North Carolina: Lawsuit cites virus to stop touch-screen voting | Gary D. Robertson/Associated Press

The threat of hand-to-hand contamination from the new coronavirus while voting entered arguments in a lawsuit seeking to stop the use of touch-screen ballot-marking machines in North Carolina. Lawyers for four North Carolina voters and the state NAACP largely cited constitutional concerns in the lawsuit announced Wednesday in asking that the equipment from the nation’s largest voting machine manufacturer be barred from future elections. About 20 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have the machines, used first in one way of another during last month’s primary elections. But the plaintiffs also said using touch-screen machines are inherently hazardous to use during the COVID-19 crisis, because voters and poll workers are smudging screens with fingers and hands that could transmit the virus to unsuspecting people. Cleaning the ExpressVote machines — created by Election Systems & Software and targeted in the lawsuit — after every vote, would create long lines at voting sites, the lawsuit said. An ES&S memo last month recommended poll workers should use lint-free cloths with isopropyl alcohol or prepared alcohol wipes to clean screens for at least 30 seconds to disinfect them.

National: Emergency election money is available. But some states struggle to claim it | Carrie Levine/Center for Public Integrity

Some states aren’t sure if they can claim their share of emergency funds Congress approved to help states meet pandemic-related expenses for administering 2020 elections, citing conditions on the money.  The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which is coordinating the flow of $400 million to the states, had received request letters from 37 states as of Tuesday.  For some of the remaining states, a major obstacle is a requirement that they match 20 percent of the federal money with their own dollars — at a time when the coronavirus outbreak is straining state budgets and draining surpluses. The National Association of Secretaries of State has told lawmakers that the matching requirement will be “extremely difficult” for states to meet. Election officials from both parties have also raised concerns and said Congress should lift or reduce the match requirement. 

National: Why vote by mail triggered a partisan battle ahead of November’s election | John Whitesides and Julia Harte/Reuters

The drive to expand vote-by-mail options during the coronavirus pandemic has emerged as the centerpiece of a growing political fight ahead of November’s election. President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have attacked the idea of expanding mail balloting, arguing it is vulnerable to fraud and openly worrying that easier voting would hurt their party’s chances in November. Democrats and voting rights groups say it is a way to protect voters from the deadly virus, and that a failure to guarantee that option amid a pandemic will disenfranchise millions of Americans, especially the poor and African Americans who are deemed more vulnerable to the virus and who tend to vote Democratic. Last week’s turbulent Wisconsin elections, which went ahead after Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to delay in-person voting and expand absentee balloting, illustrated the partisan divide – and the mounting urgency to find a solution before the Nov. 3 U.S. election.

National: The Massive Obstacles in Front of National Mail-In Voting | Lisa Hagen/US News

Wisconsin’s primary last week was the first real-time example of the challenges of conducting in-person voting in the middle of a full-blown pandemic: long lines that complicated social distancing procedures and severe staffing shortages that led to a low number of operating polling sites. And now the aftermath has amplified calls for greatly expanding vote-by-mail across the country. But the implementation of more mail and absentee ballots is facing an array of hurdles – political, logistical and legal – as nearly two dozen states and territories prepare for the remaining primaries over the next three months and gear up for a general election that some believe will yield massive turnout. “What I think Wisconsin has now demonstrated is the canary in the coal mine if we don’t have emergency procedures to have in place” says Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who specializes in elections. “The good news is we still have some opportunities to do preparations for next elections, and the next hurdles are these primary elections coming up.”

Arizona: Democratic lawsuit challenging absentee ballot deadline cites Supreme Court ruling on Wisconsin primary | Elise Viebeck /The Washington Post

A Democratic lawsuit challenging Arizona’s absentee ballot deadline is citing the Supreme Court’s recent ruling about the Wisconsin primary to support its case, arguing that the decision to allow absentee ballots to count in Wisconsin if they were postmarked on or by Election Day should also apply in Arizona. In a supplemental memo filed Tuesday in federal court, lawyers for a trio of plaintiffs argued that the high court’s ruling bolsters their complaint that requiring absentee ballots to be returned — rather than postmarked — on or by Election Day leads to the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters when their overdue ballots are rejected. The Supreme Court ruled on Monday of last week that absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s primary had to be postmarked by April 7, the date of election, but could be counted as long as they were received by April 13. Typically, absentee ballots in Wisconsin must be received on or by Election Day to count, making the decision a victory for Democrats as they seek to ease voting restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Marc Elias, a Democratic elections lawyer involved in both cases, said precedent may be helpful in the legal push against Arizona’s deadline, which has emerged as the first test of whether lower courts will follow the Supreme Court’s lead. The original suit was filed in November.

Arkansas: Absentee voting rules could change for November election | Caitlin Sinett/KY3

Between election accuracy and protecting health, Boone County Clerk Crystal Graddy is pretty clear on what she would prefer to see for the November general election: as much in-person voting as possible. “I feel like it is much safer for us to do the electronic voting where someone comes in, they see their ballot, they see that it goes into the tabulator,” Graddy said. Graddy said people at the election center working the election could wipe down every station after it’s used, and people would have to stand six feet apart in line. But this past weekend, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made clear himself: Expanded absentee voting is likely to come this fall. “We need to have that in November as well in the event hat we have this national emergency because we want to have people safely vote,” Hutchinson said.

California: Coronavirus crisis: All vote by mail elections coming to California | George Skelton/Los Angeles Times

California is headed toward its first all-mail statewide election in November to protect voters and precinct workers from the pugnacious coronavirus. Get used to it. All-mail elections — with every registered voter mailed a ballot — are very likely to become the “new normal” for California even after the virus is subdued. It’s ironic: Old-fashioned “snail mail” is being chosen as the easiest, safest, most efficient and fraud-free way of conducting elections in this era of rapid technological evolution. Silicon Valley techies will be posting their ballots into snailboxes. No one apparently has figured out how to make online voting secure from hackers. With mailed ballots, there’s a conspicuous paper trail. “[President] Trump keeps feeding lies about voter fraud in vote-by-mail and he has zero evidence,” says California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat.

Georgia: Mailed ballots will be counted, even without a stamp | Mark Niesse, The/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The cost of a stamp to vote by mail in Georgia’s primary has been criticized in a recent lawsuit as an unconstitutional poll tax and an obstacle to casting your ballot. But postage to return absentee ballots isn’t truly required, no matter what voters have been told. The U.S. Postal Service has a long-standing policy of delivering absentee ballots even if they lack sufficient postage, usually at least the cost of a 55-cent first-class stamp, depending on the weight of the ballot. So while voters will be asked to pay for postage, they don’t really have to. It’s probably safer to add stamps, but mail carriers are told to deliver ballot envelopes labeled as “official election mail.” Mailed-in ballots are expected to arrive in droves before the June 9 primary after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent absentee ballot request forms to Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters. They’re being encouraged to vote from home and avoid human contact at the polls during the coronavirus pandemic.

Louisiana: Republican state senators block an emergency plan to expand early voting | Associated Press

Republican state senators on Wednesday blocked an emergency plan to expand early voting and mail-in balloting options for Louisiana’s July presidential primary, rejecting calls to increase vote-by-mail options for people worried about the risk of exposure to the coronavirus in one of the nation’s larger outbreaks. GOP Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin ran into a wall of opposition from his fellow Republicans — including objections from the state Republican Party — for his proposal. With a 5-1 vote, the Senate and Governmental Affairs rejected an emergency certification that Ardoin needed to move ahead with the changes to polling places, early voting timelines and absentee-by-mail voting eligibility. Sen. Ed Price of Gonzales, the only Democrat to attend the hearing, was the lone supporter. The vote’s impact on the election is uncertain. Senators suggested Ardoin should make changes and return with a new proposal, but Ardoin warned he wasn’t certain he could negotiate a redesigned plan in time to order the supplies he’d need to conduct a safe election, such as additional voting equipment and protective gear for poll workers.

Maryland: The instructions on your Maryland special general election ballot are wrong. You don’t need stamps. | Emily Opilo/Baltimore Sun

As Maryland undertakes its first election held primarily via mail, an early problem emerged this week as ballots landed in voters’ mailboxes: some of the instructions are wrong. The one-page, double-sided instruction sheet included with the nearly 500,000 ballots mailed by Maryland officials last week contains conflicting messages about whether postage is required. The front of the instruction page calls for voters to put two stamps on the envelope included with their ballot. The back says that postage is prepaid, but gives voters the option of using stamps to defer the cost to local election boards. The reality is all postage is prepaid. Now, state election officials are scrambling to get the message out. “Voters in the 7th Congressional District: You DO NOT need to put stamps on your return envelope before you mail your ballot,” the State Board of Elections tweeted Wednesday. “The postage on your envelope is already paid!”

Nebraska: Primary still set for May | Jerry Purvis/Star Herald

Although state governments are dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Secretary of State Bob Evnen said the state is ready for the primary election scheduled for Tuesday, May 12. During a recent state briefing on the pandemic, Evnen reminded the public there’s no excuse not to vote. “Early mail-in ballot request applications are being sent to Nebraska voters by county election officials or by my office,” Evnen said. “The applications can be filled out and returned to county elections by fax, email or regular mail.” Early voting ballot applications began to be sent out to voters by the counties on April 6 and completed ballots must be received by the county election office by May 12. Voters may drop off their ballots at the secure voter drop box located at the county administration building. If voters haven’t yet received a ballot application, they have until May 1 to request one from the county.

Nevada: Democrats raise concerns over voter access ahead of June’s all-mail primary election | James DeHaven/Reno Gazette Journal

The Nevada State Democratic Party is calling on the state’s top election official to expand voter access to ballots delivered ahead of June’s all-mail primary election. A Friday letter from the party’s attorneys urges Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske to send ballots to all registered voters, not just active voters, and to expand the number of “well-organized and hygienic” primary election polling places permitted in each county. It goes on to ask that state elections officials stop rejecting ballots with mismatched signatures and start accepting those postmarked by Election Day. Cegavske, Republicans’ lone statewide officeholder, last month joined elections officials around the country in shifting to a mail-in election system meant to limit the potential spread of coronavirus at polling places. Attorneys for the state Democratic party acknowledged the need for many of those precautions, but threatened litigation over other steps — such as sending ballots only to active voters — that they feel are unconstitutional.

New Mexico: High court halts automatic mail-in election in victory for GOP | Michael Gerstein/Santa Fe New Mexican

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a petition to conduct the June 2 primary election solely by mail, quickly drawing praise from Republicans and condemnation from Democrats who say the ruling will put poll workers and voters at risk. Chief Justice Judith Nakamura acknowledged the state is in the midst of a public health crisis and that voting by mail is the safest option. But justices nonetheless ruled unanimously that state law does not allow ballots to be sent automatically to voters eligible to participate in the primary. Justices in effect acknowledged that allowing an election by mail would require lawmakers to change state law — something parties who petitioned the court to rule on the matter had argued is impossible during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic because it would put lawmakers at risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 in a hypothetical special session.

North Carolina: Voting rights advocates file lawsuit over allegedly insecure voting machines | Maggie Miller/The Hill

A group of voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that voting machines used in almost two dozen North Carolina counties are not secure and could lead to voter disenfranchisement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit, filed by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and multiple North Carolina voters, alleges that the use of the ExpressVote XL voting machine violates the constitutional right of individuals in the state to free and fair elections, and has cyber vulnerabilities that could lead to election interference. The ExpressVote machines involve the voter inputting their choices digitally, with the machine then printing out a paper sheet with a barcode embedded with the voter’s choices. The voting rights advocates point to this system as making it impossible for the average voter to ensure their vote wasn’t changed and was accurate. “The ExpressVote is an insecure, unreliable, unverifiable, and unsafe machine that threatens the integrity of North Carolina’s elections,” Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP, told reporters on Wednesday. “The new electronic system converts voters’ votes and ballots into undecipherable barcodes, forcing voters to cast a vote they cannot read.” Spearman urged the North Carolina counties using the machines to immediately “move to hand-marked paper ballots to restore voters’ trust in the integrity of our elections.”

Texas: Judge will issue order that could greatly expand mail-in voting | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune

A state district judge said Wednesday that he will move forward with an order easing restrictions for voting by mail in Texas in light of the new coronavirus pandemic. After conducting a video conference hearing in a lawsuit filed by state Democrats and civic organizations, Judge Tim Sulak told the attorneys he will issue a temporary injunction allowing all voters who risk exposure to the coronavirus if they vote in person to ask for a mail-in ballot under a portion of the Texas election code allowing absentee ballots for voters who cite a disability. His ruling, which is almost certain to be appealed by the state, could greatly expand the number of voters casting ballots by mail in the upcoming July primary runoff elections. Until now, voting by mail has been limited in the state. Texans seeking an absentee ballot that they can fill out at home and mail in had to be 65 years or older, have a disability or illness, be out of the county during the election period, or be confined in jail. The Texas election code defines disability as a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents a voter from appearing in person without the risk of “injuring the voter’s health.” Citing ambiguity in state law regarding what qualifies as a disability, Sulak agreed that qualification can currently apply to any voter in Texas. His official order has not yet been issued.

Utah: Cybersecurity experts warn Utah about vulnerability of online voting | Connor Richards/Herald Extra

As election officials throughout the country prepare to hold elections in the midst of a pandemic, dozens of cybersecurity and computer science experts from various universities and institutes are warning about the insecurities of online and blockchain voting. In a letter sent on Thursday to governors and state elections directors, including Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Elections Director Justin Lee, experts said that “all internet voting systems and technologies are currently inherently insecure” and that “no mobile voting app is sufficiently secure to permit its use.” “Internet voting is not a secure solution for voting in the United States, nor will it be in the foreseeable future,” the letter reads. “We urge you to refrain from allowing the use of any internet or voting app system and consider expanding access to voting by mail and early voting to maintain the security, accuracy, and voter protection essential for American elections in the face of this public health crisis.”

Washington: Where Everyone Votes by Mail – an interview with Secretary of State Kim Wyman | Lisa Lerer/The New York Times

Amid controversies over testing and respirators, social distancing and stimulus checks, another issue has been bubbling up as a heated partisan battle in our era of pandemic: voting by mail. Democrats and voting rights groups are pushing proposals to expand access to mail-in ballots as a way to protect voters from spreading the virus and ensuring that millions — particularly African-American and poorer voters who tend to vote for Democrats — are not disenfranchised. Republicans largely oppose the idea, arguing that vote-by-mail elections could lead to fraud, since voters don’t have to show up in person at a polling place. Across the country, Republican leaders are fighting state-level statutes that could expand absentee balloting and mail-in-only elections and increase postal balloting. President Trump has also voiced another concern, one Democrats believe is a prime motivation for his party’s opposition: Mail-in ballots would make it easier to vote, prompting more people to participate in the election and, they believe, hurt Republican candidates. He’s complained that a national expansion of vote-by-mail and early voting would mean “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” There’s little evidence that vote-by-mail leads to widespread fraud or favors Democrats. Mr. Trump, himself, voted by mail in Florida’s primary election last month and the 2018 midterms.

South Korea: Coronavirus Test Run: How to Hold an Election | Andrew Jeong and Timothy W. Martin/Wall Street Journal

South Koreans streamed into polling stations wearing face masks and plastic gloves, taking part in the world’s first major national election held during the new coronavirus pandemic. Choosing its 300-seat National Assembly, South Korea’s turnout on Wednesday, coupled with record levels of early voting last week, reached about 66% of the country’s 44 million eligible voters. That was the highest since 1992, according to the country’s National Election Commission. South Korea holds legislative elections every four years. President Moon Jae-in’s governing Democratic Party acquired a majority in the vote, giving more leeway for his goals of warming ties with North Korea and boosting economic growth through higher wages rather than from tax cuts, political analysts said. The phrase “done voting” was at one point South Korea’s top-trending item on Twitter. Voters cycled in and out with waits rarely exceeding 30 minutes. A polling site in central Seoul prepared a box of extra face masks just in case—but, by late afternoon, hadn’t given out a single one as all voters there had brought their own. With dozens of countries postponing votes in recent weeks, South Korea provides some early guidance on how elections might proceed once governments see rates of new virus infections flatten and fall.