National: Voting machine manufacturers pushed to provide ways to sanitize products | Maggie Miller/The Hill

The top U.S. voting machine manufacturers are being pushed to produce videos and information on how their products can be sanitized to enable Americans to safely vote in-person during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Six leading voting equipment manufacturers were sent a letter Thursday by nonprofit group Free Speech for People, which raised concerns that voting machines could become a “major disease vector” for spreading the coronavirus during upcoming primaries and the general election. As a result, the group asked the manufacturers to produce videos detailing how to properly clean voting equipment and post them online, along with allowing third-party groups to examine whether the steps to clean the equipment were effective and safe. “We make these requests because we are deeply concerned about the health risk that electronic voting machines pose to voters,” Free Speech for People wrote.

National: 2020 Was Already Expected to Be A Record Year for Election-Related Lawsuits—Then Coronavirus Happened | Alexandra Hutzler/Newsweek

The drive to expand vote-by-mail options amid the coronavirus pandemic has caused a major spike in lawsuits in what was already expected to be a banner year for election-related litigation. “Even before the virus hit, I was predicting that 2020 would see a record level of election-related litigation,” Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, told Newsweek. “So it is not a surprise that the virus is spurring even more litigation, both over virus-related changes to election dates and procedures and also to litigate over the meaning of existing rules in light of the pandemic,” he added. In the past two months since the COVID-19 outbreak became a global health crisis, dozens of lawsuits related to the 2020 election have popped up around the country. In the past week alone, voting rights litigation has been filed in Texas, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Wisconsin: Elections Commission urges absentee voting for Special Election May 12 | WSAW

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is urging anyone who is concerned about COVID-19 exposure to make plans now to vote absentee for the May 12 Special Election in 7th Congressional District. “If they are concerned about going to the polls on Election Day, registered voters should request an absentee ballot as soon as possible,” stated Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s chief elections official. nThe deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is Thursday, May 7, but Wolfe said voters should not wait until then because processing or postal delays could make it difficult to receive and return the ballot by May 12.

National: Did we order enough envelopes? Vote-by-mail advocates worry time is running out to prepare | Kevin Collier/NBC

Some of the most ardent supporters of voting by mail have a warning: Time is running out to prepare for the November election. Officials who want to offer far more voters the option of mailing in their ballots are running out of time to make that option a reality, experts warned Wednesday during a livestreamed hearing hosted by the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency tasked with giving states guidance on how to effectively conduct their elections. Panelists cautioned that while voting by mail can be a safe and effective option for many Americans, preparations to do so take substantial investments of time and money, made more difficult by the fact that most election officials are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Scanning machines, ballots and even envelopes can become roadblocks if states do act soon enough. “I’m one of the biggest advocates for vote-by-mail and absentee voting,” said Kim Wyman, the secretary of state of Washington state, which is widely regarded as a leader in transitioning to a full vote-by-mail system.

National: EAC Commissioners urge immediate action to protect voting amid coronavirus | Mark Albert/KETV

Federal election leaders called an urgent hearing in Washington D.C. Wednesday to find out how to keep America’s elections safe from the coronavirus, and how to protect voting. At a hastily-called virtual hearing, the U.S. election assistance commission Wednesday focused on how elections in all states will be affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping…

National: ‘We can’t afford to wait’: coronavirus could shut out droves of new US voters | Sam Levine/The Guardian

In a typical election year, canvassers across the country would be beginning to fan out on street corners, college campuses, concerts and rallies to pepper Americans with a simple question: “Are you registered to vote?” This early work is critical to campaigns trying to build a support base for election day. But this year, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it nearly impossible to register new voters. Limited voter registration is most likely to affect young people, minority groups, and naturalized immigrants, groups projected to contribute to record-high turnout in November. Freezing them out is likely to benefit Republicans, who tend to see a more diverse and younger electorate as a threat. In Kentucky, where Mitch McConnell faces a closely-watched Senate re-election battle in November, just 504 people registered in March as Covid-19 restrictions went in to effect. By comparison, more than 7,200 voters registered the month before. Meanwhile, more states are turning to vote-by-mail amid the pandemic, relying on voter registration rolls to send out election materials. Those unable to register might not get their applications, or ballots, in time.

Voting Blogs: What are costs of voting by mail? The costs are as varied as the process | M. Mindy Moretti/electionline Weekly

The next time you fly, whenever that may eventually be, if you ask everyone on the flight how much they paid for their ticket, you’ll get a different answer from just about every passenger. The same can be said for how much it costs to conduct an election entirely or mostly by mail. It’s a bit different for every jurisdiction. Election costs are traditionally difficult to gather given the dispersed nature of funding sources — federal dollars, state reimbursements, fees for services, general funds, etc.— as well as the functions across different governmental agencies (in some states). Another obstacle is the way we talk about elections. The same term is used to describe different things (IE “early voting”) so it isn’t as easy as simply comparing election office budgets. “However, if we break it down to the bare materials and functions—those specific to the policy being analyzed, we can get a semblance of understanding of baseline costs,” said Tammy Patrick senior advisor, Elections at the Democracy Fund. Additionally, Patrick noted, the answer sought needs to be specified in order to ask the correct question. For instance, there is a difference between “what does it cost to conduct an all-mail election” and “what costs are specific to an all-mail election”?

Georgia: State may spend election relief money on drop boxes and safety gear | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia is slated to receive nearly $11 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for elections this year, money that could be used for protective gear, high-speed ballot scanners and absentee ballot drop boxes. Election officials are also planning to buy sanitation supplies and equipment that can quickly determine voter intent on absentee ballots that are in question, wrote Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a funding request letter to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In addition, the state will reimburse counties for emergency election expenses.“Our team is putting voters first,” said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs. “This funding will allow us to beef up security and delivery of absentee ballots, and provide a safer in-person voting experience for voters and poll workers alike.”The money comes from $2 trillion — including $400 million for elections — for coronavirus relief that was approved by Congress on March 26 and signed by President Donald Trump the next day. Georgia’s share of the federal money must be matched by $2.1 million in state funds, bringing its total election relief amount to about $13 million.The secretary of state’s office has already spent millions of dollars to encourage remote voting in the June 9 primary, sending absentee ballot request forms to Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters. That program costs over $3 million, plus between $1.88 and $2.38 per absentee ballot mailed, depending on the size of each ballot.

Georgia: Fulton County elections employee dies of COVID-19 before Georgia primary | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A Fulton County elections employee has died from COVID-19 and a voter registration manager was hospitalized, slowing the county’s ability to handle a flood of absentee ballot requests for Georgia’s June 9 primary. Beverly Walker, a registration officer, died April 15 at age 62, said Fulton Elections Director Richard Barron.Registration Chief Ralph Jones also suffered coughing and shortness of breath, symptoms associated with COVID-19. Jones was treated at a hospital for low oxygen levels and was released after less than a day.The Fulton elections office closed for two days last week for deep cleaning and decontamination, Barron said.About 113,000 Fulton voters have submitted absentee ballot request forms so they can vote by mail, Barron said, but just 10,738 of them had been processed through Wednesday.“With this mortality rate, this is really nothing to play around with,” Barron said. “What are we going to do if a voter is in line that’s exhibiting symptoms? Are we allowed to use non-contact thermometers to take people’s temperature? Are we allowed to send someone home if they’re in line with a fever?” Barron said further guidance is needed to ensure the safety of voters and poll workers.

North Carolina: Elections officials work to prepare for voting during a pandemic, in the shadow of an election fraud scandal | Emily Featherston/WECT

This year was always going to be a challenging one for those working in North Carolina elections, as 2020 promises to bring massive turnout. With cases of the novel coronavirus continuing to climb the prospects of running a “normal” general election have flown out the window. Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, says her agency is doing what it can to prepare. “We don’t know what the situation is going to be in November,” she said, specifically referencing the rate of infection. “So our job as election professionals, anytime, is to prepare for the worst case scenario, and so that’s what we’re doing.” In the short term, that means gearing up for two elections scheduled for June 23: a runoff in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, and a new Republican primary for Columbus County Commission District 2. Under normal circumstances those races would have been held in mid May, but Bell said they were pushed back after the NCSBE staff talked with state health and emergency officials.

North Dakota: All eligible voters to receive ballots by mail for June 9 primary | The Dickinson Press

North Dakota voters will be receiving their ballots by mail for the June 9 primary election, state officials announced Thursday, April 23. County commissions in all of the 53 counties have authorized vote by mail for the election as a measure to reduce the public’s risk of exposure to COVID-19, according to a release from the North Dakota Association of Counties. On March 26, Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order encouraging counties to use Vote by Mail for the June 9 election. The executive order suspends the requirement for counties to have at least one physical polling location. In response, every county has decided to administer the primary election by vote by mail only, and reservation counties have been working with tribal governments on the process, the release said.  No polling locations will be open for the primary election and all ballots will be issued through the mail.

Ohio: Elections officials: Mail delays could result in some voters not getting ballots before April 28 primary | Andrew J. Tobias/Cleveland Plain Dealer

Ohio elections officials say delays with the United States Postal Service could cause some voters to not get their ballots on time send them in for next Tuesday’s vote-by-mail primary election. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Thursday his office has received “wide reports” of first-class mail, which normally takes 1-3 days, taking as long as a week or more. That could mean delays in delivery of voters’ ballot applications, which are due Saturday, as well as in the return of ballots, which must be postmarked by Monday, or physically delivered to county boards of elections by 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday in order to count. “As you can imagine, these delays mean it is very possible that many Ohioans who have requested a ballot may not receive it in time,” LaRose said in a Thursday letter to members of Ohio’s congressional delegation. (Scroll down to read the entire letter.)  The Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t know exactly how many ballots may be affected.

Pennsylvania: A key Democratic group is suing to ease Pennsylvania’s vote-by-mail laws | Jonathan Tamari/Philadelphia Inquirer

A major Democratic political group is backing a new lawsuit aiming to make it easier to vote by mail in Pennsylvania because of the coronavirus crisis. The suit was filed Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans and funded by Priorities USA, the main super PAC supporting likely presidential nominee Joe Biden. The suit cites obstacles created by the pandemic — including health risks for voters and poll workers — as requiring expanded mail voting. … The lawsuit is part of a national fight around voting laws, one that has become increasingly critical as the coronavirus has disrupted elections. Both parties are scrambling to adapt for elections almost certain to rely heavily on mail-in voting. The Pennsylvania suit prominently cites the April 7 primary election fiasco in Wisconsin, where numerous polling places were closed, state officials were overwhelmed by a flood of mail-in ballot requests, and many ballots did not reach voters in time, leading to long lines at polling sites, despite a stay-at-home order.

Pennsylvania: Paper ballots at Crawford County polling places for June 2 election | Keith Gushard/Meadville Tribune

It will be paper ballots at Crawford County’s polling precincts during Pennsylvania’s primary election, now scheduled for June 2. Crawford County Board of Elections members voted unanimously Wednesday to move a paper ballot format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The switch will allow for a less potential spread of the virus than using the electronic voting machines, according to board members. The electronic voting machines would require cleaning of touch screens after each use by a voter which could slow the process. However, each of the county’s 68 precincts still will have an electronic voting machine to comply with federal handicapped-accessibility laws, said Rebecca Little, director of the county’s Election and Voter Services Office.

West Virginia: Governor again urges in-person voting over mail-in absentee | Jeff Jenkins /WV MetroNews

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Secretary of State Mac Warner issued a joint fraud alert Thursday in connection with the June 9 Primary Election while Gov. Jim Justice continued to encourage voters to choose in-person voting over mail-in absentee. Morrisey said the fraud alert is taking an additional step to protect voters. “We know that fraud occurs more frequently when we’re dealing with some of these mail-in absentee ballots,” Morrisey said. All voters in West Virginia have the option to request a mail-in absentee ballot because of the coronavirus pandemic. The voters have received postcards from the county clerks in their counties. Clerks will begin mailing ballots out next week. Gov. Justice used his daily media briefing Thursday to once again urge voters to choose to go to the polls in person on June 9.