National: Risks Overshadow Benefits with Online Voting, Experts Warn | Lucas Ropek/Government Technology

Government officials have expressed mounting concerns for how the COVID-19 virus could diminish voter turnout during the 2020 presidential election. As a partial solution, a handful of states have turned to Internet voting pilot programs: New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia have all recently launched pilots, most of which are limited in scope and focus mainly on alleviating barriers for disabled and overseas voters. However, the computer science community — long critical of internet voting — sees the programs as a slippery slope towards a looming security risk. David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University, is one of the prolific naysayers. Having spent much of his career researching holes in software code, Dill said that there is just simply no way to ensure that devices and apps are free of malware that might manipulate a voter’s choices. Similarly, a hacker from an adversarial foreign government could always theoretically hack their way into these systems and change or manipulate votes. “Between your keyboard and your vote going into an electronic ballot box on the other end of the Internet, there are a lot of bad things that could happen,” he said. “This problem is not fixable, at least not in practical terms.”

National: What to make of HBO’s ‘Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections’ | Abel Morales/The Fifth Domain

With the election now only months away, officials are desperately trying to find solutions to protect the integrity of our election systems. The big question that remains is, “Will it work?” Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections is a new HBO documentary that takes viewers through a journey to discover the weaknesses of today’s election technology. Being a security engineer, it is my job to help analyze some of the techniques that hackers are using in order to better protect the organizations I serve. I decided to watch Kill Chain to understand the minds of the adversaries who are conducting the attacks on our election system. Below are my takeaways from the film. In the documentary, one of the hackers at DEF CON successfully took over a voting machine and forced the system to shut down. The hacker achieved command line access. Within a three-day period, hackers learned from the presenter and found dozens of vulnerabilities. These were just hackers at a three-day conference limited to the resources they held within the conference center. Nation-state attackers have the time and resources to acquire these machines, identify the vulnerabilities and plan a strategic and coordinated attack to impact an election.

National: Senate panel submits final volume of Russian interference probe for classification review | Olivia Beavers/The Hill

The Senate Intelligence Committee announced Friday it has submitted the fifth and final volume of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election for classification review, marking one of the last steps before the sprawling probe concludes. The committee sent the fifth bipartisan report, which pertains to its counterintelligence findings, to the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) for review. The panel also said it submitted nearly 1,000 pages with redaction recommendations in the hopes that it may help speed up the review process for an unclassified version of the report to be approved. “The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has submitted the fifth and final volume of its bipartisan investigative report into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to the Office of Director of National Intelligence for classification review,” said Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), who have led the panel’s Russia probe. The committee previously released four other volumes that examined election security, Russia’s disinformation campaign, the Obama administration’s handling of Russian interference and the committee’s review of the intelligence community assessment.

National: Commission that pushed a cybersecurity overhaul hopes coronavirus boosts the effort | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

The lawmakers behind an ominous report about America’s lack of preparedness for a major cyberattack are hoping the coronavirus pandemic will boost their calls to overhaul the nation’s digital defenses. The Cyberspace Solarium Commission on March 11 released its 182-page report calling for a far more muscular stance against U.S. digital adversaries such as Russia and China and new cybersecurity executives with broad powers to cut through red tape at the White House and State Department. But the commission’s bold recommendations were largely lost in the shuffle two days later when President Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency and official Washington rushed to deal with the pandemic. A planned media tour by the commission’s congressional co-chairs, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), was also put on ice.

National: What’s lost, gained as Black Hat and DEF CON go virtual | Bradley Barth/SC Media

As Black Hat and DEF CON organizers, researchers and members of the cyber community scramble to figure out how they can salvage or, better yet, enhance the experience as the events go virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic, security will be a top priority. Meanwhile, other aspects of the conferences are expected to change more drastically, for better or worse. Organizers of the August 2020 events are aware the remote shows will have to emphasize security, as the new format presents a tempting challenge to adversaries who may want to make a name for themselves by hacking into the shows’ remote infrastructure, perhaps hijacking a presentation or disrupting access. While members of the cyber community acknowledged the issue, they don’t seem to be fretting it too heavily. “Sure, there is always a concern, but if cybersecurity conferences can’t figure out how to secure their virtual events, well, they probably shouldn’t claim to be a cybersecurity conference,” said Patrick Wardle, a frequent Black Hat/DEF CON presenter, principal security researcher at Jamf, and founder of Objective-See. “And such conferences already have had to secure their websites and networks at in-person events. And oftentimes such networks were part of a public venue or… belonged to the venue itself, and thus a purely virtual event may be in a way, simpler to secure.”

Alaska: Lieutenant governor rules out by-mail elections for Alaska’s August primary | James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News

The state of Alaska will keep in-person polling places open during its Aug. 18 primary election, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer said Friday. That announcement bucks the trend set by other West Coast states. A week ago, California said it would conduct its elections entirely by mail this year in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Oregon and Washington already have successful by-mail election programs, and Hawaii’s was already set to begin this year. “We’ve determined that the best way to go is to go with our current process, but with some modifications,” Meyer said. He said he has not yet determined the status of the November general election. “I’m thinking primary, just because nobody knows what the virus will look like in early November,” he said. Under the Alaska Constitution, the lieutenant governor is the top official in charge of the state’s elections. Meyer said poll workers will be provided with protective equipment, and Alaskans who vote in person will be given a mask and latex gloves if they do not have them when they come to a polling station.

Florida: After pleas, Secretary of State requests federal coronavirus money for election | Allison Ross/Tampa Bay Times

Following public prodding from county elections officials and others, the Florida Secretary of State has requested more than $20 million in federal money to prepare for the 2020 elections amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Florida Supervisors of Elections, a bipartisan association of the state’s county elections officials, had urged the state for about a month to request the money and make it available as soon as possible as the Sunshine State gears up for the Aug. 18 primary and November general election. The money is Florida’s share of $400 million in federal aid for elections as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Every state is required to make a 20 percent match; in Florida’s case, that’s roughly $4 million.

Georgia: Amid budget cuts, Georgia pays $432,000 a year to keep old Diebold voting machines in storage | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As Georgia is preparing for deep budget cuts, the state government is paying $432,000 a year to store 30,000 voting machines that will never be used again. An attorney for the secretary of state’s office now says it will likely go to court to try to destroy the obsolete voting machines, which are locked in a warehouse because of a lawsuit over election security.The 18-year-old touchscreens, called direct-recording electronic voting machines, were replaced this year by a voting system that uses new touchscreens and also prints out paper ballots.“Continuing to preserve the DREs at a significant cost to Georgia taxpayers in times of national crisis for state budgets across the country is wasteful and unnecessary,” according to a May 9 letter from Bryan Tyson, an attorney for the state, to plaintiffs in the lawsuit.Negotiations to dispose of the outdated voting equipment have stalled in federal court.The Georgia voters behind the lawsuit want to preserve some of the old voting machines for inspection, allowing them to find out whether the machines were infected by viruses or malware, which they allege could have spread to the state’s replacement voting system. The secretary of state’s office has said the new voting system is secure and independent from its previous machinery.

Idaho: State’s First Mail-In Primary Moves Ahead Amid Coronavirus | Keith Ridler/Associated Press

Idaho is holding an entirely mail-in primary for the first time as the state works to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Ballots must be requested by Tuesday and returned by 8 p.m. June 2 to local county elections offices, with results announced that evening. The Idaho secretary of state’s office said 320,000 ballots have been requested and mailed out, with about 100,000 returned in what could be a record turnout. “It’s looking like equal or better than the presidential primary” in March, said Secretary of State Chief Deputy Chad Houck. Democratic voters will see one high-profile name on their ballot: Former 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paulette Jordan of Plummer is running against former congressional candidate Jim Vandermaas, a retired law enforcement worker from Eagle, for a chance to challenge GOP Sen. Jim Risch in November.

Indiana: Secretary of State buys, distributes PPE to make primary election safer | Niki Kelly/The Journal Gazette

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson has purchased and distributed thousands of personal protective items to make the June 2 primary election safe, she said Friday. Meanwhile, state officials have also started the process of identifying the federal money local units of government can receive for unexpected COVID-19 expenses. Indiana continues to see cases of the virus rise — 614 new cases, for a total of 26,665 Friday. There were 42 new deaths for a total of 1,550. Another 41 Allen County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the county’s total to 957 cases and 64 deaths Friday. Lawson said the Indiana National Guard has handled receiving, sorting and shipping of the supplies to counties around the state. Some counties have already received the equipment and the rest will be sent out next week.

Maine: Cities and towns push absentee voting for July election reshaped by virus | Jessica Piper/Bangor Daily News

With most Mainers hunkered down amid the coronavirus outbreak, Susan Skidgell has been calling regular voters and asking if they want to request an absentee ballot for the July election. As deputy clerk for Mapleton, Castle Hill and Chapman — three Aroostook County towns with a combined population of 2,700 — she is trying to minimize the number of people who show up to polls on July 14 while ensuring the pandemic does not stop anyone from voting. “I have the time to do that right now,” Skidgell said. “I don’t know that the bigger towns would have the time to do that.” Maine is regularly one of the states with the highest voter turnout and has ranked highly in studies on ballot access with no-reason-necessary absentee ballots and same-day registration. The onus will be on cities and towns to ensure a safe summer election as they struggle to find poll workers. Even registering to vote is more of a challenge with municipal offices closed.

Missouri: GOP pushes bill that would force some to risk their health to vote | Dan Desai Martin/The American Independent

Voting rights advocates slammed new legislation passed in the Missouri House of Representatives because it would force voters to continue to have absentee ballots notarized before they are submitted. The new GOP-backed legislation would allow any registered voter in the state to request an absentee ballot for any reason, replacing the current requirement that provides only six approved reasons to request one. But Republican lawmakers refused to remove the provision in current Missouri law that requires that absentee ballots be notarized, saying that it is needed to combat voter fraud. In addition, the legislation requires voters to request an absentee ballot either in person or by mail. They cannot do so online or by email. Voting rights groups criticized the new rules. “Voting by mail should be safe and accessible, and having voters find and be in contact with a notary places an undue burden on voters and undermines public health during a global pandemic,” said Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesperson for Let America Vote, in an email on Friday.

Nevada: True the Vote sues again to stop Nevada’s mail-in June primary | Bill Dentzer/Las Vegas Review-Journal

Nevada plaintiffs backed by a conservative voting-watch group are trying again to block the state’s all vote-by-mail June 9 primary, arguing that mail-only balloting is no longer necessary to limit the risk of COVID-19 spreading among voters. The True the Vote group’s revised complaint seeking an injunction also argues that Clark County’s procedures for distributing ballots and conducting the election unduly favor that county’s voters over those in other parts of the state. “Expanding mail balloting is unnecessary to combat COVID-19,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in a complaint filed Wednesday. “There has been no established causal link between in-person voting and the contracting of COVID.” Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske ordered the mail-in election in March in response to the spreading COVID-19 outbreak. The move brought legal challenges from both ends of the political spectrum, but Democratic interests dropped their fight when Clark County agreed last week to amend its procedures.

New Jersey: State’s July 7 primary election will be mostly vote-by-mail during coronavirus pandemic, Murphy says | Brent Johnson/

New Jersey has already moved its upcoming primary elections — which include races for president, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House — from June 2 to July 7 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, Gov. Phil Murphy has signed an executive order to make the elections mostly be vote-by-mail, though each county will have a limited number of in-person polling places. Murphy announced Friday that all registered Democratic and Republican voters will receive a mail-in ballot with prepaid postage to vote in the July 7 primary. Unaffiliated or inactive voters will get an application to apply for mail-in ballots, the governor said. Voters can drop off ballots at regular mail boxes and secure drop-boxes that counties will be required to set up. “We will ensure every vote is counted,” Murphy said during his daily coronavirus briefing in Trenton. ”Our goals are twofold: to maximize our democracy while minimizing the risk of illness. We want everyone to participate in a safe and fully democratic process.”

New Jersey: Lawsuit aims to halt any more online voting in New Jersey | Sara Swann/The Fulcrum

New Jersey piloted a new online voting system for people with disabilities this week, but a lawsuit could stop the state from using it again. Human rights activists and law school students are challenging the new voting system, arguing it’s unfair to expose only one category of voters to significant risk their ballots will get hacked with impunity. Using a special app to vote over the internet is denigrated by most cybersecurity experts, who say the threat of votes being compromised is hardly worth the convenience. Four federal technology, law enforcement and election agencies united behind a report this month bluntly warning states against adopting online voting because “ensuring ballot integrity and maintaining voter privacy is difficult, if not impossible, at this time.” New Jersey ran its first test of online voting in 33 local elections Tuesday. The system was only available for people with disabilities, who would have had difficulty casting ballots in contests that were otherwise conducted entirely by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pennsylvania: State Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit to extend absentee ballot deadlines because of coronavirus | Jonathan Lai/Philadelphia Inquirer

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by advocates who sought to extend the state’s absentee ballot deadlines this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. That leaves in place the current election law, which requires mail ballots to be received by election officials by 8 p.m. on an election day regardless of when voters put them in the mail. A similar lawsuit over absentee ballot deadlines, backed by national Democrats, is pending in a state court. That case seeks a variety of changes, including an election day postmark deadline. The advocacy groups sued the state last month, saying the deadlines are generally not unconstitutional, but are this year because the pandemic is leading to delays in mail delivery and slower processing of absentee ballot requests. The plaintiffs are Suzanne Erb, chair of the Disability Rights Pennsylvania board; Disability Rights Pennsylvania; the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia; SeniorLAW Center; and SEAMAAC. They asked the court to allow ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by election day and received within a week after the election, a change that would increase the likelihood last-minute ballots would arrive in time to be counted. State election officials agreed that extending mail ballot deadlines could be a good idea, but argued it was inappropriate for that to come through a court order. The claims are simply too speculative, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and other officials said, so a change in policy should come from the legislature, not the courts.

Pennsylvania: Allegheny County doesn’t know how many duplicate ballots it mailed out | Julian Routh/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The manager of Allegheny County’s elections division said Friday he doesn’t know how many duplicate ballots were mailed out in recent weeks, but that duplicate mailings did occur, the problem is under control and he now has no concerns about the department’s ability to mail and count ballots for the June 2 primary. In a conference call with reporters, Dave Voye, who manages the division that’s had to process a massive influx of vote-by-mail applications and ballots as voters look for an alternative to in-person voting amid COVID-19, said the department started to notice there was a problem with duplicate ballots at the end of April. Several voters told the Post-Gazette this month that they had applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot and received more than one in the mail. The county released a statement on the issue Thursday, and said it was the result of a bug in the state’s voter registration system. “We figured it out and stopped it earlier this week,” Mr. Voye said, noting that the county was trying to process batches of mailing labels that were too large. The system was timing out and pushing the printed labels back into the queue to be printed again.

Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico to hold statehood referendum amid disillusion | Dánica Coto/Associated Press

Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced on Saturday that she will hold a nonbinding referendum in November to decide whether Puerto Rico should become a U.S. state, a move that comes amid growing disillusion with the island’s U.S. territorial status. For the first time in the island’s history, the referendum will ask a single, simple question: Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted as a U.S. state? It’s an answer that requires approval from U.S. Congress and a question that outraged the island’s small group of independence supporters and members of the main opposition Popular Democratic Party, which supports the status quo. But it’s a gamble that members of the governor’s pro-statehood party are confident will pay off given that Puerto Rico has struggled to obtain federal funds for hurricanes Irma and Maria, a string of recent strong earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic amid growing complaints that the island does not receive fair and equal treatment. “Everything important in life carries some risk,” said former Puerto Rico governor Carlos Romero Barceló, a member of the Progressive New Party. Previous referendums have presented voters with more than one question or various options, including independence or upholding the current territorial status, but none have been so direct as the one scheduled to be held during the Nov. 3 general elections.

Rhode Island: 6,100 masks, 750 bottles of hand sanitizer: Election board lays out how it will hold June 2 presidential primary | Katherine Gregg/Providence Journal

For a presidential primary like no other Rhode Island has ever seen, state election officials say they will need: 1,400 masks for poll workers, 4,700 masks for voters who arrive without their own, 750 bottles of hand sanitizer and 150 face shields. The list goes on. Disinfectant spray. Gloves. Cleaning towels. Social-distancing floor decals. Social-distancing signage. The state Board of Elections’ “In-Person Voting Preliminary Covid-19 Response Plan’’ assumes the state’s emergency management agency will, at the very least, provide the personal protective equipment, or PPE. Made public for the first time Friday morning, the plan resulted from talks between staff at the board and the state Department of Health about how to protect voters and poll workers at the 47 polling stations that will be open for the June 2 presidential primary. While state elections officials have been pushing a “predominantly mail ballot election’’ by sending mail ballot applications unsolicited to every voter in the state, they know some voters will want to vote as they always have: at a polling station.

South Carolina: Absentee ballot deadline, witness rule argued in federal court | John Monk/The State

After more than three hours of legal arguments Friday, a federal judge is now set to decide whether, because of the dangers of COVID-19, to eliminate two of South Carolina’s strict requirements concerning absentee ballots for the upcoming June 9 primary. “We are going to do our best to turn this around quickly because we know there’s a lot at stake for all the people involved,” said U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs to a more than dozen lawyers in a near empty courtroom and on a remote video hookup. There are two questions before Childs:

Whether to set aside the state legal requirement that a voter’s absentee ballot envelope must contain the signature and address of a witness to the voter’s ballot.

Whether to allow mailed-in ballots to still be counted if they reach elections officials after 7 p.m. on the day of an election. Currently, mailed-in absentee ballots must get to elections officials by that time or they aren’t counted.

Tennessee: ACLU files suit against Tennessee urging mail-in ballots for all voters in 2020 elections | Mariah Timms/Nashville Tennessean

Tennessee may need to make absentee voting available to all eligible voters by the August primary election, if a lawsuit filed Friday against the state is successful. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed the suit on behalf of several residents who believe their health conditions would make voting during the COVID-19 pandemic a threat to their safety. Currently, eligible voters must provide a qualifying excuse as to why they need to vote by mail, the ACLU said. The suit pushes the state to expand those requirements and allow all eligible voters to vote by absentee ballot. “No one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote. Tennessee can simultaneously keep the public safe and protect democracy, but is refusing to do so. Eliminating the excuse requirement during COVID-19 is a common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote, which is why many other states have already made vote by mail and absentee voting available,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a release. Fear of contracting the coronavirus doesn’t meet the criteria to vote by mail due to illness in Tennessee, state officials said Tuesday. Even so, officials recommended preparing as though all 1.4 million registered voters who are at least 60 will cast ballots by mail in the August primary election.

Texas: State Supreme Court pauses expansion of voting by mail during coronavirus | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday temporarily put on hold an expansion of voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Siding with Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Supreme Court blocked a state appeals court decision that allowed voters who lack immunity to the virus to qualify for absentee ballots by citing a disability. That appellate decision upheld a lower court’s order that would have allowed more people to qualify to vote by mail. The state’s Supreme Court has not weighed the merits of the case. It’s the latest in an ongoing legal squabble that in the last three days has resulted in daily changes to who can qualify for a ballot they can fill out at home and mail in. 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. A resolution to that question is gaining more urgency every day as the state approaches the July primary runoff elections.