban five days before the election, allowing a flurry of last-minute campaigning — which also coincided with a rise in deadly infections. Now, for the first time in a century, a U.S. election faces the unusual threat of being upended by a potential pandemic as a new coronavirus has shocked the global economy, tested President Trump’s administration and fueled Democratic attacks on both his leadership and the private healthcare system’s ability to protect all Americans.

National: Some election officials scrambling to address coronavirus concerns ahead of Super Tuesday | Kelly Cannon/ABC

With fears of the novel coronavirus spreading gripping Americans following the first death in the U.S. and just days before Super Tuesday — when voters in 14 states and one territory head to the polls — election officials in some areas are scrambling to assure voters and make sure disruptions are minimized. The Super Tuesday primaries — where nearly a third of delegates are up for grabs — are run at the state and local level, and currently, a uniform national response to voter disruptions does not exist. When asked about contingency plans, the communications director for the National Association of Secretaries of State said she’d “defer to states,” as each may administer its own “specific plans” for emergency preparedness. “Whether that’s a hurricane, power outage, et cetera,” Maria Benson told ABC News in a statement.

National: Coronavirus Is Already Making It Harder for Americans Living Abroad to Vote in the 2020 Primaries | Abigail Abrams/Time

Americans living in China and South Korea have been told that due to the coronavirus outbreak they won’t be able to vote in person for the Democratic presidential primary next month and should instead vote online. As more cases of COVID-19 appear around the world, Americans living countries such as Italy and Japan could soon see their ability to cast ballots affected, according to Democrats Abroad, the group that manages U.S. citizens voting overseas. While more than 82,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide and hobbled global markets, the new restrictions mark the first example of the virus impacting the 2020 election. The development comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week identified the first potential case of the virus spreading within a U.S. community and warned that cities, businesses and schools should prepare for a larger outbreak. It also comes just days before Super Tuesday, when 14 states will hold primaries and Democrats who live overseas begin casting their ballots.

National: States and Federal Government Must Help Local Cybersecurity Efforts | Daniel Castro/Government Technology

Cybersecurity continues to be a major challenge for state and local governments, and the issue will likely grow in importance in the coming year. First, they are popular targets. During the first half of 2019, nearly two-thirds of ransomware attacks targeted state and local governments. Second, they face a multitude of threats — data breaches, ransomware, phishing, malware and more — and they must be prepared to defend against all of them. For example, last year, government officials in Cabarrus County, N.C., fell victim to an online social engineering attack in which the scammer stole $1.7 million in taxpayer funds. Third, and perhaps most important, with continued growth in e-gov applications and smart city initiatives, state and local governments are collecting and storing more data than ever before. Securing this information will need to be a top priority. Unfortunately, many agencies simply aren’t up to the task. They don’t have the talent, training or resources to respond to the most advanced attacks. Nor is it necessarily reasonable to expect them to. They can outsource some of these security roles to the private sector, just as they do with other IT responsibilities, but they still must be accountable.

National: Election related websites outdated, exposed vulnerabilities | Jack Gillum/Pro Publica and Raleigh News & Observer

The Richmond, Va., website that tells people where to vote and publishes election results runs on a 17-year-old operating system. Software used by election-related sites in Johnston County, N.C., and the town of Barnstable, Mass., had reached its expiration date, making security updates no longer available. These aging systems reflect a larger problem: A ProPublica investigation found that at least 50 election-related websites in counties and towns voting on Super Tuesday — accounting for nearly 2 million voters — were particularly vulnerable to cyberattack. The sites, where people can find out how to register to vote, where to cast ballots and who won the election, had security issues such as outdated software, poor encryption and systems encumbered with unneeded computer programs. None of the localities contacted by ProPublica said that their sites had been disrupted by cyberattacks.

National: MIT Professor: Blockchain is good in itself, but not good for votes | Jonita Singh/Wink Report

Computer scientist Ronald Rivest has said that blockchain is not the right technology to vote, although it may find the right application in a number of other areas. Rivest gave his opinion at the RSA Security Conference, held earlier this week in San Francisco, reported technology-focused news broadcast ITWire on February. 28. Rivest – who is a cryptography expert and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – called voices an interesting problem that requires a stricter approach compared to many existing security applications. He said:

“Blockchain is the wrong security technology to vote. I like to bring a combination lock to a kitchen fire or something. It is good for certain things in itself, but it is not good to vote. “

Arkansas: Soffer: State aid needed to cover vote machines | Dale Ellis/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stuart “Stu” Soffer is calling on elected officials in Jefferson County to put pressure on the state to pay for new voting machines for the November general election. He said cash-strapped Jefferson County cannot come up with the more than $300,000 the Arkansas secretary of state’s office says the county will have to pay to acquire 140 of the new ExpressVote voting machines from Election Systems & Software, the state’s approved vendor of election systems. The total cost of the 140 machines, according to an estimate supplied by the Jefferson County Election Commission, is nearly $940,000. To purchase the machines, the state would put in $618,434 from federal grant funds, leaving Jefferson County to come up with the remaining $321,367, money that Soffer said the county does not have. In an email sent Tuesday morning to state Reps. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, Ken Ferguson, D-Pine Bluff, Mike Holcomb, R-Pine Bluff, Roger Lynch, R-Lonoke, and Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, and to Sens. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, and Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, Soffer told the legislators that he would be asking their assistance in obtaining a third-party review of the state’s formula that determines funding.

Editorials: The current “trust us” approach to election security is unearned | Brent Batten/USA Today – Florida

When the issue at hand is security, we understand the need for secrecy. We don’t expect banks to reveal everything they have in place to thwart robbers or the Secret Service to explain every step taken to protect its charges. Like protecting our money and protecting our leaders, protecting our elections is an important security matter, so some of the details are rightly kept on a need-to-know basis. But state and federal officials in Florida have taken advantage of the situation to keep secret aspects of 2016’s vote, in which they concede outside interference was attempted, and the steps taken to prevent a repeat.  In one example, the FBI has refused to name the counties where Russian operatives are known to have hacked into election systems. Why? The Russians certainly know which systems they penetrated and how.

Illinois: Election officials are touting sleek new voting machines for the Illinois primary. With early voting underway, are they more secure than old-fashioned paper ballots? | Elyssa Cherney/Chicago Tribune

When Rudy Altergott dropped by an early voting location in Chicago, he encountered technology he hadn’t seen before: a touch-screen device that allowed him to make his selections for the presidential primary with a tap of the finger. The machine printed a receipt that included a QR code — a type of bar code that contains a digital summary of Altergott’s ballot — and a written list of the candidates he chose, including the races he left blank. After he reviewed the paper slip, he fed it into a scanner to store the results. “I thought it was a little bit more user-friendly,” said Altergott, 29, who lives in the Gold Coast neighborhood. “I felt more comfortable with it, and I felt like it was easier to use and more pragmatic.” As election authorities in Chicago and Cook County unveil the new touch screens ahead of the March 17 primary election, polling locations are becoming more high-tech than ever before. The costly equipment was rolled out to combat the risk of election interference and to make voting more accessible for those who have difficulty filling out a ballot by hand.

Indiana: House Republicans Reject More Money For Voting Machine Needs | Brandon Smith/Northeast Indiana Public Radio

House Republicans this week voted down Democrats’ attempts to help ensure Indiana’s voting machines are more secure in the 2020 election. More than half of Indiana’s 92 counties have voting machines without a paper backup. Election security experts say those backups are critical to electoral integrity. The General Assembly budgeted $10 million last year to help upgrade. But that amount only covers about 10 percent of the machines that need it. And they plan to get to the rest of them by 2030. House Democrats offered an amendment to force the Holcomb administration to find another $10 million to upgrade voting machines right away. House Republicans – like Rep. Tim Wesco (R-Osceola) – said no. “Frankly, $10 million’s not enough. It will take more than that over the course of the next nine years,” Wesco says. “We just need to stick with the plan that we adopted last year with the $10 million that was appropriated and look to the needs that we need in future budget years.”

Maryland: Tech That Caused Problems During Maryland’s Special Election Will Be Used Again | Dominique Maria Bonessi/WAMU

The Maryland State Board of Elections will use the same wireless technology that slowed voter registration in the state’s special election earlier this month for races later this year. Issues occurred when the electronic poll books, the iPad-like devices used to register voters, had trouble connecting to the state’s main server in Annapolis. The poll books connect to the main server through cellular routers that help transfer voter information to ensure that double voting doesn’t occur. “We have confirmed that the database became locked when performing multiple functions simultaneously,” said Nikki Charlson, administrator for the board. “This prevented electronic poll books from retrieving the requested voter information and slowed down the check-in process.” Charlson said the board is conducting additional testing on the poll book database. To avoid having technological problems in April’s primary election and November’s general election, Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery County) is proposing a bill that would avoid counting absentee ballots until after the regular count.

West Virginia: State backtracks on using Voatz smartphone voting app in state primary | Kevin Collier/NBC

In a surprise turnaround, voters with disabilities in West Virginia won’t be voting with their smartphone the state’s primary in May. They’ll instead be able to use a system that prints out their completed ballot, which they can then mail in. Friday afternoon, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced that disabled and overseas voters will be able to use a service by Democracy Live, which lets users log in to fill out a ballot online or print one out and maig it in. It’s a sudden pivot from the state’s embrace of Voatz, a smartphone app that aimed to boost turnout by letting people vote from their phone but that has been heavily criticized by cybersecurity experts. A handful of counties across the U.S. have offered Voatz to overseas and military voters in federal elections, as the city of Denver did in its 2019 mayoral election. But West Virginia offered it to counties statewide. On Feb. 5, the state passed a law requiring its counties to give voters with disabilities the option of eceiving ballots electronically, starting with the May 12 primary elections.