National: Coronavirus boosts push for online voting despite security risks – It’s “the wrong direction to defend our democracy,” one cyber expert says. | Eric Geller/Politico

Three states will let some of their voters cast ballots online in the coming weeks — a trend that has gained momentum from the coronavirus pandemic but threatens to introduce new security risks into the nation’s already vulnerable elections. Delaware said this week that it will allow residents with disabilities to vote online during its June primaries, while New Jersey said it would do the same for this month’s nonpartisan municipal elections. West Virginia, whose primary is also in June, previously announced plans to offer internet voting for overseas residents, military service members and voters with disabilities. The modest increase in internet voting is yet another example of how the pandemic has upended priorities across the United States, four years after Russian hacking inspired a nationwide effort to deploy more secure, paper-based voting machines. Now, the virus is turning in-person voting into a health risk — and some election officials are exploring online voting as one alternative, despite extensive warnings from cybersecurity experts that the technology poses dangers no one has been able to solve. “I hope that other states will exercise caution rather than jumping on the bandwagon,” said Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University who helps draft federal voting-system standards. “We need to defend our elections against nation-state adversaries. Moving toward online voting is the wrong direction to defend our democracy.”

Louisiana: All-mail voting rejected for primary | Paige Daniel and Abigail Hendren/Houma Today

The question of how Louisiana will run its 2020 primary election in the middle of a pandemic is a divisive one. In deciding on Tuesday to delay Louisiana’s presidential primary to July 11, the Legislature insisted that state election officials scale back plans to rely less on in-person voting and more on mail voting to reduce the health risks. Three blue states–Washington, Oregon and Colorado–conduct all of their elections through mail-in votes, and four red states–Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Alaska–are joining them this year in conducting their presidential primaries entirely through mail ballots. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, 28 other states have announced plans to increase access to absentee ballots or take other actions to keep voters from lining up at polling places. Republican legislators expressed concern that more mail-in ballots could increase the potential for voter fraud. But national election experts say there have been few instances of fraud as other states have expanded voting by mail. And even once the risks from the virus ease, they say, Louisiana could increase voter turnout if it made greater use of alternative voting methods.

National: Ballot Printers Increase Capacity To Prepare For Mail Voting Surge | Pam Fessler/NPR

More Americans than ever before are expected to vote by mail this year because of concerns about the coronavirus. One challenge facing election officials now: how to print and mail the millions of ballots voters are expected to request in the coming months.  Nearly a quarter of the 136 million presidential ballots cast 2016 were mailed in. That number could easily grow to well over half this year, especially if the health risk continues.  With many states expected to expand mail-in voting for November, experts warn that existing ballot printing services could quickly become overwhelmed. One of of the biggest such vendors in the country is Runbeck Election Services. The company’s 90,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix, Ariz., is already bustling, and things are expected to get a lot busier soon. “This year we are going to mail probably around 40 to 50 million pieces. We’ll print probably close to 80 million, up to 100 million pieces when you count inserts,” said Jeff Ellington, the company’s president and chief operating officer. He gave NPR a virtual tour of the facility via FaceTime because pandemic travel restrictions prevented an in-person visit. Ellington explained that getting ballots to the right voters is a complicated, multi-step process. States need to decide what their ballots will look like and to get approval from the U.S. Postal Service for the design of the envelopes. After those envelopes are secured, companies like Runbeck step in.

National: County election officials detail massive costs of remote voting | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

State and local officials are facing a mountain of new costs as they prepare to hold elections during the coronavirus pandemic — and money provided by Congress so far doesn’t come close to covering it. Lawmakers approved $400 million for elections in last month’s coronavirus stimulus bill. But running elections safely and securely through November will cost at least $414 million in just five states — Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to a new analysis from election security experts. In each of those states, the federal money covers less than 20 percent of what’s needed and often closer to 10 percent, according to the report from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, the R Street Institute and the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security. States are facing severe funding shortfalls during the pandemic and are unlikely to be able to make up the difference. “What Congress has provided to our election officials to run elections in a pandemic does not come close to what’s needed,” Elizabeth Howard, counsel in the Brennan Center’s democracy program and a former deputy commissioner for the Virginia Department of Elections, said during a call with reporters.

National: States Race to Ready Covid-Era Balloting Ahead of November | Fola Akinnibi/Bloomberg

A steady stream of elections beginning this month will give officials a peek into what administering 2020’s main event may look like as some states push for more federal aid to prepare for voting in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. Through September, elections will be held in 45 states and the District of Columbia to decide everything from mayoral contests to presidential primaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many are taking steps now, months earlier than usual, to prepare for the November presidential contest, as officials look to avoid missteps made in states that have held elections during the pandemic. At least seven people in Wisconsin have been diagnosed with the virus after the state’s Republican legislature overruled calls by Governor Tony Evers to postpone its April primary and a poll worker in Illinois tested positive and died after working the March 17 primary. States need to provide personal protective equipment for poll workers, enforce social distancing, ensure that vote-by-mail is an option and secure enough resources to properly count votes, said Danielle Root, associate director of voting rights and access to justice at the Center for American Progress. “Wisconsin should really serve as a warning to all elected officials,” Root said. “It is critically important that we start planning now to ensure we are ready for November. The best option right now is to plan for the worst.”

National: Postal Service, beset by funding woes, faces new fight over mail-in voting | Max Greenwood/The Hill

Advocates and experts fear the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) could find itself caught in the crosshairs of the emerging partisan fight over mail-in voting. Democrats are pressing for increased funding for by-mail ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing concerns about voters and workers congregating at polling stations. President Trump, meanwhile, threatened last month to block emergency COVID-19 assistance for the Postal Service if it did not raise its prices to cover a growing hole in its budget that could see the agency run out of money by end of the fiscal year. Trump reversed course late last week, vowing to “never let our Post Office fail.” His earlier remarks, however, raised alarm among state and federal officials and voting rights advocates, who see those warnings to the Postal Service as implicitly linked to the 2020 elections. Should the agency turn to layoffs or service reductions to cut costs, they argue, mail-in voting could be disrupted and millions of voters could be disenfranchised. “This is not and should not be a partisan or political issue. Both blue states and red states rely on the Postal Service to deliver ballots to and from voters,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat, told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday. “We shouldn’t be playing politics with the postal service because it will disenfranchise and suppress voters.”

National: The Pandemic Is Crushing Voter-Registration Efforts | Ronald Brownstein/The Atlantic

Gamers playing nintendo’s animal crossing encountered an unusual sight late one afternoon last week. The massively popular online video game allows participants to customize their appearance, and in their onscreen avatar, some of the players were sporting political swag. A few wore T-shirts with the name nextgen or nga, for the liberal organizing group NextGen America. Some wore hats that read vote. And some stood beside virtual booths, like the kind you’d see at a carnival, that advertised the Tom Steyer–backed organization. NextGen, which Steyer, the erstwhile presidential candidate, founded in 2013 to engage young voters, recruited the players by posting notices on Twitter and in Facebook groups devoted to the game. About 60 users agreed to tout the group’s cause as they played; one even built a podium and delivered a short address through the chat function about the importance of registering to vote. The Animal Crossing event took place the day before Earth Day, when NextGen normally would have held an in-person voter-registration rally, likely featuring remarks from a political leader, says Mark Riffenburg, the group’s director in Nevada, who helped organize the event. Instead, with such outreach shelved by the coronavirus outbreak, the group tried to broadcast its message to the many players who spend hours inside the game building digital neighborhoods, buying and selling virtual crops, and interacting with anthropomorphic animals. At political events, Riffenburg says, “you are used to having a senator. But now it is a squirrel.”

Editorials: How to Hold a Fair Election in November | Jonathan Bernstein/Bloomberg

There’s no question about it: Holding successful elections under current conditions is going to be difficult. The good news is that a group of experts put together by election-law maven Rick Hasen, the Ad Hoc Committee for 2020 Election Fairness and Legitimacy, has thought through many of the major issues and published solid recommendations for getting it right this November. Now we’ll see whether politicians and the media will follow through. How to work around the pandemic? What’s needed, Hasen’s group says, is an approach that allows for several methods of voting. Mail voting should be an important piece of this, and no-excuse absentee voting (meaning you don’t have to explain why you are casting your ballot that way) extended to those states that don’t have it. The overall strategy: “Having a diversity of avenues for voting — in-person, absentee, curbside, on-site at hospitals and other such facilities — enhances the stability of the system, maximizing the likelihood that elections may continue despite whatever unexpected threat emerges.” No one knows how difficult in-person voting will be by the fall, but states should prepare for the worst — and Congress should immediately provide emergency funding, with up to $2 billion needed.

Alabama: Lawsuit seeks to expand Alabama voting options amid outbreak | Brian Lyman/Montgomery Advertiser

Three civil rights organizations filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to loosen some absentee voting requirements and overturn bans on curbside voting amid the COVID-19 outbreak.  The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC); the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) filed the lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs, including four voters with medical conditions that would leave them vulnerable to COVID-19 if required to vote in-person. “This burden on the right to vote will fall more heavily upon certain groups—older people, persons with disabilities, and Black Alabamians, among others,” the lawsuit said. The lawsuit names Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey; Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and 4 county election officials as defendants. Ivey and Merrill’s offices said in separate statements on Friday afternoon that they had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

California: State Prepares for An All Vote-by-Mail Election in November | Ben Christopher/CalMatters

This coming November, every one of California’s more than 20 million registered voters may receive a ballot in the mail — whether they ask for one or not. In fact, many election administrators and advocates say it’s inevitable. “It’s not a question of ‘if,’ said Kim Alexander, the president of the California Voter Foundation. “But ‘how.’” California is already ahead of the curve when it comes to voting from home. In the March primary election, 75% of voters got a ballot in their mailbox. But the exigencies of social distancing are putting pressure on state lawmakers to round that up to 100%, ensuring that every registered voter has the option to cast a ballot without having to physically crowd into a polling place. A bill from Palo Alto Democratic Assemblyman Marc Berman would ensure just that. But with most state legislators sheltering in place until at least early May, all eyes are on the governor who, with an executive order, could make the upcoming election an all-mail affair.

Delaware: State piloting new internet-based voting system for disabled, overseas voters | Sophia Schmidt/Delaware First Media

Delaware is piloting a new electronic ballot marking and cloud-based storage system for a limited population of voters during its presidential primary next month.  So far more than 700 disabled or overseas voters have cast absentee ballots for the upcoming election using the system — which is made by Democracy Live and stored in an Amazon Web Services environment, according to State Election Commissioner Anthony Albence. A couple hundred more have used the tool to mark their ballots, then submitted them by email, mail or fax. Albence says his Department has been happy with the system’s performance so far. Last week NPR reported Delaware is the second state to try internet- or cloud-based voting for small portions of its electorate. Albence notes the state has accepted votes trasmitted over email before. Still, he rejects the term “internet voting” to describe the new Democracy Live system. Cybersecurity experts disagree. “With any system like what Delaware is doing, the entire voting system now for these voters is taking place online,” said J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science and engineering at University of Michigan and co-founder of an internet security company. “That means all of the risks of foreign hacking are unfortunately at play.”

Georgia: Judge upholds postage requirement on Georgia ballots for June primary | Maya T. Prabhu/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A federal judge ruled that requiring postage on mailed absentee ballots for the June primary is not an unconstitutional poll tax on Georgia voters, but she said she will consider changes in future elections. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg said that removing the postage requirement would be difficult for the state to implement so close to the June 9 primary and confusing to voters who had already received their absentee ballots.The lawsuit by Black Voters Matter, a group founded in 2016 to increase African American voter registration and turnout, sued Secretary of State Brad Raffersperger after postage was not included.The group asked the judge to rule that the cost of voting by mail creates a barrier for those unwilling to risk buying stamps or voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic. Attorneys for Raffensperger said the cost of a stamp won’t stop anyone from voting. Attorneys for the organization suggested the state include postage stamps or business reply mail stickers, establish a website where voters could request a paid return envelope or place a secure drop box location at every post office in the state. Totenberg said she will consider whether the state should waive the postage requirement in future elections.

Kentucky: Voters will get free postage for their absentee ballots | Jack Brammer/Lexington Herald Leader

Kentuckians who decide to use absentee voting by mail for the June 23 primary election will not have to pay for postage, and county clerks will be able to hire temporary help to manage the unsual election during the coronavirus pandemic. The State Board of Elections unanimously adopted the free postage and additional help for county clerks in a set of emergency regulations at a special meeting conducted online Friday morning. Gov. Andy Beshear, after working out a plan with Secretary of State Michael Adams to conduct the election, signed an executive order last week that calls on all voters to use absentee voting by mail if they can. State lawmakers last month made sure that Adams, a Republican, and Beshear, a Democrat, both have a say in how the election will be conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beshear had vetoed language that required he and Adams to agree on a plan, but the Republican-led legislature overrode his veto. Beshear’s order said the State Board of Elections will come up with emergency regulations to provide for expanded absentee voting by mail.

Michigan: Interim deal reached in election lawsuit by blind voters | Associated Press

Michigan election officials have agreed to allow blind voters to use software to complete an absentee ballot in local elections Tuesday. The deal filed in federal court Friday is a temporary fix in an ongoing lawsuit. Blind voters will have an opportunity to request an absentee ballot typically reserved for military personnel or citizens who are out of the country. The ballots can be completed using electronic reader software, the Secretary of State office said. The ballots still must be delivered to a local election clerk by Tuesday night. They can also be picked up or mailed. They’ll count if postmarked by Tuesday.

Nebraska: State will open voting sites for primary despite concerns | Grant Schulte/Associated Press

Nebraska is forging ahead with plans to hold the nation’s first in-person election in more than a month, despite health concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and allegations that political motivations are fueling opposition to an all-mail approach. Barring an unexpected change, Nebraska’s primary will take place on May 12 — five weeks after Wisconsin held the last in-person balloting when courts sided with Republican legislators who pushed for that election to go forward. Republicans who hold all statewide offices and control the Legislature have encouraged people to cast early, absentee ballots. However, they argue state law requires polling sites to be open and that it’s important for voters to have a choice for how they vote, even amid health concerns. As Secretary of State Bob Evnen put it last month, “I don’t think Nebraskans are going to stay away from the polls or not vote because of a microbe.” Gov. Pete Ricketts agreed, arguing that to do otherwise would “disenfranchise voters who want to go to the polls,” and noting that elections were previously held despite wars and pandemics.

North Carolina: Western North Carolina counties adjust second primary plans due to pandemic | Jordan Wilkie/Carolina Public Press

Several Western North Carolina counties are sharply cutting the number of polling places for the June 23 second primary in Congressional District 11. The counties, as well as the state Board of Elections, are also seeking additional rule changes and funding from the state legislature for election staffing, protective gear, cleaning supplies and mail-in ballot processing. This situation offers a potential preview for statewide changes that could be in order if the COVID-19 pandemic is not resolved in time for the general election. At least four counties — Madison, Mitchell, Transylvania and Yancey — have had polling place closures approved by the state Board of Elections, with Buncombe expecting its request to be approved shortly. Haywood County submitted an emergency plan for a stark reduction in polling places — from 29 to 11 — but will ask that it be approved only if the COVID-19 health crisis in that county significantly worsens, according to the county’s director of elections, Robert Inman. “Please bear in mind, we’re still in April,” Inman said earlier this week. “What happens and develops over the next several weeks, we just have to deal with as it happens. What’s happening today is absolutely no indication of what’s going to happen in days or weeks going forward.”

Pennsylvania: Counties could be overwhelmed by mail-in ballots, election directors warn | Emily Previti/PA Post

County election directors, anxious about how the coronavirus epidemic could affect the June 2 primary election, are calling on state lawmakers to step in to prevent chaos at the polls. But it may be too late for action by the legislature or Department of State to ensure voting goes smoothly, said Mercer County Elections Director Jeff Greenburg. “Counties were not built for this either administratively or through human capital,” Greenburg said. “There aren’t enough people or enough hours in a day, in many places, to overcome that.” Greenburg was one of three election directors who spoke Thursday during a virtual meeting of the state Senate’s State Government Committee to warn a wave of vote-by-mail applications could overwhelm elections offices that are already grappling with how to organize in-person voting while protecting poll workers and voters from exposure to the coronavirus. “The best solution might have been — and it may be too late to pivot now — to have simply mailed all registered voters a ballot,” he said. “That’s the only way to avoid a situation where counties will not be able to process all applications in a timely fashion.”

Rhode Island: State to open only 47 polling places statewide for presidential primary | Katherine Gregg/Providence Journal

Many fewer polling places will be open for Rhode Island’s June 2 presidential primary than in the past, amid a push to get more Rhode Islanders to vote by mail ballot. Earlier this week, the state Board of Elections, meeting remotely via Zoom, approved requests by the cities and towns to open 47 polling locations in the 39 cities and towns. In most communities there will be only one polling station. In Cranston and Warwick there will be two in Pawtucket there will be three, and in Providence four. By way of comparison, there were 144 polling places open statewide for Rhode Island’s 2016 presidential primary.

South Carolina: Citing COVID-19 threat to African Americans, 3rd lawsuit filed to expand mail voting | John Monk and Emma Dumain/The State

Alleging drastic circumstances — especially heightened dangers to African Americans — in the time of the coronavirus, a third lawsuit seeking to expand all voters’ rights to vote absentee in South Carolina’s June 9 primary and November general election was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Columbia. This lawsuit — brought by the Democratic National Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and the S.C. Democratic Party — is the third in two weeks seeking expanded absentee ballot rights. The lawsuit alleges that racial bias in S.C. laws and history make it difficult for African Americans to vote, especially during the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also the second suit filed by the DCCC the S.C. Democratic Party, which a week earlier filed a suit with the S.C. State Supreme Court asking for an expansion of mail-in voting along with two S.C. Democratic candidates running in contested primaries in June.

Tennessee: Groups sue to expand absentee voting amid COVID-19 pandemic | Adam Tamburin/Nashville Tennessean

A coalition of Tennessee nonprofits sued the state Friday in an effort to expand access to absentee voting and mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tennessee’s limits on voting by mail force voters to “choose between risking their health by voting in person, or forgoing their right to vote entirely,” the federal lawsuit stated. “Tennessee voters must be permitted to cast their ballots without subjecting themselves to unnecessary exposure to a pandemic disease.” In Tennessee, absentee voting is mostly limited to people who are sick, disabled, traveling, or 60 or older. The plaintiffs called on a judge to ease absentee voting restrictions, which they called unconstitutional. The lawsuit also challenged laws that can disqualify some absentee ballots and limit groups’ abilities to help people get mail-in ballots.

Wisconsin: Tens of thousands of ballots that arrived after Election Day were counted, thanks to court decisions | Amy Gardner, Dan Simmons and Robert Barnes/The Washington Post

Early last month, voters in Wisconsin navigated a dizzying number of rule changes governing the state’s spring elections as officials tussled over the risks of the novel coronavirus, prompting a backlog of absentee ballot requests and fears that many would not be able to participate. But in the end, tens of thousands of mail ballots that arrived after the April 7 presidential primaries and spring elections were counted by local officials, a review by The Washington Post has found — the unexpected result of last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Milwaukee and Madison alone, the state’s two largest cities, more than 10 percent of all votes counted, nearly 21,000 ballots, arrived by mail after April 7, according to data provided by local election officials. The surprising outcome after warnings that many Wisconsinites would be disenfranchised amid the pandemic was the result of a largely unexamined aspect of the court’s decision that temporarily changed which ballots were counted. Because of the order, election officials for the first time tallied absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day, rather than just those received by then — underscoring the power of narrow court decisions to significantly shape which votes are counted.