Ever since the pandemic struck, state and local election officials across the country have made it clear: To avoid an election disaster in November, they need more money now. Congressional Republicans are now signalling a new willingness to provide that, after initial fears from voting rights advocates that the federal government would provide no more support than the $400 million that came as part of a March relief package. Experts expect as many as 70% of all ballots cast in November’s presidential election will be cast through the mail, a quick and radical shift that will require equipment upgrades and greatly increase costs for cash-strapped states and counties. During the 2018 midterms, about a quarter of ballots were cast by mail. Officials across the country, like Lynn Bailey, who is the board of elections executive director of Augusta, Ga., are looking ahead to November and wondering how they will pay for it. Bailey testified Wednesday as part of an Election Assistance Commission hearing about the 2020 primaries. She said Georgia’s June 9 primary cost about 60 percent more than a normal election would have in her jurisdiction, due to adjustments made as a result of the pandemic. “We had about a 35 percent turnout rate in our jurisdiction in this past election, and we know that in November that number will likely double,” Bailey said. “We can only expect therefore that our budget will likely double over what we spent this time, if not more.”
National: These are the top things officials say they need to run November’s elections | oseph Marks/The Washington Post
More money, better and earlier planning by political leaders – and a big dose of bipartisan cooperation. Those are some of the top-line items state and local election officials are seeking as they scramble to prepare for November’s general election. The officials were summoned by the Election Assistance Commission, a federal body that helps guide best practices for elections, to pore over the good, the bad and the ugly from more than three months of primaries since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March. They described elections that were completely revamped in a matter of weeks and massive shortages of poll workers, since many were not willing or able to risk their health by showing up on Election Day. The percentage of absentee voters climbed to 10 and even 20 times their typical levels in many states. The public hearing was among just a handful of instances when election officials from different states will gather before November, in hopes the lessons learned will help the general election run more smoothly. “It’s difficult to plan for this election [because] we always look back on history,” Sherry L. Poland, director of elections for Hamilton County, Ohio, told commissioners. “For presidential elections, you look back on past presidential elections …We have no history to go back to of conducting an election during a pandemic.”
National: Election Meddling Drives DHS to Seek Help Tracking Social Media | Shaun Courtney/Bloomberg
The Homeland Security Department has posted a help-wanted ad to track and analyze social media disinformation campaigns by Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea targeting the U.S. 2020 election. “There is a significant amount of foreign influence activity targeting U.S. 2020 elections on social media platforms,” the DHS said in its June 30 solicitation. The intelligence community’s “lack of capability and resources in this area result in this activity being left largely untracked.” The “foreign influence collection and analysis will result in raw and finished intelligence products that support election security and countering foreign influence efforts,” it said. The DHS said it wants access to software tools and training for social media monitoring by agency personnel, though the contractor would also engage in monitoring and analysis. The solicitation’s open warning of foreign efforts, including from Russia, to interfere in U.S. domestic politics marks a call for help, just four months before the November elections, to counter a threat that’s been long known. “They’ve had four years of runway to get prepared for the 2020 election and to stop foreign interference, let alone internal interference from other extremist groups from within the United States,” Sam Woolley, author of “The Reality Game” and a University of Texas at Austin professor, said in an interview. “This move by DHS shows that the current administration hasn’t taken this issue seriously.”
Colorado: Secretary of State institutes permanent election rules, tweaking administrative procedures | Michael Karlik/Colorado Politics
Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office has permanently adopted several election rules first proposed in May to adjust the administration of voting centers and account for the emergency closure of polling places. Among the changes, county clerks would be able to close or alter the hours of any polling site, but would need to relocate operations to a backup facility if the closure would drop the number of polling places below the minimum required by law. Clerks must also notify tribal nations that border their jurisdictions of their right to have a voter service and polling location within their borders. There is guidance for verifying the registration status of voters, and instructions for clerks to maintain a supply of provisional ballots equal to 10% of the turnout in the previous election where similar offices were on the ballot. Finally, the rules contain provisions related to the testing of equipment and the risk-limiting audit, which validates the accuracy of election results. Griswold’s office noted that some of the changes are to comply with state law governing mail ballot elections and federal rules for addressing voters whose eligibility cannot be immediately determined.
With an eye on November, the state Republican Party has taken its concern for potential voter fraud to a new level, creating its own citizen task force to record and investigate cases of potential fraud. Party Chairman J.R. Romano, who has said he’s not opposed to expanding mail-in balloting, rails against the state’s decision to mail absentee ballot applications to every active voter eligible to vote in the upcoming August primary — about 1.2 million people — claiming the practice will lead to widespread voter fraud. “If someone reported to us that they got an absentee ballot application for someone that has been dead for 12 years, we’re going to investigate to see if this person has actually cast a ballot to be listed as an active voter,” Romano said. The task force would ease reporting of possible abuses to party and elections officials. But as Democrats see it, charges of fraud in elections are a Republican lie and a task force is not needed. “The last 30 years of voting statistics in Connecticut prove that voting by absentee ballot is not a problem, and has never been a problem, in Connecticut,” said state Sen. Mae Flexer, who co-chairs the legislature’s Government Administration & Elections Committee. “The Connecticut Republican Party has got to stop parroting President Trump’s lies about voter fraud, and it has to stand up for democracy and individual rights.”
Editorials: In face of coronavirus pandemic, Iowa should position itself for a largely remote general election in November | Des Moines Register
Gov. Kim Reynolds has still not signed an executive order restoring voting rights to felons. She did, however, find a pen to sign a bill that could reduce voter turnout. The latest GOP-crafted elections law prevents the Iowa Secretary of State from automatically mailing absentee ballot request forms to registered voters. That means current secretary Paul Pate must now ask the Legislative Council — a Republican-controlled group of politicians — for permission to do for the November general election exactly what he did for the June 2 primary election. Pate, also a Republican, rightly sent absentee ballot request forms (not ballots) to all registered voters in the state. The goal was to protect the public amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The result was record voter turnout in the primary. Pate, like other reasonable people, considered that a good thing. But legislative Republicans apparently don’t want so many Iowans participating in democracy. Perhaps they worry they’ll be voted out of office. So they quickly passed a bill limiting the secretary of state’s authority. What should Pate do now?
Louisiana: Mail-in ballots, early turnout up for Louisiana’s locked-in presidential primary Saturday | Andrew Capps/Lafayette Daily Advertiser
More than 191,000 Louisiana voters already have cast ballots in the state’s presidential primary as election officials prepare for Saturday’s in-person voting for a national race that is already decided. Republican President Donald Trump and former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden have their respective party’s nominations locked-in, with the formal convention nominations all that remains. Louisiana voters are casting ballots in the presidential preference. Saturday is Election Day, with the ballot also offering choices for internal political party positions. Polls will be open across the state from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday’s, which will be the first election held in Louisiana since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in March. State officials postponed the scheduled April primary as most of Louisiana was shut down in the spring. Access to mail-in ballots was expanded for Saturday’s election due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 as the election.
Missouri: State gives $4.5 million in federal funding to local election authorities | Alisa Nelson/Missourinet
The state has given about $4.5 million in federal money to Missouri’s 116 local election authorities. During a visit with reporters this week in Jefferson City, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft says he hopes the money will help poll workers. “We made sure that everyone got at least $20,000, so that even our smallest jurisdictions had enough to really make a difference. One of the things that I’ve suggested, probably suggested it so many times that the election authorities are tired of me mentioning it, is that they should use a portion of those funds to increase their poll worker pay,” he says. Ashcroft, a Republican, has said during other occasions that the poll worker job is intense. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. the day of elections. Workers have to be there before the doors open and they stay after polls close to count ballots and to do other tasks.
New Hampshire: Memo outlines poll precautions for September primary, November general election | Casey McDermott/NHPR
New Hampshire’s pollworkers will be outfitted with masks, face shields, gloves and gowns for the September primary and November general election — but local officials will need to reuse some of those items, including face masks, in both elections, according to new guidance from the Secretary of State. Gallon-sized jugs of hand sanitizer will also be distributed as part of these Election Day safety supply kits — with a word of caution. “Hand sanitizing before or while handling a ballot risks getting the ballot wet,” the Secretary of State’s office said, instead advising officials to offer sanitizer to voters as they exit the polling place. “Wet ballots can jam in the ballot counting device.” This and other advice was included in a new memo, which was sent to local election officials July 6 and shared with NHPR, outlining the state’s plans for distributing protective gear across the hundreds of municipalities who are ultimately responsible for running the voting process this fall.
New Jersey: That’s a fold, not a vote! 1,200 Atlantic County ballots misread by scanner | Michelle Brunetti/Press of Atlantic City
About 1,200 Democratic ballots have been incorrectly read by a scanning machine, the Atlantic County Board of Elections reported Thursday afternoon, and were expected to be recounted by Friday morning. The problem is not likely to affect results in a primary election in which an estimated 45,000 ballots have been received and about 28,000 have been counted as of 2 p.m. Thursday, according to the board. “Board staff discovered a great many overvotes, which means that someone voted for two people for the same office, in situations where they were only allowed to vote for one,” Board Chair Lynn Caterson said. An investigation found that folds on some ballots hit voting bubbles on the “write-in” line in such a way that it caused the scanning machine to inaccurately read them as filled in by the voter.
The League of Women Voters of New York State and the League of Women Voters of the United States joined a federal lawsuit in order to limit the number of absentee ballot rejections. According to the complaint, New York rejected 14 percent of absentee ballots in 2018 and for the past two election cycles. The state’s ballot rejection rate has been among the highest in the country. “Voters need the opportunity to ensure their vote is counted and their voice is heard,” Laura Bierman, executive director for the League of Women Voters of New York State, said. “We want to make sure that when a ballot is challenged, the voter is notified and has sufficient time to correct the error.” Ballots are often rejected if there are forgotten or mismatched signatures. The main plaintiff in the lawsuit, Carmelina Palmer, a New York resident, is living through a neurological condition that causes hand tremors, and writes that she is worried her ballot will be thrown out.
Ohio: Coronavirus could prompt poll worker shortage, long Election Day lines in Ohio this November | Andrew J. Tobias/Cleveland Plain Dealer
The coronavirus pandemic could lead to some polling places being closed and create longer lines for the ones that remain open, making it harder for Ohioans to cast their vote this November, according to voting advocates and elections officials. The problem starts with poll workers. Ohio law requires four poll workers per location, two from each party, adding up to around 35,000 in total. But elections officials for months have described challenges in getting commitments from poll workers, who tend to be older and therefore more susceptible to getting seriously ill from COVID-19. Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, has ordered local boards of elections to inventory their poll worker commitments by Aug. 1 and, if necessary, make contingency plans if there’s a shortage that forces them to close polling places. He’s also promoting early voting to help reduce Election Day lines, although his efforts to expand Ohio’s existing early voting laws have failed to gain traction in Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature. “Normally, there are 4,000 polling places around the state. My hope is we can open all of those this November. But the hard reality is, if we don’t recruit enough poll workers, we won’t be able to,” LaRose said.
South Carolina: Election officials agree to provide prepaid postage for absentee ballots | Jamie Lovegrove/Post and Courier
Return postage for all mailed absentee ballots in South Carolina’s 2020 general election will be prepaid after state election officials agreed to change the process, resolving one of several voting-related issues Democrats sued the state over. Several Democratic Party organizations and individual voters complained in federal court earlier this year about the requirement that voters pay for postage to return their absentee ballots by mail, arguing it presents an undue burden on the right to vote and effectively serves as a poll tax. In a joint agreement filed Wednesday, state Election Commission officials said they intend to provide prepaid postage on all absentee ballot return envelopes this year, regardless of the number of voters who qualify and take advantage of absentee voting by mail, eliminating the need for any further legal action on the issue. Shaundra Young Scott, the S.C. Democratic Party’s director of voter protection, said the party was pleased with the commission’s decision and hopes it will lead to a broader expansion of absentee ballots and vote by mail.
Tennessee’s elections coordinator says all 95 counties have updated their websites or written materials to reflect a judge’s ruling that every eligible voter can choose to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Elections Coordinator Mark Goins confirmed the updates by counties Wednesday in a court filing ordered by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle. That includes updated written materials from 12 counties without election commission websites. Last month, Lyle ordered Goins to tell counties to update their information after plaintiffs attorneys named 20 counties with absentee request forms or other website mentions that didn’t correctly reference COVID-19 as a reason to vote absentee. Those 20 counties displayed updated websites shortly after. Earlier this week, Lyle ordered an update from Goins, saying it was “still unknown” whether counties were complying.
Texas: Two counties cut voting locations as workers quit over coronavirus | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune
A lack of workers willing to run polling sites as Texas continues to report record coronavirus infections is forcing election officials in two major counties to scale back plans for the July 14 primary runoff elections. Citing a drop-off spurred by fear of the virus, Bexar County, the state’s fourth largest, is expected to close at least eight of its planned 226 voting locations for next Tuesday, according to County Judge Nelson Wolff. In Tarrant County, the third largest, election officials learned Thursday that the local Republican and Democratic parties had agreed to shutter two of 173 sites planned for election day voting after the parties were unable to find election judges to run the polling places. Although poll workers are generally being provided with protective gear, Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to not require voters to wear masks when they show up at polling locations is driving some poll workers away, Wolff said. “There is protection for them in terms of what they try to do, but anybody can walk in without a mask,” Wolff said Wednesday evening during his daily coronavirus-related briefing. “The governor did not cover elections, and so they don’t want to work. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them.”
Lithuania: Central Electoral Commission may not be able to roll out e-voting in time for general election | The Baltic Times
Lithuania’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) will draw a plan on the rollout of online voting for the Lithuanians living abroad but the panel’s chair, Laura Matjosaityte, doubts that it will be implemented in time for the upcoming general election. “We have discussed legal regulation pertaining to the legalization of online voting for those who cast their ballots abroad in cases where diplomatic representations cannot organize live voting, also for those who are in self-isolation, and we all have agreed that there is very little time for getting ready for high quality solutions,” she told BNS. The Commission on Thursday organized a discussion on possibilities to create an online voting system, as established in the legislative amendments recently passed by the Seimas, in time for the upcoming general election. Participants of the discussion included representatives of the president’s office, the office of the government, the ministry of justice and the cyber security center. According to Matjosaityte, it is difficult to tell whether it may still be possible to roll out online voting in time for the election in October.
Russia: With prizes, food, housing and cash, Putin rigged Russia’s most recent vote | Regina Smyth/The Conversation
When Russians voted in early July on 200 constitutional amendments, officials rigged the election to create the illusion that President Vladimir Putin remains a popular and powerful leader after 20 years in office. In reality, he increasingly relies on manipulation and state repression to maintain his presidency. Most Russians know that, and the world is catching up. At the center of the changes were new rules to allow Putin to evade term limits and serve two additional terms, extending his tenure until 2036. According to official results, Putin’s regime secured an astounding victory, winning 78% support for the constitutional reform, with 64% turnout. The Kremlin hailed the national vote as confirmation of popular trust in Putin. The vote was purely symbolic. The law governing constitutional change does not require a popular vote. By March 2020, the national legislature, Constitutional Court and Russia’s 85 regional legislatures had voted to enact the proposed amendments. Yet, the president insisted on a show of popular support and national unity to endorse the legal process.
Singaporeans started voting in a snap on Friday election with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) looking to shore up its dominant position on the island it has governed since independence in 1965. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called the election on June 24, saying the PAP, which had 83 of the 89 seats in the last parliament, needed a fresh mandate in order to take Singapore through the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “Do not undermine a system that has served you well,” the 68-year-old said on the campaign trail. Many of the earliest voters were the elderly, who were advised to vote when polling stations opened at 8am (00:00 GMT) under strict conditions imposed as a result of the coronavirus. Everyone is required to wear masks, and voters are expected to spend no more than five minutes in a polling station, where they must scan their identity cards, sanitise their hands and put on disposable gloves before receiving a ballot paper. Singapore has 2.65 million eligible voters.