Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting to Congress: Pass Funding Now

Voters should not have to choose between their health and their vote, and with a little more than 100 days before the election, Verified Voting continues to urge Congress to pass $3.6 billion in funding included in the HEROES Act for election officials to conduct safe and secure elections in November.  As yesterday’s Senate Rules…

National: How Voter-Fraud Hysteria and Partisan Bickering Ate American Election Oversight | Jessica Huseman/ProPublica

On March 20, state election administrators got on a conference call with the Election Assistance Commission to plead for help. The EAC is the bipartisan federal agency established for the precise purpose of maintaining election integrity through emergencies, and this was by every account an emergency. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus had grown from an abstract concern to a global horror, and vote by mail was the only way ballots could safely be cast in the states that had not yet held their primaries. But many officials didn’t know the basics: what machines they would need and where to get them; what to tell voters; how to make sure ballots reached voters and were returned to county offices promptly and securely. “I have a primary coming up, and I have no idea what to do,” Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said on the call. She and her colleagues didn’t get the help they were looking for. Of the EAC’s four commissioners, only chair Ben Hovland spoke, and his responses were too vague to satisfy his listeners. The lack of direction was “striking,” said one participant, Jennifer Morrell, an elections consultant and a contractor for The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). “It felt to me that there was no leadership. Nobody was saying, ‘Hey, let’s figure this out.’ Questions just went unanswered.” The commission punted. On a follow-up call, Hovland volunteered the state of Washington, which votes almost entirely by mail, to respond to questions and provide materials. But Washington built its vote by mail system over more than a decade and had accumulated thousands of pages of detailed instructions, too much for other states to implement quickly. Hovland agreed in vague terms to pitch in, but others involved saw little evidence. “We started working with the EAC, and then it just started to get kind of cold,” said Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state. “Nothing happened, nothing good or bad. Just nothing.”

National: Trump’s assault on election integrity forces question: What would happen if he refused to accept a loss? | Elise Viebeck and Robert Costa/The Washington Post

President Trump’s relentless efforts to sow doubts about the legitimacy of this year’s election are forcing both parties to reckon with the possibility that he may dispute the result in November if he loses — leading to an unprecedented test of American democracy. With less than four months before the election, Trump’s escalating attacks on the security of mail-in ballots and his refusal again this week to reassure the country that he would abide by the voters’ will have added urgency to long-simmering concerns among scholars and his critics about the lengths he could go to hold on to power. “What the president is doing is willfully and wantonly undermining confidence in the most basic democratic process we have,” said William A. Galston, chair of the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program. “Words almost fail me — it’s so deeply irresponsible. He’s arousing his core supporters for a truly damaging crisis in the days and weeks after the November election.” Most legal experts said it is hard to envision that Trump would actually try to remain in office after a clear defeat by former vice president Joe Biden, considering the uproar that would follow such a challenge to U.S. democratic norms. Trump has previously said he offers up inflammatory ideas to provoke the media and his critics. But his unwillingness to commit to a smooth transition of power has forced academics and political leaders — including, privately, some GOP lawmakers — to contemplate possible scenarios.

National: Post office concerns highlighted at Senate hearing on elections amid COVID-19 | Niels Lesniewski/Roll Call

“The post office is a very difficult situation for us right now.” That’s how Rick Stream, a Republican elections official from St. Louis County in Missouri, responded to a question Wednesday at a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing about concerns over mail-in and absentee ballots not getting to election officials on time as the U.S. Postal Service faces funding and logistical challenges. Stream said that within his jurisdiction, the percentage of absentee voters jumped from about 10 percent seen in normal circumstances to 45 percent in the most recent election, and he expected that figure to increase with legal mail-in voting in November. “To be honest with you, senator, we have had problems with the post office since I’ve been in this office, for three-and-a-half years,” Stream said in response to a query from Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Missouri law requires ballots to be received by 7 p.m. on election night in order to be counted, and the state continues to use a complicated system requiring validation from notaries in many cases. “The delivery times are less than optimal for sure,” Stream said. “We have even proposed having one of our employees work in the post office in our local community of St. Ann, to try to speed up the process, but to no avail.”

National: Senators Weigh Spending More to Help States Prepare for Election | Tim Ryan/Courthouse News

With the 2020 election looming and the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rage across the country, senators and state election officials debated the need Wednesday for more federal dollars to help states conduct voting safely. “We all know that the counties and the states are suffering badly, so I think that it would be a correct statement to say that they need additional financial help,” Rick Stream, the Republican director of elections in St. Louis County, Mo., told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. The coronavirus pandemic coincided with primaries in many states, sending elections officials scrambling for ways to conduct voting safely. Many states turned to vote by mail, but long wait times were still common at overwhelmed in-person polling places. Changes to voting procedures have spawned waves of lawsuits and bitter partisan fights. Republicans have raised concerns about the security of mail-in ballots, most vocally President Donald Trump, who has claimed without evidence that mail-in ballots lead to voter fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups, meanwhile, have said not having widespread vote-by-mail during the pandemic will threaten the right to vote, particularly for minority and lower-income voters who could face long lines and risk having to choose between being exposed to coronavirus and casting a ballot. As part of the massive coronavirus response package that became law at the end of March, Congress set aside $400 million in grants for states to use in the 2020 election cycle. Lawmakers are now working out the details of another relief package, leading to renewed calls for another round of election support funding for states. But exactly what that funding will look like remains unclear.

National: Democrats On Offense On Russian Election Interference Ahead Of November | Philip Ewing/NPR

Four years after Russian election interference rattled and embarrassed national Democrats, the party has gone on offense over what it fears are more schemes targeting this year’s presidential race. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate this week demanded an all-lawmaker briefing from the FBI about what they suspect are active efforts aimed at Congress. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the party’s likely presidential nominee, followed up on Wednesday with a more specific gambit. Biden’s campaign said that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, could be at the receiving end of a pipeline of disinformation that originates in Russia. Johnson and his committee have said they’re continuing to investigate the work Biden’s son Hunter did in Ukraine while Biden was the point man on the country’s new government for the Obama administration. The storyline that a Ukrainian company was paying Hunter Biden in hopes that he could open doors in Washington has chastened the elder Biden, even back in 2014, but investigators in Ukraine have concluded no laws were broken. Johnson and the Homeland Security Committee are still gathering material and interviewing witnesses with the aim of hearings or other activity targeting the Bidens — and Democrats worry that some of what they reel in could be fabricated or manipulated with the goal of hurting Biden and interfering in the 2020 election.

National: As November Looms, So Do Cybersecurity Concerns for Elections | Adam Stone/FedTech Magazine

The action related to the hotly anticipated primary election season was expected to last for months. With dozens of Democratic candidates still on the ballot for the first primary in New Hampshire, social media taking an active role in campaigning and the threat of foreign influence on the election playing out, election officials were keenly aware of the need to keep the elections secure. Heightened public interest came to a near halt in early March — when former Vice President Joe Biden essentially nailed down the Democratic nomination on Super Tuesday, and the COVID-19 pandemic sent voters home and delayed primaries — but cybersecurity experts remain on high alert as they look to November. When voting patterns get disrupted, the bad actors who watch U.S. elections closely may seek to sway the outcomes, either by tampering with systems or by chipping away at public trust, they say. “This is a highly scrutinized space,” says Geoff Hale, director of the Election Security Initiative at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security. “Anything that goes wrong can be used to undermine confidence in the institution.”

National: Election officials praised for sharing information, knocked for sharing passwords | Benjamin Freed/StateScoop

State and local election officials have done a “tremendous” job reporting information about potential cyberthreats during the 2020 cycle, a senior Department of Homeland Security official said Tuesday. But some, particularly at the city and county level, are also still in the unfortunate habit of not changing default passwords on new equipment or even sharing credentials, Matt Masterson, a senior adviser at DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told the National Association of Secretaries of State online conference. “CISA has observed instances where several people in election-related offices having been sharing passwords over e-mail or default passwords are being used,” read one of the slides Masterson shared. Still, Masterson praised the actions that states’ top election officials have taken over the past few years to secure their network infrastructure and increase the amount of information they share with their counties and with federal entities like CISA, especially through organizations such as the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center. “We really have a much better picture of the election landscape,” he said. “We’re much more likely to feel a tremor in the Force now compared to 2016.”

National: The future of voting probably still requires a paper backup | Andrew Marino/The Verge

The week on our Vergecast interview series, cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter talks with The Verge’s Nilay Patel and Russell Brandom about the state of election security in the United States. The circumstances of a pandemic in an election year has complicated the voting process. In an analysis by NPR, it was found that thousands of mail-in ballots for the 2020 primaries were rejected because of late arrival, even in cases where the voter sent it in on time. In the 2020 Iowa caucus, paper backups of ballets needed to be relied upon after an app that was created to tally the votes started giving error messages. Zetter says if we’re going to use computers and software to count votes in an election, there also needs to be another system in parallel to secure the outcome. “You need to have the paper backup,” she says. “You need to have an auditing mechanism in place and an auditing law in place. And then you need the resources given to election officials for this process to succeed by November.”

National: Joe Biden is putting the Kremlin on notice about election interference | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

Democrats are sounding alarms about foreign election interference and pledging to punch back hard against Russia or any other adversary that undermines U.S. voting. In his most expansive statement to date on the subject, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pledged to “leverage all appropriate instruments of national power and make full use of my executive authority to impose substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators [of election interference]” if he wins the White House. “I am putting the Kremlin and other foreign governments on notice,” the former vice president said. “If elected president, I will treat foreign interference in our election as an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government.” Democratic leaders in Congress, meanwhile, publicly released a July 13 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray suggesting Congress itself is being used as a tool to “launder and amplify” foreign disinformation about the election. The letter didn’t specify how that’s happening but a congressional aide said the claim is based on intelligence information included in a classified addendum to the letter. The letter demands a briefing for all members of Congress. on the threats. It was signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

National: Revealed: US spends millions of taxpayer dollars on ineffective voting restrictions | Spenser Mestel/The Guardian

Restrictive “voter identification” laws pushed by Republicans, and widely regarded to be ineffective and discriminatory, have cost taxpayers at least $36m in just a few states, the Guardian can reveal. It’s well documented that restrictive voter ID laws are ineffective and discriminatory. The type of voter fraud they claim to prevent is a myth, and the burden of showing an ID disproportionately lands on students, low-income voters and African Americans. However, these laws are also extraordinarily expensive to implement and defend. Based on information obtained through open records requests, the Guardian has found that the partial costs of litigation, free identification cards, public education and other fees amount to tens of millions across the country. However, even with many states having to slash their budgets due to the economic crisis, one state, Kentucky, has decided to spend millions implementing a new ID law.

Editorials: The November Election Is Going to Be a Mess Disaster is avoidable—if lawmakers act now | Norm Ornstein/The Atlantic

American voters face a nightmare in November. The recent stretch of primary elections has raised a slew of red flags of glitches, missteps, incompetence, and worse that could plague the national elections in November. In Wisconsin, the failure of election officials to send out absentee ballots requested by voters and the failure of the United States Postal Service to deliver them in time forced those voters to physically go to the polls during the pandemic. Once there, they faced long lines in part because of the sharply reduced number of polling places. In Georgia, a similar situation occurred. The state had a major shortage of election officials, poll workers, and functioning voting machines. All of these glitches produced lines of many hours, and authorities broke their promise to provide enough paper ballots to ameliorate the crunch. Voters witnessed a perfect storm of bad luck, malfeasance, and ineptitude. Kentucky was lauded for its relatively snag-free primary, but also saw an alarming number of votes by mail disqualified on narrow grounds. These states are not the only ones with obvious problems in their election systems. The offenders are not all red states—or ones whose elections are run by questionable partisans. New York, among many others, has long been plagued by mismanagement of its elections, and it is also having problems fulfilling absentee-ballot requests; as the pandemic has caused tax revenues to plunge, the resulting fiscal shortfall may not leave election officials with the resources to print the ballots. The Postal Service is stretched thin and facing a hostile Republican reaction to its pleas for more money, and the perennial poll-worker shortage will likely be exacerbated this year by the reality that poll workers tend to be older and thus more vulnerable to COVID-19 and the flu. Many signs indicate that the spread of COVID-19 this fall could be severe—even more so if all schools are open—and a bad flu season could add complications.

Alabama: Want to vote absentee in Alabama? COVID-19 will be reason enough through end of year | Brian Lyman/Montgomery Advertiser

Voters concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak will be able to vote absentee in the Aug. 25 municipal elections and the November general election. The move does not affect any other of Alabama’s strict absentee voting requirements, but could significantly expand the number of people eligible to vote before Election Day. It comes after six weeks of rising coronavirus caseloads and a statewide mask order aimed at controlling the outbreak. “Amid coronavirus concerns, it is important to remember that Alabamians who are concerned about contracting or spreading an illness have the opportunity to avoid the polls on Election Day by casting an absentee ballot,” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said in a statement. The Secretary of State’s office said voters with COVID-19 concerns can mark a box citing a physical illness or infirmity preventing them from going to the polls when they apply for an absentee ballot. Voters could do the same in the July 14th runoff election. Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery, one of several Democratic legislators who has pushed for more voting options amid the pandemic, called the decision “a great move,” but said there needed to be additional voting options in the state.

Alaska: Lawsuit says automatically mailing absentee ballot applications only to those 65 and older is unconstitutional | Andrew Kitchenman/Alaska Public Media

A lawsuit over the state’s decision to automatically send absentee ballot applications only to those 65 and older is headed to federal court. The lawsuit alleges that the action unconstitutionally discriminates against younger voters. Anchorage lawyer Scott Kendall filed the lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs. “Our lawsuit’s very simple: You want to help people to vote absentee? We applaud it. Help all eligible vote absentee in the same way,” he said. “And don’t discriminate in an unconstitutional fashion.” Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer announced in June that the state would be sending requests to vote by mail to all Alaskans 65 and older. He cited the increased risk that older people face for complications from COVID-19. The lawsuit was filed by the Disability Law Center of Alaska, Native Peoples Action Community Fund, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and two residents. The lawsuit said limiting who automatically receives the applications violates the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says the rights of citizens 18 and older to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of age. And the lawsuit said that word “abridged” is key — and that it means some voters can’t have a better opportunity to vote than others. Kendall said the age cutoff is arbitrary.

Connecticut: A challenge to expanded absentee ballot use loses again in court, for the second time in two days | Edmund H. Mahony/Hartford Courant

The widespread use of absentee ballots in the August primary election grew more certain Tuesday when another judge – the second to do so in two days – rejected an argument by four Republican candidates that expanded use of the ballots is illegal. Superior Court Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher rejected the central claim in a suit by the candidates that an emergency pandemic order by Gov. Ned Lamont expanding absentee ballot access is illegal because only the General Assembly has the authority to decide who can vote absentee. The suit landed before Moukawsher Tuesday because a day earlier Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson dismissed the it on technical grounds, saying it had been improperly filed with that court. After hearing an hour of argument by video conference, Moukawsher issued a brief order rejecting the contention that the governor, under the state Constitution, lacks the authority to expand or restrict the use of absentee ballots. He said a written opinion would be forthcoming.

Florida: Vote-by-mail settlement clears decks for voting in crucial Florida primary, general elections | Michael Moline/Florida Phoenix

A weekend settlement doesn’t resolve every point of contention between voting rights organizations, the state, and Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections over access to early and mail-in voting during the pandemic in the country’s largest electoral swing state. But to the extent the outcome helps disadvantaged groups — Blacks, Latinos, the disabled, and more — overcome the state’s allegedly “gross inaction,” it could help decide an historic election. And in expanding access to both voting alternatives and mandating that the state and supervisors promote them among the public, it leaves those organizers free to use limited financial resources to move these voters to the polls instead of paying lawyers. That was the analysis representatives of those groups offered during a Zoom conference call Monday as U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle signed off on the settlement agreement. The day marked the deadline to register to vote in the Aug. 18 primary elections for state offices and Congress. “This settlement is a clear victory and a step forward for black and Latinx voters, as well as for all Floridians. Florida has finally done one thing right about the COVID crisis — Florida is settling this case,” said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project.

Georgia: Hourly Voting Data Shows Where Georgia’s Process Failed – And Flourished | Stephen Fowler/Georgia Public Broadcasting

In the first hour of voting on June 9, 148 people used the state’s new poll pad check-in system to cast their ballot in Georgia’s primary election at the Newnan Centre polling place in Coweta County. Across the metro Atlanta area at Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County, that number was one. As national media outlets, voting rights groups and concerned voters continue to turn their eyes towards our state’s election administration, GPB News is publishing another set of data from the primary that paints a more complicated and nuanced picture of what went wrong – and right. Analyzing the hour-by-hour check-in data from the secretary of state’s office, some larger trends about voting emerge. Across the state, there were more people processed as the day progressed, peaking with 104,422 voters from 5-6 p.m., more than double the number of voters in the first hour of the day. Some of the largest polling places mirror that trend. At its slowest, the Newnan Centre saw 88 check-ins from 8-9 a.m. At its peak, 216 voters passed through in the 4 p.m. hour, more than a quarter of the state’s polling places saw the entire day of voting.

Michigan: Trump repeats false voter fraud claims as millions in Michigan request absentee ballots | Dave Boucher/Detroit Free Press

It’s possible, if not likely, more Michiganders will vote by mail than in person this year. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced that more than 1.8 million absentee ballots have been requested and 600,000 already have been completed and returned ahead of the Aug. 4 primary. If that trend holds for the Nov. 3 general election, that means the millions of absentee ballots may make the difference in a presidential race decided in the state by the slightest of margins in 2016. Yet President Donald Trump repeated his unsubstantiated attacks on mail-in voting in a tweet Tuesday, alleging the practice may lead to a “rigged election.” “Mail-In Voting, unless changed by the courts, will lead to the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History! #RIGGEDELECTION,” the president stated in the tweet. Chris Gustafson, a Trump campaign spokesman in Michigan, did not directly address questions about the president’s tweet. But he said the GOP does not oppose mail-in voting. “Republicans have always supported absentee voting with safeguards in place. What we oppose is a nationwide experiment that would eliminate those safeguards, invite fraud, and weaken the integrity of our elections,” Gustafson said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

New York: Board of Elections Gears Up for Cyberattacks on November Elections |David Uberti/Wall Street Journal

New York state is training election officials on cybersecurity measures this week in the latest attempt to shore up voting systems before November. The state’s Board of Elections began a series of exercises Tuesday to simulate potential attacks on local governments such as disinformation campaigns, malware targeting voting machines and the disruption of systems that store voter registration data. The training is aimed at improving collaboration between county boards of elections and information-technology departments, said John Conklin, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections. “There’s a little bit of tension there,” he said. “The county boards are in a much better position now than they were in 2016, and even 2018.” County election and IT officials, along with third-party vendors that supply software or other support to governments, are participating in the workshops. They comprise one prong of New York’s strategy to protect the integrity of the vote. The Board of Elections also has produced a risk assessment for each of the state’s 62 counties, created an elections task force to monitor potential threats and provided annual cybersecurity training to local officials since 2018.

North Carolina: NAACP asks judge to ban the kind of voting machines used in Mecklenburg County | Jim Morrill/Charlotte Observer

Citing health and security concerns, North Carolina’s NAACP asked a Wake County judge Wednesday to block the use of touch screen voting machines in Mecklenburg and other counties. The move came three months after the group filed suit against the State Board of Elections and several county boards. Earlier this month the state attorney general’s office asked a judge to dismiss the suit. The NAACP argues that new, touch screen voting machines risk exposing voters to COVID-19. It also said the ExpressVote machines are “insecure, unreliable, and unverifiable” and threaten “the integrity of North Carolina’s elections.” Wednesday’s request for an injunction said the machines create “unique and substantial risks to the lives and health of voters” because each screen will be touched frequently. The two dozen or so counties using the machines, it said, “are forcing voters to choose between their right to vote, their health and potentially their lives.”

North Carolina: The State just changed election rules to expand early voting. Why GOP leaders say it’s unfair | Will Doran/McClatchy

Early voting sites should be easier to find in this fall’s elections, at least in North Carolina’s biggest cities, because of an order issued by the N.C. State Board of Elections on Friday. North Carolina Republicans say the change to statewide voting rules is just a partisan ploy to help Democrats, but state officials say it’s necessary to help protect voters against coronavirus. The order came as Democrats have been criticizing the long lines people have had to wait in to vote — especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic — that made national news earlier this summer in Georgia and Wisconsin. “If we do not take these measures, we risk much longer lines at voting sites and greater possibility of the spread of the coronavirus,” state elections director Karen Brinson Bell said in announcing the changes Friday. “These are not acceptable risks in this important election year when we expect turnout to be high.” The order says that every county in North Carolina must have at least one polling place for every 20,000 residents. That’s probably not going to lead to much change in smaller rural areas — which tend to lean conservative — but could force the creation of many additional polling places in urban, more liberal-leaning areas, said Republican Sen. Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine. The Board of Elections, appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper from nominees by the political parties, has a 3-2 Democratic majority. The board appointed Brinson Bell as the director. “It appears that areas with high concentrations of Democrats will have dozens of early voting sites while more Republican areas may have just one,” Hise said in a press release. “How is it fair or equitable for voters of one party to be able to walk down the street to vote early, while voters of another party will need to drive for miles and miles to vote early?”

Pennsylvania: Northampton County – ‘swing county, USA’ – prepares for unprecedented influx of ballots by mail | Mary Louise Kelly, Andrea Hsu, and Fatma Tanis/NPR

The county government cafeteria in Northampton County is a large, airy room with big windows and, for now, lunch tables separated by plexiglass. But a few months from now, on Election Day, this is where the county plans to have a couple of dozen people processing what it expects could be 100,000 mail-in ballots, nearly triple what they handled in the June 2 primary and 15 times what they handled in November 2016. The dramatic rise in mail-in ballots prompted the move of the counting operation to the cafeteria, one of many steps this swing county on the eastern edge of a battleground state is taking to prepare for this unprecedented presidential election. “We’re very supportive of it. It’s just a little more work,” says Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure Jr. “Based on our experience from the primary, we just don’t think it’s physically possible to count the potential 100,000 mail-in ballots that day.” Pennsylvania is among the handful of states that could decide the outcome of the election if it’s close. It voted twice for Barack Obama before pivoting to Donald Trump in 2016. Like many other places across the U.S., officials are anticipating a tremendous increase in the number of people voting by mail, because of changes in laws and coronavirus concerns. While there’s little evidence that mail-in ballots are insecure, they do introduce logistical and other challenges.

Tennessee: Secretary of State’s opposition to COVID-19 absentee ballots called ‘pitiful’ during US Senate hearing | Natalie Allison/Nashville Tennessean

Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Wednesday spoke before a U.S. Senate committee regarding Tennessee’s preparations for upcoming elections, a hearing that became heated as multiple members grilled him on the state’s resistance to expanding absentee voting due to the coronavirus. Hargett, who appeared by video before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, discussed Tennessee’s use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover the costs of necessary measures to make in-person voting safer this August and November, as well as buying additional ballot-scanning equipment and absentee envelopes. He reported that after traveling to 10 Tennessee counties last weekend after early voting began Friday ahead of the Aug. 6 primary, Hargett observed that voters and poll workers all appeared to be following new protocols put in place by the state. “Without fail, every person said, ‘I feel very safe coming to vote,’ ” Hargett said. But later in the hearing, multiple senators pushed back on Tennessee’s ongoing fight against a state judge’s order last month that Tennessee must expand mail voting due to the threat of contracting coronavirus at the voting booth.

West Virginia: West Virginia officials want other states to adopt online voting for deployed troops | Zach England/Military Times

West Virginia was the first state to allow a mobile voting app option for military members — and officials there are hoping others will follow. In 2018, the state offered overseas and military voters the option of using a mobile phone or tablet to vote in an election. In the general election that year, 144 voters stationed in 31 different countries were able to vote using the technology. The mobile voting app was the result of West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s interest in breaking down barriers preventing servicemembers from easy access to the polls. During almost three decades in the Army, Warner experienced the difficulties of voting overseas. Roughly 200,000 Americans are deployed overseas and in 2016, less than 20 percent of active duty troops voted, Warner said in an op-ed submission earlier this month. “The less than 20% figure weighs on me heavily,” he wrote. “This is an appalling statistic, and one that should be personally offensive to every American. The current COVID-19 pandemic should serve as the catalyst to leverage technology to correct the disenfranchisement of the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our democracy.”

Australia: Support grows for an Australian active cyber defence program | Stilgherrian/ZDNet

Tuesday’s industry advisory panel input into Australia’s long overdue 2020 Cyber Security Strategy is a grab-bag of ideas, but what jumps out at your correspondent is its support for active cyber defence (ACD). ACD has been at the centre of the UK government’s cyber defences since 2016. It aims to raise the cost and risk of mounting commodity cyber attacks while reducing the return on investment for criminals. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has deployed anti-spam defences across the domains and is monitoring internet routing to stop DDoS attacks and route hijacks. It’s been remarkably transparent about its progress, and it’s also led to some big wins. While the NCSC is concerned primarily with government networks, telcos and private-sector organisations are able to plug in. The UK’s program is “a best practice model for Australia to emulate”, according to Australia’s cyber industry advisory panel. “The panel strongly supports the increased use of threat blocking for low-sophistication threats,” they wrote. Support for blocking threats at scale was the highest among those on the front lines of the battle against cybercrime — particularly financial institutions.”

North Macedonia: Hacker group warns parties against appointing ethnic Albanian PM | Valentina Dimitrievska/bne IntelliNews

The hacker group AnonOpsMKD, which claimed that it attacked news aggregator on North Macedonia’s election day, July 15, warned of “chaos” in the country if parties allow the appointment of an ethnic Albanian prime minister. The biggest ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), led by Ali Ahmeti, has effectively been made kingmaker by the election. It says it wants the next prime minister to be an ethnic Albanian and has proposed former politician Naser Ziberi as its candidate, should it enter into coalition with one of the two main parties.  The ruling Social Democrats (SDSM) won 46 seats in the 120-seat parliament, VMRO-DPMNE 44, the DUI 15, the Alliance for Albanians 12, Levica two and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) one. This means that either the SDSM or VMRO-DPMNE would struggle to form a government without the DUI. “Now a threat to all parties — if you allow DUI to make you choose an Albanian as prime minister, in exchange for mandates — expect the entire Macedonia to be turned upside down, a complete blackout will happen within 24 hours, do not play with the Macedonian people!” the hacker group warned.

United Kingdom: After the Russia report: how to protect British democracy from interference | Paul Baines/The Conversation

The UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has finally published its long overdue report on Russian interference in UK elections, nearly a year and a half after its completion and eight months after it was due for release. Even the public was incensed with the delay – a parliamentary petition calling for its release gathered more than 105,000 signatures. While the report doesn’t provide concrete evidence of how the Russian state has interfered in UK elections, it highlights that Russia is a major threat to British democracy and political decision-making. MPs on the committee criticised the government for failing to curb Russian interference. Attention must now turn to how British democracy can be protected in future. The release of the report was delayed in November 2019 until after the December election. There has been much speculation about the reasons for the delay, including that the report contained juicy details of the Conservative Party’s connivance with Russian donors. These were not detailed directly in the report – although Russian donations to political parties in general were highlighted. It is worth noting that despite strict disclosure rules for MPs, there is no requirement for members of the House of Lords to register individual donations of more than £100 received for any outside employment. The committee pointed to the need for a US-style Foreign Agents Registration Act to curb such lobbying. The delay in publishing the report before the election was not surprising – it would have been foolish to openly publish a document providing the blueprints for how to interfere in British politics prior to a general election.