National: As Election Nears, Government and Tech Firms Push Back on Russia (and Trump) | David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth/The New York Times

Over the past two weeks, United States Cyber Command and a group of companies led by Microsoft have engaged in an aggressive campaign against a suspected Russian network that they feared could hold election systems hostage come November.Then, on Monday, the Justice Department indicted members of the same elite Russian military unit that hacked the 2016 election for hacking the French elections, cutting power to Ukraine and sabotaging the opening ceremony at the 2018 Olympics. And in Silicon Valley, tech giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google have been sending out statements every few days advertising how many foreign influence operations they have blocked, all while banning forms of disinformation in ways they never imagined even a year ago.It is all intended to send a clear message that whatever Russia is up to in the last weeks before Election Day, it is no hoax. The goal, both federal officials and corporate executives say, is to disrupt Russia’s well-honed information-warfare systems, whether they are poised to hack election systems, amplify America’s political fissures or get inside the minds of voters.But behind the scenes is a careful dance by members of the Trump administration to counter the president’s own disinformation campaign, one that says the outcome on Nov. 3 will be “rigged” unless he wins.

National: States Have Improved Election Cybersecurity, but Still Can Do More | Phil Goldstein/StateTech Magazine

After more than a year of preparations and security enhancements, state and local governments are entering the final weeks of the 2020 election season. With millions of votes already cast, two things are clear: Government agencies have markedly improved their cybersecurity controls in the wake of the 2016 election, and yet they could still be doing more and cannot let their guards down. Outside experts say that state governments, especially those in battleground states, have improved their cybersecurity protections for election infrastructure and voter data. However, there are still cybersecurity measures they should be taking ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is continuing to coordinate with state and local agencies on election security threats, especially from nation-state actors and cybercriminals. CISA is confident in election security protections that have been put in place but remains on high alert.

National: How US security officials are watching for threats ahead of Election Day | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

FBI Director Christopher Wray once called the 2018 midterm elections a “dress rehearsal for the big show” of protecting the 2020 presidential election from foreign interference. The big show is finally here, and American officials say they are pulling out all the stops to keep it secure.U.S. intelligence, law enforcement and national security agencies have for weeks been in an “enhanced operational posture” to share any election-related threats with state and local officials, said Chris Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The week before Election Day, which is Nov. 3, those security efforts will kick into overdrive.Officials from the Department of Defense, FBI, the Election Assistance Commission, political campaigns and the private sector are scheduled to gather at CISA’s operations center outside of Washington, D.C. The U.S. Postal Service, which is playing an expanded role in this year’s election with the increase in mail-in ballots, will also have a representative on hand.“It gives us an opportunity to share that information in near-real-time to understand what’s happening…detecting issues at the soonest, smallest opportunity, and then making sure that it doesn’t spiral into a bigger issue,” Krebs said during an interview during CyberTalks, the annual summit produced by CyberScoop.

National: Here’s Why Concerns About Absentee Ballot Fraud Are Overhyped | Whose Vote Counts | Pat Beall, Catharina Felke, Sarah Gelbard, Jackie Hajdenberg, Elizabeth Mulvey and Aseem Shukla/Frontline

Leila and Gary Blake didn’t want to miss elk hunting season. It was 2000, and the election conflicted with their plans, so the Wyoming couple requested absentee ballots.But the Blakes had moved from 372 Curtis Street five miles down the road to 1372 Curtis Street, crossing a town line. When they mailed their votes using the old address, they were criminally charged. The misdemeanor case was settled with $700 in fines and a few months’ probation, but two decades later, the Blakes are still listed as absentee ballot fraudsters in the Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database. Far from being proof of organized, large-scale vote-by-mail fraud, the Heritage database presents misleading and incomplete information that overstates the number of alleged fraud instances and includes cases where no crime was committed, an investigation by USA TODAY, Columbia Journalism Investigations and the PBS series FRONTLINE found. Although the list has been used to warn against a major threat of fraud, a deep look at the cases in the list shows that the vast majority put just a few votes at stake.

National: Activists brace for voter intimidation efforts on election day | Chris Megerian and Arit John/Los Angeles Times

As a young lawyer for the New Jersey Democratic Party, Angelo Genova quickly realized something was amiss on election day in 1981.“Our team was getting calls left and right,” he said. “A lot of it was a blur.”In urban Black communities across New Jersey, large signs had appeared warning that polling places were “patrolled by the National Ballot Security Task Force.” Off-duty cops, some armed, wore armbands and demanded voters’ identification before they could cast ballots.The task force was a Republican invention. Though no one could prove how many people were too intimidated to vote, the party viewed it as a success when its candidate, Thomas Kean, won by a 1,797 votes in a recount of more than 2.3 million ballots cast.The Republican National Committee planned to run the same playbook in states around the country, but Democrats obtained a federal court order preventing them. The consent decree has limited the committee’s activities in every election since then — until now.

National: Voter registration deadlines could see more online glitches | Nolan D. McCaskill/Politico

A cut cable, an equipment failure at a data center, an online traffic overload that crashed a website — online voter registration systems have already had their share of snafus this election season, amid record-breaking registration totals in battleground states. With registration deadlines approaching in more than a dozen states, voting rights groups and party officials warn there could be more glitches on the horizon, resulting in the disenfranchisement of would-be voters. Registration deadlines were extended last week in Virginia and two weeks ago in Florida after web outages prevented residents from registering online for hours, prompting lawsuits from voting rights groups and even allegations of voter suppression. Jeanette Senecal, senior director of mission impact at the League of Women Voters, said other states should be taking the outages seriously because online systems in states across the country sometimes fail even on regular days. “It can also forecast problems with the state system to support their polling place finder or their ballot lookup or their voter verification system,” she warned. “All of these systems to tend to be connected to one another.”

National: Why the US absentee ballot is so poorly designed | Anne Quito/Quartz

Complaining about the US ballot is centuries-old American tradition. Every election cycle, critics lament how unwieldy, ugly, or downright confusing the voting form is. With the spike in voting by mail this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, many more are noticing how puzzling the piece of paper truly is as they fill out their ballots at home. Turns out, the ballot’s confusing design is less a weakness of America’s participatory democracy than a sign of its robustness. Americans can cast a vote several ways. They can go to a polling station on Election Day or do it in advance via a mail-in absentee ballot; many states allow early in-person voting as well.Voting online isn’t widely available for federal elections. This year, 32 states and the District of Columbia are accepting ballots submitted via a mobile app, fax, e-mail, or an online portal, but this method is mostly reserved for military personnel serving overseas or civilians living abroad. While countries like Australia, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, Norway, and Switzerland have have embraced some form of remote voting via the internet, experts caution that it’s not useful to compare them with the American context. That’s because the US operates on a much larger and complicated scale.And so, old-fashioned paper is still the most common and secure voting medium in the US. An estimated 95% of voters will manually fill out and send forms by postal mail, deposit in a drop box, or feed their paper ballots to a machine that produces an auditable paper record at a voting center.

National: Far-Right Trump Supporters Are Infiltrating Polling Stations | David Gilbert/VICE

As threats to disrupt Election Day grow, some members of a far-right Trump superfan group are boasting about securing positions as polling station managers and supervisors while dozens of them are advocating violence on November 3.“Consider this polling station…ON LOCK DOWN” That’s what a member of the far-right message board posted this week, alongside a picture of a South Carolina poll manager’s handbook. The poster, utahbeachballs1944 responded to other users’ comments, saying “my polling place is gonna be like trying to enter North Korea. Fucking LOCKED DOWN” and added: “I will be honoring the BLM movement by working in Blackface.” Utahbeachballs1944 is among at least four users of TheDonald who have posted pictures showing polling station manuals as evidence that they will be overseeing voting on Election Day next month, according to an investigation by VICE News. VICE News has been unable to independently verify that these people are actually poll workers, but the photos they posted of official materials did not show up on a reverse image search, suggesting that they are photos taken by the posters themselves. The posts on the message board also match a pattern of activity we’ve seen before and come in response to specific suggestions from Trump that his supporters “watch” the vote.

Editorial: The 2020 election could permanently change how America votes | Patrick Howell O’Neill/MIT Technology Review

More than 29 million voters have already cast their ballots in the 2020 US elections, and we’re still more than two weeks from Election Day itself. At the same point in 2016, the number of early votes was about 6 million. But while a great deal of this is the result of the ongoing (and worsening) covid-19 crisis, America’s top election official says that the shift to early and mail-in voting could be permanent—even when the pandemic is over.“One of the things that we’ve consistently seen over time is that as more Americans get exposed to convenience voting options like early voting and vote by mail, the more they like it and the more they want to keep doing that,” says Benjamin Hovland, chairman of the Electoral Assistance Commission, which helps administer and advise on voting guidelines around the nation.Learning from the pastHistory has lots of lessons to tell us about this process. The first mail-in ballots were cast during the Civil War, and today five states hold their elections almost entirely that way.Oregon is the one that really blazed a trail for American mail-in voting. When the idea first popped up in 1981, there were skeptics and opponents everywhere. By the end of the decade, the state was moving at speed to embrace mail-in voting, first for local elections and then for state and national ballots. A partisan fight over the issue was resolved in 1998, when Oregonians themselves overwhelmingly backed a ballot measure to make the state vote entirely by mail.

Alabama: 17 attorneys general oppose curbside voting ban in Supreme Court | Mike Cason/

Attorneys general for the District of Columbia and 16 states have filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing Alabama’s effort to preserve a statewide ban on curbside voting.The AGs said many of the states that joined in the brief have experience with curbside voting and policies that leave decisions on curbside voting to local officials. “Through that experience, states have learned that curbside voting is safe, relatively easy to implement, and not associated with voter fraud,” the brief says. “Moreover, curbside voting is particularly beneficial for vulnerable citizens and those with mobility challenges, including those with disabilities. Especially in the context of the novel coronavirus, it furthers states’ interests to allow counties—within reason, and consistent with the law—to implement common-sense measures like curbside voting meant to safeguard both the franchise and public health.”

Alaska: Emails sent to Deocrats on Tuesday warned them to “vote for Trump or else” | By Nathaniel Herz/Alaska Public Media

Alaskans across the state received emails Tuesday morning warning them to “vote for Trump or else,” in an incident that’s drawn the attention of the FBI and the state Division of Elections. In emails and social media posts, more than a dozen Alaskans reported that messages were sent to people in Anchorage, Soldotna, Kenai, Homer, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Bristol Bay, Denali Park, Palmer and the Fairbanks area. News reports from Florida indicated that the same messages were sent to at least 183 voters there.In a copy of the email shared by Anchorage resident Kane Stanton, the sender told Stanton that “we are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone).” “You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure,” said the message to Stanton, a 36-year-old hardware store manager. “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply.”

Florida: Will the Recount State Be Ready for the Election? | Patricia Mazzei and Frances Robles/The New York Times

Most states have the occasional problems running their elections. Not Florida. Florida has debacles. … More than two decades of scandals and blunders have made Florida the nation’s elections punchline, the state that kept the world at the edge of its seat while votes for president were manually recounted. The shadows of Florida elections past seem to lurk everywhere.“I feel like I’ve seen this movie before,” Judge Mark E. Walker of the Federal District Court in Tallahassee said in a ruling this month after the state’s voter registration website crashed under the weight of thousands of last-minute applications. Now the state, like the rest of the nation, faces perhaps the most daunting test yet: a 2020 election conducted in the midst of a pandemic, amid unsubstantiated fraud claims spread by the president and others. Reasonable predictions suggest that the legal wrangling over the results could stretch far beyond election night. Is Florida ready?

Florida: Emails threatening voters to “vote for Trump or else!” linked to overseas servers | Melissa Quinn, Stefan Becket and Graham Kates/CBS

Dozens of voters in a heavily Democratic county in Florida and across several states reported receiving emails on Thursday purporting to come from a right-wing group threatening to “come after” them unless they vote for President Trump. But an examination of the messages, which are now under investigation by state and federal authorities, shows they were sent via servers located overseas, raising questions about their origin amid concerns about voter intimidation just two weeks before Election Day. Democratic voters in Alachua County, Florida, began receiving the email on Tuesday morning, and voters in Alaska and Arizona also reported receiving the message. Early voting began in Florida on Monday. The emails appeared to come from the right-wing group The Proud Boys, and showed a “from” address of The Proud Boys has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group.

Georgia election chief says tech issues resolved as turnout soars | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that problems with a sluggish voter check-in system have been resolved and wait times have fallen as early voting turnout surges in Georgia. Voters should expect a smooth early voting process after technical changes were made last week to the state computer system that looks up voter registration and check-in information at polling places, he said. “When we saw an issue with speed of the voter registration, we jumped on it because we knew it would impact the voter experience, so we handled that very quickly,” Raffensperger said during a press conference at the state Capitol. “That solution has all been handled.”The technical difficulties of the system, called eNet, resulted in slow-moving lines, with some voters waiting 12 hours on the first day of early voting last week.

Michigan: After botching past elections, Detroit aims to avoid a ‘black eye’ in November | Erin Einhorn/NBC

The workers had signed in. They’d had their temperatures screened. They’d filled out paperwork, and they were waiting for their training to begin when Daniel Baxter strode to the center of the room, grabbed a microphone and launched into a speech that, at times, seemed more suited to the pulpit where he preaches on Sundays than the convention center basement where he trains election workers. “Say, ‘There’s healing power!’” Baxter called to the trainees, his booming voice echoing through the cavernous exhibit hall where 75 workers sat, spaced apart, around large, rectangular tables. “C’mon, say it again,” he said when the group’s response was less than enthusiastic. “Say, ‘There’s healing power in troubled waters. There’s healing power in troubled waters,” the group repeated. Baxter, 55, a former elections director for Detroit who has been enlisted by the city to help with next month’s presidential election, didn’t spell out exactly what he meant by troubled waters. He didn’t need to. Many of the people attending that Wednesday morning training last week, sitting in the very seats where they’ll be processing absentee ballots on Election Day, had signed up for this job precisely because they knew about the problems that have dogged Detroit elections in the past.

North Carolina: Court lets state keep absentee deadline extension | Jonathan Drew/Associated Press

North Carolina can accept absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day for more than a week afterward, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block an extension for accepting the ballots that was announced in late September. The State Board of Elections decided then that absentee ballots could be accepted until Nov. 12 as long as they were mailed by Election Day, lengthening the timeframe from three to nine days. The change was made as part of a legal settlement with voting rights advocates.State and national Republican leaders went to court to fight the deadline extension. But the federal appeals court denied their emergency request to block the change.The court’s majority opinion notes that ballots must still be postmarked by Election Day to be counted. The opinion says that “everyone must submit their ballot by the same date. The extension merely allows more lawfully cast ballots to be counted, in the event there are any delays precipitated by an avalanche of mail-in ballots.”

Ohio: Nine counties switch to printing absentee ballots in-house due to delays with Cleveland-based company | Robin Goist/Cleveland Plain Dealer

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has reported that nine of the 16 counties that contracted with Cleveland-based Midwest Direct to print and mail absentee ballots have switched to printing ballots in-house.The counties of Butler, Clinton, Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Lucas, Mahoning, Miami and Williams have “discontinued their relationship” with the company and are instead printing and mailing ballots from their boards of elections, LaRose said. The other counties with apparently intact contracts with Midwest Direct are Cuyahoga, Lorain, Stark, Summit, Trumbull, Union and Wood.LaRose shared the update Monday evening following a report from and The Plain Dealer that thousands of voters were still awaiting absentee ballots nearly two weeks after they were supposed to be mailed.“ Many of you have heard that there’s a vendor in Northeast Ohio that had failed to really meet expectation on getting absentee ballots out on time,” LaRose said, without mentioning the company by name. “It’s truly unfortunate and unacceptable that they over-promised and under-delivered.”

Pennsylvania: Voter confusion rattles election officials near Monday’s deadline to register | Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Elise Viebeck/The Washington Post

Elections officials in Pennsylvania are being inundated with complaints from first-time and absentee voters having difficulty registering to vote or requesting a mail ballot, fueling anxiety in the critical swing state just as the 5 p.m. Monday deadline approaches to join the voting rolls in time for the November election. College students in at least three counties in Pennsylvania who attempted to register to vote online had their applications rejected and were notified that they must provide documentation in person or by mail to meet the Monday deadline, raising concerns among voting rights advocates that an unknown number of students may not be able to register in time. Meanwhile, other voters are receiving rejection notices for their absentee ballot requests without a clear explanation. County officials said the vast majority of these rejections were due to duplicate requests. The voters had already requested a general election ballot when they were applying to vote by mail for the primary election, so they didn’t need to request one again for the fall.

In Vermont, hope is that universal mail-in balloting becomes the norm | VTDigger

Vermont has gone farther than almost any other state this year in making sure that residents can vote safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, temporarily switching to a universal vote-by-mail system in which every registered voter is sent a ballot. And there are few other barriers to voting in the state. For example, Vermont is joined only by Maine and Washington, D.C., in placing zero restrictions on voting by people who have been convicted of a crime, including while they’re in prison. Still, advocates are pushing for the state to be more proactive and transparent about voting by prisoners, and for the mail voting expansion to become permanent.

Wisconsin: Outagamie County ballot misprint may need to be settled by a judge | Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The state Elections Commission told Outagamie County officials Tuesday they would need to go to a judge to find a way to deal with thousands of ballots that can’t be read by counting machines because of a printing error.While the commissioners said it would be up to a judge to decide, they contended the best solution would be to have poll workers make changes to marks on the edges of the ballots so they can be read by tabulators. That would be more efficient than having poll workers fill out new ballots to replace those that have printing errors, they said. It will be up to the county or others to decide whether to take the matter to court. Otherwise, election officials will have to remake thousands of ballots or count all their ballots by hand. Whatever path they take, counting ballots in Outagamie County and a small portion of Calumet County will take longer because of the printing mistake. That means results may not be available until after the Nov. 3 election.