Michigan: State issues more than 1 million absentee ballots, sees surge in voter registration | Todd Spangler/Detroit Free Press

Amid ongoing uncertainties about coronavirus and with the Aug. 4 primary approaching, Michigan is seeing a surge in new voter registrations and requests for absentee ballots. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office provided data Wednesday showing that local clerks across Michigan have received a total of more than 1.3 million requests for absentee ballots. The data shared with the Free Press also indicated more than a million absentee ballots have already been sent out. That’s about 3½ times the number of applications received and ballots issued ahead of the August primary in the last presidential election cycle in 2016. In May, Benson announced that because of fears that crowded polling places could lead to the spread of coronavirus, she would work with local clerks to ensure that all of Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters received absentee ballot applications.

Ohio: Cybersecurity experts already see threats to voters in November elections | Larry Seward/WCPO

Ohio cybersecurity experts believe voters are vulnerable to threats as they prepare to cast their ballots in the November election. The Ohio Cyber Range Institute, based at the University of Cincinnati, is working on fighting those threats and protecting critical election infrastructure. As November approaches, Ohio Cyber Range researchers said they see two types of threats on the horizon: Voter manipulation through social media and efforts to fuel doubt in election results. “What we see behind the scenes are actors who are making certain things viral,” said Richard Harknett, the institute’s co-director and head of UC’s political science department. “They use ‘bot nets’ to drive likes and dislikes to get things in front of us that, really, the majority of people are not clicking on.” Harknett said he also believes Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are trying to leverage the coronavirus pandemic to create skepticism of election results by exploiting changes in vote-by-mail processes and delays. He said there is already evidence of this as results came in during May primaries.

Pennsylvania: Legislature will take up election law changes starting next week | Emily Previti/PA Post

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is suing Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and all 67 county election boards, as we reported earlier this week. The federal lawsuit makes several claims, including that counties violated Pa.’s election code by offering ballot dropoff in secure boxes at libraries, shopping centers and other places that aren’t polling places or county election offices. The election code portions cited in the complaint require voters to mail their ballots or deliver them in person to their county board of election. We wondered: How strong is the case the Trump campaign is making about the legality of ballot dropboxes used during the primary? Now that this issue is the subject of litigation, the Department of State, most county officials and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania aren’t commenting. At least not yet. So, we asked Chris Deluzio, policy director for the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security. “The statute doesn’t say you have to hand it to a person, or drop it at an office, in a box, a lobby, a building, etc.,” says Deluzio, who thinks counties should expand ballot dropoff options for the Nov. 3 general election. “County boards [also] weren’t treating these locations as polling sites, they were treating them as the functional equivalent of personal delivery to the boards of elections.”

Brazil: Municipal Elections Delayed Amid Coronavirus Pandemic | Murilo Fagundes and Samy Adghirni/Bloomberg

Brazil delayed this year’s municipal elections by about a month as the country struggles to control the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s lower house of congress approved on Wednesday a constitutional amendment to postpone the first round of the election, initially scheduled to October, to Nov. 15. Run-off votes will take place on November 29th. The proposal, which had already been approved by the senate, is ready to be signed into law by the president of congress, Davi Alcolumbre, on Thursday. The extension gives Brazil some extra time to prepare for an event that will be logistically challenging in a country hit hard by the pandemic. The number of confirmed cases stands at 1.4 million, the largest in the world after the U.S., according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. Fatalities already surpassed 60,000 people.

Russia: The Theatrical Method in Putin’s Vote Madness | Andrew Higgins/The New York Times

Russia’s seven-day national plebiscite, intended to keep President Vladimir V. Putin in power until at least 2036, delivered the expected verdict on Wednesday: Early results showed that three-quarters of voters had given their endorsement. Less clear, however, was why Mr. Putin even needed voters to approve a raft of constitutional amendments that, already ratified by the national parliament in Moscow and regional legislatures across the country, entered into law months ago. “From a juridical point of view, this whole exercise is insane,” said Greg B. Yudin, a sociologist and political theorist at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. But, he added, “it is not at all a meaningless procedure,” because Russia’s system under Mr. Putin depends on the appearance of popular support to confer legitimacy on decisions he has already made. “It is theater, but very important and well-played theater. The system needs to stage displays of public support even when it doesn’t have it,” Mr. Yudin said. “This vote is putting Putin’s theatrical techniques to the test.”

National: America is woefully unprepared for mail-in voting. The result will be messy and divisive. | Michael Fraiman/Macleans

Allen Straith has never voted by mail before. But when the 32-year-old customer service agent learned his wife was pregnant with their third child and realized COVID-19 would mean unsanitary voting booths and massive queues, Straith decided it would be better to play it safe, avoid the crowds and register for an absentee ballot. It wasn’t easy. He searched online for the application, but couldn’t find it. He shrugged it off for a few weeks, until he noticed a Facebook post by the chair of a neighbouring county’s Democratic group. The post warned that the deadline to register for an absentee ballot in Tennessee’s congressional election was fast approaching. Straith downloaded the application, assuming it was the same for November’s general election. It wasn’t—different application, different deadline. Now, even with the right paperwork, Straith is still worried. Not about fraud, or whether his ballot will arrive on time, or even whether his vote will count—Jefferson County, where he lives, is so deep-red, they haven’t elected a Democrat since the Civil War era. Instead, Straith believes this year’s election will further divide the nation.

Georgia: Election Board OKs Continued Use Of Absentee Drop Boxes, Early Processing Of Ballots | Stephen Fowler/Georgia Public Broadcasting

The Georgia State Election Board Wednesday voted to extend a pair of emergency rules that make it easier for some voters to cast absentee ballots and for counties to process them. One emergency rule passed mid-April allowed Georgia counties to set up secure 24/7 drop boxes for voters to return absentee ballots without relying on the mail system or needing to vote in person for the June 9 primary. Several counties opted to purchase and use drop boxes as part of an overall shift to more absentee-by-mail voting in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The amendment passed Wednesday removes language limiting drop boxes to the June primary election and added additional requirements for opening and closing the drop boxes and when county officials had to empty them out. A second amendment allows counties to continue to begin processing absentee ballots before Election Day, as a record 1.1 million people voted absentee for the primary and twice that is expected in November. The State Election Board also voted to require counties to post the dates and times they will be processing absentee ballots more prominently on the secretary of state’s website and on the local county’s site.

National: Red states advancing bills to curb mail-in voting | Gabby Birenbaum/The Hill

GOP legislators in states across the country are advancing bills that would prevent elections officials from sending out absentee ballot applications ahead of November’s election, even in states where those top officials are fellow Republicans. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, secretaries of state in places like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota and Wyoming encouraged residents to cast ballots from home by sending out absentee ballot request forms. Those forms led to increased participation during the primaries, with many states seeing record turnout. But now, Republican state legislatures are pushing back on those secretaries of states’ efforts by authoring bills to thwart their ability to send out ballot applications for the general election. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) last week signed a bill that requires the secretary of state to receive approval from a bipartisan legislative council before authorizing the mailing of absentee ballot request forms, after Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) sent applications to active voters. Eighty percent of the 524,000 votes cast in Iowa’s June primary were absentee ballots. In Ohio, legislators proposed a measure to bar Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) from sending out request forms en masse, even though the secretary of state’s office has done so for years. The bill was later amended to stop the state from paying for postage on the return envelope after LaRose lobbied legislators.

National: Language to boost election security removed from Senate intelligence legislation | Maggie Miller/The Hill

A measure that would require presidential campaigns to report attempts by foreign nationals to interfere in elections was removed from the Senate’s bipartisan Intelligence Authorization Act, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Tuesday. The clause was based on Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, which requires presidential campaigns to report all contacts with foreign nationals seeking to interfere in the election process to both the FBI and the Federal Election Commission. The Intelligence Authorization Act will be included in the Senate version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but according to Warner, the FIRE Act clause was taken out as part of a “backroom deal” in order to get the intelligence legislation included in the must-pass defense funding bill. Warner announced he was proposing the legislation as a separate amendment to the NDAA in order to force members of the Senate to vote on the record about where they stood on election security. The Senate this week is debating its version of the 2021 NDAA. Warner criticized President Trump and Republicans for removing the clause, noting that the Senate had not voted on any standalone election security legislation since Russian agents interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

National: Can’t Request an Absentee Ballot Online? This Group Wants to Help | Nick Corasaniti/The New York Times

As state after state has held primary elections in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, interest in voting from home using mail-in absentee ballots has soared. Yet many voters face a barrier when trying to request their ballots online from the safety of their own homes. Though 41 states allow people to register to vote online, only 18 states allow voters to request absentee ballots online, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which works to expand voting access. (In other states, voters need to send in absentee ballot applications by mail or complete them at election offices, a more cumbersome process.) There is, however, a bit of a loophole that exists in 13 of the states that don’t offer an online absentee ballot request: If voters can download, print and sign a ballot request form at home, they can either scan it or fax it back to the election office. Yes, fax it. That relatively archaic technology gave Debra Cleaver, the founder of VoteAmerica, a voting rights group, an idea: Her organization could establish an online portal for voters in those 13 states, and do the faxing, or scanning and emailing, for them.

National: Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources | Maggie Miller/The Hill

A group of Senate Democrats and multiple voting rights advocacy groups stepped up efforts on Tuesday to pressure Senate Republicans to support and pass legislation that would provide states with election resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), along with five other Senate Democrats, came to the Senate floor in an attempt to pass the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act that would expand mail-in and early voting. “If we are defending our elections, then we must protect our democracy, and if our elections are not safe, then our democracy is not secure,” Klobuchar said of election efforts during the pandemic. The bill was blocked by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who said he was worried the bill could be part of a “federal takeover of elections,” while noting that he may support sending states funding to boost election preparations during the pandemic. This was the second time in less than a week that Klobuchar brought the bill to the Senate floor for a vote and was blocked by Blunt. The two senators lead the Senate Rules Committee, with Blunt saying the committee would hold an elections-focused hearing sometime next month that would include local and state officials as witnesses.

National: The Republicans Telling Their Voters to Ignore Trump | Russell Berman/The Atlantic

There’s a major complication in President Donald Trump’s recent crusade against voting by mail, which he has called “a scam” that will lead to “the greatest Rigged Election” in history: In states that Trump desperately needs to win this fall, Republicans love it. Take Arizona, where polls show Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden after he carried the state narrowly in 2016. Republicans pioneered Arizona’s mail-in balloting system, which now accounts for about 80 percent of the state’s vote. “It’s been remarkably successful,” Chuck Coughlin, a longtime GOP operative and a onetime aide to the late Senator John McCain, told me. “There’s been minimal to no fraud for a long period of time.” Republicans say the same in Florida, the quadrennial swing state where voting by mail has become more and more popular in recent years, especially with older GOP voters. (One of the older GOP voters who uses the system is Trump himself.) “Yes, Florida Republicans over the last two decades have dominated absentees,” Joe Gruters, the state’s party chairman, told me. Trump’s unrelenting attacks on the integrity of mail-in voting are puzzling for a variety of reasons, not least because they are unfounded. But they’re particularly awkward for Republican leaders—especially those allied with the president—who need their voters to continue using a system Trump is trying to discredit. The president has, for example, gone after Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, for mailing absentee-ballot applications to every voter in the state as part of an effort to avoid depressed turnout due to the coronavirus pandemic. But GOP leaders in several other states have done the same thing.

Alabama: State asks U.S. Supreme Court to block curbside voting ruling | Mike Cason/AL.com

Alabama has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block a federal judge’s order that the state cannot prohibit counties from offering curbside voting during the July 14 runoff. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state argued that counties should be able to offer curbside voting to accommodate voters who are concerned about exposure to COVID-19. The state argues that if federal courts order the state to allow curbside voting they are effectively changing state law for an election that’s just two weeks away. Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour of the state attorney general’s office filed the emergency application for stay on Monday with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. LaCour asked the Supreme Court to block a lower court ruling in favor of four voters and three organizations who claimed that certain Alabama laws violated the rights of some voters who are at serious risk of illness from the virus.

Arkansas: In filing, state GOP chief, legislator urge dismissal of absentee-voting suit | John Lynch/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

A lawsuit over absentee voting in Arkansas during the covid-19 pandemic should be dismissed because the litigation is unnecessary, the head of the state Republican Party and a GOP state House of Representatives member argue in pleadings filed Monday. Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb and state Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, have responded to the week-old lawsuit before the only defendant, Secretary of State John Thurston, has answered the suit. The lawsuit seeks to ensure that voters who fear exposure to covid-19 do not have to vote at the polls where large crowds carry the risk of infection, but can cast absentee ballots without having to justify their reasons to authorities. Absentee votes can be cast either by mail or by dropping off a ballot before Election Day. Arkansas law requires voters to explain, under penalty of perjury, why they need to vote absentee before being allowed to do so.

Georgia: Secretary of State: Audit confirms presidential primary results | Adrianne Murchison/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Following widespread criticism of the voting process in Fulton County, an audit has confirmed the outcomes of the presidential preference primaries. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said a secure paper-ballot system was used Monday to verify Fulton’s results in the June 9 primary. According to the statement, Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections…

Georgia: DeKalb Commissioner Cochran-Johnson sponsors bill to expand to online voting | Roz Edward/Atlanta Daily World

As voting irregularities ranging from technical issues to poorly trained staff emerge across Georgia following the June primary elections, Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson has presented a resolution requesting the Georgia General Assembly research and expand voting options to include online capabilities. The resolution presented by the Governing Authority of DeKalb County requests the General Assembly to establish online voting to create a more secure, convenient and accessible opportunity for citizens to exercise a fundamental principle of American democracy. Through the establishment of online voting, the State of Georgia, counties and local municipalities will be able to reduce the financial burden associated with staffing various elections.

Iowa: Governor signs bill limiting use of voter database | David Pitt/Associated Press

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Tuesday that will deny county officials the ability to use a voter database to confirm missing or incorrect information on absentee ballot requests. The measure was inserted by Republicans into a massive budget bill on the final day of the legislative session. Reynolds signed the measure into law, opting not to kill the rule change with a line-item veto. Republican Rep. Gary Mohr defended the measure in floor debate as an election security measure that would help “ensure a person who applies for an absentee ballot is the one who casts the absentee ballot.”

Maryland: Partisan divide over voter fraud fears keeps Maryland officials from reaching consensus on Nov. 3 election method | Talia Richman/ Baltimore Sun

A partisan divide over whether voter fraud is a legitimate concern in mostly mail-in elections kept Maryland officials from reaching a consensus on how they believe the state should conduct voting in the upcoming presidential election. The five-member state elections board is tasked with presenting Gov. Larry Hogan a recommendation for how to hold the Nov. 3 election. It’s ultimately up to the Republican governor to make the decision — a choice complicated by great unknowns regarding how the coronavirus pandemic might be affecting society come fall. Because the board didn’t reach a consensus, it will issue a report to the governor later this week that makes no recommendation, but rather summarizes the opinions of both sides. The governor will review the report before making any decisions on next steps, spokesman Mike Ricci said. During its virtual meeting Tuesday, the board debated three options: a traditional election with mostly in-person voting, a hybrid model in which voters are all sent applications for mail-in ballots, or a mostly mail-in election similar to the June primary.

Massachusetts: Deal reached on voting by mail | Matt Murphy and Chris Van Buskirk/The Boston Globe

The House and Senate are poised this week to approve compromise early voting and vote-by-mail legislation that should pave the way for a major expansion of options ahead of the 2020 election to encourage participation during the COVID-19 pandemic. All six lawmakers appointed to find a compromise on the bill signed onto a report Monday. Representative John Lawn, the lead House negotiator on the bill, said he anticipates a vote of the full House on the final bill Tuesday while the Senate plans to take it up Thursday, according to a spokesperson for the Senate president’s office. The House and Senate versions of the bill instruct the secretary of state’s office to mail every voter an application to request a mail-in ballot for the primaries on Sept. 1 and the general election on Nov. 3. The goal, lawmakers have said, is to continue in-person voting but to allow voters to cast their votes early if they wish or to avoid the polls altogether if they feel unsafe because of virus transmission risks. The bill also for the first time in Massachusetts creates an early voting window before the statewide primary, and expands early voting before the general election. The state’s in-person early voting period for the general election runs Oct. 17-30 and Aug. 22-28 for the primaries. The mail-in early voting period will begin as soon as local clerks receive all the necessary materials.

Mississippi: Jones County election commissioner’s social media comment about Black voters causes uproar | Lici Beveridge/Mississippi Clarion Ledger

A social media comment with racial undertones made by a Mississippi election commissioner sparked outrage across the state on the same weekend state legislators voted to retire the flag and its Confederate emblem. “I’m concerned about voter registration in Mississippi,” the commissioner wrote. “The blacks are having lots (of) events for voter registration. People in Mississippi have to get involved, too.” Gail Welch’s comment caused an uproar Sunday, as screen shots of the comment spread quickly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Welch said she has received calls and messages from all over the country about the post. On Facebook, dozens of people shared their thoughts on the Welch’s words. One Mississippi lawmaker said he doesn’t know if Welch meant what she said, but her words give an impression of racism. “It’s those kind of things that people say until somebody brings it to their attention and then it’s not what they said or it’s not what they meant,” said Sen. Juan Barnett, whose district includes part of Jones County.

Pennsylvania: Coalition says paper ballots key to preventing voter disenfranchisement in Pennsylvania | Christen Smith/The Center Square

A coalition of unlikely allies said Tuesday that paper ballots will protect voters from disenfranchisement in the upcoming November election. The bipartisan group – including Americans for Tax Reform, R Street, Public Citizen and National Election Defense Coalition (NEDC), among others – penned a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar urging the leaders to spend federal dollars on security upgrades for November that would discourage the use of touch screen voting machines and ensure that the majority print out “voter-verified paper ballots” as a defense against computer malfunctions. “This should not be a partisan fight,” said Ben Ptashnik, president of NEDC. “Insecure voting equipment and lack of preparedness only serves to disenfranchise voters of both parties.” The letter recommends polling places keep enough paper ballots on hand in case the voting system falls victim to a cyberattack or malfunction. It also suggests 24/7 video monitoring and limits on internet connectivity to reduce avenues for hackers to tamper with machines.

Tennessee: Some first-time voters can’t cast absentee ballot | Jonathan Matisse/Associated Press

Tennessee officials say they plan to enforce a requirement that first-time voters who register by mail cast their ballots in person, despite a judge’s ruling that allows all eligible voters to cast absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. The state attorney general’s office provided the interpretation in response to a separate federal lawsuit that seeks to block the in-person requirement and two other absentee voting laws before the Aug. 6 primary election. In early June, a state court judge in Nashville ordered the expansion for all eligible voters during the pandemic. But her instructions did not directly address the first-time voter requirement. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sought to block the in-person requirement in a mid-June court filing, saying it’s unclear if the judge’s order allows that group to vote by mail. The requirement also applies to forms collected during voter registration drives and registrations collected at offices that provide public assistance and services to persons with disabilities, plaintiffs attorneys added.

Canada: ‘I don’t think it should be used’: Northwest Territories legislators hear expert’s concerns on online voting | Hilary Bird/CBC

When election officials in the Northwest Territories announced last year that the territory would be the first jurisdiction to use online voting in any provincial or territorial election, there was some public excitement. But that excitement quickly became overshadowed by warnings from cybersecurity experts who claimed the online voting systems of the day just weren’t secure enough to be used in an election. Regardless of those concerns, Elections NWT went ahead with its online voting plans and in the October 2019 election, 3.7 per cent of voters in the N.W.T. used the Montreal-based Simply Voting online platform to cast their ballot. The controversy surrounding the N.W.T. ‘s use of online voting is back in the public realm this month as a committee of MLAs is spending several days studying the process to see if it should be used in future elections. In her report to the N.W.T. Legislature on last year’s election, the territory’s chief electoral officer Nicole Latour is recommending thevernment amend the N.W.T. Elections and Plebiscites Act so that she can develop a set of procedures so that online voting can be a permanent part of future territorial elections. But in a presentation to the standing committee on rules and procedures Tuesday, one of the world’s leading election cyber security experts Aleksander Essex recommended the opposite.

China: Joshua Wong’s pro-democracy group Demosisto disbands hours after Hong Kong security law passed | Kelly Ho and Tom Grundy/Hong Kong Free Press HKFP

The group announced on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon that it respected the decisions of leading members Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Agnes Chow and Jeffrey Ngo, who decided to step down hours after China’s top legislative body passed a law that is set to criminalise secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong. “Demosisto believes it will be difficult for the group to maintain its current operation… members should use more flexible means to join in protests,” the group wrote on Facebook. “[We] now announce to disband immediately on this day and suspend all committee affairs.” The group was founded in 2016 as a political platform and sought to field candidates for legislative elections. However, its nominees were repeatedly barred from standing for election with authorities citing their stance on “self-determination” for the city.