National: States Grapple With Germ-Ridden Voting Machines Amid Coronavirus | Gabriella Novello/WhoWhatWhy

Election officials have long dealt with faulty and vulnerable voting machines, but this year, they are also grappling with the risk of spreading a deadly virus to hundreds of thousands of individuals who will cast a ballot in person this November. While some states are beginning to make changes before the general election, a number of others will still require voters to use voting machines made with surfaces on which researchers say the coronavirus can linger for a number of days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has even taken the rare step of wading into the debate on US elections. For the first time ever, the agency laid out on its website a number of public health guidelines for cleaning election equipment. But it is unlikely that a majority of voters are aware that some products, such as standard alcohol wipes, should not be used to clean a potentially contaminated voting machine. Indeed, while alcohol wipes may give the voter a sense of safety, they actually can jeopardize the entire voting process.

National: States blast EAC for slow-walking voting standards | Derek B. Johnson/FCW

Officials at the Election Assistance Commission say they are eager to approve updated federal standards for the nation’s voting machines that will introduce new technical and security requirements, but the agency faced harsh criticism from several state election officials at a May 6 public meeting for its sluggish pace. The federal government’s voting system standards are voluntary, but most states require the machines they buy to comply with them. Virginia Elections Commissioner Christopher Piper called the current federal certification process “an obstacle to a more secure system” and griped that election officials have been waiting years for the newest version of the standards to work its way through the EAC approval process. “The process is not fast enough to adapt to the changing security environment or to address the accessibility needs of many voters,” Piper said, later adding “The fact is the delay has proven to be a convenient excuse in all sectors not to update our voting systems.”

National: States can’t access emergency COVID-19 election funding because of steep match rates | Nicole Goodkind/Fortune

In late March as part of the stimulus package known as the CARES Act, Congress gave states $400 million to protect the upcoming presidential and federal elections from any COVID-19 related disruptions. Now, some states are saying that they have no way to access that money. In order for a state to receive its part of the $400 million—doled out by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and expected to be put toward expenses like mail-in ballots and personal protective equipment for poll workers—it has to commit to matching 20% of the money with its own funds. Companies that received stimulus money from the bill had no similar match requirements. In the past, states have been asked to contribute money to receive election funds, but at a 5% rate, according to Democratic Minnesota secretary of state Steve Simon. He’s unsure of why this particular match rate is so high, especially when the funds are so vital to ensuring a successful presidential election. Minnesota needs approval from its legislature in order to match funding, and with just two weeks before its members retire for the year, getting to any kind of agreement looks precarious. Still, Simon says, his state is lucky because the legislature is still in session. About 15 state legislatures have already adjourned for the year, which means that unless they call a special session to order, they won’t reconvene until early in 2021. In order to receive the funding, a match must be guaranteed by Dec. 31, 2020.

National: Report counsels reforms to guard against election meltdown | Erik Gunn/Wisconsin Examiner

Political polarization and intense partisanship in media and social media have laid the groundwork for distrust about the fairness of the 2020 elections, and the COVID-19 pandemic seems likely to escalate those problems. Those are the conclusions of a new report released last week from a group of academics and voting-rights advocates, recommending a series of steps to shore up confidence and integrity in the nation’s election systems before the November presidential elections. The report, “Fair Elections During a Crisis,” was produced by the Ad Hoc Committee for 2020 Election Fairness and Legitimacy and grew out of a February conference organized by some of the authors and that also included journalists and state elections officials. It is sponsored by the University of California-Irvine’s Jack W. Peltason Center for the Study of Democracy with foundation support. “Although a decade ago concerns about peaceful transitions of power were less common, Americans can no longer take for granted that election losers will concede a closely fought election after election authorities (or courts) have declared a winner,” the report states.

National: Facebook removed Russian propaganda network only after accounts got sloppy | Jeff Stone/CyberScoop

Two networks of inauthentic Facebook accounts and pages removed last month had spent years leveraging the social media company’s reach to amplify thinly-veiled Russian propaganda criticizing the U.S. and antagonists of the Kremlin. Facebook announced Tuesday it removed 91 accounts, 46 pages, two groups and one Instagram page connected to Crimea-based media agencies, News Front and South Front, which researchers now say have connections to Russian intelligence services. Both outlets have existed for years, though Facebook removed them last month after detecting that they used fake accounts to post content and generate engagement. It’s a dichotomy that exemplifies Facebook’s approach to information operations: The company historically has been reluctant to remove political misinformation or conspiracy theories, but acts against account operators caught misrepresenting their identity.

National: John Ratcliffe, spy chief nominee, hedged on whether Russia favored Trump in 2016 | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), in his Senate confirmation hearing to be the nation’s next spy chief, took a pass on whether he agreed with the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was aimed at helping Trump’s electoral chances.  When asked directly whether he agreed with that finding – which was reinforced by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee’s own investigation – Ratcliffe said he had not seen the underlying intelligence. He punted with a broader answer: “My views are that Russia meddled in or interfered with active measures in 2016, they interfered in 2018, they will attempt to do so in 2020. They have a goal of sowing discord and they have been successful in sowing discord.”  But the fact that Russia’s hacking and disinformation operation is still being asked as a question that could be disputed by Trump’s national security nominees highlights a jarring reality more than three years into the Trump administration: That the president himself has never fully embraced the intelligence community’s conclusions about 2016 interference. Trump has also promoted conspiracy theories and unfounded claims that Ukraine was actually behind hacks at the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee that upended the election.

National: Vote-by-mail debate raises fears of election disinformation | Eric Tucker and Amanda Seitz/Associated Press

A bitterly partisan debate unfolding on whether more Americans should cast their votes through the mail during a pandemic is provoking online disinformation and conspiracy theories that could undermine trust in the results, even if there are no major problems. With social distancing guidelines possibly curtailing in-person voting at the polls in November, states are drawing up plans to rely more heavily on a mail-in system that has until now seen only limited use. Historically, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting. But social media users are already pushing grandiose theories casting doubt on the method. President Donald Trump has encouraged the skepticism, saying during a televised briefing that “a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.” On Saturday, he tweeted: “Don’t allow RIGGED ELECTIONS!” Justice Department officials are concerned foreign adversaries could exploit any vulnerabilities in the vote-by-mail process, especially since even minor tampering could trigger widespread doubts about the integrity of the vote. “Is it possible, in particular for a foreign actor, to cause enough mischief in the vote-by-mail process to raise a question in the minds of Americans, particularly Americans perhaps whose candidate has lost, that somehow the result of this election is unfair?” Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the department’s top national security official, said in describing a key question confronting law enforcement.

Editorials: What Happened When Our Election-Hacking Documentary Came Out During Coronavirus | Simon Ardizzone and Sarah Teale/Talkhouse

When HBO chose March 26, 2020, as the airdate for our documentary Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections, we obviously had no idea that we would be launching our film in the middle of a pandemic. But oddly enough, as the primary vote in Wisconsin recently showed, the challenges presented by COVID-19 have only sharpened the debate about our ability to vote using paper ballots and highlighted the deep shortcomings of our current system. How do we vote when most of our precincts are run by the elderly – the population most at risk from coronavirus? How do we vote in the primaries when we are not supposed to gather and visit public places? How do we vote when so many of the voting machines use touch screens and are therefore an infection risk? Does mailing in our ballots present the answer? Perhaps the coronavirus offers us an unprecedented opportunity to secure the vote, but there are also risks.

Alabama: Push for no-excuse absentee voting going nowhere | Sara Macneil/Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Senate approved Tuesday a resolution that says it’s “imperative to the democratic process to propose and adopt” no-excuse absentee voting, but the passage of actual legislation to loosen restrictions on the ballots seems unlikely in the GOP-controlled body. Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, filed a bill Monday that would authorize no-excuse absentee voting. Smitherman’s Senate Bill 335 strikes out the list of excuses that qualify a voter for an absentee ballot, and deletes a section of state law that says they must have one of those excuses to apply for an absentee ballot. Alabamians go to the polls July 14 for primary runoffs. The election date was delayed in March because of concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. Smitherman this week said he needs to rush the no excuse voting bill into committee during the shortened session, so he had no time to consult with his Republican colleagues. His bill was assigned to the Governmental Affairs Committee, which has no meetings scheduled this week.

Florida: Is postage a poll tax? Federal lawsuit challenges Florida’s vote-by-mail. | Jim Saunders/Tampa Bay Times

Pointing to expected voting problems this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, left-leaning groups have filed a federal lawsuit challenging parts of Florida’s rules for vote-by-mail ballots. Priorities USA, Alianza for Progress, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and individual plaintiffs filed the lawsuit Monday, almost exactly six months before the Nov. 3 general election. The lawsuit challenges state laws and procedures that include requiring elections supervisors to receive vote-by-mail ballots by 7 p.m. on election night for the ballots to count. The lawsuit argues that ballots should be valid so long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day. “While the Election Day receipt deadline is constitutionally problematic in its own right, under the current circumstances —where a global pandemic will lead to a significant increase in mail voting while at the same time severely burdening an already compromised USPS (United States Postal Service) and thinly stretched local elections staff — it cannot survive judicial scrutiny,” said the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tallahassee.

Maryland: Ignore the date on your vote-by-mail ballot. Maryland’s election is June 2. | Emily Opilo/Baltimore Sun

Don’t be fooled by the April 28 date on your vote-by-mail ballot — Maryland’s primary is June 2. As ballots arrive in mailboxes beginning this week for the state’s first full-scale election held primarily by mail, election officials are instructing voters to ignore the date at the top of the ballot. That’s because the ballots sent to the state’s more than 4 million eligible registered voters are marked with the original date for the primary. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan postponed the primary in mid-March as it became increasingly clear the coronavirus pandemic was going to make the state’s traditional polling places a health hazard. The COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the virus has killed nearly 1,300 people in Maryland and infected more than 27,000. However, the ballots were printed in advance of the governor’s decision, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the State Board of Elections. “To change the date would have meant that we would have started building the ballots from the very beginning,” she said “That is a deliberate process, and to rush it introduces risk to the election.” Instead, the Board of Elections included instructions with the ballots that point out the incorrect date. The instructions, which include a list of locations for drop boxes and limited in-person voting centers, were printed more recently.

Massachusetts: Secretary of State plan would allow any voter to request mail-in ballot | Matt Stout/The Boston Globe

Any Massachusetts voter could vote by mail ahead of the September state primary or the November general election under a proposal the secretary of state’s office says will ease access to the ballot amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The plan, released Wednesday by Secretary of State William F. Galvin, would need to be filed and approved by the Legislature, and adds to a variety of proposals lawmakers have already floated to expand voting options amid fears COVID-19 could upend elections this fall. Galvin, the state’s chief elections officer, is seeking to allow any voter this year to vote early by mail, without an excuse, should they request a ballot. His seven-page bill, a draft of which his office released Wednesday, would also establish a 7-day early voting period ahead of the Sept. 1 primary — there currently isn’t one — and expand the required window before the Nov. 3 election from a 10-day period to 18 days. The plan would also allow voters to return ballots to an “official drop box” or ask a family member to deliver the ballot by hand, something that isn’t currently allowed. Voters could also submit their request for a mail-in ballot electronically.

Michigan: Absentee ballots account for 98% of tabulated votes in Michigan elections Tuesday | Associated Press

Michigan communities saw record turnout for local elections Tuesday, as voters participated in largely mail-based contests that could be a blueprint for the presidential battleground in November. In a first, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office automatically sent absentee ballot applications to all 740,000 registered voters in roughly 50 municipalities — about 10% of the electorate — to discourage in-person voting in a state where nearly 4,200 people have died from coronavirus complications. Turnout was projected to be at least 22%, nearly double the average for May elections. Voters decided school tax, bonding and other proposals. “People want to vote and weigh in on critical issues in their communities. … Even in crisis, democracy is essential,” Benson, a Democrat, said. Each jurisdiction had at least one place for in-person voting, though only about 850 people had done so as of late afternoon. Absentee ballots — roughly 180,000 had been returned by 6:30 p.m. — accounted for 98% of the vote.

Michigan: Senate bill would establish universal, vote-by-mail system | Virgina Gordon/Michigan Radio

All voting would be done by absentee ballot under a bill introduced Wednesday by State Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor). The bill would end in-person voting at polling places. Under the bill, registered voters would return their ballots by mail or drop them off at designated, local sites. “My bill proposes using the system already in place for absentee ballots to provide that opportunity for citizens to vote through the mail,” said Irwin. “And clerk’s offices would be open on election day for individuals who want to make use of same day registration or, if they’re disabled voters, who need particular accomodations or if people just want to drop their ballot off in person because they don’t want to put it in the mail.” Irwin says the legislation would increase voter turnout and save millions in election administrative costs. Irwin said fewer election workers, less voting equipment, and fewer polling locations would save money, some of which could be invested in additional election security and auditing.

Nevada: Democrats drop lawsuit against planned all-mail primary election after Clark County agrees to more voting sites, other concessions | Riley Snyder/Nevada Independent

A cadre of Democratic Party-aligned groups is temporarily dropping a lawsuit asking a state court to implement multiple changes to the planned all-mail primary election in June after Clark County election officials agreed to expand in-person voting sites and other changes. The plaintiffs — including Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, progressive political nonprofit Priorities USA — announced their decision to drop the lawsuit in a joint press release sent out Tuesday after Clark County election officials said in a court filing that they would add two additional in-person voting sites and send out ballots to “inactive” voters. The groups also said that Clark County election officials had agreed to other stipulations, including reviewing every flagged mismatched signature by at least two reviewers of different parties and reaching out to voters within 24 hours if an issue with their signature is identified. The county officials have also agreed to “deputize and train” 20 individuals (including Democrats, Republicans and independents) to serve as “field registrars of voters” allowed to travel and receive voted, sealed mail ballots from voters on Election Day.

New York: State Must Hold Democratic Presidential Primary, Judge Rules | Matt Stevens and Nick Corasaniti/The New York Times

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered elections officials in New York State to hold its Democratic primary election in June and reinstate all qualifying candidates on the ballot. The ruling came after the presidential primary was canceled late last month over concerns about the coronavirus. The order, filed by Judge Analisa Torres of United States District Court, came in response to a lawsuit filed last week by the former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. He sought to undo the New York State Board of Elections’ decision in late April to cancel the June 23 contest, a move it attributed to health and safety worries and the fact that the results would not change the primary’s outcome. On Tuesday night, Douglas A. Kellner, a co-chair of the New York Board of Elections, said the board was “reviewing the decision and preparing an appeal.” And speaking on CNN, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the presidential primary would proceed per the court’s ruling at least for the time being, but he noted the potential for an appeal. Mr. Yang said in a statement on Twitter that he was “glad that a federal judge agreed that depriving millions of New Yorkers of the right to vote was wrong,” and he urged state elections officials to safeguard democracy.

New York: Democratic presidential primary on June 23 reinstated, but State appeals | Joseph Spector/Democrat & Chronicle

The Democratic presidential primary in New York is back on. A federal judge in Manhattan ruled late Tuesday that New York must hold the primary on June 23, contending that canceling it would be unconstitutional and take away the ability of the candidates to receive delegates for the party’s convention in August. Removing the candidates from the ballot and “canceling the presidential primary denied them the chance to run, and denied voters the right to cast ballots for their candidate and their political beliefs,” U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres ruled. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang, who argued in a lawsuit April 28 that it was illegal for New York to cancel the primary. “Yes – the people of New York will be able to vote in the Democratic presidential primary,” Yang wrote on Twitter.

Ohio: The Primary May Be Over For Voters, But It’s Just Getting Started For Boards Of Elections | Nick Robertson/WVXU

Even though Ohio’s primary ended April 28, the election isn’t over just yet. Results aren’t official until they are certified by the Hamilton County Board of Elections, and for them, the process is just getting started. On election night, the Board of Elections conducted an unofficial ballot count of all ballots received by mail and in-person, but many ballots were still on the way. They are now still accepting ballots until May 5, as long as they were postmarked before Election Day. Ballots from overseas and military voters will be accepted until May 8. Additionally, voters who did not present valid IDs when voting and submitted provisional ballots or had mislabeled absentee ballots have until May 5 to “cure” their ballots and ensure they are counted. Provisional ballots are ballots submitted by voters that had errors or could not be verified. According to Hamilton  County Board of Election Deputy Director Sally Krisel, common reasons for submitting provisional ballots are name changes, address changes, lack of valid ID, or requesting an absentee ballot and not receiving it in time.

Ohio: Secretary of State Frank LaRose outlines changes needed for general election | Rick Rouan/The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is all-in for in-person voting in November’s presidential election, but he is offering some “tweaks” he believes will make the general election smoother than the coronavirus-extended primary. The state needs to allow online requests for absentee ballots, provide postage-paid envelopes for both absentee ballots and requests, and set an earlier deadline for requesting absentee ballots to prepare for a potential increase in voters casting ballots by mail, he said. But it also needs to encourage boards of elections to consolidate polling places and step up its recruitment of poll workers for in-person voting even as it encourages voting by mail to stop the spread of COVID-19, he said. “In a usual year, I would not want to make large changes this late in the game, but this is not a usual year. These are unusual times. We have to respond to the unique situation we find ourselves in with these changes,” LaRose told The Dispatch on Tuesday.

Ohio: Democratic Lawmakers Propose Blockchain Voting in Elections Overhaul Bill | Danny Nelson/Yahoo News

Democrats in the Ohio House of Representatives have proposed launching a blockchain voting pilot for overseas military voters registered in the Buckeye State. Introduced Tuesday as part of the Democrats’ elections law overhaul, the bill calls on Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to “establish a pilot program” of blockchain voting specifically for uniformed service members stationed outside the U.S. The bill was introduced by Reps. Beth Liston and Michele Lepore-Hagan, and cosponsored by 16 other Democrats. The proposal is unusually detailed on blockchain’s role. If passed, it would see military members transmit their ballots to election officials via “encrypted blockchain technology” that “protects the security and integrity of the process and protects the voter’s privacy.” The receiving board of elections would then print out that ballot “for counting purposes.”

Oklahoma: House Republicans vote to reverse court ruling on absentee ballots | Kayla Branch and Carmen Forman/The Oklahoman

Mere days after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a requirement that absentee ballots be notarized, House Republicans moved Wednesday to reverse the ruling. Despite fierce opposition from House Democrats, Republicans passed an amended bill that seeks to reinstate the notary requirement. The amendment’s author, Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, said the legislation was born out of recommendations from State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax, Oklahoma’s top elections official. Senate Bill 210, which passed the House on a near-party-line vote, would require absentee ballots to be notarized, which was the procedure in place until the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered otherwise on Monday. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, Senate Bill 210 makes exceptions that would be in place for the June 30 primary election.

Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission meets Thursday on new voting system | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

Shelby County Election Commissioners will meet Thursday, May 7, online to discuss and possibly select a new voting system for the county. The 5 p.m. meeting will be via Webinar despite calls by several election commissioners at their last meeting, April 23, to have an in-person meeting with social distancing precautions instead of online. The election commission has fielded several proposals from vendors in a request for proposal — or RFP — process. But the election commission has not disclosed those proposals or the proposed costs of the systems, saying they cannot until they make a selection. Commissioners reviewed the proposals at a closed April 23 meeting before a public session. The plan is for commissioners to discuss in public the different proposals without identifying the vendors or discussing the price and then voting in public.

Virginia: Judge approves absentee ballot witness signature agreement for June primary | CBS19

A judge has approved an agreement to promote absentee voting by mail. According to a release, Attorney General Mark Herring announced on Tuesday the approval of his agreement to promote public health and participation in elections by encouraging absentee voting by mail in the upcoming June primaries. Under the terms of the decree, Virginia will accept absentee ballots without the signature of a witness “for voters who believe they may not safely have a witness present while completing their ballot.” “This agreement is a win for Virginia voters and a win for democracy. No Virginians should ever have to put their own health and safety at risk to exercise their right to vote,” said Herring. “Now susceptible Virginians will not have to jeopardize their well-being and violate social distancing measures to cast their ballot by mail.” The judge writes that “applying the witness requirement during this pandemic would impose a serious burden on the right to vote, particularly among the elderly, immunocompromised, and other at-risk populations. Weighed against those risks, the present record reflects the likelihood that the burden would not be justified by the witness requirement’s purpose as an anti-fraud measure.”

Wisconsin: 26 Milwaukee residents may have been infected with COVID-19 during in-person voting April 7, but report is inconclusive | Mary Spicuzza/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Twenty-six Milwaukee County residents may have been infected with COVID-19 during in-person voting on April 7, but local officials say the effect of Wisconsin’s election could be impossible to determine. A report released Wednesday found 26 people may have been infected while at the polls last month, and another 26 may have been infectious when they participated in the election. That total includes 52 voters and two poll workers in Milwaukee County. But the latest analysis, which was done by the Milwaukee County COVID-19 Epidemiology Intel Team, was not able to determine exactly how many people were infected with the virus at the polls. Darren Rausch, the director of the Greenfield Health Department and lead for the Milwaukee County COVID-19 Epidemiology Intel Team, said the timing of the election made it difficult to clearly identify coronavirus cases linked to the election. “What complicated our analysis is also included in this time frame is both the Easter and Passover holiday weekends, and both of those included the opportunity for significant breaches of the safer-at-home order,” Rausch said in an interview. “So that was complicating our work from the beginning.”

Wisconsin: State to hold more elections during pandemic as clerks scramble to ensure safety | Chelsea Hylton, Francisco Velazquez and Dee J. Hall/Wisconsin Watch

Tamia Fowlkes of Milwaukee was among thousands of voters in Wisconsin who reluctantly went to the polls on April 7. Fowlkes had voted absentee — like more than a million other voters in the state — but then helped her grandfather cast his ballot in person after the state Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Tony Evers lacked the authority to delay the election because of the pandemic. “We were the only state in the entire country to have an (in-person) April primary,” said Fowlkes, a UW-Madison student active in registering students to vote. “I don’t know if there was any way to make it safe, because it just wasn’t something that we should have been doing.” Last week, state officials said as many as 52 people — including National Guard members, voters and poll workers — developed COVID-19 after in-person voting, although it is possible they were exposed in other ways. That day, voters chose former Vice President Joe Biden as the state’s Democratic selection for president and liberal judge Jill Karofsky to join the Wisconsin Supreme Court. On May 12, voters in central and northern Wisconsin will again be asked to cast ballots during a pandemic, this time to replace U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy in the sprawling 7th Congressional District.