Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Statement for the Record House Admin Election Hearing

The following is a letter sent by Verified Voting to the House Administration Committee Subcommittee on Elections ahead of the hearing, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Voting Rights and Election Administration: Ensuring Safe and Fair Elections” on June 11, 2020. Download the letter here June 10, 2020 The Honorable Marcia L. Fudge, Chairperson House Administration…

National: Beyond Georgia: A Warning for November as States Scramble to Expand Vote-by-Mail | Nick Corasaniti and Michael Wines/The New York Times

The 16 statewide primary elections held during the pandemic reached a glaring nadir on Tuesday as Georgia saw a full-scale meltdown of new voting systems compounded by the state’s rapid expansion of vote-by-mail. But around the country, elections that have been held over the past two months reveal a wildly mixed picture, dominated by different states’ experiences with a huge increase in voting by mail. Over all, turnout in the 15 states and Washington, D.C., which rapidly expanded vote-by-mail over the past few months, remained high, sometimes at near record levels, even as the Democratic presidential primary was all but wrapped. The good news was millions were able to vote safely, without risking their health. The bad news was a host of infrastructure and logistical issues that could have cost thousands their opportunity to vote: ballots lost in the mail; some printed on the wrong paper, with the wrong date or the wrong language; others arriving weeks after they were requested or never arriving at all. But the most definitive lesson for November may be what many have already begun to accept — that there’s an enormous chance many states, including key battlegrounds, will not finish counting on election night. The implications are worrisome in a bitterly divided nation facing what many consider the most consequential election in memory with the loudest voice belonging to an incumbent president who is prone to promoting falsehoods about the electoral system.

National: Why Can’t People Vote Online? Election Security Analysts Weigh In | Chris Iovenko/Observer

The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed the way we live; it is also upending the way we vote. Traditional polling stations, which often have long lines and use crowded indoor spaces and shared voting equipment, pose substantial risks for spreading the disease. Unless there is a massive switch to remote voting, the predicted second wave of COVID-19 this fall could be catastrophically escalated by large in-person turnouts at polling stations. And in turn, efforts to prevent increased infections can be used as an excuse for targeted, discriminatory curtailment of in-person voting, with the outrageous events in Georgia’s primary election on Tuesday a clear example of the potential derailment of democracy. Currently, the most common way to vote remotely is by mail. It’s a proven, convenient, and safe technique; in the 2016 election,  1 in 4 Americans voted by mail. However, President Donald Trump (who himself votes by mail) and his allies have falsely attacked vote-by-mail as wide-open to fraud and an attempt by Democrats to steal the election. The Republican National Committee has launched a lawsuit in California contesting expansion of vote-by-mail and in states controlled by Republicans obstacles to voting by mail will likely be greater than those faced by voters in other states.

South Africa: Electronic voting being considered, as ANC’s national working committee discusses challenges facing local elections | Lizeka Tandwa/News24

The ANC’s national working committee (NWC) has discussed a range of possibilities, including electronic voting for next year’s local elections. News24 recently reported that the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is in consultation to possibly postpone next year’s local government elections due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During its Monday meeting, the NWC said it discussed a range of responses on these and other challenges impacting next year’s electoral system. It includes a synchronisation of elections at national, provincial and local spheres of government; introducing elements of constituency-based representation at national and provincial spheres, consistent with the constitutional requirement for an electoral system that results, in general, in proportional representation; and the use of electronic voting.

National: Georgia’s primary debacle should sound alarm bells for November | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

Multiple problems plagued voters as they went to the polls yesterday in Georgia’s primary, from hours-long lines, technical disasters and absentee ballots that never arrived, They’re another ominous sign for states and the general election officials trying to run a safe and trustworthy elections this year, though Georgia’s issues were known for some time and are more unique. In fact, the problems in Georgia were especially galling because the seeds of the failure were evident for months to technologists — since long before the novel coronavirus pandemic arrived and multiplied the obstacles facing election officials.  They included an overly complex voting system designed to improve security but may have compromised it, a rushed time frame to implement that system and a training program for poll workers that wasn’t up to the task, especially after a slew of new workers replaced elderly people more vulnerable to covid-19.  The long lines were exacerbated because election officials failed to send mail-in ballots to many people who requested them during the pandemic and who then showed up to vote in person. There may also have been a surge in voters driven by anger over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the nationwide protests that have followed.

National: Georgia Was A Mess. Here’s What Else We Know About The June 9 Elections. | Nathaniel Rakich and Geoffrey Skelley/FiveThirtyEight

Tuesday’s primary elections were once again marred by serious problems at the polls, especially in Georgia. However, in this case, the issues probably had less to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and more to do with the state’s own ineptitude. Almost 90 percent of Georgia’s polling places were open on Tuesday, which is far more than in many other states that have held primaries recently. Only one problem: Georgia’s new voting machines, which were put in place after claims of voter suppression in 2018, didn’t work as well as hoped. There’s no evidence of foul play, but the state was clearly not prepared to hold an election with the new equipment. The state apparently passed on what it deemed the best voting machines available, opting for a cheaper vendor that had never installed so much equipment in such a short period of time. And some polling places in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties opened late because of problems booting up the machines; some didn’t even receive the necessary equipment until after polls were supposed to open. Poll workers in Columbus also had trouble setting up the ballot printers, which they blamed on lack of training due to the coronavirus. And at one precinct, workers spent an hour trying to figure out how to insert the cards that record votes into the new machines — before figuring out they were putting them in upside-down. There were also numerous reports of voting machines simply not working, which led to some of the longest lines. The problems seemed to be most acute in metro Atlanta, raising fears of problems assuring equal voting access in the general election.

National: Cybersecurity Concerns with Online Voting for 2020 Presidential Election | 2020-06-11 | Security Magazine

A new report by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of Michigan discusses the cybersecurity vulnerabilities associated with OmniBallot, a we-based system for blank ballot delivery, ballot marking and (optionally) online voting. Three states – Delaware, West Virginia and New Jersey – recently announced they would allow certain voters to cast votes using OmniBallot. Researcher Michael A. Specter at MIT and J. Alex Halderman at the University of Michigan reverse engineered the client-side e portion of OmniBallot, as used in Delaware, in order to detail the system’s operation and analyze its security. “We find that OmniBallot uses a simplistic approach to Internet voting that is vulnerable to vote manipulation by malware on the voter’s device and by insiders or other attackers who can compromise Democracy Live, Amazon, Google, or Cloudflare,” the researchers explain. In addition, Democracy Live, which appears to have no privacy policy, receives sensitive personally identifiable information— including the voter’s identity, ballot selections, and browser fingerprint— that could be used to target political ads or disinformation campaigns, the report says.

National: Researchers say online voting tech used in 5 states is fatally flawed | Timothy B. Lee/Ars Technica

OmniBallot is election software that is used by dozens of jurisdictions in the United States. In addition to delivering ballots and helping voters mark them, it includes an option for online voting. At least three states—West Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey—have used the technology or are planning to do so in an upcoming election. Four local jurisdictions in Oregon and Washington state use the online voting feature as well. But new research from a pair of computer scientists, MIT’s Michael Specter and the University of Michigan’s Alex Halderman, finds that the software has inadequate security protections, creating a serious risk to election integrity. Democracy Live, the company behind OmniBallot, defended its software in an email response to Ars Technica. “The report did not find any technical vulnerabilities in OmniBallot,” wrote Democracy Live CEO Bryan Finney. This is true in a sense—the researchers didn’t find any major bugs in the OmniBallot code. But it also misses the point of their analysis. The security of software not only depends on the software itself but also on the security of the environment on which the system runs. For example, it’s impossible to keep voting software secure if it runs on a computer infected with malware. And millions of PCs in the United States are infected with malware.

Editorials: There is no place for age discrimination in voting | Yael Bromberg, Jason Harrow and Joshua Douglas/The Hill

Holding safe and fair elections in the midst of a pandemic is challenging for everyone—but eight states make it even harder for voters under a certain age to participate this year. That’s unconstitutional, because the Constitution prohibits age discrimination in voting. Unfortunately, last week, the Missouri legislature and a federal appeals court in Texas both entrenched this discrimination when they could have eliminated it. Both of these actions should be overturned. In sixteen states, voters must provide an excuse to vote at home (voting from home is also known as voting “by mail” or “absentee”). In these states, voters may vote at home only if they are away from the jurisdiction, are physically disabled, or have another specific excuse. Before last week, seven states—Texas, South Carolina, Indiana, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky—grant an automatic excuse for voters above a certain age: usually age 65, but sometimes 60. In these states, older voters do not need any other excuse to vote at home, but younger voters do.

Alabama: Secretary of State: Direct mail voting would be costly, problematic | Ed Howell/Daily Mountain Eagle

Secretary of State John Merrill said direct mail voting as some states now do would cost an extra $41 million and would invite problems making sure voters were eligible.  In a phone interview Friday, Merrill also talked about efforts to keep polling sites clean due to COVID-19 during the July 14 runoff primary and how easy it would be to get an absentee ballot because of the cornonavirus. As of today – Tuesday, June 9 – the  state is now officially a month away from the July 9 deadline to apply for an absentee ballot for the runoff, which was delayed from March due to the COVID-19 virus. Merrill pointed out the last day to register to vote for the runoff is June 29. The deadline for returning the ballot in person and the last day to postmark a ballot are both July 13.  Under the state of emergency for the COVID pandemic, Merrill is encouraging voters concerned about catching the virus at the polls to check the box which reads, “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”

Arizona: Democratic Party Challenges law Denying Voters Who Forgot To Sign Mail-in Ballots | Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

The state and national Democratic parties are challenging a state law that denies some people the right to vote because they forgot to sign their mail-in ballots. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court here points out that state lawmakers last year agreed to require county election officials to give people five business days to “cure” their ballots if it appears that the signature on the envelope does not match what is on file. But attorney Alexis Danneman said Arizona law does not offer a similar option for those who simply failed to sign the envelope. “If not remedied by 7 p.m. on Election Day, their votes are simply not counted,” she wrote. “Voters who are in fact registered to vote, and who did in fact timely submit their mail ballots, will have their votes disregarded without due process.” The issue, she said, is not academic. Danneman said Maricopa County officials rejected 2,209 unsigned mail-in ballots in the 2016 general election and 1,856 two years later. Overall, she said, officials in the state’s largest county rejected 18,420 mail ballots due to lack of signatures from 2008 through 2018. And Danneman said this isn’t just a Maricopa County problem. She said Pinal County officials rejected 131 ballot for missing signatures or similar reasons in 2018.

Georgia: Election Mess: Many Problems, Plenty of Blame, Few Solutions for November | Richard Fausset and Reid J. Epstein/The New York Times

Before Georgia’s embattled election officials can fix a voting system that suffered a spectacular collapse, leading to absentee ballots that never got delivered and hourslong waits at polling sites on Tuesday, they must first figure out who is responsible. As multiple investigations begin into what went wrong, and as Democrats accuse the state’s Republicans of voter suppression, a picture emerged Wednesday of a systematic breakdown that both revealed general incompetence and highlighted some of the thorny and specific challenges that the coronavirus pandemic may pose to elections officials nationwide. As it seeks answers, Georgia is being roiled by a politically volatile debate over whether the problems were the result of mere bungling, or an intentional effort by Republican officials to inhibit voting.

Georgia: ‘Chaos in Georgia’: Is messy primary a November harbinger? | Bill Barrow/Associated Press

The long-standing wrangle over voting rights and election security came to a head in Georgia, where a messy primary and partisan finger-pointing offered an unsettling preview of a November contest when battleground states could face potentially record turnout. Many Democrats blamed the Republican secretary of state for hourslong lines, voting machine malfunctions, provisional ballot shortages and absentee ballots failing to arrive in time for Tuesday’s elections. Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign called it “completely unacceptable.” Georgia Republicans deflected responsibility to metro Atlanta’s heavily minority and Democratic-controlled counties, while President Donald Trump’s top campaign attorney decried “the chaos in Georgia.” It raised the specter of a worst-case November scenario: a decisive state, like Florida and its “hanging chads” and “butterfly ballots” in 2000, remaining in dispute long after polls close. Meanwhile, Trump, Biden and their supporters could offer competing claims of victory or question the election’s legitimacy, inflaming an already boiling electorate.

Georgia: Vote counting continues after problems in Georgia’s primary | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Election workers resumed counting votes Wednesday morning as they scanned hundreds of thousands of last-minute absentee ballots in Georgia’s primary, leaving the final result of races unsettled. The time it takes to count so many paper ballots was expected in an election where a record number of Georgians — over 1.1 million — voted from home during the coronavirus pandemic. But the uncertainty left voters and candidates waiting. It’s unclear whether counting would be completed Wednesday, but officials have warned the process could take a few days. After voters waited in long lines Tuesday, most in-person votes cast on the state’s new voting computers were counted late Tuesday night. Those votes, cast on printed-out paper ballots, were stored on optical scanning machines, making them easy to tabulate after polls closed. But opening, scanning and counting absentee ballots takes longer. Absentee ballots will be counted if they were received by election officials by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Iowa: Senate Reublicans bar secretary of state from mailing absentee ballot requests | Erin Murphy/The Gazette

Iowa’s top elections official no longer would be permitted to mail absentee ballot request forms to voters unsolicited — a step taken this year ahead of the state’s June 2 primary election, which broke turnout records amid the coronavirus pandemic — under legislation approved Wednesday by Republicans in the Iowa Senate. The legislation also includes myriad other election changes, including limiting the number of polling locations county auditors can close during an emergency and requiring voters to complete verification information on absentee ballot request forms. The proposal also extends some deadlines to request absentee ballots, measures that had bipartisan support during Senate debate on the bill on Wednesday.

Mississippi: Secretary of state: Mississippi not yet ready for vote by mail system | Theo DeRosa/The Dispatch

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson said Tuesday his opposition to a statewide mail-based voting system is because he’s not sure it’s the safest option for Mississippi — or if it’s even a legitimate possibility anytime soon. Speaking with the Rotary Club of Columbus via Zoom, the first-term Republican recounted a recent conversation he had with Kim Wyman, secretary of state for Washington, one of five states where elections are conducted entirely by mail. Wyman, a fellow member of the GOP, has long been a proponent of the system, which is significantly more popular nationwide with Democrats than Republicans. On the call, Watson had one major question for Wyman regarding Mississippi’s voting future: “Could we even get there if we wanted to?” “Michael, it’s impossible,” Wyman told him. “It took us five years to implement a vote by mail system. If you try to do it now by November, it’s going to be a catastrophic failure. Don’t even try it.”

Nevada: Long lines to vote delay Nevada election returns | John Sadler/Las Vegas Sun

Early returns from Nevada’s primary election Tuesday were delayed after polling places in the state’s two most populous counties were kept open to allow those waiting in long lines to vote. Voters at some Las Vegas-area polling places Tuesday were waiting in lines of three hours or more despite Nevada officials encouraging people to cast their primary election ballots by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the Reno area, Washoe County officials reported delays of at least an hour. Hundreds were still in line when polls were supposed to close at 7 p.m. The top-ticket races that voters were settling included contests for Nevada’s four U.S. House seats, but the incumbents — three Democrats and a Republican — are expected to sail through primary challenges. The biggest question Tuesday was which candidates will try to unseat them in November. Nevada reduced in-person voting sites for the primary because of the coronavirus and instead sent absentee ballots to voters that could be mailed back or dropped off. For those who still showed up at the limited number of polling places, they were casting ballots Tuesday on paper rather than voting machines to limit contact with shared surfaces.

North Carolina: Bipartisan voting bill sparks partisan argument | Travis Fain/WRAL

A bipartisan bill meant to prepare North Carolina for voting in a pandemic got less bipartisan in the state Senate on Wednesday as Democrats pushed back against voter ID language that hadn’t raised concerns in the House. House Bill 1169 makes it easier to request an absentee ballot and to vote that ballot, relaxing a state requirement that voters get two people or a notary public to sign their paperwork if they want to vote by mail. The bill would also create a new online portal voters can use to request ballots, and it has millions of dollars in it to help election officials prepare for the November general election. This bill cleared the North Carolina House last month 116-3, a rare bipartisan vote for a major elections bill. But Tuesday evening, a handful of progressive advocacy groups sounded the alarm, urging people to oppose the bill. The apparent problem lay in language that would add a new type of photo ID to the list of IDs accepted at the polls: Cards issued to people on various public assistance programs.

Ohio: Could Ohio develop online absentee ballot requests in time for November election? | Rick Rouan/The Columbus Dispatch

Elections officials and voting rights advocates are backing a bill in the Ohio Senate that would correct what they believe was a glaring weakness in the state’s mostly by-mail primary: the need for an online absentee ballot request system. But last week, when the House State & Local Government Committee debated adding that to its own version of a plan to prepare Ohio for the general election under the threat from COVID-19, Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, questioned whether there is time to develop such a system. He compared it to Ohio’s overwhelmed unemployment claims system, which is going to take years to replace. But Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose believes as many as 50% of voters could cast ballots by mail in November, and he’s still pressing lawmakers to give him the authority to implement an online absentee ballot request ahead of the November election. So, how would he do it? Spokesman Jon Keeling said LaRose’s office has been thinking about the potential for an online absentee ballot request since he took office in January 2019. LaRose actually wanted to make the change when he was a state senator.

Pennsylvania: Bill requiring detailed report on presidential primary heads to governor’s desk | Emily Previti/PA Post

State lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. Tom Wolf Wednesday that would require the Department of State to produce a report on last week’s primary. Sponsored by second-term Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington), HB2502 mandates that the report include more than two dozen data points on election procedure, such as poll staffing, voter registration and various components of mailed ballot processing. Wolf’s spokeswoman says he plans to sign the measure. It would require DoS to finish the document before Aug. 1, just before GOP legislative leaders expect to start deliberations over making changes to Pennsylvania’s election code ahead of the November general election. But Democrats and stakeholders outside the state legislature—including the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, voting rights advocates and county election directors – say talks on election code fixes need to begin immediately. For months, they’ve warned that widespread mail-in would result in large numbers of ballots arriving at county election offices too late to be counted unless changes are made to the deadlines for applying for mail-in ballots and for returning them.

South Carolina: Election officials decry ‘confusion’ during primary | Meg Kinnard/Associated Press

Citing “extreme wait times and confusion at polling places” in some precincts in and around South Carolina’s capital city during Tuesday’s primary, state election officials said they are sending help before upcoming runoffs, including poll manager training and equipment testing. “The South Carolina State Election Commission is disappointed with the conduct of yesterday’s primaries in Richland County,” the Commission said in a release Wednesday. “We know election officials and poll managers were faced with the extraordinarily difficult task of conducting an election in a pandemic. But yet again, voters were unnecessarily subjected to extreme wait times and confusion at polling places.” The COVID-19 outbreak – which has infected more than 15,000 in South Carolina, killing more than 560 – created some questions as to how Tuesday’s elections would be carried out. In an effort both to alleviate numbers at the polls and assuage voters’ concerns about contagion, lawmakers recently passed a law allowing universal absentee voting because of the pandemic. A federal judge also temporarily removed a policy requiring that a witness sign an absentee voter’s ballot. But the relatively low-key state primaries in South Carolina still saw long lines at a few precincts, especially in Richland County, as polling places were combined because many longtime workers at sites didn’t take an assignment this year because of concerns of contracting the coronavirus.

Texas: Dismissal sought in Texas lawsuit over mail-in voting during coronavirus | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune

The fight over expanding voting by mail in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic appears to be coming to an end in state courts, but a lawsuit continues at the federal level. After a Texas Supreme Court ruling that closed the door to expanded mail-in voting, the individual voters, state Democrats and civic organizations that sued to expand voting by mail based on a lack of immunity to the new coronavirus asked a state appeals court Tuesday evening to dismiss their case. The case was part of a flurry of litigation in state and federal courts challenging the state’s rules for who qualifies for a ballot they can fill out at home and mail in, that for now has left the status quo in place: Mail-in ballots are available only if voters are 65 or older, cite a disability or illness, will be out of the county during the election period, or are confined in jail. The Texas election code defines disability as a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents a voter from appearing in person without the likelihood of “injuring the voter’s health.”

Russia: Moscow sets up gift certificate raffle to entice referendum voters | Deutsche Welle

As the vote on constitutional reforms draws near in Russia, a senior city official in Moscow pledged over 2 million vouchers as prizes for referendum voters. “The certificates would be valid exclusively in the Moscow consumer service industry, restaurants, and trade companies,” official Alexei Nemeryuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. Every Muscovite who votes in the referendum would “receive a code, and there will be a raffle for points.” “After the raffle, the people would receive points that they can use,” he added. Nemeryuk, who heads Moscow’s capital trade and services sector, said the raffle aims to stimulate the economy in the Russian capital. The city of 12.5 million people had faced weeks of lockdown while struggling with the coronavirus outbreak. The move could also serve to boost the turnout in the referendum. If adopted, the government-backed reforms would allow the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to stay in office until 2036. The vote was originally set for April 22, but the Kremlin was forced to postpone it because of the coronavirus.

Vermont: House gives Secretary of State Condos full authority to expand mail-in voting | Kit Norton/VTDigger

The Vermont House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to give Secretary of State Jim Condos the unilateral authority to expand mail-in voting for the November general election because of the coronavirus epidemic. The move came after Condos and Gov. Phil Scott struggled to reach agreement. The lower chamber voted 106-31 by virtual voice vote in favor of S.348, which removes the need for the secretary of state and the governor to concur on emergency election protocol in 2020. “We are in the middle of a public health pandemic, and we should be doing everything in our power to keep people safe and that their vote be counted,” said House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington. “It’s critical we move this bill forward again so we can ensure that we have safe and secure elections in Vermont,” Krowinski added.

West Virginia: The pandemic primary created challenges for election officials. Now, they’re preparing to repeat the process in November. | Politics | Lacie Pierson/Charleston Gazette Mail

Less than 24 hours after the polls closed for West Virginia’s 2020 primary election, Secretary of State Mac Warner said there were a lot of lessons learned and more work to do if officials are going to repeat the process in November amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Employees in county clerks’ offices throughout the state already had received approximately 217,885 absentee ballots as of Wednesday, and another 44,468 absentee ballots still were outstanding, according to the secretary of state’s website. County clerks and voter canvassing boards have plenty more work to do beyond waiting for the remaining absentee ballots to come back in, Warner said, but while that work is being completed, West Virginians and county clerks should be proud of their extra efforts to make this a “smooth and clean” election. “The election worked, but there are lessons to be learned from this,” Warner said. “I’m anxious to let the [county] clerks get through the canvassing process and talk to them about what worked, what didn’t work, what their recommendations are, should we get into this situation in November.”