Verified Voting Blog: Letter to Florida Governor – Provisional Support for Florida Supervisors of Election’s (FSE’s) COVID-19-Related Requests for Executive Orders

  Download the letter here   14 April 2020 Hon. Ron DeSantis Governor, State of Florida The Capitol 400 S. Monroe St. Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001   Dear Governor DeSantis, RE:  Provisional Support for FSE 7 April 2020 COVID-19-Related Requests for Executive Orders Verified Voting writes to lend our provisional support to the Florida Supervisors of…

National: How a Supreme Court Decision Curtailed the Right to Vote in Wisconsin | Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corasaniti/The New York Times

The Wisconsin spring elections were less than a week away, and with the state’s coronavirus death toll mounting, Democrats were challenging Republican plans to hold the vote as scheduled. In an emergency hearing, held via videoconference, John Devaney, a lawyer for the Democrats, proposed a simple compromise: Extend the deadline for mail ballots by six days past Election Day, to April 13, to ensure that more people could vote, and vote safely. “That’s going to be much more enfranchising,” said Mr. Devaney, arguing one of the most politically freighted voting-rights cases since Bush v. Gore from his bedroom in South Carolina as his black lab, Gus, repeatedly interrupted at the door. The presiding federal judge, William M. Conley, agreed, pointing out that clerks were facing severe backlogs and delays as they struggled to meet surging demand for mail-in ballots. Yet with hours to go before Election Day, the Supreme Court reversed that decision along strict ideological lines, a decision based in large part on the majority’s assertion that the Democrats had never asked for the very extension Mr. Devaney requested in court. It was the first major voting-rights decision led by the court’s conservative newest member, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, and it was in keeping with a broader Republican approach that puts more weight on protecting against potential fraud — vanishingly rare in American elections — than the right to vote, with limited regard for the added burdens of the pandemic.

National: Internet Voting Is ‘Not Secure’ and Blockchain Won’t Help, Warns Scientific Body | Yael Grauer/CoinDesk

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to roil elections and voting officials look for solutions, scientific experts are warning against the dangers of voting online. The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues has written an open letter to U.S. governors, secretaries of state and state election directors to express concern about the security of voting via the internet or mobile apps. The AAAS letter has been signed by renowned cybersecurity and computing experts and organizations. It reflects research from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and other organizations. “At this time, internet voting is not a secure solution for voting in the United States, nor will it be in the foreseeable future,” the letter reads, pointing to undetected manipulation of votes, privacy violations, malware intrusions, and the potential for denial-of-service attacks and other vulnerabilities. Internet voting, which includes voting via email, fax, web and mobile app, has no meaningful voter-verified paper record, the letter states, which makes it impossible to conduct a valid audit of the results.

National: State election officials scramble to ‘not become Wisconsin’ amid coronavirus fears | Abby Phillip/CNN

President Donald Trump has drawn a line in the sand, opposing efforts to expand mail-in voting across the country in response to the threat of the novel coronavirus. But state election officials — including many Republicans — are already preparing to make stark changes to voting procedures anyway, in some cases dramatically expanding the availability of voting by mail amid the threat of Covid-19. Their objective is simple: avoid the chaos and confusion that unfolded in Wisconsin last week by radically changing the way many Americans vote. “I want to try to avoid circumstance of long waits and poll workers in hazmat suits. I want to relieve some of the pressure on the poll workers,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican. “The solution is to expand absentee voting.” Trump’s false claims that mail ballots are “very dangerous” and “fraudulent in many cases” have not stopped efforts, even in red states, to expand access to mail-in voting.

National: As Pandemic Imperils Elections, Democrats Clash With Trump on Voting Changes | Carl Hulse/The New York Times

A showdown is taking shape in Congress over how far Washington should go in expanding voting access to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with Democrats pressing to add new options for voters and President Trump and Republicans resisting changes they say could harm their election prospects in November. Democrats are determined to add new voting requirements for November’s general election to the next stage of coronavirus relief legislation, a move that Mr. Trump and Republican leaders have vowed to oppose. But it is one that Democrats believe is necessary and all the more urgent in light of the confusion and court fights surrounding Wisconsin’s elections on Tuesday. With public health officials encouraging social distancing and staying at home to slow the spread of the virus, the prospect of millions of voters congregating at polling places around the country to cast their ballots this fall appears increasingly untenable and dangerous. But the fight over whether the federal government should require states to offer other options — by allowing voting by mail, extending early voting and instituting other changes to protect voters and voting rights — is emerging as a major sticking point as lawmakers look to pass a fourth emergency aid measure in the next few weeks.

National: Pandemic spurs court fights over mail-in voting | John Kruzel/The Hill

Election officials are scrambling ahead of the November vote to ramp up alternative methods like mail-in voting as the coronavirus pandemic raises concerns about the safety of in-person voting. That dash to expand polling options could bring a new wave of court fights around the 2020 election, legal experts say. As states move to bolster balloting options — or face challenges to such plans — both sides in the debate are likely to take those decisions to court. And when Election Day arrives, questions over the handling of mail-in ballots could lead to more court fights. “We do not want the election resolved in the courts and so I hope it does not come to that,” said Richard Pildes, a law professor at New York University. Legal experts say the nightmare scenario would be a situation resembling the Supreme Court’s decision on Bush v. Gore, which was seen as an ideological one that undermined both the legitimacy of the court and the 2000 presidential election results among critics of the decision.

National: Democrats fear for November after Wisconsin voting spectacle | Natasha Krecki and Christopher Cadelago/Politico

Democrats looked on in horror last week as thousands of voters in Wisconsin trekked to polling places and waited in lines for hours to cast ballots in the midst of a pandemic. Now national Democratic Party leaders are scrambling to head off a similar spectacle in November, in what promises to be the most consequential partisan struggle between now and Election Day. They are seeking billions of federal dollars to prepare for an election in which voters can’t safely go to the polls in person. The party is combing through voting rules, state by state, with an eye toward expanding early voting and vote-by-mail. The Democratic National Committee has deployed “voter protection directors” in 17 states to defend against what they view as moves to block access to the polls. And the DNC is partnering with state Democratic parties to help voters navigate the process of obtaining mail-in ballots and combating what the DNC characterizes as “misinformation” from President Donald Trump. With Republicans mounting a multimillion-dollar legal campaign to combat Democratic lawsuits to expand voter access — and Trump asserting without evidence that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud — the situation in Wisconsin has set off alarm bells among Democrats about their readiness for a battle that could determine whether Trump wins a second term.

National: Why you can’t trust your vote to the internet | Brett Winterford/CyberScoop

A common adage in information security is that most startups don’t hire their first full-time security engineer until they’ve got around 300 employees. If an app only stores public data and has no need to authenticate users, that might not present much of a problem. But when an app needs to be trusted to protect the confidentiality of a person’s political preference, it’s something else entirely. It’s why Tusk Philanthropies — an organization devoted to bringing mobile voting to the masses — is playing matchmaker between a half-dozen mobile voting startups and the security experts that can help bring them up to snuff. The team at Trail of Bits — a boutique software security firm based in New York — was commissioned by Tusk in late 2019 to conduct a thorough ‘white box’ security test of mobile voting app Voatz, an app used in five states. The testers would have full access to all the source code and documentation they required to discover security gaps and recommend fixes. The code looked sound, as it was clearly written by highly competent engineers. But after waiting over a week for technical documentation they requested from the startup, the Trail of Bits team had nothing to work off beyond a single page that amounted to a security policy.

Editorials: Trump Wants 50 Wisconsins on Election Day | Jamelle Bouie/The New York Times

The voting debacle in Wisconsin on Tuesday was further evidence of an incontrovertible reality in American politics: The Republican Party does not believe in free and fair elections, where free means equal access to the ballot and fair means equitable rules and neutral procedures. Here’s what happened. Last week, once it was clear that coronavirus would make in-person voting unsafe, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, convened a session of the Wisconsin Legislature to find a solution. The Republican majority leader gaveled the chamber in and just as quickly gaveled it out. There would be no session and thus no solution. Republicans wanted to hold the election as is, endangering the lives of voters who went to the polls in the midst of a pandemic. When, on Monday, Evers issued an executive order to push the election to June and give officials time to implement universal vote-by-mail, it was immediately overturned by the conservative majority of the state Supreme Court.

Illinois: After Chicago poll worker dies from COVID-19 and others test positive, city warns voters they might have been exposed to virus at polling places | John Keilman/Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners is notifying voters who cast their ballots in four locations around the city last month that they shared space with people who later tested positive for COVID-19 — including one poll worker who has died. The poll worker, whom officials identified as city employee Revall Burke, had been at Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church at 1460 W. 78th St. during the March 17 primary. Voters, poll workers, building owners and managers, field investigators and cartage companies that might have been present are all being notified by letter. The letter says: “Although the Board took every precaution possible by supplying poll workers with hand sanitizers, gloves, and instructions for wiping down the equipment, the fact remains that an individual who has now tested positive was likely present while you were voting.

Kansas: Elections move ahead, while virus changes game for candidates | Stephen Koranda/Hays Post

Tobias Wood is thinking twice about working at a polling place in Shawnee County this year. He’s done it since 2018, but now he’s practicing social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. He knows that might be difficult during elections, when he needs to handle people’s IDs and have voters sign in on a tablet. “We don’t have control over what people come in with,” he said. “That’s something that really scares me.” Kansas’ late primary — Aug. 3 — puts it in a less urgent position to either postpone it as Missouri and other states did, or go forward with fewer polling places like Wisconsin. It’s why Secretary of State Scott Schwab is avoiding major changes like rescheduling election dates. “You’ve got to be really careful because you’re going to create voter confusion if you move the day,” said Schwab, who hopes the virus will have largely run its course by August. “That’s the biggest thing we’re trying to avoid is voter confusion.”

Maryland: June 2 primary will be conducted by mail with limited in-person voting, governor orders | Emily Opilo/Baltimore Sun

Maryland’s June 2 primary will be conducted largely by mail, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday, although in-person voting centers will be offered on a limited basis. Hogan already had rescheduled the election, originally slated for April, for June due to the new coronavirus outbreak, which, as of Friday, had killed at least 171 people in Maryland and sickened nearly 7,000 more. At the same time last month, Hogan ordered to state Board of Elections to come up with a plan to execute the election as the state remains under a stay-at-home order to contain the spread of the virus. “Free and fair elections are the very foundation of American democracy, and our ultimate goal must be to do everything possible to ensure the voice of every Marylander is heard in a safe and secure manner,” Hogan said during a news conference in Annapolis. The plan Hogan approved Friday calls for the state to mail ballots to the more than 4 million eligible registered voters in Maryland. State election officials have said previously that those ballots would ideally be mailed by the end of April.

New Hampshire: State Election Officials: Any Voter Can Cast Absentee Ballot Due to COVID-19 | Casey McDermottNHPR

Any New Hampshire voter who has concerns about showing up to vote in-person due to COVID-19 will be able to request an absentee ballot in this year’s elections, according to a memo released Friday by the New Hampshire Secretary of State and Attorney General.  “Absentee voting is permitted in any circumstance where the voter is under medical advice – whether it is individualized advice or general advice to the public – to avoid being in places like a polling place,” the memo reads. While two-thirds of states allow voters to use absentee ballots without providing an excuse, New Hampshire voting laws limit absentee ballot usage to those who meet certain state-approved criteria. The move to expand absentee voting comes as election administrators across the country are scrambling to adjust plans to keep voters — and pollworkers — safe. When applying for an absentee ballot, a New Hampshire voter must indicate whether one of the following circumstances apply: they plan to be out of town on Election Day; or they can’t appear at the polls due to a religious observance, due to work or caregiving obligations, or due to illness or disability.

Pennsylvania: Do Republicans oppose vote by mail? In Pennsylvania, it’s not that simple. | by Julia Terruso/Philadelphia Inquirer

President Donald Trump has called mail‐in voting a practice ripe for fraud. He’s said that if elections were to be carried out entirely by mail, a Republican would never be elected again. And yet, Pennsylvania voters this week got mailers from the Republican National Committee encouraging them to apply to vote by mail. The filers described the option as “convenient and secure.” Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill to expand vote by mail before the coronavirus was known. And nationally, Republican governors and secretaries of state have advocated for vote by mail. While the issue has become more partisan since Trump weighed in, the split is more complicated at the state and local level. “I am a conservative Republican,” said Christian Leinbach, chair of the Berks County Board of Commissioners, who wants his county to be able to vote entirely by mail on June 2. “I have conservative Republican friends who believe that’s a really bad idea. I don’t. I believe we need to make voting in the current health crisis as safe as possible.” Experts on voting rights say mail-in ballots have really only been politicized recently. Utah, a deep-red state, is one of five that utilizes mail-in voting almost exclusively. Kim Wyman, Washington’s GOP secretary of state, is an outspoken proponent. And Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine urged an all-mail primary later this month.

Tennessee: Path to new voting machines for Shelby County still complex, secretive | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

The route to choosing new voting machines in Shelby County remains complex and secretive. The latest scenario would obscure key details of the bids from the companies that want the contract with county government before the Shelby County Election Commission makes its decision. That includes the price the county would pay. County purchasing officials have said the proposals the commission will consider cannot be made public until the commission decides and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris signs a letter of intent with that company. In other words, the details of the proposal and the cost in taxpayer dollars cannot be made public until after the decision is made by the advice of attorneys to the five-member board. Election Commissioner Brent Taylor says attorneys for the election commission agree that state law forbids making the details public. But Taylor says the panel may be able to discuss details in public short of the prices by not naming the companies. “I don’t particularly like that, but I’ve become convinced that state law does not allow the release of that information prior to the mayor signing that letter,” Taylor said on The Daily Memphian Politics podcast.

Texas: Republicans say there’s no need for changes to elections in coronavirus era | James Barragán/Dallas Morning News

As the novel coronavirus shifts all aspects of daily life, most Republican candidates in runoff contests scheduled for July 14 remain convinced that the elections will go on as expected without the need for additional protections. Texas Republicans have runoffs in several highly contested congressional and state house races, but none of the candidates interviewed by The Dallas Morning News expressed a need for immediate changes to current election procedures. “Our state limits vote by mail to specific circumstances and I support the current system,” former Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions, who is now running for U.S. House District 17 in Central Texas, said in a statement. His opponent in the race to replace outgoing Republican Bill Flores, Renee Swan, said her team had made “tens of thousands” of wellness calls to check on citizens in recent weeks. “Our neighbors have been telling us over and over again during those conversations that they are anxious to be done with the quarantines so they can get back to work, attend church, and that they will enthusiastically vote in-person,” Swan said in a statement.

Virginia: Governor makes Election Day a state holiday and expands early voting | Paul LeBlanc/CNN

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Sunday that he signed a series of new measures into law aimed at expanding access to voting in the commonwealth. The new legislation will establish Election Day as a holiday, remove the requirement that voters show a photo ID prior to casting a ballot and, expand early voting to be allowed 45 days before an election without a stated reason. “Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” Northam said in a statement. “No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law.” Several states and cities have already made Election Day a civic holiday, including Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky and New York. State offices typically close, though it depends on the state whether employees are entitled to paid time off to vote.

Virginia: Who’s Afraid of Virginia’s Split Precincts? The Resulting Anomalies From Split Precincts in Virginia’s 2017 and 2019 Elections | James Lomonosoff/State of Elections

No election is perfect. Indeed, one reason the Virginia Department of Elections regularly releases a report summing up the year’s election day complaints is likely to demonstrate the fallibility inherent in any human-run electoral system. Another reason, naturally enough, is so that the number of complaints and what matter they relate to can be tracked over time. In November 2018, as that year’s after-action report indicates, there were around 25 complaints related to “ballot” incidents. What might prompt a ballot-related complaint?

Wisconsin: Milwaukee Election Commission videoconference on absentee ballots interrupted by ‘Zoombombing’ hackers | Daniel Bice/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A city Election Commission meeting using the videoconferencing software Zoom was abruptly halted on Sunday afternoon shortly after it was hacked in a practice called Zoombombing. Neil Albrecht, executive director of the commission, shut down the videoconference after radical Muslim and crude pornographic images and racial slurs began appearing on the computer screens of all those participating in the meeting. It took Albrecht and the three commissioners a couple of minutes to realize that the meeting had been hijacked by anonymous outsiders. He then engaged in a brief conversation with an individual claiming to be a Zoom tech. Assistant City Attorney Patrick McClain eventually ordered Albrecht to halt the videoconference. There were a couple of dozen people participating in or watching the meeting. “It was an outrageous hack,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is running for re-election, said just minutes after the meeting was Zoombombed.

Wisconsin: Clerks set to count votes in messy Wisconsin election | Todd Richmond and Scott Bauer/Associated Press

Municipal clerks across Wisconsin on Monday were set to start tallying votes from last week’s chaotic presidential primary, a count that was delayed for several days by the legal struggle over whether to postpone the election due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of voters congregated for hours in long lines on Tuesday, defying social-distancing guidelines that led to the postponement of primaries in several other states. The U.S. Supreme Court decided on the eve of the election that absentee ballots, requested in record numbers, had to be postmarked by midnight Tuesday. That overturned a judge’s ruling that had granted a one-week extension, forcing many residents to weigh safety concerns against exercising their right to vote. The election, while unprecedented for Wisconsin, isn’t a factor in deciding the Democratic nominee for the White House. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race last week, all but assuring former Vice President Joe Biden will lead the party ticket in November.