National: Why vote-by-mail may not save our elections from the virus’ disruption | Kim Zetter/Politico

The spreading coronavirus is starting to create a difficult choice for the nation’s election supervisors: force people to keep voting in person, despite the risk of contagion, or rush into a vast expansion of voting by mail. Already, the pandemic has forced Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky and Ohio to postpone their presidential primaries until later in the spring, while reportedly contributing to lower than average turnout in Tuesday’s primaries in Illinois and Florida. It has also inspired some lawmakers and activists to call for much broader use of mail-in voting, a way for Americans to cast their ballots despite the lockdowns, quarantines and limitations on crowds taking hold across the country. But some election experts warn that an abrupt adoption of vote-by-mail systems in states that aren’t sufficiently prepared would introduce new risks and avenues for disruption. The results, they say, could bring widespread confusion or even disenfranchise voters. “Rolling something as complex as this out at large-scale introduces thousands of small problems — some of which are security problems, some of which are reliability problems, some of which are resource-management problems — that only become apparent when you do it,” said Matt Blaze, an election security expert and computer science professor at Georgetown Law School. “Which is why changing anything right before a high-stakes election carries risks.”

National: Illinois Stumbles as States See Light Voter Turnout, With Many Ballots in the Mail | Nick Corasaniti, Stephanie Saul, Matt Stevens and Reid J. Epstein/The New York Times

Voting in major cities in Illinois was rife with confusion on Tuesday and early turnout in many areas was significantly lower than expected, leading to complaints from poll workers and clashes between Chicago officials and the statehouse. Illinois is one of three states that went ahead with their Democratic presidential primaries on Tuesday amid fears about people gathering in groups and risking exposure to the coronavirus. In Florida, relocated polling sites led to disruption and low turnout was reported in some counties, while voting in others was running smoothly. Arizona, where a vast majority of voters had cast their ballots early, was reporting no major issues. Elections officials in all three states hoped that any drop-off in turnout would be partially offset by early voting and the vote-by-mail ballots that many Democrats filed in the weeks leading up to Tuesday. Ohio also had a presidential primary scheduled, but Gov. Mike DeWine postponed it through a flurry of legal actions and declarations on Monday night, recommending that it be pushed to June 2. Voters who weren’t aware of the late-night decision by the governor and the state’s top health official were greeted Tuesday morning with closed doors and statements taped to windows saying the primary had been postponed.

National: Coronavirus wreaks havoc on Tuesday primaries | Natasha Korecki/Politico

Voters practiced social distancing with the election on Tuesday – by staying away from the polls. Early signs of low turnout in Illinois and Florida offered another sobering reminder of how the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on the election year. In Ohio, a wild day of pronouncements from elected officials and legal challenges ended in the last-minute postponement of the state’s primary. Tensions also flared in other states as officials faced a backlash over decisions to forge ahead with their elections. In Illinois, the number of people who showed up to vote early in the day in Chicago was below even the pace of mayoral contests, which are typically low-turnout affairs, according to an election official. Statewide numbers were also expected to come in low. Turnout likewise looked skimpy in Florida, according to anecdotal reports. Steve Vancore, a spokesman for Broward County elections, said turnout so far has been light in the South Florida county that has been one of the hot spots for the virus in the state.

National: A Primary? In a Pandemic? Voting is the opposite of social distancing. But Americans in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois are still heading to the polls | Elaine Godfrey/The Atlantic

Americans are supposed to be avoiding one another right now. But they’re still convening at the polls. Hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of voters in Arizona, Illinois, and Florida today will grasp the same door handles, drag their fingers across the same touch-screen voting machines, and wait in long lines with dozens of other people as they participate in the next series of primary contests. All three of these states have reported multiple cases of the coronavirus, making the elections today a major health risk, says Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “When you bring people together in close proximity for extended periods of time, that is where you see explosions of disease,” she told me. “It’s tough to stay apart when you’re standing in a line” to vote. The threat of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, is likely to compound some of the problems already plaguing America’s election systems: Coronavirus fears could lead to depressed turnout, longer lines, and general confusion for voters on Election Day, experts worry. “This is building up to a level that it could clearly cause real problems,” warns David Pepper, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. And if states don’t start planning now, the virus could impede the general election too.

National: Facing coronavirus pandemic, US confronts cyberattacks | Ali Dukakis, James Gordon Meek, Mike Levine, Luke Barr and Josh Margolin/ABC

The United States, already dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, is also being targeted for cyberattacks and foreign disinformation campaigns, as federal officials feared. Multiple sources confirmed to ABC News in recent days that both the efforts that slowed computer systems at the Health and Human Services Department Sunday night and the weekend rash of bogus text messages warning a national quarantine is imminent were the products of foreign actors or components of foreign governments or entities connected to them. “We are seeing multiple disinformation campaigns right now,” said one federal official briefed on the situation. The two types of cyber incidents are different, but both are aimed at sowing panic in the American population and feeding distrust in government, according to intelligence officials. Federal officials said the two most likely perpetrators are Russia and China, two nations with the sophistication, skill and desire to carry out such campaigns against the U.S. In the case of the HHS incident, officials said outsiders deployed automated users — called bots — to target the public-facing computer system. A source familiar with the investigation into the incident told ABC News that it is thought to be either a widespread campaign to scan HHS systems for vulnerabilities, or possibly a “clumsy” attempt to paralyze public online systems with a flood of visitors, something called distributed denial of service, or DDOS.

National: Shuttered polling places and a dearth of cleaning supplies: Voters confront pandemic-fueled confusion at the polls | Elise Viebeck, Amy Gardner and Isaac Stanley-Becker/The Washington Post

Voters in three states Tuesday confronted shuttered polling places, a lack of cleaning supplies and confused officials struggling to administer an election during a public health crisis, a chaotic situation that voting advocates said created barriers for those trying to participate in the Democratic presidential primary. In Arizona, Florida and Illinois, people seeking to vote encountered significant hurdles that appeared directly related to the coronavirus outbreak, according to interviews with voters and nonpartisan advocates. The three states chose to proceed with their contests this week while a fourth — Ohio — postponed in a controversial, eleventh-hour move on Monday night, citing a “health emergency.” In locations around Chicago, voters arrived at polling places to find no election judges to run the precinct as well as no disinfecting supplies. Some voting locations in Palm Beach County, Fla., had not opened by late morning. And around Arizona, some people were directed to vote at municipal buildings that were otherwise closed to the public, causing confusion. Even in Ohio, some voters showed up at polling sites on Tuesday morning only to learn that in-person voting was delayed until June 2. In some locations, advocates said, no signs were posted to indicate the change. “We’ve been hearing from countless voters who are unsure about the status of voting today,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said on a conference call with reporters. Clarke said she had never see anything comparable to the situation in Ohio, where voters “went to bed” on Monday night unsure whether the elections would take place. “It’s unlike anything we have ever seen before,” she said.

National: Election Assistance Commission hires cyber-savvy adviser to support 2020 efforts | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission is hiring a senior policy adviser to bolster its cybersecurity work with election officials and voting equipment vendors ahead of the 2020 presidential vote. Maurice Turner is set to join the federal commission at the end of the month as a senior adviser to the executive director, supporting the EAC’s internal operations and programing. Externally, he says he can help the commission with an update to important guidelines for voting systems security, and in supporting states as they set up programs to find and fix software vulnerabilities. “I want election officials to expect that EAC is a place that they can go for this type of information,” Turner told CyberScoop. “Whether it’s about security standards or new methods for election administration.” Turner has spent the last two years working on election security at the nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology. He was previously a fellow in the Senate advising the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on cybersecurity issues.

National: Primary states voting Tuesday take steps to limit coronavirus risks | Ben Popken/NBC

The blue painter’s tape issued to poll workers in Cook County, Illinois, has a particularly important use this year: marking off 6-foot increments to make sure people maintain a safe distance from one another. “It is our job to ensure the safety of those around us while we carry out our civic duty today,” tweeted County Clerk Karen Yarbrough. Arizona, Florida and Illinois are proceeding with Tuesday’s primaries, but officials are stressing alternatives, such as voting by mail, and telling voters to be on the lookout for changes due to coronavirus precautions. Polling places are also taking their own precautions in an effort to keep people at least 6 feet apart, the distance recommended by health professionals to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Disruptions have already been reported in each state, with some locations closing or changing and poll workers dropping out because of coronavirus concerns. In Arizona, Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, cut almost 80 polling places due to a lack of sufficient cleaning supplies and to ensure that those sites that remain open have enough poll workers, the county’s board of supervisors announced.

National: Connecticut, other states talk about delaying ‘Acela primary’ | Mark Pazniokas/CT Monitor

Connecticut and the other five northeastern states now scheduled to hold presidential primaries on April 28 are in talks about finding a new date in May or June to accommodate the current ban on large public gatherings due to the coronavirus. “Our primary is very, very late, which ironically was considered a liability by some. Now, it gives us more time to think this through.” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who has talked to Gov. Ned Lamont about a delay. “We don’t need to make that decision now.” The registrars of votes are urging a postponement, and Merrill was scheduled to hold a conference call with the registrars and town clerks Tuesday, followed by a teleconference with the state party chairs, Democrat Nancy Wyman and Republican J.R. Romano. The primary date is set in state law, but Gov. Ned Lamont has authority under his public health emergency declaration to waive laws and regulations. “Only the governor can make that decision. I certainly will have a recommendation,” Merrill said.

National: Election Assistance Commission allows states to use election security funds for cleaning supplies to fight coronavirus | Maggie Miller/The Hill

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) on Tuesday announced it would allow states to use funds allocated by Congress for election security to fight the spread of coronavirus at the polls. The EAC said it would allow states to use the money, which totals over $800 million, to purchase disinfectant wipes, masks and other cleaning supplies in order to lower the risk of voters contracting coronavirus at the polls. “The EAC considers these allowable costs purchased to protect the health and safety of poll workers, staff and voters during federal elections,” the EAC wrote in a notice announcing the change. The funds include $380 million allocated by Congress to states to shore up election security in 2018. It also includes the $425 million given to states as part of the 2020 appropriations cycle, money that has still not been made available but that states are allowed to incur expenses against.

National: Audit finds severe vulnerabilities in Voatz mobile voting app | Benjamin Freed/StateScoop

An extensive audit published Friday of Voatz, the mobile app that’s been used to collect live ballots from overseas voters in multiple states since early 2018, revealed 16 “severe” technical vulnerabilities. These include sensitive user data being exposed to the company’s developers and improper use of cryptographic algorithms, a blow to a company that has staked its reputation on its use of blockchain technology. The audit confirmed the findings revealed last month by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who found, among other flaws, that Voatz’s use of third-party vendor to authenticate the identity of its users could compromise the anonymity of ballots the app collects. But unlike other reviews of Voatz’s technology, including the MIT study, the new audit, which was prepared by the cybersecurity firm Trail of Bits, was authorized by the company and Tusk Philanthropies, the venture capital-backed foundation that’s been promoting online voting by funding pilot uses of Voatz around the United States for nearly two years. Among the most glaring vulnerabilities Trail of Bits found was that Voatz had been storing authentication key passwords, which are required to release new versions of the app and could give an attacker an opening to masquerade as Voatz to distribute malware. Researchers also criticized Voatz for its reliance on unvalidated client data and weak security procedures, including a lack of insufficient continuous monitoring and risk-assessment plans. The audit’s executive summary chalks up Voatz’s flaws as a result of the company’s rush to get its app to market.

National: Our Full Report on the Voatz Mobile Voting Platform | Trail of Bits Blog

Voatz allows voters to cast their ballots from any geographic location on supported mobile devices. Its mobile voting platform is under increasing public scrutiny for security vulnerabilities that could potentially invalidate an election. The issues are serious enough to attract inquiries from the Department of Homeland Security and Congress. However, there has been no comprehensive security report to provide details of the Voatz vulnerabilities and recommendations for fixing them—until now. Trail of Bits has performed the first-ever “white-box” security assessment of the platform, with access to the Voatz Core Server and backend software. Our assessment confirmed the issues flagged in previous reports by MIT and others, discovered more, and made recommendations to fix issues and prevent bugs from compromising voting security. Trail of Bits was uniquely qualified for this assessment, employing industry-leading blockchain security, cryptographic, DARPA research, and reverse engineering teams, and having previously assessed other mobile blockchain voting platforms. Our security review resulted in seventy-nine (79) findings. A third of the findings are high severity, another third medium severity, and the remainder a combination of low, undetermined, and informational severity.

Read our Voatz security report and threat model for full details.

National: Election Assistance Commission Issues Guidance on Handling Primaries and Caucuses During Coronavirus | Courtney Bublé/Government Executive

As the novel coronavirus outbreak occurs during the presidential primary and caucus season, the nation’s elections information clearinghouse issued guidance last week to mitigate public health risk during voting. The independent and bipartisan Election Assistance Commission, which certifies voting systems and provides best practices in election administration, published a list of resources for state election officials, voting system vendors and federal agencies on Thursday on how to deal with the coronavirus. Primary and caucus season kicked off on Feb. 3 and runs until June 7, which is followed by the Democratic convention in July and the Republican one in August. So far only Louisiana and Georgia have postponed their primaries because of the coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said on ABC News on Sunday that it could take “several weeks to a few months” before things go back to normal. Then on Sunday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there should be no large events or mass gatherings with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

National: Pandemic Planning Should Ensure All Votes Can Be Cast by Mail in November, Experts Say | Robert Mackey/The Intercept

As Ohio’s Governor ordered that his state’s primary be delayed until June, citing the need for social distancing in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Senate Democrats and election experts pressed Congress to act immediately on legislation to ensure that voters in all 50 states will be able to cast ballots by mail or vote early in the general election if the public health emergency lasts into November. That is particularly urgent because, as Marc Elias, a lawyer who represents the Democratic Party on voting rights issues, explains, while states can set their own primary days, “the federal general election is set by federal statute as the the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. This date cannot be changed by a state nor by the President.” Democratic senators Ron Wyden, of Oregon, and Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, introduced legislation on Monday that would require all states to offer an option for voters to mail in or drop off hand-marked paper ballots if 25 percent of the states have declared a state of emergency related to an infectious disease, like Covid-19, or a natural disaster. “The pandemic could hit like a tsunami,” Wyden told The Intercept by phone from his home in Portland. “How can we tell people, particularly elderly veterans, that they have to choose between their health and their vote?”

National: Closed locations, a lack of poll workers: How coronavirus is affecting Tuesday’s election | Rebecca Morin/USA Today

Tuesday’s primary elections have seen some changes, large and small, amid the coronavirus outbreak. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday afternoon that he is requesting a delay to in-person voting from Tuesday until June 2, making it the only state holding contests on Tuesday to try to delay its primary. After a judge denied the request, the polls are likely still closing after all after an 11th hour manuever. Three other states – Arizona, Florida, and Illinois – will for sure head to the polls Tuesday, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders leading the Democratic race. Rep Tulsi Gabbard is still in the race, but she trails Biden and Sanders by hundreds of delegates. Many states and cities have taken extra precautions to slow the spread of the virus. Dozens of K-12 schools and universities have suspended classes or moved classes online. Restaurants are doing delivery or takeout only. Many Americans have begun working from home and practicing social distancing. Last week, officials from all four states said they were taking extra precautions to keep voting machines sanitized and will post guidance from local health officials at voting locations. Arizona Secretary of State Kathy Hobbs, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Illinois Elections Board Chairman Charles Scholz and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a joint statement last week that they are working closely “with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe.”

National: Hackers Attack Health and Human Services Computer System | David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg/The New York Times

A crude effort by hackers to test the defenses of computer systems for the Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday evening escalated Monday, with administration officials saying they were investigating a significant increase in activity on the department’s cyberinfrastructure. But officials backed off earlier suggestions that a foreign power was behind the attack, coming as the nation and the world struggle to cope with the coronavirus. The incident appeared to be a particularly aggressive, if somewhat conventional, effort to scan the department’s networks for vulnerabilities, and perhaps to try to break into its email system. But while the effort set off alarms, given sensitivities around the work on the coronavirus, officials said they could not determine whether the action was the result of foreign actors or just hackers seizing on the moment to create chaos. The first reports came from White House officials, some of whom said that Iran may have been seeking revenge for American-led sanctions or for the U.S. drone strike in Iraq that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the country’s most important military commander. While some officials embraced that view, cyberexperts who examined the incident said it was little different than the thousands of routine attempts that companies and government agencies fend off daily, as hackers and security researchers scan the internet for weak spots.

National: Intensifying coronavirus fears rattle voters and elections officials in advance of Tuesday primaries | Amy Gardner and Elise Viebeck/The Washington Post

Voters, campaigns and election officials in four states holding contests Tuesday are braced for a presidential primary day unlike any in memory, as the surging threat of the novel coronavirus has forced major changes at voting locations, rattled poll workers and left voters worried about how to cast their ballots. In Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, election officials have raced to replace poll workers who have said they will not show Tuesday, supply thousands of precincts with sanitizing supplies, and notify voters whose polling locations, many in senior facilities, have been moved as a result of the pandemic. Voters, meanwhile, have flooded information hotlines. Among their urgent questions: where to vote, how to deliver a ballot if they are under quarantine and how to vote if they registered while attending a college that is now closed. As the coronavirus spreads, the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico announced Sunday that it would seek to postpone the territory’s March 29 primaries, joining Louisiana and Georgia. One New York election official said Sunday that discussions are underway about whether to delay that state’s contests. The rapidly changing landscape left officials worried about the threat of two equally dire outcomes Tuesday: chaos at voting places, with diminished staffs causing long lines and increasing the risk of exposure to the deadly virus; or low turnout levels fueled by public fear.

National: Governors say Tuesday’s presidential primaries will go on | Associated Press

The governors of Illinois and Ohio on Sunday confirmed their states’ presidential primaries will continue as scheduled on Tuesday, even amidst the coronavirus outbreak. “We’re going to go ahead,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who has moved aggressively to close schools and other institutions to limit spread of the virus, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “But we’re telling people, again, to be careful.” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said his state is issuing similar warnings. “We’re going to go ahead with it,” Pritzker said of the primary. “But we’ve been extra careful at all of our polling places. Everybody is practicing good hygiene. And we’re making sure that it’s safe for people to come and vote. The schools are closed, so many people will be voting in schools. And there won’t be big crowds.” Arizona and Florida are also scheduled to vote Tuesday night. Early voting his been underway for weeks in all four states, which may limit the crush at polling places Tuesday. Some have worried that predominantly elderly poll workers and volunteers would be exposed to the disease amid crowds of voters.

National: Georgia, Louisiana Postpone Primaries Over Coronavirus Concern | Alexa Corse and Jon Kamps/Wall Street Journal

States across the country are grappling with how to hold their presidential nominating contests while keeping voters and poll workers shielded from the coronavirus. Georgia on Saturday postponed its March 24 primary until May 19 and paused in-person early voting, which had already begun. Louisiana said Friday it was postponing its April 4 primary, pushing it into June, and later-voting states such as Maryland and Pennsylvania are trying to figure out how to safely hold primaries as events across the U.S. are being rapidly canceled to limit the virus’s spread. Four states with primaries Tuesday—Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Illinois—assured voters they can safely turn out. They called for healthy poll workers to show up and provided guidance on keeping voting equipment clean, the chief election officials from the four states said in a joint statement Friday. “Unlike concerts, sporting events or other mass gatherings where large groups of people travel long distances to congregate in a confined space for an extended period of time, polling locations see people from a nearby community coming into and out of the building for a short duration,” the officials said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged states to encourage early and mail-in voting when possible, or to encourage voters to come during off-peak times. The CDC also recommended cleaning and routinely disinfecting voting equipment, such as electronic voting machines.

National: Election Assistance Commission hires cybersecurity expert to help states with 2020 infrastructure | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop

The federal agency that oversees funding for states to secure their election equipment is hiring a cybersecurity expert versed in voting technology as it prepares for the 2020 election. Joshua Franklin will start in the coming weeks in a top cybersecurity position at the Election Assistance Commission, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. It is an effort by the EAC, a tiny agency with a big responsibility, to bolster the cybersecurity expertise it has on staff. Franklin, who spent six years as an engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is expected to protect EAC networks from hacking threats and support the commission’s cybersecurity work with state and local election officials. Franklin has been working as an election security advocate for years, drawing attention to the issue at hacking conferences. In 2018, Franklin presented research at DEF CON comparing the vulnerabilities in the websites of House and Senate candidates for the midterm elections. Franklin and others scanned the websites in their spare time and spent hours trying to contact administrators to fix them.

National: ‘Kill Chain’: HBO’s Election Security Doc Stresses Urgency | Lily Hay Newman/WIRED

In spite of documented Russian election meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election, and years of warnings from security researchers about insecure voting infrastructure, the US has moved slowly to improve its election defenses. Now a new documentary, Kill Chain, is attempting to lay out the urgency of taking action before it’s too late. Many of the problems and insecurities in voting systems across the United States are straightforward, yet it’s not easy to get voters—or lawmakers—to understand the risk or the path forward. That represents both a challenge and opportunity for Kill Chain, which like Netflix’s Cambridge Analytica documentary The Great Hack, tries to make an assortment of sometimes esoteric technical issues tangible and compelling. “It’s difficult material, which is why so many people don’t approach it and don’t cover it and don’t understand it,” filmmaker Sarah Teale tells WIRED. “That was definitely the hardest thing was to find the language of the film that made it make sense and made it some sort of a story.”

National: RSA Cryptographer Ronald Rivest Seeks Secure Elections the Low-Tech Way | Susan D’Agostino/Quanta Magazine

onald Rivest sports a white beard, smiles with his eyes and bestows his tech gifts on the people of the world. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor is the “R” in RSA, which means that he, along with Adi Shamir (the “S”) and Leonard Adleman (the “A”), gave us one of the first public key cryptosystems. It’s still common today: Nearly all internet-based commercial transactions rely on this algorithm, for which the trio was awarded the 2002 A.M. Turing Award, essentially the Nobel Prize of computing. In recent decades, Rivest has continued to work on making it computationally hard for adversaries to break a system, though he now focuses on ensuring that votes in democratic elections are cast as intended, collected as cast and tallied as collected. Elections, he has discovered, have stricter requirements than nearly any other security application, including internet-based commerce. Unlike online bank accounts and the customer names with which they are affiliated, ballots in an election must be stripped of voters’ names because of voting’s secrecy requirement. But the ballot box’s anonymity sets conditions for real or perceived tampering, which makes proving the accuracy of tallies important to voters, election officials and candidates. Another requirement is that voters can’t receive receipts verifying their candidate selections, lest the practice encourage vote selling or coercion. But without a receipt, voters might wonder if their votes were faithfully and accurately counted. It’s a tough problem to crack, and Rivest thinks the solution lies not with fancier computers, but with pen, paper and mathematics. “I mainly argue for some process by which we have confidence in our election results,” he said. “No one should say, ‘It’s right because the computer said so.’”

National: How 4 Big States Are Preparing to Vote as the Coronavirus Spreads | Nick Corasaniti and Patricia Mazzei/The New York Times

Elections officials in the next four Democratic primary states are taking extra precautions before voters head to the polls on Tuesday, as the coronavirus upends the 2020 race and people worry about gatherings and places where they might become infected. There are no plans to cancel primaries in the four states — Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Arizona — and officials are expressing confidence that ballots can be safely cast. Each secretary of state has sent out regular updates, reiterating recommendations from federal officials about preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus, and encouraging voting by mail or early voting. In all four states, the counties run the elections, but state officials have been trying to underscore the new basics of voting, like keeping hand sanitizer at polling locations and making sure local officials properly clean machines. At this point, none of the states are considering expanding polling hours or mail-in-ballot deadlines. The preparations for voting in the age of a pandemic have not led to far-reaching changes. Perhaps the most significant shift for Tuesday’s elections will be the relocation of polling stations away from areas where older people live, like assisted living facilities.

National: Coronavirus forcing changes in campaigning and voting | The Boston Globe

The coronavirus outbreak is colliding with the presidential election and the ramifications are being felt on the campaign trail and at polling places. “Campaigning and conventions could change,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine’s law school, raising the possibility of virtual nominating conventions this summer if the outbreak continues. The effects were clear Tuesday night, when former vice president Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders both canceled election night rallies in Cleveland after Ohio’s governor discouraged large gatherings. On Wednesday, Biden’s campaign said it had formed a six-person public health advisory committee to provide “expert advice regarding steps the campaign should take to minimize health risks for the candidate, staff, and supporters.” After consulting with those experts and at the request of local officials, the Biden campaign announced it was shifting “large crowd” events scheduled for Friday in Chicago and Monday in Miami to “virtual events.” And after initially resisting changing Trump’s schedule, the White House and his campaign on Wednesday night cancelled or postponed three upcoming events. At the same time, state election officials are taking steps to adjust voting procedures to keep the virus from spreading. Washington state told voters not to lick the envelopes of their absentee ballots, Ohio is moving polling places for next Tuesday’s primary from senior centers to avoid infecting older people, and Chicago will make paper ballots available for voters who don’t want to use touch screen machines in the Illinois primary, also next week.

National: States urge alternative voting methods ahead of Tuesday primaries | Kevin Collier/NBC

As coronavirus continues to spread, election officials in the four states holding presidential primaries next Tuesday are encouraging Americans to vote by unconventional means to avoid crowds. That usually means voting by mail or voting early to avoid large crowds in states where those things are an option — as is the case in those holding primaries March 17. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the coronavirus a pandemic Wednesday, and has recommended that election officials“[e]ncourage voters to use voting methods that minimize direct contact with other people and reduce crowd size at polling stations.” “We have really been pushing as much as we can for voters who are concerned by polling places to take advantage of voting by mail,” Matt Dietrich, public affairs officer at the Illinois State Board of Elections, told NBC News. “That’s obviously the easiest way to avoid any kind of exposure to crowds, or lines or other people.” Thursday is the deadline for Illinois voters to apply to vote by mail, he said. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that it was still safe to vote in person, although voters who were nervous still had time to register to vote by mail or could vote early to avoid crowds.

National: From handshakes to kissing babies, virus upends campaigning | Alexandra Jaffe/Associated Press

Podiums get sanitized before the candidate steps up to speak. Fist or elbow bumps take the place of handshakes, and kissing babies is out of the question. Rallies are canceled, leaving candidates speaking to a handful of journalists and staffers instead of cheering crowds of thousands. This is campaigning in the age of the coronavirus, when fears of the new pandemic’s rapid spread are upending Joe Biden’s and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns. The urgency of the issue comes at a pivotal time in the Democratic presidential primary, as Biden is beginning to pull ahead as a front-runner for the nomination and as Sanders is scrambling to catch up. “If coronavirus has the lasting impact that we all fear it will, it will also dramatically reshape the way a presidential campaign unfolds,” said Jesse Ferguson, a veteran Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Politics is fundamentally about leaders interacting with the people who they represent, and if a pandemic forecloses that ability, it changes everything — how you campaign, how you knock doors, how you do events and how you do the retail part of politics.”

National: Elections officials scramble for options as coronavirus worries mount | Elise Viebeck /The Washington Post

Elections officials have stocked up on hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Many are urging voters to cast absentee ballots or vote early to avoid crowds. But as the coronavirus pandemic worsens, local and state officials are scrambling to identify other options if public health leaders ultimately determine that there are risks to visiting polling places — an assessment that could change the basic mechanics of running an election midstream in a presidential campaign year. “If you’re talking about something on that level, then we’re clearly facing a crisis and not just an emergency, and public health and safety will have to dictate whatever we do,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who said he would follow the advice of public health officials and law enforcement. “One of the very few things that would take precedent over a free and fair election is public health and safety, right?” LaRose said, adding that such a move would be a last resort. The spiraling covid-19 pandemic that has shaken the global economy and upended millions of Americans’ routines in the past month has emerged in the past week as a unique and unprecedented challenge for elections officials already grappling with a range of threats such as online disinformation and security vulnerabilities. While many jurisdictions have emergency plans in cases of natural disasters or power grid failures, there has been little planning for a health pandemic that could keep the public quarantined inside their homes, experts said.

National: Government report offers guidelines to prevent nationwide cyber catastrophe | Maggie Miller/The Hill

A much-anticipated government report aimed at defending the nation against cyber threats in the years to come opens with a bleak preview of what could happen if critical systems were brought down. “The water in the Potomac still has that red tint from where the treatment plants upstream were hacked, their automated systems tricked into flushing out the wrong mix of chemicals,” the Cyberspace Solarium Commission wrote in the opening lines of its report. “By comparison, the water in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool has a purple glint to it. They’ve pumped out the floodwaters that covered Washington’s low-lying areas after the region’s reservoirs were hit in a cascade of sensor hacks,” it continues. So begins the report two years in the making from a congressionally mandated commission made up of lawmakers and top Trump administration officials, pointing to the vulnerabilities involved with critical systems being hooked up to the internet.

National: Coronavirus threatens to pose an unprecedented challenge to the 2020 elections | Isaac Stanley-Becker and Elise Viebeck/The Washington Post

When asked what kept him up at night, Ben Wikler, who is responsible for delivering a must-win state in November as chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, used to answer, “unknown unknowns.” He no longer has to wonder what such a risk might look like. Presidential campaigns, parties and state election officials are scrambling to heed health warnings while safeguarding the democratic process against a growing coronavirus epidemic whose scope is difficult to predict. Their planning has included advising voters not to lick their mail-in ballots, relocating polling places away from senior living communities, and weighing whether to move forward with plans to bring tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to Milwaukee and Charlotte for the planned Democratic and Republican summer conventions, respectively. Former vice president Joe Biden’s digital staff was envisioning options for virtual campaigning if sweeping changes were necessary. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign already has an elaborate streaming operation, which it said it could tap in the event that campaigning is curtailed. Already, both campaigns have been providing hand sanitizer at events. Over the weekend, the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of unions, canceled a presidential forum scheduled for Thursday in Orlando, where Biden and Sanders (I-Vt.), the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, had been scheduled to appear. It was the first such cancellation to have been attributed to the coronavirus’s spread.

National: Primaries show high volume of absentee voting as states grapple with coronavirus | Meg Cunningham , Kendall Karson and Quinn Scanlan/ABC

Against a backdrop of coronavirus concerns, early signs from across the six states voting in Tuesday’s primaries showed a high volume of voters turning to absentee options. Yet several state and party officials who ABC spoke with pushed back against the notion that turnout would be affected. Washington, which is vote-by-mail only, is the state with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19. But Kylee Zabel, the communications director in the secretary of state’s office, said they “haven’t heard of any concerns that people have expressed” regarding the coronavirus. As Washington uses only mail-in ballots, a tweet last week instructed voters, “Whether healthy or sick, please don’t lick!” after state health officials recommended voters seal ballots using alternative methods like a sponge. The secretary of state’s office said it recommended that ballot counters use gloves, but in King County — which includes Seattle — Elections Division Chief of Staff Kendall Hodson told ABC News that the practice is mandatory. Hodson also said that there were regular hand-washing breaks for ballot counters, and at the six vote centers in the county where people can do same-day registration, there was extra hand sanitizer available. The Elections Division was also asking people who were feeling sick to contact them so they could try to accommodate them.