National: House Democrats include $500M for election security in annual appropriations bill | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Democrats on a House Appropriations Committee panel included $500 million to boost election security as part of their version of an annual funding bill introduced Tuesday. The version of the fiscal 2021 Financial Services and General Government spending bill rolled out by the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government would appropriate half a billion dollars to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to “enhance election technology and make election security improvements.” The bill, which will be debated by the subcommittee Wednesday, specifies that states may only use the election security funds to replace “direct-recording electronic” voting equipment with voting systems that use some form of paper ballots. States would only be allowed to use any remaining funds once they have certified to the EAC that all direct-recording election equipment has been replaced. Experts have strongly advised against the use of direct-recording electronic voting equipment, which has no backup paper record of how an individual voted.

National: ‘It’s egregious’: thousands of mail-in ballots could be rejected over small errors | Sam Levine/The Guardian

Rosalie Weisfeld doesn’t skip elections – she just doesn’t. The 64-year-old lives in McAllen, near the Texas-Mexico border, and she votes in the contests that a lot of people sit out – races for school board, water district and local runoffs. In the more than 40 years she’s been registered to vote, Weisfeld only remembers missing one election. But last year, her nearly-perfect record was broken. Weisfeld voted by mail in a local race, signed her ballot and mailed it in well ahead of election day. More than a month later, Weisfeld got a letter back saying election officials had rejected her ballot. They examined the signature Weisfeld put on the ballot, compared it to one they had on file, and determined they weren’t from the same person. By then, she had no recourse. The election was over. “I was shocked, I was sad, I was upset. I became mad and angry that my right to vote was taken away from me without any kind of consultation,” said Weisfeld, now a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the way Texas rejects absentee ballots. “No one called me, no one sent me a letter. No one sent me an email to ask me ‘is this your signature?’” As more Americans vote by mail this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s concern that thousands of eligible voters like Weisfeld could have their ballots rejected for small errors without a chance to fix them. Mail-in ballots were more likely to be rejected in the 2016 election than ones cast in person. In a typical election only a small percentage of mail-in ballots get rejected (318,728 ballots, around 1% of those returned, were uncounted in the 2016 general election), according to data compiled by the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC). That could rise starkly during the presidential election when an unprecedented number of people are expected to vote by mail.

National: Election Experts Warn of November Disaster | Matt Vasilogambros/Stateline

After a presidential primary season plagued by long lines, confusion over mail-in voting and malfunctioning equipment, election experts are increasingly concerned about the resiliency of American democracy in the face of a global pandemic. With four months until the presidential election, the litany of unresolved issues could block some voters from casting ballots and lead many citizens to distrust the outcome of one of the most pivotal races of their lifetimes. There is widespread concern among voting activists, experts and elections officials that it will take further federal investment in local election systems, massive voter education campaigns and election administrators’ ingenuity to prevent a disaster come November. “The coronavirus has really laid bare the cracks in our system,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program. Even before the pandemic, Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, said he was worried about the state of U.S. elections. He warned in his recent book Election Meltdown about the effects that misinformation, administrative incompetence and voter suppression efforts would have on the 2020 presidential election.

National: Can Our Ballots Be Both Secret and Secure? | Sue Halpern/The New Yorker

Near the end of last year, I met Josh Benaloh, a senior cryptographer at Microsoft, in a conference room in Building 99 on the company’s sprawling campus, in Redmond, Washington, to talk about a fundamental problem with American elections. When we vote, we take it on faith that our ballots have been recorded—and recorded correctly. This is not always the case. In 2015, in Shelby County, Tennessee, hundreds of votes that were cast in predominantly African-American precincts disappeared somewhere between the polling place and the final tally. Where they had gone, and why, remains a mystery, because the ballots were cast on a touch-screen voting machine that did not provide a paper record. In 2018, three thousand votes went missing during a Florida recount. The next year, eight hundred uncounted ballots were found in a storage closet in Midland, Texas, after a hotly contested school-bond vote. To prevent these types of errors, Benaloh said, “You could, in theory, sign your name on your ballot and watch it go through the system.” In actual elections, however, that is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Our ballots are secret; after we drop them in the ballot box, they are, literally, out of our hands.

National: Voting rules changed quickly for the primaries. But the battle over how Americans will cast ballots in the fall is just heating up. | Elise Viebeck/The Washington Post

When the novel coronavirus pandemic collided with this year’s primaries, states across the country raced to temporarily adjust voting procedures to make it safer for people to cast their ballots. But efforts to set rules for the general election are now locked in more intractable fights, fueled by deepening polarization around voting practices and a torrent of litigation aimed at shaping how ballots are cast and counted. While the vast majority of voters were permitted to cast absentee ballots during the primaries, only about 10 states so far have announced that they will make voting by mail easier for November, raising fears that Election Day could be marked by long lines and unsafe conditions at polling locations if the health crisis persists. With Republican governors under pressure from President Trump not to expand voting by mail and many legislatures adjourned for the year or deadlocked along party lines, changes in the coming months are likely to come through court decisions. Legal battles in about two dozen states are now poised to shape the details of how roughly 130 million registered voters are able to cast ballots in upcoming contests, with more than 60 lawsuits related to absentee voting and other rules wending their way through the courts, according to a tally by The Washington Post.

National: In new guidance, CDC recommends alternatives in addition to in-person voting to avoid spreading coronavirus | Michelle Ye Hee Lee/The Washington Post

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that voters consider alternatives to casting their ballots in person during upcoming elections, as states expand absentee and early voting options for November amid fears of spreading the coronavirus. The guidance was issued with little fanfare on June 22 and suggested that state and local election officials take steps to minimize crowds at voting locations, including offering “alternative voting methods.” President Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that one popular alternative — mail-in ballots — promotes widespread voter fraud. Voters who want to cast ballots in person should consider showing up at off-peak times, bringing their own black ink pens or touch-screen pens for voting machines, and washing their hands before entering and after leaving the polling location, the guidance said. Workers and voters alike, it said, should wear face coverings. The guidance aims to help voters, poll workers and election officials take precautions to minimize the spread of the virus, which has already disrupted some primary elections this year and could be a source of turmoil in the upcoming presidential election. The guidance is now being circulated by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an independent federal agency, and congressional leaders. Senate Democrats on Tuesday drew attention to the guidelines, noting that they had been requesting such a resource since May.

National: Trump’s attacks on mail voting are turning Republicans off absentee ballots | Amy Gardner and Josh Dawsey/The Washington Post

President Trump’s relentless attacks on the security of mail voting are driving suspicion among GOP voters toward absentee ballots — a dynamic alarming Republican strategists, who say it could undercut their own candidates, including Trump himself. In several primaries this spring, Democratic voters have embraced mail ballots in far larger numbers than Republicans during a campaign season defined by the coronavirus pandemic. And when they urge their supporters to vote by mail, GOP campaigns around the country are hearing from more and more Republican voters who say they do not trust absentee ballots, according to multiple strategists. In one particularly vivid example, a group of Michigan voters held a public burning of their absentee ballot applications last month. The growing Republican antagonism toward voting by mail comes even as the Trump campaign is launching a major absentee-ballot program in every competitive state, according to multiple campaign advisers — a delicate balancing act, considering what one strategist described as the president’s “imprecision” on the subject. “It’s very concerning for Republicans,” said a top party operative, who like several others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid drawing Trump’s ire. “I guarantee our Republican Senate candidates are having it drilled into them that they cannot accept this. They have to have sophisticated mail programs. If we don’t adapt, we won’t win.”

National: As November Looms, So Does the Most Litigious Election Ever | Michael Wines/The New York Times

Four months before Election Day, a barrage of court rulings and lawsuits has turned one of the most divisive elections in memory into one that is on track to be the most litigated ever. With voting amid a pandemic as the backdrop, at stake are dozens of lawsuits around the country that will determine how easy — or hard — it will be to cast a ballot. Justin Levitt, an election scholar and associate dean at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, is tracking nearly 130 pandemic-related election lawsuits. The firm of Marc Elias, a lawyer who frequently represents the Democratic Party, is pursuing more than 35 voting rights cases, a number he calls an order of magnitude greater than in the past. The Republican National Committee, which pledged this spring to spend at least $20 million fighting attempts to loosen voting rules, boasts of filing or intervening in 19 suits to date. In his book “Election Meltdown,” Richard L. Hasen, a legal scholar at the University of California-Irvine, calculated that election-related litigation nearly tripled on average between 1996 and 2018. In an interview, Mr. Hasen said 2020 is on track to become the most litigated election season ever. Perhaps the most sweeping ruling occurred on Wednesday, when a federal appeals court blocked a lower-court ruling that would have restored voting rights to about 774,000 impoverished Floridians with felony records. On Thursday, the Supreme Court voted along ideological lines to block, at least for now, a loosening of Alabama’s strict absentee ballot requirements in a runoff election on July 14.

Alabama: ACLU joins lawsuit over Alabama voting amid COVID-19 pandemic | Eddie Burkhalter/Alabama Political Reporter

The American Civil Liberties Union and its Alabama chapter have joined in a lawsuit attempting to make it easier for some voters to cast their ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Alabama joined in the lawsuit filed in May by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program against Gov. Kay Ivey and Secretary of State John Merrill. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision last week blocked U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s order that would have allowed curbside voting statewide and waived certain absentee ballot requirements for voters in at least Jefferson, Mobile and Lee Counties. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several voters who are at greater risk from complications or death due to COVID-19.

Arkansas: Absentee vote lawsuit moot, Thurston says; he calls virus fear accepted reason to skip going to polls | John Lynch/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston says a lawsuit over absentee balloting during the covid-19 pandemic is unnecessary now that he’s acknowledged that fear of infection is justification for voters to cast ballots by mail or by drop-off. Three voters in their 70s, two with health issues, sued the Republican, the state’s top election official, two weeks ago, calling on Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen to order Thurston to allow absentee voting under the standards set by a 1985 Arkansas Supreme Court holding. The three, Olly Neal Jr., a retired Arkansas Court of Appeals judge; Democrat Susan Inman, a former state elections director who unsuccessfully challenged Thurston; and Jan Baker, a lawyer who led the Disability Rights Center of Arkansas for more than 18 years, stated in court filings that they are suing because election authorities appear to be following a more restrictive standard for mail-in and drop-in voting than established by the high court 35 years ago. They stated they are afraid of catching the coronavirus if they are forced to go to the polls to vote, like Arkansas law requires.

Kentucky: Kentuckians sue to keep primary election’s absentee voting option in place for fall | Morgan Watkins/Louisville Courier Journal

Four Kentuckians are suing in an attempt to secure a court ruling requiring the absentee voting process Kentucky implemented for the June primary to be used in this fall’s general election, too. The new lawsuit also asks for a court order prohibiting the enforcement of Senate Bill 2 while Gov. Andy Beshear’s open-ended COVID-19 state of emergency remains in effect. The controversial bill, approved this year by the state legislature, requires voters to show photo identification to cast a ballot. Margaret Sterne, 65, and Helen LeMaster, 84, of Calloway County, as well as Fred Mozenter, 72, and Debra Graner, 69, of Franklin County, are plaintiffs in the case. The lawsuit says they all have health conditions that put them at risk of becoming severely ill from the coronavirus if they catch it.

Maryland: Local Elections Officials Reject Proposal to Require Applications for Mail-in Ballots | Bennett Leckrone/Maryland Matters

While Republican members of the Maryland State Board of Elections prefer mailing ballot applications to voters for the November election, local election officials say doing so could be costly and confusing for voters. Instead, David Garreis, the president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, urged Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in a Monday letter to adopt universal mail-in ballots for voters this fall. “We cannot overstate the devastating consequences likely to result if the State of Maryland does not plan now to mail every voter a ballot for the 2020 Presidential General Election,” Garreis, the deputy director of the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections, wrote to Hogan, state Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone and state Board of Elections Chairman Michael R. Cogan. He also urged Hogan to make a decision on how to conduct the November election by no later than the end of this week. State Board of Elections members were split along party lines over how to conduct the November election when they delivered their report on the state’s June 2 primary to Hogan last week.

Massachusetts: Mail-in Voting Law Slams Into Dispute Over Postage Costs | Chris Van Buskirk/WGBH

Disagreements over funding to mail ballot applications for the upcoming election cycle spilled into the public eye Tuesday after the state’s top election official and election reform advocates differed on the permissible use of federal money. Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation into law Monday that directs Secretary of State William Galvin to send mail-in voting applications by July 15 in order to give voters time to request a ballot for the Sept. 1 primary elections, fill it out, and mail it back in. Crafted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates and state officials have pointed to the new law as a way to help voters participate in the upcoming election cycle without putting themselves at risk for COVID-19. “We had hoped to do it by that date. The legislation calls for it. But the Legislature has not sent the money. We can’t pay for the postage. We can’t pay for the printing until we have the postal permit. We can’t buy the permit until we get the money,” Galvin told reporters Tuesday outside the State House. The point of contention centers on whether guidance from the Election Assistance Commission allows for states to use federal funds through the CARES Act to mail applications to voters for early or absentee ballots. There were nearly 4.6 million registered voters in Massachusetts as of February.

Montana: Judge blocks Montana from enforcing absentee ballot law | Associated Press

A Montana judge issued a ruling Tuesday that blocks the state from enforcing a voter-approved law that restricts the collection of absentee ballots during elections. Tuesday’s ruling from District Judge Jessica Fehr came after the Billings-based judge temporarily halted the Ballot Interference Protection Act two weeks before the June primary election. The law passed by voter referendum in 2018 limits one person to turning in a maximum of six absentee ballots. Fehr wrote the law would “significantly suppress vote turnout by disproportionately harming rural communities.” She said Native Americans in rural tribes across the seven Indian reservation located in Montana would be particularly harmed.

New Jersey: State Takes Steps to Protect Primary’s Vote-by-Mail Ballots | Alexa Corse/Wall Street Journal

New Jersey officials sought to tamp down concerns ahead of the state’s primary voting Tuesday, after criminal charges over alleged mail-ballot fraud marred a local election in Paterson, N.J. State officials emphasized that voter fraud is rare and said measures are being taken to protect mail-in ballots. The primary is being conducted mostly by mail and was delayed from its original date of June 2 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Security measures include verifying mail voters’ signatures against voter-registration records, cross-checking lists of mail and in-person voters to ensure no one votes twice, allowing voters to drop off their ballots at their county board of election in case they don’t trust the mail, and encouraging voters to alert officials if they notice anything suspicious, said New Jersey secretary-of-state spokeswoman Alicia D’Alessandro. Several counties also said that they placed their ballot drop-off boxes under security-camera surveillance. The state is voting in the presidential races and in down-ballot contests, including a Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who switched parties and became a Republican last year. The scrutiny comes after New Jersey’s attorney general announced voting-fraud charges in June against four men—including two winning candidates—over allegations involving mail-in ballots during a nonpartisan May election in Paterson, a solidly Democratic city. Those two candidates are registered Democrats, according to the local county clerk’s office. Several of the charges related to alleged improper collection of mail-in ballots from other voters.

New York: One Small Vote for Lockport, NY, One Giant Lesson for 2020 America | Jim Shultz/The New York Review of Books

The great debate over voting by mail has begun. President Trump has blasted it as an invitation to widespread fraud. He tweeted in June, “IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!” and has warned that Democrats plan to distribute ballots to undocumented immigrants, and that foreign governments will flood our mailboxes with false ballots. On the Democratic side, Senator Amy Klobuchar, taking stock of a potential new spike of Covid-19 infections just in time for November’s presidential vote, has declared: “In a democracy, no one should be forced to choose between health and the right to vote.” April’s Wisconsin primary already offered a chilling look at what happens when going to the polls runs into a pandemic. More than seven thousand poll workers refused to work because they feared getting sick, leaving thousands of mask-clad voters standing in line for hours. On the other hand, absentee balloting leapt from 140,000 voters in 2016 to more than a million in this election—but not without glitches that left almost ten thousand voters without the ballots they had legally requested. This November’s presidential election will certainly be the most heated and consequential in a generation. What we cannot afford is for that election also to become a democratic farce amid the ravages of a pandemic. In the rising national debate over voting by mail, somewhere between the claims of fraud on one side and of panacea on the other, lies a tricky middle ground called reality: What would a nationwide election-by-mail really look like? What bumps in the road should we prepare for?

Virginia: Elections Board Extends Filing Deadline for House Hopefuls | Brad Kutner/Courthouse News

The Virginia Board of Elections voted to extend a campaign filing deadline for several congressional candidates Tuesday afternoon, citing confusion caused by postponed conventions and primaries. “These requirements give certainty to the election calendar and give legitimacy to the election process,” Board of Elections Chair Robert Brink said in a meeting conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. “After the deadline everyone knows who the candidates will be… but we’re not getting legitimacy or certainty.” As with every other election around the country, the outbreak of Covid-19 was linked to the mix-up. Between an executive order from Governor Ralph Northam and an order from a Richmond City judge, conventions and primary dates were pushed back to accommodate virus-related concerns. They did not, however, change the deadlines for ballot paperwork as defined by state law. Still, a 2-1 majority of the state elections board won the day after hearing from the public and candidates during the nearly hour-long hearing, voting to give candidates 10 more days to file.

Wisconsin: Appeals court reverses Wisconsin voting restrictions rulings | Todd Richmond/Associated Press

A federal appeals court panel upheld a host of Republican-authored voting restrictions in Wisconsin on Monday, handing conservatives a significant win in a pair of lawsuits just months before residents in the battleground state cast their ballots for president. The three-judge panel —all Republican appointees— found that the state can restrict early voting hours and restored a requirement that people must live in a district for 28 days, not 10, before they can vote. The panel also said emailing and faxing absentee ballots is unconstitutional. The state’s photo ID requirement for voters wasn’t in question, although the panel did find that expired student IDs are acceptable at the polls. The court blocked an option to allow people to vote without an ID if they show an affidavit saying they tried to obtain one. Judge Frank Easterbrook, who wrote the opinion, noted that the restrictions don’t burden people in the state, where voters still enjoy more ways to register, long poll hours on Election Day and absentee voting options than in other states. “Wisconsin has lots of rules that make voting easier,” Easterbrook wrote. “These facts matter when assessing challenges to a handful of rules that make voting harder.”