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.
National: Election officials rush to make changes to address coronavirus concerns | Sam Levine/The Guardian
Election officials around the country are rushing to make last-minute changes to address coronavirus concerns – seeking to avoid panic, staff shortages and delays that could impose additional hurdles for primary voters on election day.Many of the changes have to do with protecting older people, the demographic most at risk for having serious complications from the virus. In Ohio Frank LaRose, the secretary of state, ordered all polling stations located in senior centers and nursing homes to be moved. The change is expected to affect 128 of the state’s polling locations for its 17 March primary, and local officials are identifying alternative sites. Election officials in Chicago, also holding its primary next week, announced the city was relocating polling stations out of nursing homes. It’s not just voters, however, who are at risk. In 2016, about 56% of poll workers across the country were over 61 years old, according to the US Election Assistance Commission, which collected data from about half of the workers that year. Tammy Patrick, a former election official in Arizona, said administrators should consider hiring youth poll workers and overstaff to prepare for cancellations.
National: Voting by mail, already on the rise, may get a $500 million federal boost from coronavirus fears | Craig Timberg/The Washington Post
Sen. Ron Wyden (D) is proposing $500 million of federal funding to help states prepare for possible voting disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Wyden’s bill also would give Americans the option to vote by mail in case of a widespread emergency. The legislation, to be filed Wednesday, could boost a national trend toward voting by mail. In the 1990s, Wyden’s home state of Oregon became the first state to vote entirely by mail, and the practice has grown to the point that more than 31 million Americans — about one-quarter of all voters — cast ballots by mail in 2018. Election officials and experts in recent days have been considering how they would handle a major disease outbreak in which quarantines or closures of facilities would affect Americans’ ability to vote in primary elections, party caucuses and the November general election. While all states allow voting by mail in some circumstances, the availability of the option remains uneven, with some states allowing it to only seniors or those with excuses for why they can’t appear at polling places on Election Day. Five Western states conduct all of their statewide voting by mail, and a sixth, California, is gradually shifting to the practice. The wide variation in practices could make it difficult to rapidly expand voting by mail in time for this November’s election. States that handle few mail-in ballots might struggle to build the systems and acquire the machinery, such as high-speed optical scanners, needed to expand the option.
National: Russia stoking U.S. racial, social differences ahead of election: sources | Mark Hosenball/Reuters
American intelligence and security officials on Tuesday will brief Congress about how Russia has been using social media to stoke racial and social differences ahead of this year’s general election, three sources familiar with the presentations said. U.S. government experts will say, in classified briefings to the full U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, that Russian social media efforts are currently more directed at stirring up social divisiveness than promoting particular U.S. presidential candidates, the sources said. Among specific issues Russian trolls are seeking to exploit are gun control, ethnic group rivalries, tensions between police and local communities, and abortion, the sources said. On abortion, the United States has evidence that Russian cyber-operatives are using social media to stir up antagonism on both sides of the issue, one of the sources said. One of the Russians’ objectives appeared to be to use disagreements over social issues to stir violence, the source said.
Top law enforcement and intelligence community officials briefed members of Congress on election security in a pair of panels Tuesday afternoon, telling lawmakers they had “nothing to support” the notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin favored one candidate or another or had ordered actions on any given candidate’s behalf. They said the Russian government’s objective was to sow discord in U.S. political processes, sources said. Three sources familiar with Tuesday’s briefing said there were inconsistencies between the election security assessment delivered Tuesday and the one given to the House Intelligence Committee last month. It appeared to two sources familiar with both February’s and Tuesday’s briefings that the assessment delivered Tuesday was crafted to avoid saying the Russian government had established a preference for Mr. Trump, a conclusion that had been expressed by representatives from multiple intelligence agencies before that panel in February. Lawmakers were also briefed last month on Russia’s efforts to boost Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Separately, three sources also said the intelligence community has not yet furnished intelligence that members of both parties had requested in the February closed-door session that supported the assessment that the Russian government had developed a preference for President Trump.
National: Coronavirus and 2020 Elections: What Happens to Voting in an Outbreak | Kirk Johnson and Campbell Robertson/The New York Times
Elections are complicated events, involving massive amounts of paperwork, thorny issues of law and a widely scattered cast of poll workers and ballot counters. In Washington State, which is holding its 2020 primary on Tuesday, there is another matter that officials are having to consider this year. “How long does coronavirus last in saliva that is on an envelope?” asked Kim Wyman, the secretary of state in Washington, the state hardest hit by the virus so far. Washington votes by mail, which eliminates most concerns about viral transmission, but also creates some. “We’re telling all of the people who handle incoming ballots to use gloves,” Ms. Wyman said. “We’ve also had a recommendation from National Guard: ‘Folks, you might consider masks.’” Voters have been advised to use a wet sponge or cloth to seal envelopes rather than licking them. But many were probably mailed in before it was clear how big a virus risk there was in the state. The leading Democratic presidential candidates, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Bernie Sanders, both addressed questions on Sunday about how the virus might affect their travel and campaigning. Public health officials have said adults over 60 are most at risk and should avoid crowds. Mr. Biden is 77. Mr. Sanders is 78. President Trump is 73.
National: Election security: GAO warns of issues this year and chides federal security agency | Joe Davidson/The Washington Post
Just as the presidential primary season began, a government watchdog warned the Trump administration that it “urgently needed” to address problems with election security infrastructure. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the Department of Homeland Security, was to have finalized plans by January to support states and localities with their election security operations. That did not happen, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. While noting that state election officials generally “were very satisfied with CISA’s election-related work,” the report said the agency “is not well-positioned to execute a nationwide strategy for securing election infrastructure prior to the start of the 2020 election cycle” because it has not completed plans. As if to prove the point, shortly before the GAO findings were released in February, the Iowa caucuses ended in a debacle when a new app for reporting results failed, plunging the first contest of the season into disarray. Then, during Super Tuesday last week, voting machine malfunctions and other technical problems combined with higher than expected turnout, leaving some voters in Texas and California waiting hours to cast ballots.
National: Acting intelligence chief will not brief lawmakers on election security despite expectation he was coming | Alex Marquardt and Zachary Cohen/CNN
Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell said late Monday he will not be briefing lawmakers on Tuesday about election security despite being expected on Capitol Hill by members of Congress to be on the panel of the country’s most senior national security officials. Grenell had been due to appear alongside the other senior officials in a pair of classified briefings to all members of the House and Senate. A list of top agency officials obtained by CNN from two congressional sources and a person familiar with the plans listed Grenell alongside National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, FBI Director Christopher Wray and others. As of late Monday night, the list and guidance circulated to Congress had not changed. However, Grenell and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied that he would be briefing. Grenell’s office would not explain why his name was on the list sent around by multiple congressional offices, and did not respond to requests for comment until after CNN reported Grenell was expected to appear. In a message, Grenell told CNN the expectation was “fake info” and said the intention was always to send “experts.”
National: U.S. Vote Foundation Calls on Congress to Mandate a Nationwide “No Excuse” Vote-by-Mail Option Across All States for 2020 Elections
U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) today called for the United States Congress to issue a requirement that all states remove any and all barriers to vote-by-mail/absentee ballot request across all states at all levels, federal, state and municipal, for all 2020 elections including primaries, special, runoff and general elections. “Ensuring voters can vote from home is a responsible and forward-thinking policy action that Congress should include in its response to the current public health situation,” said Michael Steele, Chairman of US Vote and its Overseas Vote initiative. “It is impossible for voters to predict whether they will be healthy and able to vote in-person. They should be assured they can vote safely with an absentee vote-by-mail ballot.” US Vote’s State Voting Methods and Options shows that while 32 states allow voters to request a ballot by mail without providing a reason, or what is commonly called an excuse for not going to the polls, there remains 19 states and 5 territories that do not. These include high population states like Texas and New York.
National: Coronavirus Likely Won’t Disrupt Upcoming Primaries, But Absentee Voting Could Surge | Martin Austermuhle/WAMU
Elections. They’re both a democratic necessity, and a health official’s worst nightmare. Candidates literally pressing the flesh, traveling from one site to another for weeks at a time shaking hands and kissing babies. And it’s all capped off by thousands of people all touching the same equipment while in a confined spaces. While there’s never really a good time for Coronavirus outbreak, the timing of U.S.’s small-yet-growing epidemic is particularly bad, falling right in the middle of primary season. While 18 states have already voted, more than two-dozen still have to — D.C. and Maryland included — and could face more challenging conditions if Coronavirus cases pick up steam. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency this week after three Coronavirus cases were confirmed in Montgomery County. Some of those challenges were evident on Super Tuesday, when there were reports of poll workers in California and Texas not showing up to work over fears of contracting the virus. But in Virginia, which also voted on Tuesday, most election officials say there was no obvious impact on voter turnout and only slight accommodations had to be made.
National: ‘Internet of Things’ Could Be an Unseen Threat to Elections | Laura DeNardis/Goverment Technology
The app failure that led to a chaotic 2020 Iowa caucus was a reminder of how vulnerable the democratic process is to technological problems – even without any malicious outside intervention. Far more sophisticated foreign hacking continues to try to disrupt democracy, as a rare joint federal agency warning advised prior to Super Tuesday. Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 election has already revealed how this could happen: social media disinformation, email hacking and probing of voter registration systems. The threats to the 2020 election may be even more insidious. As I explain in my new book, “The Internet in Everything: Freedom and Security in a World with No Off Switch,” election interference may well come through the vast constellation of always-on, always-connected cameras, thermostats, alarm systems and other physical objects collectively known as the “Internet of things.” The social and economic benefits of these devices are tremendous. But, in large part because the devices are not yet adequately secure, they also raise concerns for consumer safety, national security and privacy. And they create new vulnerabilities for democracy. It is not necessary to hack into voting systems themselves but merely co-opt Internet-connected objects to attack political information sites, stop people from voting, or exploit the intimate personal data these devices capture to manipulate voters.
Top tech officials working for Joe Biden’s campaign aren’t taking any second chances following the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee. The campaign is constantly trying to fend off email phishing attacks that could give hackers inside access to the campaign’s data, according to Dan Woods, the Biden campaign’s chief technology officer. “The most famous thing to come out of 2016 was phishing,” Woods said at an election security conference in Philadelphia on Thursday. “Besides misinformation and disinformation, phishing remains, without question, the biggest threat we face.” That acknowledgment reflects Democrats’ difficult lesson from the last presidential cycle, when Russian hackers targeted dozens of DNC addresses with legitimate-looking emails designed to entice unwitting staffers into compromising their own security. They also targeted Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, obtaining tens of thousands of emails that were later published by WikiLeaks.
National: Super Tuesday gives feds and states a test run for securing November vote | Sean Lyngaas/CyberScoop
Federal and state officials were up late Tuesday monitoring for threats from hackers and trolls to the biggest primary day of the 2020 election season. A watch floor at the Department of Homeland Security kept election administrators across the country plugged into threat data coming in from the intelligence community. While there were some notable technical glitches in the voting process, nothing malicious came to pass. Bleary-eyed officials can go back to work Wednesday with a sigh of relief but also some lessons learned on how to protect the November presidential vote, which U.S. officials have repeatedly warned will draw foreign interference attempts. “We had well over 100 state and local officials in the room with us exchanging information with us throughout the day,” a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division said on a 9 p.m. Eastern call with reporters.
National: Report: Russian social accounts sow election discord – again | Amanda Seitz and Barbara Ortutay/Associated Press
Four years after Russia-linked groups stoked divisions in the U.S. presidential election on social media platforms, a new report shows that Moscow’s campaign hasn’t let up and has become harder to detect. The report from University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Young Mie Kim found that Russia-linked social media accounts are posting about the same divisive issues — race relations, gun laws and immigration — as they did in 2016, when the Kremlin polluted American voters’ feeds with messages about the presidential election. Facebook has since removed the accounts. Since then, however, the Russians have grown better at imitating U.S. campaigns and political fan pages online, said Kim, who analyzed thousands of posts. She studied more than 5 million Facebook ads during the 2016 election, identifying Russia’s fingerprints on some of the messages through an ad-tracking app. Her review is co-published by the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and policy institute, where she is a scholar. The Russian improvements make it harder for voters and social media platforms to identify the foreign interference, Kim said. “For normal users, it is too subtle to discern the differences,” Kim said. “By mimicking domestic actors, with similar logos (and) similar names, they are trying to avoid verification.”
National: Here are the serious tech glitches that frustrated voters on Super Tuesday | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
The scenario election officials feared – Russians hacking the vote – did not come to be on Super Tuesday. But the mega-primary day was bedeviled by a slew of serious technical glitches that frustrated voters. Voting machines shut down in Los Angeles. Network problems also forced California officials to hand out provisional ballots. In Minnesota and Texas, tools voters use to look up their polling locations were not functioning due to heavy web traffic. And there were robocalls spreading disinformation in Texas, which were reported for federal investigation. The problems underscored how such issues can sow as much distrust and chaos as a hacking campaign — especially if rumors are left to swirl. The government’s top cybersecurity officials spent much of the day assuring the public that technology was the culprit, not Russia. “To the extent we can put more information in the hands of voters to be more informed, resilient voters, we’ll have better outcomes,” a top official at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said during a 9 p.m. call. “We’ll be able to get ahead of these more salacious claims that something might be happening and put appropriate information in the hands of the public.” The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly with reporters, praised election officials for getting information about the tech problems rapidly to voters. “We’ll continue to shout that message up to November and afterward.”
National: There Is Shockingly Little Oversight of Private Companies That Create Voting Technologies | Alan Beard and Lawrence Norden/Slate
The Iowa caucuses debacle was a reminder of some of the most important principles in election security, among them that transparency in elections is important, paper ballot backups are crucial to ensuring an accurate count, voting should not take place on smartphone apps, and running elections should be left to professionals. But missing from the round-the-clock media coverage was another valuable lesson from Iowa: Private tech companies are central to our elections, and our failure to engage in real oversight of their practices leaves our elections vulnerable to breakdown and attack. The reporting in the aftermath of Iowa identified a 6-month-old private tech company called Shadow as the supplier of the failed app at the root of the mess. In an attempt to help precinct captains report out three separate sets of results, the Iowa Democratic Party had paid Shadow $60,000 to develop an app to convey the vote totals. Precincts would take and upload pictures of results, which would go to party headquarters. But on caucus day, the app failed, as did backup phone lines. This prompted many to ask how something as important as reporting vote totals in a presidential election could be left in the hands of a shoestring tech company. The follow-up question should have been: What are the controls on private vendors that sell the equipment and technology that run our elections?
National: Tornado, Virus Fears and Malfunctioning Machines Disrupt Super Tuesday Voting in Some States | Christina A. Cassidy and Adrian Sainz/Associated Press
Deadly tornadoes knocked out polling places in Tennessee, fears over the coronavirus left some precincts in California and Texas short of election workers, and overwhelmed voting systems led to long lines in Los Angeles as Super Tuesday sent voters surging to the polls in 14 states. Scattered reports of polling places opening late, machines malfunctioning or voter rolls being down temporarily disrupted voting in some of the states voting Tuesday, but there were no widespread reports of voters being unable to cast a ballot or security breaches. Just hours before polls were set to open in Tennessee, tornadoes tore through parts of the state, destroying at least 140 buildings and killing at least 22. With more than a dozen polling sites in Nashville’s Davidson County damaged, voters were sent to other locations, where some of them encountered long lines. The Tennessee Democratic Party and the presidential campaigns of Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren successfully sued Davidson County election officials and the secretary of state’s office to extend voting for three hours beyond the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time. In Texas, voting got off to a slow start in Travis County, home to Austin, because many election workers did not show up, with some citing fears of contracting the coronavirus, according to the county clerk’s office. The election office said it began implementing emergency procedures, with elections staff and other employees filling in as poll workers.
National: Bipartisan commission to make 75 recommendations to defend against cyberattacks | Maggie Miller/The Hill
A new report by a bipartisan commission will include at least 75 recommendations for Congress and the executive branch on how to defend the nation against cyberattacks, including bipartisan recommendations for defending elections. Members of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which includes lawmakers, federal officials and industry leaders, highlighted the group’s focus on election security during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, previewing some of the recommendations that will be among those released March 11. Commission member former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.) said the report — which marks a major effort to create a blueprint for federal action on cybersecurity going forward — was “biased towards action,” and was meant to spur change. “It’s not some report that is going to be in the Library of Congress that no one is going to look at again,” Murphy said. “There is going to be some legislative action, there are going to be some executive actions.” The report’s recommendations around election security will mark a rare bipartisan effort to address the issue following years of contention on Capitol Hill after Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
National: Top DHS official says no ‘malicious cyber activity’ seen on Super Tuesday | Maggie Miller/The Hill
A senior official at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cyber agency said Tuesday night that they had not seen any “malicious cyber activity” aimed at disrupting elections during primary voting in 14 states. “We don’t have any reports of any malicious cyber activity across the states today,” the senior official at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) told reporters. The official noted that while there were some “sporadic” information technology (IT) issues, all the election systems were able to get “back up and running” with no issues due to targeting by hackers. One IT incident the official pointed to was in California, where the secretary of state’s website was briefly brought down by what the office tweeted was “higher than normal traffic” and not hacking activity.
Millions of voters across the country will cast ballots during Super Tuesday on old, insecure election equipment — even after nearly four years of handwringing and warnings about Russian election interference. The jurisdictions at risk include three of Tennessee’s biggest counties — Shelby, Knox and Rutherford — where the paperless voting machines at the polls will include devices with security flaws so alarming that voters tried suing to have the equipment removed from precincts. Dozens of small counties in Texas are also sticking with risky touchscreen machines that have no paper trail to help detect tampering or malfunctions. And in California, Los Angeles County is debuting new voting machines that have drawn scrutiny for security weaknesses, as well as their developer’s past alleged ties to the Venezuelan government. The news is better in other parts of the Super Tuesday map, as some counties and states have successfully replaced their old paperless voting equipment with more secure paper-based machines. But even some of this new technology presents vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit to tamper with the primaries. Other states holding primaries on Tuesday, including Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont, predominantly use the technology that most experts consider the most secure: paper ballots that voters fill out by hand.
Elections can be very tactile. Touchscreen voting machines, paper ballots, large crowds. With concern growing about the spread of the coronavirus, officials in a number of Super Tuesday states are taking extra precautions to assure voters that it’s safe to go to the polls. Millions of people are expected to cast ballots tomorrow in 14 states, including some where cases of the disease have already emerged. John Gardner, the assistant registrar of voters in Solano County, Calif. — where two health care workers tested positive for COVID-19 — says they’ve added an extra curbside location where people can drop off their completed ballots, “so voters don’t have to get out of their cars if they don’t want to.” Gardner says they have also sent out additional supplies of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and gloves to every polling site in the county. Still, he’s seen no indication that the virus is discouraging either voters or pollworkers.
National: Some states encourage mail-in ballots as coronavirus worries grow | Alice Miranda Ollstein/Politico
Officials in some states with upcoming primaries are encouraging more people to avoid in-person polling sites amid heightened worries about the spread of coronavirus in the United States. Some are even increasing the opportunity for drive-by voting on Super Tuesday. California’s Solano County, the site of the country’s first identified case of the virus’ spread within the community, added new curbside sites where people can drop off their ballots without having to leave their cars. “If you can stay in your car to get service, lots of people want to take advantage of that even in a normal situation, but especially when they might be concerned about congregating in close proximity to a lot of other people,” said county election official John Gardner. Meanwhile, some election experts are urging states to relax their absentee voter policies in light of the new public health threat, though some state officials dismissed the idea of hastily rewriting election policies.
National: Officials fear coronavirus could be next front in election interference | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
U.S. officials fear adversaries might weaponize public fears about coronavirus ahead of Super Tuesday to spread disinformation, amplify rumors and tamp down voter turnout. The concern comes as people test positive for the virus in numerous states, including California, Texas and Alabama – which are among the 14 states that will hold their Democratic primaries Tuesday. The virus, which has killed nearly 3,000 people worldwide, could offer a near-perfect test case for how operatives from Russia or elsewhere seeking to undermine confidence in the election could boost public fears to stop people from heading to the polls – maybe enough to swing a tight race or at least raise doubts in the results. It’s “one of a number of scenarios” of potential interference federal officials are monitoring, the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division chief Chris Krebs told Kevin Collier at NBC News. Krebs’s office declined to comment this weekend when I asked for more information about the possible response. “This is a new and obviously very scary virus, and misinformation can leverage off of that,” Peter Singer, a fellow at the New America think tank who has written extensively about information warfare, told me. “I would almost be surprised if we don’t see it.”
Many will remember the infamously confusing Palm Beach County butterfly ballot, which led to 26,000 misvotes, a recount, and ultimately handed George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. Twenty years later, we have new ballot design problems to deal with—and there’s one you’ve probably never heard of. Most of the ballot design flaws detailed in a recent resource from the Brennan Center for Justice seem rather innocuous. But there’s one in that, if fixed, could reduce margin of error and thereby make the voting system overall more reflective of voters’ intent: ballot design that splits one contest into two columns on a bubble-style page. There are a few other permutations of this layout, and they all share one key flaw: They split up information that should be categorized together. The first contest on a ballot might fall below the ballot instructions in the first column, causing voters to miss it. A contest might be split into two columns because there’s a large number of candidates to consider—or, on an electronic voting system, there might be two contests on the same page.
National: The 2020 race could become the coronavirus election. Is America ready? | Matt Pearce/Los Angeles Times
It’s hard to run an election during a pandemic, let alone stay healthy. In 1918, as Spanish influenza wreaked havoc in one of the greatest health disasters in United States history, politicians were sidelined as bans on public gatherings made it impossible to hold campaign rallies. There was no vaccine for that virus, which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and the best officials could do was keep people away from each other to limit the microbe’s spread. Voters in that year’s midterm election headed to the polling booths in masks for fear that a simple act of civic participation could be deadly. And for good reason: In Wayne, Neb., officials lifted a public-gathering ban five days before the election, allowing a flurry of last-minute campaigning — which also coincided with a rise in deadly infections. Now, for the first time in a century, a U.S. election faces the unusual threat of being upended by a potential pandemic as a new coronavirus has shocked the global economy, tested President Trump’s administration and fueled Democratic attacks on both his leadership and the private healthcare system’s ability to protect all Americans.