National: Coronavirus Likely To Supercharge Election-Year Lawsuits Over Voting Rights | Pam Fessler/NPR

Election year legal battles around voting procedures are nothing new. But their scope and intensity are growing this year amid deep partisan polarization and the logistical challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The legal fights are expected to heat up in the coming weeks. Exhibit A is a new lawsuit filed by Democrats in Nevada Thursday challenging the state’s plans to conduct a mostly all-mail primary June 2 and to drastically limit in-person polling sites. Democrats say the moves — including automatically sending ballots only to active voters who have taken part in recent elections, but not all registered ones — are an infringement of voter rights. Republicans counter that Democrats want to overturn rules intended to protect the integrity of the state’s elections and would unnecessarily put voters’ health at risk. Both Democrats and Republicans are turning to the courts to try to ensure that rules governing this year’s election don’t disadvantage their side. The litigation campaign has taken on a new urgency with the pandemic and its impact on people’s willingness and ability to go to the polls in person.

National: Mail-In Elections Can’t Be Built Overnight. Here’s What Will Happen If Every State Tries. | Tierney Sneed/Talking Points Memo

On Thursday, a niche trade organization called the National Association of Presort Mailers held the first of what is expected to be a regularly scheduled organization-wide teleconference. The call was to discuss a daunting task with which its members will be deeply involved: printing, packaging and mailing ballots for a general election in the midst of a pandemic. On the call, the companies with the most experience working in the election space issued a dire warning to their colleagues, according to the leader of the trade group: with longstanding orders from established mail-in voting states, these companies said, they were already at capacity for printing and mailing operations for November’s election. If more states and localities sought to expand their mail-in voting operations, those vendors — who typically work with the western states that already conduct massive absentee voting operations — would need to purchase more equipment. But obtaining that equipment takes several months, National Association of Presort Mailers president Richard Gebbie told TPM after the call, and vendors wouldn’t make that seven-figure investment without the contracts to justify it. The conundrum, Gebbie fretted to TPM, is that if election officials wait even more than a few weeks to put in those orders, it would be too late for those vendors to scale up their own capacity.

National: Election Modifications to Avoid During the COVID-19 Pandemic | Michael Morley/Lawfare

As we approach the presidential election this November, election officials are developing plans to deal with the unique risks posed by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. I have written about how states have grappled with past election emergencies and am participating in a nonpartisan task force and interdisciplinary working groups to offer recommendations to ensure that election officials are adequately prepared to face the challenge before us. The recent crisis with the Wisconsin presidential primaries demonstrates the importance of states having election emergency statutes that adequately empower election officials to respond to unexpected crises, as well as contingency plans for implementing that discretion. Just as important as discussing the affirmative steps that officials should take to address the COVID-19 crisis, however, is identifying those they should avoid. Because so many groups and experts, along with my previous work, have focused on the first task, it’s time to tackle the second.

National: Coronavirus could cripple voting in November. But it depends where you live. | David Wasserman/NBC

America’s decentralized system of voting means states enjoy broad leeway on setting election rules. Many voters may not realize that state procedures vary widely on everything from registration deadlines, ID requirements and types of voting machinery to who is permitted to vote absentee and when mail-in ballots must be postmarked in order to be counted. But in the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of federal election funding, partisan disunity and legal disputes could produce last-minute logistical confusion and drastic disparities across state lines in voters’ ability to safely access a ballot. Last week’s election in Wisconsin ignited outrage from voting rights advocates, who claimed courts’ refusal to grant Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ last-minute request to suspend in-person voting and extend the absentee ballot return deadline forced voters to choose between democracy and their health. The April 7 balloting turned into an administrative fiasco of mass polling-place closures, backlogs that caused 11,000 absentee ballot requests to go unfulfilled, and at least 35,000 voters receiving absentee ballots with incorrect return instructions.

National: Coronavirus threatens to hobble voter registration efforts | Sara Swann/The Fulcrum

The coronavirus has already drastically compromised campaigns and voting this year. The next looming casualty looks to be registration drives.  With about 95 percent of the population under states’ orders to stay at home this spring, face-to-face “Get Out the Vote!” crusades so typical in election years have ceased to exist. Civic engagement groups, now forced to operate entirely online, are expressing alarm that a significant share of people who want a say in electing the president this fall won’t be able to get on the voter rolls in time. The country’s digital divide already makes accessing online registration forms and information difficult for many Americans, particularly in low-income and rural areas. And for some 28 million across nine states, it’s not an option at all because they have to complete actual paperwork. Groups focused on creating new voters, and then making them the core of efforts to boost turnout, say they’re determined to rise to the challenge. The Covid-19 crisis has underscored the importance of their mission, they say, and their staff and volunteers are using the unprecedented situation to get more creative in their approaches.

National: Coronavirus may stop hundreds of thousands from becoming citizens in time to vote in November | Suzanne Gamboa/NBC

Cancellation of citizenship oath ceremonies and in-person interviews because of coronavirus means hundreds of thousands of people may not naturalize in time for November’s elections. If ceremonies and interviews remain shut down until October without remote alternatives created by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, about 441,000 people who would have been citizens would be deprived of the chance to vote, according to Boundless Immigration, a technology company that helps immigrants apply for green cards and citizenship. “USCIS did the right thing by pausing live oath ceremonies and live interviews, there’s no dispute about that,” said Doug Rand, cofounder of Boundless Immigration. “The problem is USCIS hasn’t come up with a next step and come up with remote pathways for people to take the oath and do interviews,” said Rand, a former adviser to President Barack Obama on immigration.

National: Coronavirus Intensifies Legal Tussle Over Voting Rights | Brent Kendall and Alexa Corse/Wall Street Journal

Intense court battles over voting rights and election security always promised to be part of the 2020 election cycle, but the coronavirus has added new urgency to the cases, which are multiplying nationwide. This month’s fight over when and how Wisconsin voters would cast their ballots marked the unofficial start of the litigation campaign. In the two weeks since, courts in several other states have issued notable decisions about conducting elections during a pandemic, and a host of new lawsuits has been filed. “Before I’d ever heard of the coronavirus, I was convinced that this was going to be a record year for litigation,” said University of California, Irvine law professor Richard Hasen. “Now I’m even surer of that fact.” Voting-rights fights have been growing for years, a function of tighter voting regulations in several Republican-led states, intense partisanship and a realization that electoral rules can affect outcomes in close races. The cases have nearly tripled since 2000, the year of the Bush v. Gore showdown, Mr. Hasen said. According to his new book “Election Meltdown,” the 2018 election year saw a record 394 cases, surprisingly high for a nonpresidential cycle.

National: Voting by mail in the spotlight as U.S. Congress debates how to secure November elections | Richard Cowan/Reuters

Congress is scrambling for ways to safeguard the Nov. 3 U.S. elections amid the coronavirus pandemic, with a partisan fight shaping up over a Democratic proposal to require states to offer the option of voting by mail. President Donald Trump, seeking re-election this year, and some of his fellow Republicans have voiced opposition to expanded voting by mail, citing concern over ballot fraud – a worry that Democrats dispute. Democrats have said election procedures will need to change this year because many voters will be reluctant to stand in long lines or enter crowded polling sites for fear of infection. In recent years, Democrats also have accused Republicans of pursuing policies in some states to make voting more difficult in a bid to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters. Congressional Democrats are pushing for additional funding for election aid to states in the next round of coronavirus-response legislation expected to be crafted by lawmakers in the coming weeks.

Arkansas: State finds cash to buy 9 counties voting gear; cost of equipment estimated at $2.7M | Michael R. Wickline/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Secretary of State John Thurston’s office has decided to use state and federal funds to pay for new voting equipment in the nine Arkansas counties that don’t have updated equipment for the Nov. 3 general election. The counties, initially, were to share a portion of the costs for new equipment. “Given the impact the covid-19 pandemic has had across the state, the secretary of state’s office has had to reassess our plan in working with the remaining nine counties for new election equipment,” said Kevin Niehaus, public relations director for the Republican secretary of state. “With the counties needing to realign their fiscal priorities, it became apparent to us that fully funding the election equipment for these counties was the only viable option,” he said in a written statement. “With the integrity of our elections at stake, having all 75 counties working off the new equipment has always been a top priority.” The nine counties are Bradley, Conway, Fulton, Jefferson, Lee, Monroe, Newton, Searcy and Stone.

Connecticut: Presidential primary pushed back two more months to Aug. 11 due to coronavirus concerns | Christopher Keating/Hartford Courant

In a second delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut’s presidential primary will be pushed back to Aug. 11. Gov. Ned Lamont made the announcement Friday that he was acting in concert with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the state’s chief elections official, to postpone the date by an additional two months. The primary was originally scheduled for April 28, the same day as New York, Rhode Island and other states, but Lamont pushed that back to June 2. He then made the second postponement Friday. The state has already set aside Aug. 11 as the day for Republican and Democratic primaries for Congress, state legislature and local offices. As a result, towns will save money by opening polling places once, instead of twice. Since local conventions have not yet been held, the candidates for those primaries will not be settled until the coming weeks and months.

Missouri: Civil rights groups sue Missouri in effort to expand absentee voting amid pandemic | Austin Huguelet/Springfield News-Leader

Civil rights groups sued state and local election authorities Friday in an effort to ensure people can vote by mail if they’re staying home amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a lawsuit filed Friday, plaintiffs led by the ACLU of Missouri asked a judge to declare that state law allowing someone to vote absentee due to “incapacity or confinement due to illness” applies to people sheltering in place. Currently, it’s not clear that’s the case, creating confusion with municipal contests all over the state set for June 2. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican and the state’s top elections official, has declined to clarify the issue, saying it’s not his place.

New Hampshire: Officials grapple with how to prepare for mail-in voting in November | Patrick O’Grady/Granite State News Collaborative

What was once reserved for a narrowly defined group in New Hampshire, absentee balloting for the state primary on Sept. 8 and general election on Nov. 3 is now essentially open to every voter in the state as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That could mean a flood of absentee ballots that would have to be processed on Election Day, the only day they can be opened under current state law. “We are probably going to get inundated with absentee ballots,” Laconia City Clerk Cheryl Hebert said, echoing a similar concern expressed by other clerks. State law lays out in detail the absentee balloting process, including voter eligibility. Before that eligibility was expanded on April 10 to allow anyone concerned with the coronavirus to vote absentee, only voters who would be out of town on Election Day, unable to vote at the polls because of employment, had a physical disability or claimed a religious observance could receive the privilege.

Pennsylvania: Counties home to more than a third of Pennsylvania voters calling for mail-only primary | Emily Previti/PA Post

Officials in more than a dozen Pennsylvania counties home to nearly 3 million voters are calling for an all-mail primary election.  These officials, who serve more than a third of the state’s registered voters, say they know there’s a chance that a June 2 primary with in-person voting will be a problem if coronavirus restrictions are still in place. So they want the state to decide soon whether the election will proceed normally, be switched to mail-only, or be postponed again. On one side are election officials who believe voting entirely by mail would be safest and most practical. Right away, it would resolve problems some counties say they’re having in recruiting and retaining enough poll workers to staff voting locations. Counties also report that venues that host polling places are declining to open their doors for the primary.

Utah: House OKs Holding Primary Entirely by Mail Amid Coronavirus | Lindsay Whitehurst/Associated Press

In the face of a global pandemic, the Utah House voted to run an upcoming primary election entirely by mail Thursday and temporarily do away with traditional polling places. The proposal now goes to the state Senate ahead of the June 30 primary that will be key in choosing the next governor. A crowded field of candidates, including Republicans Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former U.S. Russia ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., are competing for the seat open for the first time in more than a decade. Lawmakers weighed in during their first virtual special session, held remotely to address the coronavirus pandemic that has caused widespread shutdowns around the country to try and halt the spread of the disease. The Legislature is considering proposals on everything from budgets to the balance of power during the meeting that continues Friday. Most of conservative Utah already votes by mail, in contrast with the by-mail voting skepticism from national Republicans like President Donald Trump.

Virginia: State sued over witness requirement for absentee ballots | Denise Lavoie/Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday asked a federal court to block Virginia election officials from requiring that absentee voters find a witness to watch them sign their ballots, citing the social distancing guidelines prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. In a lawsuit filed on behalf of three voters and the League of Women Voters, the ACLU argues the witness requirement could force absentee voters who live alone to choose between not voting or risking their health by asking another person to come to their homes to witness their signatures. Under state law, any voter who submits an absentee ballot by mail must open the envelope containing the ballot in front of another person, fill out the ballot and then ask the witness to sign the outside of the ballot envelope before it is mailed.

Wisconsin: Election commission to look into unreturned absentee ballots | Ashley Luthern/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Wisconsin Elections Commission unanimously agreed Saturday to dig deeper into the issue of unreturned absentee ballots in the state’s controversial April 7 election. Of the absentee ballots requested in the spring election, 1.1 million — about 88% — were returned and counted, while 135,417 ballots were never returned, according to the latest data provided Saturday by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Commission Chairman Dean Knudson noted the average absentee ballot return rate is 80 to 85% for state elections. “My point here is while much has been made of this, we actually had a higher than the historical average percentage of valid return,” Knudson said. But the raw number of unreturned ballots went up because so many more people tried to vote absentee because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Mali: Covid-19, jihadist threats and kidnapping fail to stop Mali vote | AFP

Polls opened in Mali Sunday for the final round of legislative elections aimed at reviving public faith in the country’s embattled institutions despite a bloody jihadist conflict and the coronavirus pandemic. Voters in Mali, one of the world’s most impoverished nations with a population of 19 million, were casting their ballots in the runoff for 147 seats in the National Assembly. The elections have been repeatedly delayed, eroding trust in institutions as the country struggles with an Islamist revolt that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated threats, with Mali recording 13 deaths out of more than 200 cases, a relatively low toll, but one that experts warn is likely to rise.

Singapore: Political parties issued advisories on foreign interference and cyber security attacks ahead of next General Election | Linette Lai/The Straits Times

Political parties have been issued advisories on the threat of foreign interference and cyber security attacks ahead of the next general election, with the authorities urging parties to stay vigilant and take precautions to mitigate such risks. “Political parties play an important role in safeguarding the integrity of our general election,” said the Home Affairs Ministry, Cyber Security Agency of Singapore and Elections Department in a joint statement on Monday (April 20). “They should enhance their understanding of the threat of foreign interference, and their cyber security posture.” Parties should also learn what they can do to protect their information technology infrastructure, online and social media accounts, and the storage and management of their data, they said. The authorities added that political parties should also monitor their platforms for suspicious activity and not re-share posts or tweets of suspicious provenance.