National: Pandemic Prompts Questions About 2020 Presidential Election | Cameron Langford/Courthouse News

With Election Day fast approaching, the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored a central question seemingly destined for a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court: Will states let all voters cast absentee ballots, given concerns about spreading the virus? The absentee ballot question is just one of many questions swirling around the 2020 presidential election. Will states be able to find enough volunteers to usher voters through the polls? Many poll workers are elderly, a group at high risk for Covid-19 health complications. Wisconsin called in 2,400 National Guard troops to staff the polls for its April 7 primary election, a move voting-rights advocates say should not be duplicated. “Members of the National Guard can have an intimidating effect inside our nation’s polling sites and discourage some voters from feeling able to freely cast their ballots … Particularly voters of color,” said Kristen Clarke, president of Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan organization. “There are also concerns with deploying people who may not be sufficiently trained and experienced to manage poll sites,” Clarke said in an email.

National: Putin Is Well on His Way to Stealing the Next Election #DemocracyRIP | Franklin Foer/The Atlantic

Jack Cable sat down at the desk in his cramped dorm room to become an adult in the eyes of democracy. The rangy teenager, with neatly manicured brown hair and chunky glasses, had recently arrived at Stanford—his first semester of life away from home—and the 2018 midterm elections were less than two months away. Although he wasn’t one for covering his laptop with strident stickers or for taking loud stands, he felt a genuine thrill at the prospect of voting. But before he could cast an absentee ballot, he needed to register with the Board of Elections back home in Chicago. When Cable tried to complete the digital forms, an error message stared at him from his browser. Clicking back to his initial entry, he realized that he had accidentally typed an extraneous quotation mark into his home address. The fact that a single keystroke had short-circuited his registration filled Cable with a sense of dread. Despite his youth, Cable already enjoyed a global reputation as a gifted hacker—or, as he is prone to clarify, an “ethical hacker.” As a sophomore in high school, he had started participating in “bug bounties,” contests in which companies such as Google and Uber publicly invite attacks on their digital infrastructure so that they can identify and patch vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them. Cable, who is preternaturally persistent, had a knack for finding these soft spots. He collected enough cash prizes from the bug bounties to cover the costs of four years at Stanford.

Editorials: ELECTION-20 and COVID-19: Keeping our democracy while keeping our distance | Rob Sprinkle and David Mussington/Medium

Decades of concern with election security have so far led to scandalously few reforms of our voting procedures. Many Americans are no longer confident that vote totals this coming November will be accurate or, more fundamentally, will reflect the preferences of citizens among whom “voter suppression” is a reawakened worry. States remain firmly in control of election administration, and states vary widely in timing votes, deciding where votes can be cast, permitting votes to be cast early or other than in-person, handling votes cast overseas or in advance, recording votes, counting votes, and reporting votes. And states also vary widely — and frighteningly — in their attitudes toward cyber attacks by foreign intelligence organizations, by digital criminals, and by thrill-seeking Internet trolls. Deterring such attacks is difficult, and retaliating against them is dicey. Our 2016 experience and our ongoing observations show many states, Maryland fortunately an exception, either uninterested in election security or ineffective at mitigating the dangers they do expect to face. Familiar risks — storms, earthquakes, fires, riots, fraud — have strained past votes, and our new cyber risk, most dangerous where least feared, will surely strain the coming vote, but no stress prior to our current coronavirus pandemic has created, in every state simultaneously, a conflict between exercising the electoral franchise and staying healthy. Directly ahead in COVID-19’s policy-forcing path and already immunocompromised by pre-existing conditions, lies ELECTION-20.

Georgia: Precincts close before primary because of coronavirus | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Some churches, senior centers and fire stations are shutting their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Georgia voters with fewer places to cast their ballots in the June 9 primary. Polling places have closed across Georgia, but especially in Fulton County, where more than 30 locations told election officials they’re unwilling to host voters on election day. The loss of precincts leaves fewer options for voters, increasing the danger of groups gathering to vote in fewer places. While nearly 1.3 million people have requested absentee ballots, in-person voting must remain available during three weeks of early voting starting May 18 and on election day June 9, according to state law. Voting locations in churches are the most vulnerable. Churches normally serve as 35% of the state’s precincts, but many of them have closed to both parishioners and the public to help prevent the spread of the coroanvirus, according to a statewide analysis of polling places by the Georgia News Lab, an investigative reporting partnership among Georgia universities and GPB News. An additional 27% of precincts are located in schools or municipal buildings, which are more likely to remain open for voting.

Illinois: County Clerks Prepare For 2020 Election As Pandemic Continues | Claudia Baker/WNIJ and WNIU

Local officials across Illinois are preparing for the 2020 election amid concerns over how the coronavirus may affect the logistics of the election. Several voting locations used during the March 17 primaries have been linked to coronavirus cases. An election judge in Chicago died from complications due to coronavirus a few weeks after the primary. Many election judges across Illinois are over the age of 60, putting them at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. Many election judges may decide not to work in November which could strain local polling places. One solution suggested by Illinois lawmakers is to expand mail-in voting measures. Joe Tirio, the McHenry county clerk and recorder spoke about the political push for such measures. “There have been efforts to expand vote by mail predating coronavirus. There were two bills in the last legislative session addressing this and there’s an appetite for it on the federal level,” Tirio said.

Louisiana: Suit has been filed challenging State’s COVID-19 absentee voting restrictions | New Orleans’ Multicultural News Source | Fritz Esker/The Louisiana Weekly

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the Washington, D.C. law firm Covington & Burling, LLP filed a federal lawsuit on May 7 challenging voting requirements imposed by the state of Louisiana. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, centers around restrictions on the use of absentee mail-in ballots and the health risk to in-person voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, and four individual voters. “Risking your health, and the health of your family, should not be a requirement to partake in the electoral process,” said Catherine Meza, senior counsel at the LDF, in a statement. “We are hoping this lawsuit not only increases access to absentee voting, but also makes in-person voting safer, so Louisianians can exercise their constitutional right without putting their lives at risk.”

Nebraska: State Holds In-Person Primary Amid Coronavirus Pandemic | Grand Schulte/Associated Press

Nebraska on Tuesday will hold the nation’s first in-person primary since a heavily criticized election in Wisconsin five weeks ago in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Election officials have repeatedly urged voters to cast early, mail-in ballots, but Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and Secretary of State Bob Evnen both pledged to forge ahead with an in-person primary even though many other states have rescheduled theirs or switched to all-mail voting. On Monday, Ricketts said members of the Nebraska National Guard will be on call help short-staffed polling sites in eight counties, including the Omaha and Lincoln areas. He said Guard members will be dressed in civilian clothes, not their normal uniforms. “They’ll be available to help out,” he said. A Guard spokesman said 135 members have gone through poll worker training but won’t be dispatched unless they’re requested. The counties that might have Guard members as poll workers are some of Nebraska’s hardest-hit: Dakota, Dawson, Douglas Hall, Lancaster, Lincoln, Madison and Scottsbluff.

North Carolina: The pandemic will drive up election costs, and so far North Carolina isn’t ready | WRAL

The first coronavirus response legislation that the N.C. General Assembly passed functions like a tourniquet — it aimed to stop the immediate economic hemorrhage from the pandemic and shore up health care across the state. But with legislators set to return to Raleigh on May 18, budgetary patients will still be in the waiting room needing attention. For North Carolina’s state and county elections agencies, and the voters relying on them to run a safe, fair and secure election, the clock is ticking. Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell has sent three letters to the legislature asking for changes to state voting laws and roughly $2 million in funding to match federal money made available by the CARES Act. Brinson Bell said the $11 million in federal money is needed to help counties pay for what elections officials expect will be a dramatic increase in absentee-by-mail voting and equipment to run in-person voting safely. As it will for the upcoming second primary in western North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District and a new primary for a county commission seat in Columbus County, Brinson Bell said the state plans to purchase masks for every poll worker as well as every voter. They will also buy enough pens that each voter gets his or her own, plexiglass shields for check-in stations and heavy-duty sanitizing kits for every polling place.

Ohio: Democrats call for streamlined ballot requests, expanded voter registration for November election | Andrew J. Tobias/Cleveland Plain Dealer

A group of elected Ohio Democrats are calling for expanded voter registration and streamlined ballot requests, among other policy changes, to help prepare the state for a November election that could be upended by coronavirus. The changes are meant to increase the number of Ohioans who vote early while reducing Election Day lines, something that will be helpful whether or not a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks lead to public-health restrictions that close polling places, the Democrats said. Typically, about one-third of voters in Ohio vote early, and Democrats say they’d like to see the number get closer to one-half. “We’re not saying this should be all-mail, and we’re not saying this should be all in-person,” said Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, an Akron Democrat. “What we are saying is we need to start preparing for every possible scenario, because we have no clue what October could look like.” Some of the proposals, like allowing people to apply online for mail-in ballots, providing postage-paid envelopes for applications and ballots, and increasing funding for local county elections offices, are supported by Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. That sets up the possibility of a bipartisan coalition supporting elections changes in Ohio as it and likely other states debate expanding mail-in voting against the backdrop of risks posed by the coronavirus.

South Carolina: Democrats, Republicans to clash in court over absentee voting in time of COVID | John Monk/Charlotte Observer

When the state Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday on a historic question — whether to expand absentee ballot voting in upcoming elections during the COVID-19 pandemic — the arguments themselves will be historic. “These arguments will be the first time the court has used video web conferencing to conduct an argument,” a note on the Supreme Court Judicial Branch website said. All or most of the lawyers and justices will be in separate locations and visible on a computer screen. The issue has come before the court because of the highly contagious and sometimes fatal virus, as well as the increased threat the disease poses to people in their sixties and older and others with underlying health conditions.Moreover, African Americans have been stricken and have died at significantly higher rates than people of other races. The virus is easily spread by small droplets in infected peoples’ breaths, coughs and sneezes. The dangers from COVID-19 means the high court should interpret existing law to make it clear that people wanting to stay away from large gatherings for fear of getting sick should be allowed to do so, Democrats say. Republicans say the legislature should decide whether to expand absentee balloting.

Texas: State’s rules for mail-in voting won’t work during pandemic, a new lawsuit argues | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune

A coalition of voters and civil rights groups opened a new front Monday in the legal wars over mail-in voting in Texas during the new coronavirus pandemic. Several lawsuits already underway challenge state limits on who can vote by mail, but a lawsuit filed Monday dives into the mechanics of mail-in balloting, arguing that existing rules will deprive voters of their constitutional rights in the middle of a public health crisis. In the federal lawsuit filed in San Antonio, five Texas voters with medical conditions, Voto Latino, the NAACP Texas and the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans argue that four existing rules for absentee voting will place undue burdens on the right to vote, or risk disenfranchising Texans, during the pandemic.

Utah: Hackers, COVID-19 and foreign disinformation create challenges for Utah elections this year | Lee Davidson/The Salt Lake Tribune

Hackers likely will still try to infiltrate government voting databases. Officials worry foreign countries may spread disinformation about elections. And the coronavirus is doing away with in-person voting in Utah’s primary on June 30. So what could go wrong amid all that? Utah officials plan to discuss that in an online public workshop Tuesday. But Justin Lee — state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox — says Utah is better prepared to deal with challenges than most states because it has years of experience with voting by mail. With COVID-19, “The big concern is just to maintain appropriate social distancing but still allow everyone their right to vote,” so most states are attempting to vote by mail, often for the first time on a large scale, Lee said. “The good thing for Utah is that 90% of our voters already vote by mail,” he said. “So we’re already in a very good place compared to some of these other states that are scrambling.”

Wisconsin: Clerks Plan Protective Measures For In-Person Voting In Congressional Special Election | Rob Mentzer/Wisconsin Public Radio

Voters in the 7th Congressional District can expect to encounter protective barriers, strict limits on the number of people at polling places and other protective measures as they head to the polls for Tuesday’s special election. “The clerks in our district are taking the safety of the voters extremely seriously,” Oneida County clerk Tracy Hartman said Friday on WPR’s “The Morning Show.” Besides adding clear-plastic partitions between voters and poll workers and limiting numbers in polling locations, clerks will offer hand sanitizer stations and make pens single use, one per voter. Many of these practices were put in place statewide for Wisconsin’s April 7 presidential primary and state Supreme Court elections. Hartman said some clerks have used the last month to implement new safety measures. “We took April, we learned from it and we’ve improved upon it,” she said. “Overall, at least in Oneida County, it was a positive experience and we kept the voters as safe as possible.”

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.