Human rights activists and New Jersey law students are suing to block the state from using Internet-based voting systems, which security experts say are fundamentally insecure against hacking. The effort is a shot across the bow for the online systems, which some states have embraced as a solution for people who have trouble voting by mail during the pandemic despite widespread security concerns. New Jersey piloted an app-based system on Tuesday in a collection of 33 small elections for people with disabilities that make it impractical for them to vote by mail. Everyone else had to vote by mail and there was no in-person voting option. New Jersey officials haven’t said whether they plan to repeat the pilot in the state’s July primary or the general election, but the lawsuit is trying to stop those plans before they start. It’s essentially an offshoot of an earlier lawsuit that challenged the security of the state’s voting machines and also dealt with the danger of voting systems going online. “It’s critical that voting be accessible for everybody but not at the expense of security and the risk of a group of people having their votes manipulated,” said Penny Venetis, director of Rutgers University Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, which is challenging the use of online voting on behalf of Coalition for Peace and its New Jersey division as well as a state legislator.
National: ‘It’s Partly On Me’: GOP Official Says Fraud Warnings Hamper Vote-By-Mail Push | Pam Fessler/NPR
Republican state officials who want to expand absentee and mail-in voting during the pandemic have found themselves in an uncomfortable position due to their party’s rhetoric. President Trump has claimed repeatedly, without providing evidence, that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud and bad for the GOP. He and other Republicans have charged that Democrats might use it to “steal” the election. Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams told NPR he got his “head taken off” by some fellow Republicans for his plan to send every registered voter a postcard telling them how they can easily apply for an absentee ballot for the state’s June 23 primary. “The biggest challenge I have right now is making the concept of absentee voting less toxic for Republicans,” he said. Adams said the presumption that absentee voting is less secure is frustrating because Kentucky has safeguards in place to protect against fraud — including requiring people to apply for ballots instead of automatically sending them to everyone on the voter rolls. But Adams admitted he is partly to blame. Like many Republicans, he ran for office on a platform of fighting voter fraud. His campaign slogan was to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Arkansas: Governor expresses support for no-excuse absentee voting, doesn’t commit to November implementation | Andrew Epperson/KNWA
With important elections coming up in November, scientists expect another COVID-19 spike before the polls open. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Wednesday expressed support for no-excuse absentee ballots but fell short of saying he’d use emergency powers to implement them before voting season. “If there is an issue that needs to be addressed in November in which we’re still in a public health emergency, I will at that time use the powers for no-excuse absentee voting,” Hutchinson said. The legislature approved Hutchinson’s temporary emergency powers to battle the COVID-19 outbreak. By November, these powers may no longer be wielded, he said.
Florida: Election officials push DeSantis on COVID-19 voting changes | Anthony Man/South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Florida elections supervisors said Wednesday that Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to “act immediately” to take steps to alleviate coronavirus-caused strains on the state’s voting systems. They want emergency changes in state rules, and they said DeSantis needs to access $20.2 million in federal money to help pay for election changes necessitated by the pandemic. While Florida waits, other states are out buying up supplies. A letter to DeSantis indicated frustration on the part of the 67 county supervisors of elections, who sent him a detailed request for emergency changes in election rules on April 7. Five weeks later, the supervisors are still waiting. Primaries for congressional, county and state legislative nominations and nonpartisan elections for school board and judges are on Aug. 18. But mail ballots for military and overseas voters go out July 4 and early voting in some counties starts on Aug. 3. “Our request for executive action cannot wait any longer,” Craig Latimer, president of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections, wrote in Wednesday’s follow up.
Georgia: Judge rules against delaying Georgia’s June 9 primary again | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit that attempted to postpone Georgia’s June 9 primary election because of the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten leaves the primary date unchanged, with in-person early voting set to begin Monday.Batten wrote that elected Georgia officials have the authority to decide how to run elections — not the courts.“The framers of the Constitution did not envision a primary role for the courts in managing elections, but instead reserved election management to the legislatures,” Batten wrote in a 12-page order after a hearing earlier in the day. Lawyers for several Georgia voters had pleaded for a postponement of the primary, saying it would have allowed more time to vote by mail and prepare for in-person voting. But attorneys for state election officials said everyone will be able to vote safely, and the primary must go on even during the coronavirus.
The election director for Georgia’s most populous county said Thursday that technical issues have prevented officials from processing absentee ballot applications sent in by email, causing a backlog of thousands of pending applications ahead of the June 9 primaries. Voters in Fulton County, covering Atlanta and its northern and southern suburbs, have complained of weeks of waiting with little or no information. The issue highlights growing pains Georgia counties are experiencing from the state’s big shift toward absentee voting by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic. Election Director Richard Barron made the remarks at a video conference meeting of the Fulton County election board. He said that while the county was largely caught up with ballot applications sent through the mail, processing emailed applications has caused “a lot of difficulty.”
Massachusetts: Officials want more voting options during coronavirus pandemic, but can’t agree on execution | Chris Lisinski/State House News Service
Speaker after speaker told lawmakers Thursday that more opportunities to vote by mail and more early voting will help the statewide elections in September and November proceed with minimal risks of COVID-19 transmission. But on the specific details of how to do that — whether to mail ballots to every voter or only those who request one, how long in-person early voting periods should last, and how polling places should be spread out to maintain social distancing — there was frequent disagreement. The Legislature’s Election Laws Committee did not take immediate action Thursday after hearing testimony from a range of stakeholders. When it does, its members will need to balance competing preferences from the state’s top elections official, municipal leaders, and their own colleagues, all with the clock ticking and Secretary of State William Galvin hoping to begin printing ballots as soon as June 2.
Minnesota: Governor considers ‘next steps’ to increase mail-in voting in Minnesota | Stephen Montemayor/Star Tribune
Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday said he favors conducting Minnesota’s elections primarily by mail after a proposal to expand mail-in voting during the pandemic was struck from a $17 million elections package state lawmakers sent to his desk this week. The legislation the DFL governor signed Tuesday represents a setback for Democrats in Washington and Minnesota who had sought to expand voting by mail during the COVID-19 emergency and into the 2020 elections. But Walz indicated he is looking at other options to make it easier to vote by mail. “The Governor supports universal mail-in voting, especially during this pandemic and considering a second wave of COVID-19 could hit this fall ahead of the November election,” said Teddy Tschann, the governor’s press secretary. “He is considering next steps in how to ensure Minnesotans are safely able to exercise their right to vote.” Executive action by the governor likely became the only way that the state’s Aug. 11 and Nov. 3 elections could be conducted by mail-in balloting after a proposal championed by DFL lawmakers and Secretary of State Steve Simon was dropped from the bill funding statewide elections.
Missouri: Mail-in-voting option tucked into wide-sweeping elections bill | Emily Wolf/Columbia Missourian
An amendment to allow expanded mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic grew from five pages to 31 overnight, morphing into a piece of legislation that would change Missouri’s voter ID laws, fees for ballot initiatives and running for office. The proposal, passed through the House as part of a larger bill, would allow voting by mail in the August and November statewide elections without voters stating a reason they cannot make it to polls. The bill would expire at the end of the year. Currently, Missouri law only allows people to cast absentee ballots if they say they’ll be unable to make it to the polls for any of six reasons, including absence from the area or confinement due to illness or physical disability. Officials across the state have been split on whether that reason applies to fears of contracting COVID-19. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has not released guidance on how counties should set up voting, leaving it in the hands of local election authorities.
Download the following letter sent on behalf of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Common Cause, and Verified Voting, to express our concern about the use of internet voting options in New Jersey elections.
Dear Governor Murphy, Attorney General Grewal, Secretary Way, and Director Giles:
We write concerning the use of internet voting options in recent local elections, as well as statements from state officials that this limited implementation will serve as a pilot for potential expanded use in future elections. We agree with the legal conclusions expressed in Professor Penny Venetis’s May 7th letter, that the use of internet voting would violate the statewide court order issued in Gusciora v. Corzine, and we are aware of new litigation brought by Mercer County Assemblyman Reed Gusciora and New Jersey citizen groups arguing the same. As Judge Feinberg recognized in Gusciora, “as long as computers, dedicated to handling election matters, are connected to the Internet, the safety and security of our voting systems are in jeopardy.” While we recognize the challenges that the pandemic poses for our democracy and the need to expand voting options to ensure free and safe elections, these expansions should not be done in a way that jeopardizes election security. And the overwhelming consensus among security experts is that no method of internet voting can be conducted in a secure manner at this time. For this reason, we strongly urge you to refrain from any further use of internet or mobile voting systems in 2020.
Pennsylvania: Election security experts urge Pennsylvania to begin planning for expanded mail-in voting this fall | Deb Erdley/Tribune-Review
With the Pennsylvania primary three weeks away, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security say the state must begin planning immediately for secure balloting in the Nov. 3 presidential election. “Bold action is needed on nearly every front here in Pennsylvania, in the United States and around the world.…
Pennsylvania: Glitch Sends Duplicate Ballots To Voters, But System Prevents Double-Voting, Allegheny County Says | Chris Potter/NPR
Allegheny County’s efforts to encourage mail-in voting for the June 2nd primary may be almost too successful: A state database has apparently sent out duplicate ballots as it struggles to keep up with demand – although the county says no matter how many ballots come in the mail, no one will get more than a single vote. In a release sent out late Thursday afternoon, the county’s Election Division said that a problem with the state’s SURE system, a voter registration database, has caused the printing of duplicate labels for mailing and absentee ballots. According to the release, that’s because printing orders are so large that the system is “timing out”: When an employee clears that condition, the system sends the rest of the job to the printer, while apparently also returning the job to the queue to be reprinted again. The issue is “impacting only Allegheny County at this time due to the successful effort in encouraging the mail-in ballot option with residents,” the statement said. It said county workers have addressed the problem by requesting smaller print batches and monitoring processing times. It is not clear how many voters have received duplicate ballots, or for how long the problem persisted. A county spokeswoman said there was “no way to know” the scope of the problem.
South Carolina: Officials brace for hike in June 9 primary absentee ballots | Maayan Schechter/The State
South Carolina election officials say they’re preparing for a potential flood of mail-in absentee ballot requests after Gov. Henry McMaster on Wednesday signed into law a bill to expand absentee voting in the June primary due to COVID-19. Of the state’s more than 3.3 million registered primary voters, the State Election Commission as of Wednesday had received nearly 100,000 absentee ballot applications — already thousands more than the roughly 60,000 absentee ballots cast in each of the 2016 and 2018 statewide primaries, said commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. The number of ballots requested so far still lags far behind the number of absentee votes counted in a general election, especially one with a presidential race topping the ticket. For example, in the 2016 general election featuring the race between now President Donald Trump and then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, 516,755 South Carolinians voted absentee, Whitmire said. Of those votes cast, 139,914 were sent by mail. Another 370,072 ballots were cast by in-person absentee voting.
Texas: Appeals court allows expansion of voting by mail during ongoing legal fight | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune
A state appeals court upheld a temporary order Thursday from a state district judge that could greatly expand the number of voters who qualify for mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, rebuffing Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to have the ruling put on hold while he appeals it. In a 2-1 split along party lines, a panel of the 14th Court of Appeals of Texas said it would let stand state District Judge Tim Sulak’s ruling from last month that susceptibility to the coronavirus counts as a disability under state election law and is a legally valid reason for voters to request absentee ballots. Paxton has been fighting that ruling and had argued that his pending appeal meant the lower court’s ruling was not in effect. Federal and state courts are considering legal challenges to the state’s rules for voting by mail as Democrats and voting rights groups ask courts to clarify whether lack of immunity to the coronavirus is a valid reason for people to request absentee ballots. Under Sulak’s order, voters can request mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic by citing the disability qualification allowed in the Texas election code.
Utah: Experts agree this year’s election is a big target for hackers, disinformation and foreign interference | Connor Sanders/The Salt Lake Tribune
As the 2020 election nears, the need to strengthen cybersecurity and dispel misinformation grows. “You have to assume you will be targeted by disinformation and misinformation,” said Adam Clayton Powell III, executive director of the Election Cybersecurity Initiative. “Elections and campaigns are too easy of a target for adversaries both foreign and domestic.” Powell and Clifford Neuman, director of USC’s Center for Computer Systems Security, outlined during an online conference Tuesday how hackers and foreign adversaries can not only influence elections through infiltrating the voting system, but also through spreading false information. Neuman mentioned that the first, but rarest, way an election can be compromised is through actual manipulation of the vote count on Election Day. Utah’s transition to mail-in voting not only makes it well-equipped to handle voting in a COVID-19 world, it also makes it difficult for hackers to skew an election through an electronic voting apparatus. But the reach of a hacker extends beyond the ballot box. Powell reported that China, Russia and Iran have already begun to spread false reports online, and foreign countries are now echoing each other’s messages by citing another country’s fake reports as a source.
On April 21st, a month into Bolivia’s lockdown, police in riot gear swarmed the home of Patricia Arce, the mayor of Vinto, a city in the department of Cochabamba, and a senate candidate for the left-wing Movement to Socialism (mas). Her family, their driver and a friend were celebrating her son’s 27th birthday with cake and chicha, a fermented-corn drink. All nine were jailed for two nights and charged with violating quarantine orders. Two weeks later, photos surfaced on Facebook of a birthday party in La Paz, Bolivia’s administrative capital, for the daughter of the country’s interim president, Jeanine Áñez, a conservative Catholic. Two guests had hitched a ride from Tarija, a department in the south, on an air-force jet. Ms Áñez’s critics accused her of hypocrisy. She had denounced such abuses of power by Evo Morales, her mas predecessor, who resigned late last year after an attempt to rig his re-election led to protests in which at least 36 people died.