National: House Democrats include $500M for election security in annual appropriations bill | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Democrats on a House Appropriations Committee panel included $500 million to boost election security as part of their version of an annual funding bill introduced Tuesday. The version of the fiscal 2021 Financial Services and General Government spending bill rolled out by the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government would appropriate half a billion dollars to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to “enhance election technology and make election security improvements.” The bill, which will be debated by the subcommittee Wednesday, specifies that states may only use the election security funds to replace “direct-recording electronic” voting equipment with voting systems that use some form of paper ballots. States would only be allowed to use any remaining funds once they have certified to the EAC that all direct-recording election equipment has been replaced. Experts have strongly advised against the use of direct-recording electronic voting equipment, which has no backup paper record of how an individual voted.

National: America’s Love Affair with Paperless Voting Is Over. Here’s Why | Luca Ropek/Government Technology

Before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) took over as the single biggest threat to the 2020 presidential election, the security of state voting infrastructure was chief among the concerns held by many elected officials. Since 2016, foreign interference in American elections has been a critical concern, and direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting systems — or paperless voting machines — are increasingly viewed as a critical target that foreign adversaries might exploit. Touchscreen and electronic, the machines were once considered the most efficient, credible means to tabulate elections, but over the years many facets of them — in particular their lack of an auditable paper trail — have led experts to warn against their adoption. Hackers could gain entry, change votes and sway elections, cyberprofessionals fear. Here’s a look at how DREs became such a prominent fixture of U.S. voting infrastructure, and why they have since seen a precipitous decline in use as states ditch them for old-fashioned paper. 

Texas: ‘The worst voting experience’: Long lines drag Super Tuesday deep into the night for some voters | Mike Morris, Samantha Ketterer, and Nicole Hensley/Houston Chronicle

Dozens of Democratic voters were still waiting to cast ballots at midnight in Houston, turning Super Tuesday into a painful slog for some citizens amid questions about how the County Clerk’s office had allocated its voting machines across the county. Janet Gonzalez left work early and at 5:30 p.m. checked a website the clerk’s office runs to show wait times at polling places. It seemed Texas Southern University had a short wait, but when she arrived she found a massive line. She waited an hour outside and three more inside before she finally cast her ballot. Officials with the clerk’s office acknowledged the accuracy of the wait-times website is reliant on election workers manually updating the status of their polling places. Some people in line gave up and walked away, Gonzalez said. Others briefly sought refuge on a scattering of chairs before giving them up to others as the line inched forward. Polls closed at 7 p.m., but voters still can cast ballots as long as they stay in line. “It was a challenge,” Gonzalez said. “You have to look around at the elderly people and overcome your own pain.”

National: ElectionGuard could be Microsoft’s most important product in 2020. If it works | Alfred Ng/CNET

Building 83 doesn’t stand out on Microsoft’s massive Redmond, Washington, headquarters. But last week, the nameless structure hosted what might be the software giant’s most important product of 2020. Tucked away in the corner of a meeting room, a sign reading “ElectionGuard” identifies a touchscreen that asks people to cast their votes. An Xbox adaptive controller is connected to it, as are an all-white printer and a white ballot box for paper votes. If you didn’t look carefully, you might have mistaken all that for an array of office supplies. ElectionGuard is open-source voting-machine software that Microsoft announced in May 2019. In Microsoft’s demo, voters make their choices by touchscreen before printing out two copies. A voter is supposed to double-check one copy before placing it into a ballot box to be counted by election workers. The other is a backup record with a QR code the voter can use to check that the vote was counted after polls close. With ElectionGuard, Microsoft isn’t setting out to create an unhackable vote — no one thinks that’s possible — but rather a vote in which hacks would be quickly noticed. The product demo was far quieter than the typical big tech launch. No flashy lights or hordes of company employees cheering their own product, like Microsoft’s dual screen phone, its highly anticipated dual-screen laptop or its new Xbox Series X. And yet, if everything goes right, ElectionGuard could have an impact that lasts well beyond the flashy products in Microsoft’s pipeline.

Wisconsin: Microsoft tests new voting technology in a small Wisconsin town | Bill Glauber/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Voters in the Town of Fulton, which is 8 miles north of Janesville in Rock County, gave Microsoft’s ElectionGuard software a tryout. ElectionGuard enables voters to verify that their ballot was counted through generating a ballot tracking code. The software also provides encrypted results. VotingWorks, a nonprofit voting software company, supplied the voting equipment, which consisted of card readers, tablets, ballot marking devices and printers. The process appeared seamless. After checking in, voters received a key card to insert into a tablet. They then selected candidates on a touch screen. They printed the ballot and placed it in the ballot box. They received a second printed piece of paper that provided a tracking code that they could use later to verify that their vote was counted, by logging into a Microsoft website.  The verification system does not allow the voter, or anyone else for that matter, to see who they voted for. Although it was the first time the software was used in an election, this was just a test. All of the paper ballots voters cast were to be hand-counted by local election officials.