Wisconsin: An election day unlike any other: Wisconsinites vote in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic | Bill Glauber, Molly Beck and Mary Spicuzza/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It was an election day for the history books, unprecedented and unimaginable. After Gov. Tony Evers tried to delay it, and the state Supreme Court declared the vote must go on, Wisconsinites went to the polls in Tuesday’s spring election and cast ballots carefully, deliberately and defiantly in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. “People died for my right to vote, so if I have to take a risk to vote that’s what I have to do,” said Michael Claus, 66, who was among several hundred people waiting in an early morning line to vote at Milwaukee’s Riverside University High School. Across the state, in schools, churches and town halls, poll workers risked their health to make sure democracy worked. Members of the National Guard also pitched in. In Milwaukee, where only five polling sites were open, the workers donned face masks and rubber gloves, handed out black pens to voters, wiped surfaces clean and kept the lines moving as best they could even as the state remained under a safer-at-home order. Hand sanitizer was a must.

National: Senators, bipartisan state officials press Congress for more election funds | Maggie Miller/The Hill

A group of Democratic senators and bipartisan secretaries of state from across the nation piled on the pressure Thursday for Congress to include funding to help states grapple with holding elections in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. In a phone call with the press, Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Chris Coons (Del.) stressed the need to send states at least $2 billion to implement increased mail-in voting, expand early voting and hire and train younger poll workers less vulnerable to the virus. They argued this was particularly important following the Wisconsin primary this week, during which voters were forced to vote in-person following a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court that the state would not be allowed to count absentee ballots mailed in after Election Day. The decision led to long lines and confusion at some polling places in the state.  “Our goal today is to finally generate real, bipartisan support in the Congress for safe voting so our country does not see another grotesque spectacle like we did this week in Wisconsin,” Wyden said.

National: Trump: GOP should fight mail-in voting because it ‘doesn’t work out well for Republicans’ | Quint Forgey/Politico

President Donald Trump on Wednesday directed Republicans to “fight very hard” against efforts to expand mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that such a shift in ballot-casting practices would yield unfavorable electoral results for the GOP. “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” The president fiercely criticized mail-in voting as “horrible” and “corrupt” during the White House coronavirus task force’s daily news conference Tuesday, but also conceded that he voted by mail in Florida’s primary last month. Trump offered no legitimate explanation for the discrepancy between his position on mail-in voting and his personal voting habits, but insisted “there’s a big difference between somebody that’s out of state and does a ballot, and everything’s sealed, certified and everything else.” In other instances of mail-in voting, however, “you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place,” Trump claimed.

National: Why Republicans Are So Afraid of Vote-by-Mail | Jim Rutenberg, Maggie Haberman and Nick Corasaniti/The New York Times

President Trump and his Republican allies are launching an aggressive strategy to fight what many of the administration’s own health officials view as one of the most effective ways to make voting safer amid the deadly spread of Covid-19: the expanded use of mail-in ballots. The scene Tuesday of Wisconsinites in masks and gloves gathering in long lines to vote, after Republicans sued to defeat extended, mail-in ballot deadlines, did not deter the president and top officials in his party. Republican leaders said they were pushing ahead to fight state-level statutes that could expand absentee balloting in Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona and elsewhere. In New Mexico, Republicans are battling an effort to go to a mail-in-only primary, and they vowed on Wednesday to fight a new move to expand postal balloting in Minnesota. The new political effort is clearly aimed at helping the president’s re-election prospects, as well as bolstering Republicans running further down the ballot. While his advisers tend to see the issue in more nuanced terms, Mr. Trump obviously views the issue in a stark, partisan way: He has complained that under Democratic plans for national expansion of early voting and voting by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

National: After chaos in Wisconsin, fight intensifies over how to carry out presidential election amid pandemic | Evan Halper and Janet Hook/Los Angeles Times

The political and legal chaos that engulfed Wisconsin’s primary Tuesday marked the beginning of a national battle over how democracy will function in the middle of a pandemic — a months-long struggle that could tip the balance of power between the major political parties. At stake is the most basic function of a democracy — the ability to hold elections that partisans on both sides regard as valid. That consensus, already eroded in the Trump era, is now being further undermined. Prompted by Republicans’ refusal to postpone the state’s primary, the Wisconsin meltdown whipsawed voters with on-again, off-again election plans, polling locations drastically reduced, and makeshift protections against contagion. It provided the most public view so far of partisan tension over election rules and how they threaten to sow chaos in upcoming primaries and the general election. Republicans for years have viewed measures to expand access to the ballot as attempts by Democrats to gain an advantage. In the current crisis, they have launched a coordinated national effort to limit the ramp-up of absentee and mail-in voting, which have been urged by independent election-integrity experts in the face of the coronavirus. If the pandemic continues into the fall — or if the virus recedes during the summer and then returns, as many experts expect — that could force millions of voters to choose between casting their ballots and safeguarding their health. The battle is playing out now because states that don’t currently allow widespread mail-in balloting would have to begin changing their systems soon to have any hope of pulling off a mail-in election in the fall.

National: Experts: Internet voting isn’t ready for COVID-19 crisis | Brett Winterford/CyberScoop

Internet technologies are set to play a critical role in the 2020 presidential election, but precisely which voting alternatives will be pursued – and whether they can adequately be secured – is now a $400 million question. COVID-19 doesn’t – at this point – present an excuse to postpone the general election in November. Chris Krebs, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency told a recent Axios forum that 42 U.S. states have mechanisms in place that allow for alternatives to in-person voting, and the other eight have break-glass provisions for doing the same when emergencies require it. A global pandemic would most certainly meet that threshold. The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill (CARES Act) signed into law last week included $400 million of grants the Election Assistance Commission can give to states to help them “prevent, prepare for and respond to Coronavirus.” Earlier versions of the bill stipulated that the grants were conditional on states spending it on election security, but these provisions were later stripped out. States retain the autonomy to make the preparations they each deem necessary, as officials face the daunting task of upholding the most essential function of democracy in the midst of a health pandemic that constrains the movement and assembly of people in public spaces.

Editorials: On the Wisconsin Primary, the Supreme Court Failed Us | Linda Greenhouse/The New York Times

The Supreme Court just met its first test of the coronavirus era. It failed, spectacularly. I was hoping not to have to write those sentences. All day Monday, I kept refreshing my computer’s link to the court’s website. I was anxious to see how the justices would respond to the urgent request from the Republican National Committee and Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature to stop the state from counting absentee ballots postmarked not by Tuesday’s election but during the following few days. A federal district judge, noting that Wisconsin’s election apparatus was overwhelmed by the “avalanche of absentee ballots” sought by voters afraid to show up at crowded polling places, had ordered the extra time last Thursday, with the full support of the state’s election officials. Was I the only one left in suspense on Monday, holding out hope that the five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices would put partisanship aside and let the District Court order stand? In early evening, the answer landed with a thud. No, they would not.

Editorials: Trump is wrong about the dangers of absentee ballots | Richard L. Hasen/The Washington Post

President Trump has recently come out against expanding voting by mail, despite the fact that he regularly votes by mail himself. He tweeted that it has “Tremendous potential for voter fraud and, for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” Given that expanded mail-in voting is going to be an inevitable piece of the November election because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is important that Americans understand what risks come from voting by mail and what can be done about those risks before November, so that voters can have confidence that the election can be fairly conducted, in part, through mail-in balloting. To begin with, election fraud has been rare in this country for decades. Impersonation fraud, where one person shows up at the polling place claiming to be a voter who died or moved, is practically nonexistent, yet it has formed the excuse for some Republican-led states to pass strict voter-identification laws that many Democrats believe are motivated by a desire to deter their likely voters.

Arkansas: Republican opposition defeats Joyce Elliott’s proposal for no-excuse absentee voting in November. | Max Brantley/Arkansas Times

Elliott said she’d circulated her idea to the governor and others and got no negative feedback. She said it was a common-sense thing to do given the possibility of a continuation of coronavirus in November. Any qualified elector could request a ballot. It would allow voters to vote safely without encountering virus dangers, she said. She noted the recent experience in Wisconsin when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to delay the election and voters gathered in close proximity to cast ballots. “There’s no reason for that to happen here.” She also said this change would be temporary. It would go away Dec. 31. Elliott said she’d tried to win bipartisan support. But that wasn’t possible. Instead, Rep. Jim Dotson of Bentonville filed a competing amendment that would allow no-excuse absentees only if the governor still had an emergency declaration in effect.  His amendment also said that those who request an absentee ballot would give up a right to vote at the poll. Sometimes people lose their absentee ballots and go to the polls. Dotson’s amendment would make that impossible. After Elliott’s proposal was defeated amid fervent Republican opposition, he withdrew consideration of his proposal.

Editorials: We run elections in Arizona. An all-mail option for 2020 wouldn’t ruin the process | Virginia Ross and Lisa Marra/Arizona Republic

On April 2, an opinion piece by Rep. Shawnna Bolick (“All-mail voting would only compromise the integrity of elections”) included inaccurate and often misleading information about ballot-by-mail elections. As election professionals, we are committed to ensuring that the rest of the elections in 2020 are accurate, secure and safe for voters, anticipating the COVID-19 pandemic could continue requirements around social distancing for the remainder of the year. On behalf of the Arizona Recorders Association and the Election Officials of Arizona, we believe it is crucial that the Legislature extend our ability to hold ballot-by-mail elections for state and federal elections, a practice already authorized for jurisdictional elections. It is the best way to ensure Arizona voters are safe during this pandemic and have the certainty of the continuity of our democracy. We are requesting this change only for 2020, during this unprecedented pandemic.

Florida: Hurricanes, cyber risks and virus imperil Florida vote | Bobby Caina Calvan/Associated press

As if hurricanes and cyberthreats weren’t enough, Florida elections officials are now also contending with a viral pandemic as they prepare for elections in August and November’s crucial presidential contest. Elections supervisors from across the state are asking Gov. Ron DeSantis for an executive order that would loosen some election rules so local officials can have more flexibility in where they put polling places and when people can vote. “It’s going to be a different election from any other. We’ve done so much to prepare for cybersecurity and hurricanes,” said Tammy Jones, the chief elections officer for Lee County and the head of the Florida Supervisors of Elections, a group of elections officers encompassing the state’s 67 counties. “This is a new thing for us — for all states across the country who are facing the same problems we are facing today,” she said. “We are trying to do our best to keep voters safe.”

Florida: A full vote-by-mail election in Florida isn’t happening in 2020, despite coronavirus, state leaders say | Steven Lemongello/Orlando Sentinel

Voting by mail in Florida has in the past been beset by problems ranging from signature mismatches, delivery delays and tight deadlines. Now, it could be the key to holding full elections if the state is still in the middle of a pandemic and to avoid scenes like what happened in Wisconsin on Tuesday, where thousands lined up for hours wearing face masks after the state and U.S. Supreme Court rejected postponing a vote there. Democrats and voting rights groups in Florida and across the U.S. are pushing hard to make vote-by-mail as widespread as possible, especially after poll workers for the March 17 state presidential primary tested positive in Broward and Duval counties. Congressional Democrats included billions of dollars for expanded vote-by-mail in their version of the coronavirus stimulus, most of which did not end up in the final bill but is still on the table for future ones. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll also showed 72% of all U.S. adults, including 79% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans, supported universal mail-in ballots. Meanwhile, President Trump and many Republicans are openly hostile to voting by mail, even as Republican governors and legislatures in states such as Ohio are moving forward with it and after Trump cast a mail-in ballot in Florida himself.

Georgia: Some absentee ballot request forms list wrong return address | Mark Niesse, The/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

About 60,000 Georgia voters recently received absentee ballot request forms with the wrong return mailing or email address. Election officials said Wednesday that the absentee ballot requests will be delivered to their correct destinations, even if voters send them to the erroneous pre-printed addresses.The misprints occurred among absentee ballot request forms mailed to Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters by the secretary of state’s office last week, an effort to encourage voting away from precincts during the coronavirus pandemic.The issue affected voters in Troup County in west Georgia and Dawson County north of Atlanta. In Troup County, the return address for the local elections office listed the post-office box number as the street number, according to the county’s Facebook page. The U.S. Postal Service told the county it will deliver the forms to the correct address.

Georgia: Athens-Clarke County elections board ran up $40K legal bill in failed paper ballot move | Lee Shearer/Athens Banner-Herald

Athens-Clarke County commissioners have voted to pay $41,633 in legal fees for the county’s runaway Board of Elections, but most were not happy about it in a Tuesday commission meeting. In early March, the elections board voted 3-2 to switch to paper ballots in the now-delayed March 24 presidential primary, even though Athens-Clarke County Attorney Judd Drake warned them that the state would likely challenge the local board’s action, and that the local board would lose that challenge. After a day-long hearing in Athens, the state Board of Elections, which includes both Democratic and Republican party members, voted 5-0 to overturn the Athens-Clarke Board of Elections move to use paper ballots instead of the state’s new electronic voting system. Drake authorized hiring government law specialist Thomas Mitchell to defend the local board in the hearing, but the board in addition hired another lawyer, Bryan Sells, who submitted a bill for $23,617.72.

Ohio: Should Ohio plan for a vote-by-mail election in November, just in case? | Andrew J. Tobias/Cleveland Plain Dealer

The strife over Ohio’s 2020 primary election, converted at the last minute last month to a largely vote-by-mail election over the coronavirus pandemic, has cast a new light on whether the state elections system is capable of handling an all-mail election in November if need be. Models currently project the worst of the coronavirus outbreak will recede by the summer. But past pandemics have seen a second wave break out. And with a widespread vaccine not likely to be available for more than a year, there is a distinct possibility that elections officials could be confronted with a similar scenario in November. Voter advocates, elected officials and elections workers say Gov. Mike DeWine and other leaders need to begin planning soon just in case. They want to prevent a repeat of what happened in March, when DeWine canceled Election Day, citing public health reasons, just hours before in-person voting was to have begun. The decision set off public confusion, a flurry of lawsuits and eventually, a new election plan, unanimously approved by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, that sets an effectively all-mail vote through April 28.

Wisconsin: Liberals say they were shut out of court’s debate | Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week heard from conservatives who argued Tuesday’s election should be kept in place, prompting one attorney to cry foul that liberals were not granted the same opportunity to say it should have been delayed.  “There are rules that the Supreme Court requires all people who appear before them to follow — except when they don’t enforce the rules,” Madison attorney Lester Pines said. “It does certainly lend an appearance of favoritism.” But Rick Esenberg of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty argued all sides had a chance to weigh in on the case. He said he followed normal procedures in quickly getting his arguments before the high court. “If Mr. Pines wanted to be heard, he needed to get his submission done immediately because the court is under no obligation to wait for him,” Esenberg said by email. “He could have done what we did. He did not.” The filings came in a fast-moving case that was filed and resolved within hours Monday after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to postpone Tuesday’s election over fears more people would become infected with the coronavirus. The court ruled 4-2 that Evers didn’t have the power to halt the election.

Wisconsin: State supreme court orders primary to move ahead | Sam Levine/The Guardian

The Wisconsin supreme court ordered the state to move ahead with in-person voting on Tuesday, hours after Governor Tony Evers called it off, capping weeks of chaos and criticism as the state scrambled to try and hold an election amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Evers, a Democrat, had delayed in-person voting in the state until 9 June and ordered the legislature into a special session on Tuesday to consider a new date for in-person voting. But in a 4-2 ruling, the state supreme court accepted a request from the Wisconsin legislature to allow voting to proceed. The legislature argued Evers lacked the authority to move the election. Evers had resisted calls to move the election for weeks, saying he did not have the authority to unilaterally call off the election. On Friday he had called on Republicans who control the state legislature to delay in-person voting and move to an all-mail election. Republicans swiftly rejected that request.

Wisconsin: State is discovering problems with absentee ballots, including hundreds that were never delivered | Patrick Marley, Alison Dirr and Mary Spicuzza/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Attention turned to missing absentee ballots Wednesday as state officials reported three tubs of them were discovered in a mail processing center and the Milwaukee Election Commission called for an investigation into a separate set of undelivered ballots.  And Fox Point officials said 100 or more ballots a day were returned to the village as undelivered in the week leading up to the election.  The discoveries emerged as would-be voters across the state expressed a host of frustrations about trying to obtain absentee ballots so they could avoid going to the polls during the coronavirus pandemic. Many have said ballots they requested long ago did not arrive by Tuesday, the deadline for getting their ballots postmarked.  “I learned today that the (Wisconsin Elections Commission) received a call from a postal service worker informing them 3 large tubs of absentee ballots from Oshkosh and Appleton, were just located,” Republican Sen. Dan Feyen of Fond du Lac said on Twitter.  Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the Elections Commission, said she had been talking to the U.S. Postal Service about the situation but so far has not determined whether the ballots had been on their way to voters or already filled out and on their way back to clerks. 

Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting releases COVID-19 election security recommendations

Download Verified Voting’s guidance here

The COVID-19 epidemic has impacted many aspects of American democracy. Primaries have been rescheduled, processes for absentee ballots changed, and polling sites relocated, often with less than 24 hours’ notice. Throughout it all, election officials have been and will continue to be essential workers on the front line of protecting our democracy amidst this pandemic. People have risked their lives to ensure that others can cast their ballots. Given Verified Voting’s mission, these recommendations center on election security and verification, but they can only be implemented if election officials are safe and supported. 

COVID-19 and Trustworthy Elections

Election security and verification must remain a priority as election officials and policymakers around the country respond to the COVID-19 epidemic. Even with changes in procedures, the measure of a successful election is public confidence that the election was conducted fairly. Hostile nation-states and others will strive to raise doubts: Were some voters denied a chance to vote? Were some votes cast illegally? Were some votes cast inaccurately? Were some ballots added, removed, or altered? Were the ballots miscounted? How do we know? 

Providing reassuring answers after the election requires careful planning before the election by many stakeholders. Election officials will need time, resources, technical assistance, and support to do the work needed to secure the election.