National: Coronavirus has upended election security training with just months before November | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

Russian hackers could target election officials working from home. Adversaries could spread rumors about coronavirus outbreaks at polling sites to deter people from showing up on Election Day. Or they could launch disinformation campaigns claiming elections have been delayed or canceled entirely because of the virus. Those are just some of the new scenarios the University of Southern California’s Election Security Initiative is tackling as it races to conduct virtual training programs for campaign and election officials across all 50 states before November. The big takeaway: Every aspect of securing elections is now far harder than they ever imagined. The array of challenges officials are facing now make the pre-pandemic concerns about Russian hacking seem simple by comparison. “Security concerns now are more urgent in almost all cases because the virus has really exacerbated security issues,” the initiative’s executive director Adam Clayton Powell III told me. “It’s not an abstraction. It’s very real for people that they’ll have to do this work in a more urgent climate than they anticipated.”  USC launched its initiative early this year with a laser focus on helping to combat interference from Russia and other U.S. adversaries.  The group, which received most of its funding from Google, planned to hold in-person trainings across the country and to help officials who attended link up with experts at local universities who could help them prepare for cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns and related threats. But, like everything else about the election landscape, that plan was upended by the pandemic.

National: US government plans to urge states to resist ‘high-risk’ internet voting | Kim Zetter/The Guardian

The Department of Homeland Security has come out strongly against internet voting in new draft guidelines, breaking with its longstanding reluctance to formally weigh in on the controversial issue, even after the 2016 Russian election hacking efforts. The move comes as a number of states push to expand the use of ballots cast online. The eight-page document, obtained by the Guardian, pulls no punches in calling the casting of ballots over the internet a “high-risk” endeavor that would allow attackers to alter votes and results “at scale” and compromise the integrity of elections. The guidelines advise states to avoid it altogether or restrict it to voters who have no other means of casting a ballot. The document primarily addresses a type of internet voting called electronic ballot delivery and return – where digital absentee ballots counties send to voters overseas via email or a web portal are completed and returned via email attachment, fax or direct upload – but it essentially applies to all forms of internet voting. No states currently offer full-on internet voting, but numerous states allow military and civilian voters abroad to receive and return ballots electronically, and some of these voters use an internet-based system that allows them to mark their ballot online before printing it out and mailing it back or returning it via email or fax.

National: Agencies Warn States That Internet Voting Poses Widespread Security Risks | Dustin Volz/Wall Street Journal

Several U.S. government agencies told states on Friday that casting ballots over the internet poses high levels of cybersecurity risk and is vulnerable to disruption, a warning that came as some states consider expanding online voting options to cope with challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. The unusually stark, eight-page federal risk assessment, sent to states privately, said that electronic delivery and return of ballots could be manipulated at a scale that allows for the wholesale compromise of elections, unlike the tampering of physical mail ballots, which is difficult to achieve and limited in its potential size or impact. But attacks on internet voting “could be conducted from anywhere in world, at high volumes, and could compromise ballot confidentiality, ballot integrity, and/or stop ballot availability,” the advisory, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, stated. It rated the electronic delivery of blank ballots to voters as a low risk, but said allowing voters to return completed ballots electronically was high risk. While government officials previously have said internet voting poses risks, the new assessment contains the most direct language yet from federal authorities who typically avoid specifically instructing state and local election officials on how to carry out their elections. Some election officials have resisted calls for federal limitations on internet voting or voting machines that allow for wireless internet connectivity. But the assessment makes clear that vote-by-mail options are preferred to internet voting. “While there are effective risk management controls to enable electronic ballot delivery and marking, we recommend paper ballot return as electronic ballot return technologies are high-risk even with controls in place,” the document said.

National: Don’t Let COVID-19 Eclipse Election Security Concerns | Alex Zaheer and Tom Westphal/Lawfare

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has profoundly disrupted many aspects of American life, including a fundamental pillar of government: democratic elections. Many states have postponed their presidential primaries, and election officials across the country are already scrambling to ensure the presidential election in November can be held as planned. But the new difficulties of a pandemic haven’t displaced the problems that faced election officials before the coronavirus arrived. The threat posed by foreign interference in U.S. elections and the vulnerability of elections to cyberattack have not gone away. And election officials’ responses to the coronavirus may create new vulnerabilities in the digital infrastructure that underpins elections. State and local officials must ensure that even amid the ongoing pandemic, election security remains a top priority. Election officials around the country depend on electronic databases to store critical voter registration information. In some states, websites offer voters opportunities to register to vote and update important information, such as their addresses. Some jurisdictions employ technology in polling places themselves, providing poll workers with the real-time ability to see if a prospective voter is registered or has already voted elsewhere. And election agencies maintain databases necessary for other election functions—such as digital libraries of voters’ signatures, which can help verify the identity of vote-by-mail voters.

National: States take precautions to prevent disrupted elections | Yelena Dzhanova/CNBC

Several states are preparing for the coronavirus to last through the fall, with the expectation that the pandemic will affect voting in the 2020 presidential election. Across the country, the pandemic has changed the way people vote, and it’s unclear whether these changes will become the new norm. States like North Carolina, Hawaii, Delaware and Alabama are planning to implement more rigorous cleaning procedures at poll centers. Others are brainstorming how to replace older poll workers and volunteers who may fear working due to potential exposure to the virus. Voting by mail is under expansion in multiple states, while others consider alternate ways to make in-person voting safer. State voting officials told CNBC they are preparing for fall elections with the anticipation that social distancing guidelines will remain in effect. The fear of contracting and spreading the virus among large groups has already forced many states to push back their presidential primaries, the latest hurdle for voting officials. If the pandemic had not happened, most states at this time would likely be through orchestrating their nominating contests. Some officials told CNBC they have not yet planned for the presidential election in the fall because they’re still making arrangements for their primaries. Nebraska’s primary is Tuesday. “We are currently focused on the primary election and have not yet made any plans for the general election in November,” said Cindi Allen, Nebraska assistant secretary of state.

Editorials: Federal leaders must get behind absentee voting — or explain why they’d prefer chaos | The Washington Post

A Monmouth University poll released Wednesday found that only 16 percent of voters cast ballots by mail in recent elections, yet 51 percent say it is at least somewhat likely that they will do so in November. As the covid-19 pandemic continues, more people will conclude absentee voting is the safest option. And they will be right. But much of the country is not ready for a surge of absentee voters. Federal leaders must help immediately — or explain why they instead prefer an unsafe and chaotic November election. Ill-preparedness could produce electoral calamity. Sixteen states require absentee voters to have a valid excuse. All of these states should declare that coronavirus fears qualify as one. But that’s just a first step. Serving millions of new absentee voters will be a massive logistical challenge for most states. Leading up to Wisconsin’s dreadful April 7 primary, the state failed to dispatch absentee ballots to thousands of voters in time for them to be postmarked by Election Day. Widespread covid-19-related poll closures meant these voters had to choose between risking their health in long lines at a handful of polling places and not voting. Ohio officials struggled with a surge in absentee voting in their just-completed primary, and many voters found it difficult or impossible to participate by mail, despite a mail-in ballot deadline extension of more than a month and exceptionally low turnout — two factors on which officials must not rely come November.

Editorials: To Save Election Day, Start By Getting Rid of Election Night? | Eric Lach/The New Yorker

Election Days are as old as America, but Election Nights are a product of twentieth-century mass media. And, over decades, television news outlets have trained the American Election Night viewer to expect a certain dramatic arc. Tune in at 6 P.M. (at least on the East Coast), when everything is uncertain, and go to bed at 11 P.M., having watched uncertainty resolve into certainty, with the winners separated from the losers. It’s not so different from the Super Bowl or the Grammys. (I recommend watching NBC’s Election Night coverage from 1948 on YouTube. The televised press releases, the correspondent on the scene, the panel of analysts—it’s all very familiar.) Even before the coronavirus crisis, election experts were worrying that these media-created expectations, so good for ratings, were bad for democracy. The rise in the use of mail-in and absentee ballots was making it harder for states to tally their election results quickly, and news outlets were not adjusting to this new reality. In the 2018 midterms, for instance, California took days to finalize its results. As a consequence, the Democratic wave that allowed the Party to flip control of the House of Representatives wasn’t fully revealed on Election Night, and so, on Election Night, the story wasn’t about a Democratic wave, causing confusion and frustration on all sides. But, even when results are expected to be reported quickly, problems can occur. In February (remember February?), a bum app caused delays in reporting the results of the Iowa Democratic caucuses. The chaos that followed led supporters of both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg—who finished practically in a tie for first place—to suspect that their candidate was the victim of malfeasance, and left lingering questions about the validity of the results.

Editorials: Voting By Mail in November—It’s Not a Matter of if, But How | Jason Abel, Evan Glassman and Daniel Podair/Bloomberg

Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—automatically send voting ballots to all registered voters, while another 29 states and Washington, D.C., provide no excuse mail-in ballots at a voter’s request. Steptoe & Johnson LLP attorneys suggest ways to ensure election integrity with mail-in voting and say that for most states, ensuring voter access to ballot boxes just means adjusting current rules, and not starting from square one. Following the recent election in Wisconsin, which led to a number of voters contracting Covid-19, there’s been an increasingly heated debate concerning how to provide safe ballot access in November. Various vote-by-mail proposals are being offered at both the state and federal levels. However, the debate over whether to vote-by-mail misses the larger picture. Most states already provide voters with access to a “no excuse required” vote-by-mail option.

California: California becomes first state to switch November election to all-mail balloting | Jeremy B. White/Politico

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday made California the first state to switch its November election to all-mail balloting due to concerns over physical participation during the coronavirus pandemic. Most Californians already live in counties that have opted into a new universal vote-by-mail law. But state leaders and elections officials have increasingly sounded the alarm about what happened in Wisconsin’s primary, where polling places saw long lines and crowds and many voters were fearful of the health risks of having to vote in person. Citing that “concern and anxiety around this November’s election,” Newsom signed an executive order requiring counties to mail voters a ballot. He had already mandated all-mail voting for a series of special elections, including an upcoming 25th Congressional District special election Tuesday in Southern California. Public health concerns have fueled a national push for more mail balloting in November, with California Secretary of State Alex Padilla championing the issue. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that every governor should follow California. “No voter should be forced to choose between their safety and exercising their civic duty this fall,” Clinton wrote on Twitter.

California: All California voters may vote by mail in November | Fiona Kelliher/San Jose Mercury News

All registered voters in California will be able to vote by mail in the November election, state officials said Friday, in an effort to maintain voter participation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new executive order makes California the first state to authorize sending vote-by-mail ballots to all voters in advance of the Nov. 3 general election, formalizing a vote-by-mail trend that’s been on the rise statewide for years. “There’s a lot of concern and anxiety around this November’s election in terms of making sure that you can conduct yourself in a safe way,” Newsom said in an afternoon briefing. “We’ll provide an additional asset and additional resources by way of voting by mail.” The decision came amid projections that the pandemic will continue through the fall, prompting fears that voters could be exposed to coronavirus at the polls or decide to stay home and not vote at all. In advance of the election, all counties will now be required to send registered voters actual ballots — not just applications — to avoid those outcomes. Still, Californians who need to vote in person, including those with disabilities or experiencing homelessness, will have access to physical sites, Secretary of State Alex Padilla said.

California: Voters asked to vote by mail in fall | John Myers/Los Angeles Times

Citing public health concerns over millions of Californians showing up at voting locations this fall, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday ordered ballots to be mailed to the state’s 20.6 million voters for the November election while insisting there will need to also be new rules for anyone who participates in person. The decision makes California the first state in the nation to temporarily shift to all-mail voting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — prompted, Newsom said, by the likelihood that public health conditions will not have improved to a level at which millions of people could show up on a single day to cast a ballot. “There’s a lot of excitement around this November’s election in terms of making sure that you can conduct yourself in a safe way, and make sure your health is protected,” Newsom said during a midday event. The decision to radically rethink the November election comes after a series of urgent requests and proposals made by lawmakers and local elections officials alike. Since the beginning of the coronavirus, health concerns have been raised in several states that have conducted in-person voting with turnout in November expected to be high.

Georgia: Lawsuit says Georgia ballots postmarked by election day should count | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A federal lawsuit says ballots postmarked by election day should be counted, a change that could save thousands of votes from being rejected during the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit challenges a Georgia law that requires absentee ballots to arrive in county election offices by 7 p.m. on election day. Ballots that show up late are discarded, as in 2018 when about 3,800 ballots weren’t counted because they were received after election day, according to state election data.Filed by the New Georgia Project, a voter registration group, the lawsuit came Friday as the number of Georgia voters who have requested absentee ballots for the June 9 primary rose to a new high of nearly 1.3 million.The lawsuit also asks a judge to order free ballot postage, allow groups like the New Georgia Project to turn in ballots for voters, and require better notification of voters whose absentee ballot requests are rejected.Absentee voting restrictions should be lifted, said Marc Elias, an attorney for the New Georgia Project. “That has a potential to lead to widespread disenfranchisement,” Elias said. “The people oftentimes most impacted by that are young voters and minority voters.”

Georgia: Secretary of State ‘fed up’ with storing old voting machines | Claire Simms/FOX 5 Atlanta

As state leaders look for ways to slash their budgets in the wake of the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger finds one line item in his budget particularly troubling. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, they currently pay $36,000 per month, which adds up to $432,000 per year, to warehouse the state’s now retired electronic voting machines. “I’m tired of it and I’m fed up and I think taxpayers should be fed up,” Sec. Raffensperger said Friday. The old hardware lies at the center of an ongoing legal battle between the state and several voting and election transparency groups, who sued claiming the machines, and thus Georgians’ votes, were not secure. In an order last November, a United States District Court judge directed the state to “preserve all GEMS servers, DREs, memory cards, AccuVote scanners, and Express Poll books until further order of the Court in the event a forensic examination is deemed necessary at some point for purposes of this litigation.”

Louisiana: Voters and advocates sue Louisiana officials over COVID-19 election plans | David Jacobs/The Center Square

Four voters and two advocacy groups have sued Louisiana officials, alleging the state is not doing enough to protect the right to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. State lawmakers have approved an emergency voting plan crafted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Attorney General Jeff Landry meant to address public health concerns related to in-person voting. But the plan applies only to a presidential preference and municipal primary election currently scheduled for July and a municipal general election planned for August, not the federal elections set for the fall. Even for the summer elections, Louisiana’s plan doesn’t allow enough people to vote by mail, the four voters, the Louisiana NAACP and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice argue. The plan temporarily adds being subject to a medically necessary quarantine, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or awaiting a diagnosis, caring for someone who is quarantined, or having a chronic health condition that imparts a higher risk of serious COVID-19 complications as valid reasons to use an absentee ballot. It also temporarily waives the usual requirement that first-time voters must vote in person.

Michigan: Blind voters use electronic absentee ballots for first time | Grant Herme/ClickOn Detroit

Blind voters and advocates celebrated this week after Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was forced to allow the use of electronic absentee voting normally reserved for men and women overseas. The technology allowed many blind voters to cast their ballots independent of help for the first time. The process is simple. The ballot appears on the screen and a person who is blind can have it read to them like any other text through a text-to-speech program. It can also be run through a braille system for the deaf-blind. After a ballot is filled out it’s print, sign and send. Michael Powell, with the Michigan chapter of the National Federation for the Blind, is one of the men suing the state for wider use of the electronic system on behalf of blind voters. “Why should they risk going to a polling location and, and especially if they go to one and they find they can’t use it because the people don’t know how to use the machine or if there’s some kind of issue, and they’ve risked their lives for nothing,” Powell said.

Montana: 600K primary election ballots are in the mail to Montana voters | Jonathon Ambarian/Missoula Current

On Friday, election offices around Montana began sending out ballots for the June primary election, as they do every two years. However, there was a big difference this year: Mail ballots weren’t going just to those who asked for them, but to all active registered voters. In March, Gov. Steve Bullock directed that counties could decide to hold the primary election by mail, to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. All 56 counties took that option. That means traditional local polling places will not be open, though people will be able to vote in person at county election offices. Election officials estimate about 600,000 ballots were mailed out across the state on Friday. About 94,000 more registered voters are considered “inactive,” and will need to contact officials in order to receive a ballot. In Lewis and Clark County, about 40,500 active voters are having ballots mailed to them. Audrey McCue, the county’s elections supervisor, said they have usually had 50% to 60% of their voters request absentee ballots, so it was not as big of a change as it might have been. “That number has gone up, but it’s not a drastic increase for us,” she said.

New York: Democrats file appeal to stop presidential primary | Associated Press

Democratic members of the state’s Board of Elections filed an appeal Wednesday of a federal judge’s reinstatement of the New York presidential primary. The appeal by board Commissioner Andrew Spano and other members comes a day after the June 23 primary was reinstated by U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan, who said canceling it would be unconstitutional and deprive withdrawn presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang of proper representation at the Democratic convention. Torres said there was enough time before the primary to plan how to carry it out safely. She acknowledged that the reason it was canceled — to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — was an important state interest but said she was unconvinced it justified infringing rights. She noted that no other state had canceled its primary.

Ohio: Ohio’s election was a mess. It would be a disaster at the national level. | Stephen Stromberg/The Washington Post

The nightmare scenario for the November presidential vote is a larger repeat of Wisconsin’s chaotic and dangerous April state Supreme Court election, in which state Republican leaders risked the health of voters in search of partisan electoral advantage. The result was interminable polling-place lines and untold numbers of people deterred from voting. These consequences were widely predicted, and the voter suppression seemed to be the point. But there is another, perhaps more likely, model of pandemic election failure: that of Ohio, which completed its primary process on Friday. State officials fumbled into the vote, recognizing that covid-19 would force changes in voter behavior but failing to prepare for the strain those changes would put on their system. They failed to account for how preexisting problems with absentee-voting systems and antiquated voter rules would be amplified. The result was voter confusion, accounts of effective voter disenfranchisement and rock-bottom voter turnout.

Pennsylvania: GOP groups, nonprofits in fight over mail-in ballot deadline for Pennsylvania primary, general election | Julian Routh/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Warning that pandemic-induced bureaucratic delays could prevent many Pennsylvanians from submitting their mail-in and absentee ballots on time before the 8 p.m. cutoff in the state’s June 2 primary and November’s general Election Day, a group of nonprofits are asking the state Supreme Court to step in and force the state to extend its deadline. State and national Republican groups, meanwhile, are trying to get the case thrown out. The Republican Party of Pennsylvania, Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee filed a motion this week asking the court to let them intervene in the matter, insisting that if the court were to compel a change to the ballot deadline, it would upend the “orderly” administration of the election, alter the competitive landscape and undermine laws that protect their voters and candidates. They also allege that the original lawsuit’s dire warnings of voter disenfranchisement are based not on facts, but on “wild guesses dressed up in soaring rhetoric,” according to their court filing. If approved, the Republican apparatus would get to intervene in a case where the nonprofits — led by one that represents more than a million Pennsylvanians with disabilities — want ballots that were sent or postmarked by the Nov. 3 Election Day and received by county elections offices within the following seven days to be considered valid.

South Carolina: Lawmakers face pressure to address June 9 primary voting | Maayan Schecter/The State

Poll workers are on short supply in some counties, candidates are spending money pushing voters to cast absentee ballots, and lawsuits against the state in federal and state courts aim to settle the question: Can someone vote absentee to avoid going to the polls and potentially catching the novel coronavirus? These are the realities S.C. lawmakers face as they return to work Tuesday, weeks after the state’s Republican governor and some legislative leaders said they saw no reason to take the legislative action required to expand the reasons for voting absentee or postpone the primary entirely. Though turnout for statewide primaries tends to be low, preventing crowds, the COVID-19 outbreak in South Carolina has made state officials turn their attention to how to make voters feel safer at the polls, even into November. At the same time, in fear of catching the virus, hundreds of poll workers — many of whom fit the age most vulnerable to the disease — have told county election officials they’ll pass on working this election, putting officials in a bind over whether they’ll have enough people to man polling places for the state’s June 9 primary. Candidates have traded in traditional door-knocking for an increase in mailers, phone calls, a flurry of social media activity and virtual town halls, and candidates — particularly those trying to knock down incumbents — are encouraging voters to ask for an absentee ballot even though currently there is no pandemic excuse among the qualifications to vote absentee in the state.

Texas: Legal fight: Is vote by mail a coronavirus option in Texas? | Chuck Lindell /Austin American-Statesman

With two months until the next elections and the pandemic’s future murky, a legal battle is underway to determine if most Texans will have to cast ballots in person or if they can skip the crowds and vote by mail. The fight will determine how Texans vote July 14 in the primary runoffs and a special election for the seat vacated by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin — and likely in the November presidential election as well. It’s a fight that has split along party lines. Democrats, arguing that Texans should not have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote, have filed two lawsuits to greatly expand opportunities to vote by mail. The state’s Republican attorney general, backed by other GOP and conservative leaders, opposes the effort, arguing that it is contrary to a state law that reserves mail-in ballots for specific groups of voters, such as those who are 65 or older or have a disability. “My office will continue to defend the integrity of Texas’ election laws,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said. Texas is not alone in the battle. The Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s campaign have lined up to fight similar Democratic efforts to expand remote voting in other states, arguing that mail-in ballots are susceptible to fraud.

Wisconsin: What would it take for Wisconsin to hold a mail-in election? | Briana Reilly/The Cap Times

In Wisconsin, some harbor a lofty goal when they look at the remainder of the 2020 cycle: implementing a system by which voters cast their ballots almost entirely by mail. But with both chambers of the Legislature controlled by Republicans who have signaled they’re not interested in a plan pushed by a handful of Democrats, the idea is essentially dead on arrival. Even if the proposal had the backing of both political parties, though, there are a series of hurdles to putting it in place just three months before the August primary and six months before the November general election. It’s no easy task to transition to a vote-by-mail system. Five states have done so, but it’s a big undertaking that, according to the federal Election Assistance Commission, includes more than 100 tasks that states would have had to begin last month to be on track for Nov. 3, according to a recent EAC project timeline. And an election security expert with New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice said Wisconsin “already has a great framework” in place given that it, like 29 others, allows voters to cast ballots by mail without providing a reason why they can’t vote in person on election day.