Wisconsin: Questions linger as new research suggests election was linked to rise in coronavirus cases | Daphne Chen and John Diedrich/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Research on the effects Wisconsin’s spring election continues to emerge — and not all of it agrees. A study released Monday by economists at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Ball State University suggests that in-person voting may have led to a “large” increase in the rate of positive coronavirus tests weeks later. The report, which has not been peer-reviewed, is at least the third to come out since the April 7 election, and the first to conclude a positive link, giving the public a front-row seat on the messy, uncertain and sometimes lurching progress of science. Epidemiologists and infectious disease experts in Wisconsin previously said the spring election did not lead to a feared spike in COVID-19 cases, though they warned that the effects may be hidden in the data and difficult to ever detect. Investigations involving contact tracing by public health officials were similarly inconclusive. Last week, Milwaukee County epidemiologists said they found 26 county residents who may have been infected with coronavirus during in-person voting. However, they said their attempts to prove the link were complicated by a lack of data and the fact that the election took place around Easter and Passover, which led to more people gathering in general.

Kansas: Johnson County will consider spending $1 million to update voting machinery to address COVID-19 concerns | Roxie Hammill/Shawnee Mission Post

County election officials are getting set to spend $1 million soon to add tabulation devices to its two-year-old voting machinery – a move election officials say is necessary because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19. But the change also renders redundant the built-in tabulation function that was the star feature of the $10.6 million purchase in 2018. That year the county was first in the country to use the voting machine/tabulation combo that had just been developed by vendor Election Systems and Software, of Omaha. The existing machines will now basically become ballot markers instead. Voters who use them to make their choices will then walk their marked ballots over to a separate tabulator to be counted, said Connie Schmidt, who is election commissioner through this year’s ballots, after which the Secretary of State’s appointee Fred Sherman will take over. The plan is to swap out 240 of the voting machines with brand-new DS 200 tabulators, Schmidt said. But because they aren’t equal in price, the county will need to spend another $1,020,500. And it has to be done before the end of May, because that’s when special pricing expires from a previous group deal with Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties. All but about $35,000 may be reimbursed from federal funds.

National: Democrats try again with sweeping mail voting requirements | Nicholas Riccardi/Associated Press

Despite an earlier failed attempt, Democrats tried again Friday to adopt a massive expansion of voting by mail during the coronavirus outbreak, including $3.6 billion in funding for states to adjust their election systems to deal with the pandemic. The money was included in a $3 trillion coronavirus response bill that was passed Friday by the Democratic-led House. But it has no chance of moving forward. The Republican-led Senate opposes the bill, and the White House has vowed to veto it. The most controversial aspect of the election funding section of the bill is another round of mandates that Democrats wish to place on states to ensure they have fair and safe elections at a time when crowded polling stations are a potential health risk. The bill would require states to end requirements that voters get a legal excuse to request an absentee ballot, mandate 15 days of early voting and order states to mail a ballot to every voter during emergencies. The Senate blocked similar requirements in a coronavirus relief bill in March.

National: The Cyberspace Solarium Commission Makes Its Case to Congress | William Ford/Lawfare

During a videoconference on May 13, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission made its case to Congress that the U.S. should adopt a strategy of layered cyber deterrence, a three-pronged plan to reduce the frequency of and the damage wrought by cyberattacks targeting America. The commission’s proposal follows 11 months of intense internal deliberation. During that time, the task force worked to answer the question Congress established it to address: What strategic approach should the federal government take to defending the United States in cyberspace? On March 11, the commission unveiled its vision in an exhaustive report detailing the concept of layered cyber deterrence. The commission’s members—two senators, two representatives, four executive branch officials and six private experts—packed the report with scores of policy recommendations, including 57 legislative proposals, which delineate exactly how to execute the novel cyber strategy. The report’s recommendations are designed to be turned into bills, ushered swiftly through Congress, and implemented. To that end, the commission transmitted its legislative proposals directly to the relevant House and Senate committees, some of which have begun the work of incorporating the commission’s ideas into legislation. But more than two months passed between the release of the commission’s report and the first time the task force got to discuss its proposals in public testimony before lawmakers.

National: Suits filed across US challenging mail-in voting obstacles | Jacob Dougherty/JURIST

With an expected increase in mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, voter rights advocates have filed lawsuits across the country challenging existing obstacles in states’ mail-in voting procedures. Challenges to mail-in voter restrictions have been filed in Tennessee, Texas, Minnesota, Georgia and North Carolina, among others. Some challenges primarily address the general restrictions states have placed on who can receive a mail-in ballot. For example, in Texas, according to Texas Election Code § 82.002, “a qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day.” The plaintiffs in the federal court case contend that all voters qualify for mail-in voting under this provision. In Tennessee, the same argument is being made for the state’s Excuse Requirement, which allows an “excuse,” or reason for a mail-in ballot, for voters who are “hospitalized, ill or physically disabled, and because of such condition, [are] unable to appear at [their] polling place on election day.”

National: Voting During Coronavirus: Will We Have Universal Vote-by-Mail by November? | Emilie Mutert/NBC

The experts are clear: The coronavirus will be here through the summer and will stick around through November’s general election. An American presidential election has never been postponed or canceled, but with warnings from health officials discouraging crowds – which are generally unavoidable at polling places – officials are in many cases already working to ensure they have the extra resources needed to implement vote-by-mail on an expanded scale. “It’s either going to be vote-by-mail or nothing if we have to deal with a worst-case scenario,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is sponsoring an emergency bill to expand vote-by-mail, has said. Others say vote-by-mail would have to be part of a suite of responses, such as extended early in-person voting with crowd controls and “curbside voting,” which allows voters concerned about entering a polling place to return a ballot without leaving their car, NBC News reported.

National: Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting | Michael Wines/The New York Times

Six months before a presidential election in which turnout could matter more than persuasion, the Republican Party, the Trump campaign and conservative activists are mounting an aggressive national effort to shape who gets to vote in November — and whose ballots are counted. Its premise is that a Republican victory in November is imperiled by widespread voter fraud, a baseless charge embraced by President Trump, but repeatedly debunked by research. Democrats and voting rights advocates say the driving factor is politics, not fraud — especially since Mr. Trump’s narrow win in 2016 underscored the potentially crucial value of depressing turnout by Democrats, particularly minorities. The Republican program, which has gained steam in recent weeks, envisions recruiting up to 50,000 volunteers in 15 key states to monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious. That is part of a $20 million plan that also allots millions to challenge lawsuits by Democrats and voting-rights advocates seeking to loosen state restrictions on balloting. The party and its allies also intend to use advertising, the internet and President Trump’s command of the airwaves to cast Democrats as agents of election theft.

Georgia: Emergency rule allows absentee ballots to be opened early| Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Election officials can begin opening absentee ballots eight days before Georgia’s June 9 primary, according to a State Election Board rule approved Monday to deal with a deluge of mailed-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. The board voted unanimously to pass the emergency rule, which will help election officials handle record numbers of absentee ballots. In previous elections, absentee ballots couldn’t be processed until election day.Even though ballots can be opened in advance, election results in some races might not be known for several days after the primary because of the time needed to count absentee ballots.It will take much longer to scan and count absentee ballots than it would on Georgia’s new in-person voting system, which combines touchscreens and printed-out paper ballots. So far, over 1.4 million voters have requested absentee ballots. Polls opened Monday for three weeks of in-person early voting. “For this once-in-a-lifetime unprecedented emergency, this regulation painstakingly attempts to balance transparency and security,” State Election Board member Matt Mashburn said during the meeting held via teleconference.

Georgia: ‘Social Distancing & Sanitizing’: Georgia Opens Early Voting | Ben Nadler/Associated Press

Wait in your car until your group is called. Stand on the painted circle so you don’t get too close to other voters in line. (Please) Wear a mask. Everything you touch will be sanitized. Those are some of the new procedures Georgians were greeted with Monday as they participated in the first day of in-person early voting for the state’s June 9 primaries with the coronavirus pandemic still raging. In metro Atlanta’s Cobb County, Election Director Janine Eveler said new procedures and guidelines have “slowed things down considerably, and people are having to wait.” She said that voters faced wait times of over an hour Monday morning. Eveler said safety procedures implemented in Cobb include having people wait in their car until called up to the line in groups, maintaining 6-foot spacing in line and only allowing a small number of people into the voting room. In addition, an ongoing shortage of poll workers means the county is down to a single early voting location, when normally two are in operation for early voting’s first week.

Idaho: Privacy please: Protected information for some Idaho voters accidentally released | Misty Inglet/KTBV

The Idaho Secretary of State’s Office is admitting to a computer glitch that led to some private voter information being released. Recently, the Idaho Freedom Foundation requested a list of registered Idaho voters from the Secretary of State’s Office. That list contains voter names, addresses, and party affiliation. That basic voter information is public and as such, the Secretary of State’s Office followed legal procedure by providing the list to the group as well as eight other organizations. However, Dep. Secretary of State Chad Houck confirmed to KTVB that the list provided did contain some protected information that should not have been released. Idaho Freedom Action, a branch of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, posted the list online on May 13, which drew the privacy issue to the attention of the Secretary of State’s Office, as well as others.

Maryland: Primary election ballots delayed in Baltimore because they’re mailed from out-of-state | Kate Amara/WBAL

Some registered voters in Baltimore City have yet to receive their mail-in ballot for Maryland’s presidential primary on June 2. Maryland elections officials said the ballots are in the mail. Because of the coronavirus, the election is designed to be an all vote-by-mail election. Baltimore’s ballots didn’t get sent on May 8 as elections officials had been saying, but rather, a week later on May 15. Elections administrators confirmed the delay Sunday. Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, who’s also a candidate for mayor, said he has yet to receive a ballot. “Right, but for me, it’s much bigger than me. It’s not that just I didn’t get it — all of my neighbors didn’t get it. All of my family didn’t get it,” Scott said. “Look, it’s just unacceptable, it’s just unacceptable. If they knew that, they should have made us aware.” But elections officials said the print shops are out-of-state. The ballots were printed in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio, and mailed to Marylanders from there.

Mississippi: With history of voter suppression, Mississippi trailing most states in making elections safer | Bobby Harrison/Mississippi Today

In no state has more blood been shed for the right to vote than Mississippi where people have died in the quest to end Jim Crow-era laws that denied the vote to African American citizens. Hopefully, Mississippians no longer have to put their lives on the line to vote. But under current state laws voting could again be dangerous if COVID-19 is still a threat in November when Mississippians go to the polls to elect a president, U.S. senator and other officeholders. Mississippi has some of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws. And Mississippi is one of only six states, according to Represent Us, a national non-profit promoting mail-in voting, to not have taken steps to make it safer to vote if the coronavirus is still a factor in November. Both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, have said the issue of ensuring voter safety will be a topic to be taken up in the coming days and weeks of the legislative session. The state has received federal funds to help ensure a safe election. Hosemann and Gunn are saying all options are on the table. But as of yet, they are not providing any details.

Ohio: Secretary of State proposes changes for November vote | Segann March/Cincinnati Enquirer

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is hoping his proposed changes for November’s  election will help make the voting process more efficient for voters. After April’s extended primary election, many voters complained about the vote-by-mail only process, a decision made by the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19. LaRose believes his “tweaks” will benefit all parties on Nov. 3, but those ideas will have to pass through the General Assembly first. LaRose’s proposal calls for the state to set an earlier deadline to request an absentee ballot, allow voters to request ballots online instead of printing out a form that then has to be mailed and provide postage-paid envelopes to return those ballots. The goal of the first idea is to prevent voters from procrastinating. Postage-paid envelopes would eliminate the need to visit the post office if renewed virus-related restrictions become necessary. The idea behind the last proposal is to prevent the need to visit a post office if there are renewed virus-related restrictions on movements.

Oregon: Vote-by-mail, ballot counting in age of pandemic | Lisa Balick/KOIN

Oregon’s vote-by-mail is a big win for citizens to cast their ballot in the primary under the shadow of the pandemic. But there are big changes at elections offices trying to keep socially distant while handling hundreds of people who show up needing help. Elections offices are trying to find way to maintain physical distancing for all those who show up — people who didn’t get a ballot or have a problem with the ballot they did get. People can order ahead for a replacement ballot and have it brought to them at a nearby parking lot — sort of like a Ballot-to-Go. The threat of the coronavirus also affected the usual army of seniors who are longtime workers at county offices during elections. Many are staying away for personal safety since they are in the high risk group.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia coronavirus food boxes to include primary absentee ballot applications | Jonathan Lai,/Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia elections officials are distributing 92,000 absentee ballot applications and promotional fliers in food boxes given out across the city, an effort to reach low-income voters who they fear will risk their health to vote in person or skip voting altogether. “We have a responsibility,” said Lisa Deeley, chair of the Philadelphia Board of City Commissioners, which oversees elections. The commissioners gave 32,000 packets to the city for its food boxes, 40,000 to the Philadelphia School District, and 20,000 to the nonprofit Share Food Program. Data show voters in low-income neighborhoods are requesting mail ballots at disproportionately low rates. That suggests those voters will either show up in person at disproportionate rates or not vote at all. And the commissioners have cut the number of polling places by 77% because of the coronavirus, meaning voters will be gathered at fewer locations than normal, likely increasing crowding and health risks. Elected officials, community organizations, voting rights activists, and political campaigns have urged people to vote by mail instead, but their work has been made harder by the pandemic, Deeley said.

Texas: Cyberattack Disrupts Texas Department of Transportation | Lucas Ropek/Government Technology

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) was hit by a ransomware incident last Thursday, making it the second state agency to suffer such an attack in a little less than a week. On the heels of an attack against the state’s Office of Court Administration (OCA) May 8, a hacker gained access to the TxDOT’s network last week, in what officials are calling a “ransomware event.” The agency took measures to contain the damage and has contacted the FBI to help with its investigation, according to a press release. “We want every Texan to rest assured that we are doing everything we can to swiftly address this issue. We are also working to ensure critical operations continue during this interruption,” TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said in a statement Friday. While it’s unclear which services have been affected by the attack, the agency’s website appears to have lost some functionality and now includes a banner that reads: “Due to technical difficulties, some website features are unavailable. We are working to resolve this issue quickly.”

Utah: Heavily Republican Utah likes voting by mail, but national GOP declares war on it | Lee Davidson/The Salt Lake Tribune

Heavily Republican Utah is one of just five states that for years have voted primarily by mail (the others lean Democratic), and leaders here say it increases turnout by making voting easier. But national GOP leaders denounced the practice Monday as part of a Democratic plot to use coronavirus scares to alter elections in ways that could increase fraud. They vowed to fight voting by mail and other election proposals they dislike with a $20 million legal fund. “A national vote-by-mail system would open the door to a new set of problems, such as potential election fraud,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, the niece of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “At this time of uncertainty, we need to have faith in our election process.” That comes after President Donald Trump has vigorously attacked voting by mail. “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump told Fox News last month.

Wisconsin: In-Person Voting May Have Led to ‘Large’ Increase in Coronavirus Cases, Study Suggests | Meghan Roos/Newsweek

new study published Monday suggests in-person voting during Wisconsin’s primary election on April 7 may have led to “large” increases in the state’s number of COVID-19 cases. Though the data gathered by economists at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and Ball State University was not complete, the researchers said their assessment of COVID-19 cases by county thus far indicates a strong connection between each county’s number of in-person polling locations and spikes in positive cases. The real impact of in-person voting on rising case numbers could have been even broader than the data suggests, researchers said. “Across all models we see a large increase in COVID-19 cases in the weeks following the election in counties that had more in-person votes per voting location,” the study authors said. “Furthermore, we find a consistent negative relationship between absentee voting and the rate of positive COVID-19 tests.”

Wisconsin: Sweeping lawsuit seeks to have absentee ballot requests sent to all Wisconsin voters | Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A disability rights group and others sued Wisconsin election officials Monday to try to ensure the state has enough poll workers and guarantee voters who want absentee ballots receive them, adding to a cascade of litigation over how elections should be run as the coronavirus pandemic persists. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Madison, seeks to ensure people have ample opportunities to vote in person or by mail for the August primary and November general election. It aims to force election officials to hire more poll workers, send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters, set up secure drop boxes for absentee ballots in every community and notify voters if their ballots won’t be counted so they have time to fix any problems. Bringing the lawsuit are Disability Rights Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and three women who say they were prevented from voting or faced numerous obstacles in the April 7 election for state Supreme Court. That election caught worldwide attention because of a lack of poll workers, shuttered polling places and long lines in Milwaukee and Green Bay. The lawsuit contends the way the state plans to run this fall’s elections will violate the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Philippines: Comelec to push test run of mobile voting app | Leslie Ann Aquino/Manila Bulletin

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is pushing through with the plan to test run the mobile voting application for possible use in future poll exercises. Poll Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said they will hold the test run as soon as it is safe to conduct it. “We have to choose countries where there are very low risk of contamination,” she said. “We have to find ways to test it without personal contact with the providers,” she added. Guanzon, Comelec – Office for Overseas Voting (OFOV) commissioner-in-charge, said with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is more reason to push for mobile app voting by Filipinos overseas especially those in the United States and seafarers. The Comelec en banc had earlier approved the test run of the mobile voting application overseas for possible use in the May, 2022 polls.