National: Will Americans Lose Their Right to Vote in the Pandemic? | Emily Bazelon/The New York Times

In March, as a wave of states began delaying their spring primaries because of the coronavirus, Wisconsin’s election, scheduled for April 7, loomed. The ballot for that day included the presidential primary, thousands of local offices and four statewide judgeships, including a key seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. On March 17, the day after Ohio postponed its spring election, voting rights groups asked Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, to do the same. “No one wanted the election to happen more than us, but it felt like this wave was about to hit our communities,” Angela Lang, the founder and executive director of the Milwaukee group Black Leaders Organizing for Community, a nonprofit organization, told me. While Evers weighed the idea of postponement, BLOC encouraged residents to apply for absentee ballots, which any registered Wisconsin voter can do by requesting one online. But some voters were struggling to figure out how to upload their identification from their phones to the state’s MyVote website. City officials reported that they couldn’t keep up with the overwhelming demand for absentee ballots; applications in Milwaukee rose from a typical daily count of 100 or so to between 7,000 and 8,000. “People were waiting on their ballots and asking where they were,” Lang said. “We needed a plan. But we knew the governor was in a tough position with the Legislature.”

National: Is online voting the answer during a pandemic? Cybersecurity experts say no | Brooke Wolford/McClatchy

The coronavirus pandemic has created a need for a new way to hold elections, and while many states are considering vote-by-mail, some states are experimenting with “internet voting.” But some experts and officials from both parties worry that could put the security of the country’s elections at risk, according to NPR. Two states will allow some to vote online, both using technology from the Seattle-based company Democracy Live, NPR reported. Delaware became the latest state to allow voters with disabilities, voters overseas and military voters to use the cloud-based system, according to NPR. West Virginia passed a bill earlier this year allowing voters with disabilities to use the technology, following its decision to allow overseas and military voters to use an app to vote in the 2018 midterms, NPR reported. New Jersey is reportedly considering allowing it under the same circumstances, according to NPR. Eugene Spafford, Purdue University’s director emeritus of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance Security, released a statement expressing his concern about the growing list of municipalities choosing to use online voting software, according to a release from the university.

National: Some States Dabble in Online Voting, Weighing Pandemic Against Cybersecurity Concerns | Alexa Corse and Dustin Volz/Wall Street Journal

A few states are allowing some voters to cast ballots over the internet in coming elections, overriding concerns from cybersecurity experts about tampering or technical glitches as election officials grapple with voting amid the coronavirus pandemic. At least three states—Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia—will allow small slices of their electorates to use an online voting tool in presidential primaries or local elections. Those eligible chiefly include voters who are overseas, in the military, or sick or disabled. Particularly for those overseas and in the military, they would ordinarily vote by mail but that option could be hindered by the pandemic’s disruptions to postal services. At least two of these states looked into the option before the pandemic, and supporters say their efforts could promote wider adoption of online voting, particularly as states grapple with containing the pandemic. The move, if limited, shows how the pandemic is forcing some election officials to weigh protecting public safety along with cybersecurity in ways that seemed far-fetched a few months ago.

National: EAC on internet voting funds | Tim Starks/Politico

State election officials can use the grants they received in the CARES Act (H.R. 748) to fund internet voting projects, the Election Assistance Commission confirmed to MC on Friday. The rollout of internet voting is a permitted use of the grants if it is done “in response to [the] coronavirus and the 2020 election,” Mona Harrington, the agency’s acting executive director, said in an email to Eric. News that states can use the grants for internet voting, first reported by MC, comes as three states prepare to let some residents vote online in upcoming contests, with two of them adding the option due to the ongoing pandemic. Election security experts lambasted the decision, saying the government was effectively putting its seal of approval on a technology they consider highly dangerous. “To me, the purpose [of the grants] is to promote safety in elections and security in response to the COVID crisis — which should mean responsible vote-by-mail, early voting, and safe in-person voting options,” said Adam Ambrogi, a former EAC staffer who leads the elections program at the Democracy Fund. “The downside risks of moving in this direction are immense,” said Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer science professor who studies electronic voting. Asked about the legislative language, Jones said, “I think there are too few strings.” Congress did not address specific technologies when it authorized $400 million for “election security grants” in the CARES Act, a fact that dismayed a key lawmaker. “It would be a mistake for states to experiment with [insecure] methods of voting when there are time-tested and safer alternatives readily available,” House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), whose committee oversees election policies, told MC in a statement. “Requiring vote by mail paper ballots for all voters who want one and expanding early voting to reduce crowd size on election day, as House Democrats have proposed, will not only produce a verified paper trail that is secure and auditable, but also protect the safety of voters and the integrity of our elections.”

National: DHS, FBI: Russia could try to covertly advise candidates in 2020 | Eric Tucker/Associated Press

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI warned states earlier this year that Russia could look to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections by covertly advising political candidates and campaigns, according to a law enforcement memo obtained by The Associated Press. The Feb. 3 document details tactics U.S. officials believe Russia could use to interfere in this year’s elections, including secretly advising candidates and campaigns. It says that though officials “have not previously observed Russia attempt this action against the United States,” political strategists working for a business mogul close to President Vladimir Putin have been involved in political campaigning in numerous African countries. The memo underscores how Trump administration officials are continuing to sound alarms about the prospect of future Russian interference in American politics even as President Donald Trump has sought to downplay the Kremlin’s involvement in his 2016 win over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Because it was prepared before the coronavirus outbreak, the memo does not reflect how the pandemic might affect the tactics Russia might use to interfere with the election.

California: A crippled US Postal Service could throw a wrench in November election for San Diego and beyond | Charles T. Clark/The San Diego Union-Tribune

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated problems for the U.S. Postal Service and sparked a debate in Washington D.C. that could carry major ramifications for the November general election in San Diego and beyond. The U.S. Postal Service, or USPS, has long been America’s most popular public agency; a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 91 percent of Americans had favorable opinions about the agency. Nevertheless the agency has frequently faced financial challenges which have escalated during the pandemic, as revenue plummeted and mail volume dropped more than 30 percent from last year. Federal officials said they expect things to worsen in coming months, projecting mail volume will be down 50 percent in the second quarter, which runs April through June. Postmaster General Megan Brennan also told Congress last month she expects USPS will run out of cash by the end of September if it doesn’t receive government assistance, and the service has projected it could lose more than $23 billion over the next 18 months.

Connecticut: State will send absentee ballot applications to all voters for primary and November elections amid concern that coronavirus could disrupt voting | Emily Brindley/Hartford Courant

Under her new plan to ensure safe and secure voting this year, Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she will send out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state and pay the postage for their ballots. But that doesn’t mean that every voter in the state will be legally eligible to vote by ballot. Under state law — which is not being modified for Merrill’s plan — fear of catching the coronavirus at the polls doesn’t necessarily qualify someone for an absentee ballot. Merrill said Monday that she would like Gov. Ned Lamont or the General Assembly to provide more guidance to her office. “It is within my office’s authority … to interpret the statute,” Merrill said. “I am completely sympathetic to the issues that people have. I think it’s unconscionable that we would make people decide their health versus their vote.” The absentee ballot initiative is among Merrill’s priorities for the August presidential primary and November general election. Under Merrill’s plan, her office will also provide grants to municipalities, recruit and train general election poll workers and launch a public awareness campaign.

Michigan: Absentee returns up ahead of COVID-19-curbed elections | Beth LeBlanc/The Detroit News

Participation in Tuesday’s election is up from past Michigan May elections, according to absentee ballot returns in several cities. The increased absentee ballot returns ahead of the Tuesday election, which is being conducted largely through mail, occurs as the state continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Municipalities in 34 counties will hold elections Tuesday for school millage proposals or small local elections. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, following an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, mailed absentee ballot applications last month to every registered voter in those communities, likely increasing participation this year, clerks said. Whitmer’s March 27 executive order also required clerks to condense voting precincts into one that could be used by voters who needed assistance voting or were unable to do so by mail. Clerks are planning to implement safety protocols to ensure voters keep appropriate distances at the polling location. “The fewer people we have lining up at polling places the better, ensuring Michiganders safely practice social distancing while allowing them to safely exercise their right to vote in local elections,” Whitmer said in a statement.

New York: Judge weighs constitutionality of cancellation of New York primary | Larry Neumeister/Associated Press

Lawyers for supporters of withdrawn presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang on Monday urged a judge to overrule New York state’s decision to cancel its 2020 Democratic presidential primary. The lawyers for would-be delegates including Yang argued that the state acted unconstitutionally when it made the cancellation on April 27. The Democratic members of the State’s Board of Elections voted to cancel the presidential primary even though New York still plans to hold its congressional and state-level primaries June 23. Attorney Jeffrey Kurzon, representing Yang and others, said the case was about protecting the rights of citizens to vote. Kurzon said those who brought the lawsuits “must be protected for our democracy to survive” and asked that U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres declare the decision to cancel the democratic presidential primary unconstitutional.

North Carolina: New lawsuit in North Carolina over absentee voting, mail-in ballots | Brian Murphy/Raleigh News & Observer

A group of voters backed by Democratic legal groups sued North Carolina on Monday seeking to loosen rules around absentee mail-in ballots amid predictions that the coronavirus pandemic will make voting by mail a widespread practice. They want the state to provide prepaid postage on all absentee ballots, change a requirement for two witnesses to sign a ballot, extend the deadline for receipt of ballots until nine days after Election Day and give voters a chance to fix signature discrepancies before election officials reject those ballots. North Carolina’s state board of elections endorsed the first two provisions in a proposed list of election changes released in March. “The current restrictions on mail ballots not only violate the state Constitution, but they also pose significant risks to voters’ health and safety, and, unless they are remedied, they could result in the disenfranchisement of an unprecedented number of North Carolinians,” said Marc Elias, a top Democratic elections attorney representing the challengers, in a statement.

Ohio: Lawmakers, secretary of state at odds over provisional ballot counts | Sarah Elms/Toledo Blade

Unless you have a disability, lack a permanent address, or properly requested an absentee ballot but never received it in the mail, your in-person vote in Ohio on April 28 won’t count. That’s according to a directive sent by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Friday to the state’s boards of elections. But three Democratic state lawmakers, including Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D., Toledo), argue that refusing to count all in-person ballots cast April 28, regardless of whether someone met one of those three criteria, disenfranchises voters. Ms. Hicks-Hudson on Monday called the secretary of state’s directive “an insult to the voters of Ohio,” while Mr. LaRose, a Republican, contends the very law she and her colleagues passed in March is what prevents some votes from being counted. She said there was widespread confusion among registered voters about how, when, and where to cast their ballots in Ohio’s first mail-in election after the in-person March 17 primary was called off because of coronavirus concerns. Many voters showed up to their respective boards of elections on April 28 believing that they could vote in person, just as they would have on March 17, she said.

Oklahoma: State Supreme Court strikes notary requirement for absentee ballots | Carmen Forman/The Oklahoman

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday struck down a requirement that absentee ballots must be notarized to be valid. An order issued Monday by Chief Justice Noma Gurich bars the Oklahoma State Election Board from issuing ballot forms or other election materials that suggest notarization is required. Instead, a statement signed, dated and declared under the penalty of perjury will suffice on absentee ballots. The order from the state’s high court requires the State Election Board to recognize the signed statements as proof that said voter did fill out their own ballot. The court’s ruling gives a win to the League of Women Voters, which sued the State Election Board over the notary requirement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The election rights group said the notary requirement was a “substantial obstacle” that absentee voters would have to face if they chose not to cast an in-person ballot due to concerns about COVID-19. Cancer survivor Peggy Winston said she joined the lawsuit because she believed undoing the notary requirement could save lives. “This is a victory for every Oklahoma voter who wants to exercise the right to vote but not risk their lives to do so,” she said.

Pennsylvania: How do you prevent a disputed 2020 election in Pennsylvania? Lessons from an expert panel | onathan Lai/Philadelphia Inquirer

Imagine: Philadelphia elections officials, overwhelmed by the number of voters requesting absentee ballots, can’t get them all in the mail in time. Voters sue in state court, which orders a change in the deadlines. Republicans go to federal court to stop them. We don’t know who won Pennsylvania, and the White House hangs in the balance. That was one of the nightmare scenarios discussed in a virtual gathering of national election law experts Monday, convened by Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. The discussion focused on current weaknesses in the electoral system — and ways to shore it up to prevent a disaster in November. “You should try to predict things going wrong so that you can figure out what to do about it,” said Ned Foley, one of the Ohio State law professors who organized the event. “When you think your ship is unsinkable … that’s where you’re in trouble, because it turns out you didn’t have enough lifeboats for the Titanic.” “State supreme courts are free to go beyond federal precedent,” said Michael Morley, a law professor at Florida State University. “They’re able to go beyond what a federal court would do.”

Washington: Does vote-by-mail lead to voter fraud? Washington’s 2018 election data says no | Joel Connelly/Seattle Post Intelligencer

released figures Monday on the 2018 election. Just 142 cases of improper voting out of 3.1 million ballots were referred to county sheriffs and prosecutors for legal action. That’s 0.004% of what was an energized electorate. The nation has begun to look at vote-by-mail, currently used in Washington and four other states, after last months “pandemic primary” in Wisconsin. With Republican legislators balking at any change in rules, voters in Milwaukee had to stand in line for 1 1/2 to 2 hours with fewer than 10 polling places open in the city. Thousands of absentee votes, requested by voters, were not delivered on time. Trump voted by mail in Florida’s March 3 primary, but has decried letting other voters do likewise. “No, mail ballots,” the 45th president declared last month. “They cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they are cheaters. You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room signing ballots all over the place.”

Wisconsin: Why State’s Voting By Mail Was Chaotic | Daniel C. Vock/Wisconsin Examiner

Wisconsin’s primary election has become a cautionary tale for election administrators and public officials all over the country. Nobody wants to see long lines of masked voters like Milwaukee saw on April 7 due to a lack of poll workers and polling places. But the Wisconsin election also offered another lesson: moving voters to mail-in ballots isn’t easy, either. More than 80% of Wisconsin voters cast ballots remotely in the April election, compared to less than 10% for most elections. In all, municipal clerks sent out 1.27 million absentee ballots. The sudden surge led to a host of problems, from a big spike in mailing costs for local authorities to ballots that never got to the voters they were sent to. “It’s widely understood throughout the country that the Wisconsin process was chaotic. Polling places were closed. People who asked for absentee ballots didn’t get them. It’s the opposite of what you’d want for an election,” said Sam Berger, the vice president for democracy and government reform at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C. “But Wisconsin is not a state that is thought of having a poor election administration during normal times.”

Poland: Poland Is Showing the World How Not to Run a Pandemic Election. Washington Must Not Repeat Warsaw’s Mistakes. | Zselyke Csaky and Sarah Repucci/Foreign Policy

Polish citizens are set to vote in a presidential election later this week, but there is a serious risk that the balloting will be neither free nor fair. The United States should watch closely and do what is necessary to avoid a similar fate in November. Voting during a pandemic is a difficult exercise, as demonstrated by the 52 countries that have already decided to postpone national or local elections because of the coronavirus. Poland is one of the few nations that are forging ahead, and a combination of daunting logistical challenges and unconcealed attempts by the ruling party to turn the situation to its own advantage are seriously eroding trust in the process. On April 6, a month before the scheduled election, the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party rammed legislation through Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, to introduce nationwide postal voting. Unlike the United States, where the expansion of absentee ballots has been spearheaded by Democrats, in Poland it was the ruling party that championed remote voting as its only chance to hold elections on time. The bill was passed late in the evening amid significant concerns about its content and in defiance of a clear constitutional court decision banning changes to electoral laws less than six months before a vote.