The Voting News

National: Voting rules changed quickly for the primaries. But the battle over how Americans will cast ballots in the fall is just heating up. | Elise Viebeck/The Washington Post

When the novel coronavirus pandemic collided with this year’s primaries, states across the country raced to temporarily adjust voting procedures to make it safer for people to cast their ballots. But efforts to set rules for the general election are now locked in more intractable fights, fueled by deepening polarization around voting practices and a torrent of litigation aimed at shaping how ballots are cast and counted. While the vast majority of voters were permitted to cast absentee ballots during the primaries, only about 10 states so far have announced that they will make voting by mail easier for November, raising fears that Election Day could be marked by long lines and unsafe conditions at polling locations if the health crisis persists. With Republican governors under pressure from President Trump not to expand voting by mail and many legislatures adjourned for the year or deadlocked along party lines, changes in the coming months are likely to come through court decisions. Legal battles in about two dozen states are now poised to shape the details of how roughly 130 million registered voters are able to cast ballots in upcoming contests, with more than 60 lawsuits related to absentee voting and other rules wending their way through the courts, according to a tally by The Washington Post. Read More

California: Smooth Vote-by-Mail Elections in Colorado, Utah Provide Model for California | Guy Marzorati/KQED

The primaries conducted in Colorado and Utah this week played out like a California election official’s dream: Record turnout. Voting centers without lines. And a robust election workforce with ample protective gear. “We were able to set a record turnout for a state primary, even during the pandemic,” said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. The smooth administration of two largely vote-by-mail elections this week provides a model for California, where officials are preparing to send every voter a mail ballot in the fall. The smooth administration of two largely vote-by-mail elections this week provides a model for California, where officials are preparing to send every voter a mail ballot in the fall. Roughly three-quarters of California voters already receive a ballot in the mail. But with the spread of COVID-19 threatening the safety of in-person voting in November, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators from both parties have moved to expand options for voters to cast their ballot at home. Read More

Florida: Lawsuit seeks to force Florida counties to preserve digital ballot images | Allison Ross/Tampa Bay Times

A national nonprofit that advocates for election security has spearheaded a lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and several county elections officials in an attempt to force them to preserve images of ballots that are made when paper ballots are scanned into voting machines. The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in Leon County Circuit Court, asks that the state issue instructions in time for the Aug. 18 primary election to require all county supervisors of elections to capture and preserve the images. The group of plaintiffs includes the Florida Democratic Party, three state legislators who are up for re-election and Dan Helm, a Democrat running for Pinellas County supervisor of elections. Other voters are also plaintiffs, including Susan Pynchon, executive director of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition. The suit names Lee, who oversees the state’e elections system, as a defendant, along with the state’s director of the division of elections and the supervisors of elections in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Broward, Orange, Lee, Duval, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Read More

National: States Step Up Cybersecurity Efforts Ahead of the 2020 Election | Adam Stone/StateTech Magazine

In the Buckeye State, officials are doing more than just keeping an eye on the upcoming national election. As the threat of cyber tampering looms large, state and local leaders are working diligently to ensure voting is secure. “We want to set the tone for the rest of the nation,” says Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who last year issued a 34-point directive to guide state, county and local efforts on election cyber strategies. It calls for the use of event logging and intrusion detection tools, along with segmentation — disconnecting voting apparatus from external networks. “We want to make sure our boards of elections aren’t leaving a door open by being attached to other, less secure assets,” LaRose says. Ohio may be out in front, but it is hardly alone. Authorities in all 50 states are taking steps not only to secure the vote but also to ensure that the public perceives that vote as valid. They are getting help from the federal government, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, an operational component under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Experts say the aggressive action is justified, given the high likelihood that adversarial nations and other bad actors could try to tamper with the ­general election. Read More

Editorials: We don’t have to have chaos when America votes this fall | Joshua A. Douglas/CNN

The predictions for Kentucky’s primary this year were dire: massive lines at the polls. A single polling place for over 600,000 voters in the state’s largest city, Louisville, with minority voters impacted the most. Lines lasting all night. The reality was much different: a relatively smooth day, with minuscule lines in most of the state and over a million votes cast, the most ever in a Kentucky primary. To be sure, there were a couple of significant problems, particularly with wait times of up to two hours in Lexington and a terrible initial poll closing in Louisville. Importantly, the Louisville voters who were still making their way from the parking lot to the vote center and were shut out at 6:00 pm when polls closed — and then were banging on the doors to be let in — were allowed to vote after a judge issued an injunction to keep the polls open an additional thirty minutes. Moreover, a single polling place for a large county makes it unjustifiably harder for some people to exercise their fundamental right to vote and is especially galling in a city with a large minority population. Opening just one polling place in Louisville, for example, surely disenfranchised voters who found the transportation hurdles insurmountable, with a disproportionate impact on minority voters. That said, the Kentucky primary was mostly successful. Over 75% of the vote was by mail, with thousands also taking advantage of two weeks of early voting. Kentucky normally requires an excuse to vote absentee and has very little early voting, so it was easier than ever to vote in this year’s primary. Read More

Alabama: Splitting 5-4, Supreme Court Grants Alabama’s Request to Restore Voting Restrictions | Adam Liptak/The New York Times

By a 5-to-4 vote, the Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a trial judge’s order that would have made it easier for voters in three Alabama counties to use absentee ballots in this month’s primary runoff election. The court’s brief, unsigned order gave no reasons, which is typical when it rules on emergency applications, and it said the order would remain in effect while appeals moved forward. The court’s four more liberal members — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — said they would have rejected Alabama’s request. In March, Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, postponed the election in light of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the official who oversees the state’s elections, John H. Merrill, Alabama’s secretary of state, a Republican, expanded the availability of absentee ballots to all voters who concluded that it was “impossible or unreasonable to vote at their voting place.” But Mr. Merrill did not relax two of the usual requirements for absentee voting: submission of a copy of a photo ID with a voter’s application for a ballot and submission of an affidavit signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses with the ballot itself. Read More

Connecticut: Another suit seeks to expand absentee voting in an already litigious election year | Edmund H. Mahony/Hartford Courant

In what is shaping up as a litigious election season, a new lawsuit was filed Thursday to force the state to expand access to absentee ballots in the November election as a precaution against the coronavirus — a day after another suit argued that doing so would increase the likelihood of election fraud. Connecticut’s laws limiting the exercise of absentee ballots are among the country’s most restrictive, and the run-up to the next two elections — an Aug. 11 primary and Nov. 3 general election — has put COVID-19 at the center of the argument between those who want to expand access and those who don’t. The American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court Thursday to force the state to make absentee ballots available to every eligible Connecticut voter in November. Failing to do so during a pandemic, when waiting in long poll lines could increase viral transmission, is a violation of the right to vote, the suit claims. The ACLU sued on behalf of a voting rights group, an elderly voter vulnerable to viral infection and the NAACP. The suit claims Blacks in Connecticut suffer disproportionately from health and voter access problems as victims of years of systemic racism. It filed similar ballot suits in Texas, Louisiana and Minnesota. Read More

Florida: As elections go digital, Democratic legislators want state to preserve the images | Mary Ellen Klas/Miami Herald

Should Florida keep a digital image of every ballot that gets recorded on vote scanning machines? That is the question three Florida Democratic legislators want a judge to decide in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Leon County Circuit Court. They say it’s time the state stop the practice of destroying digital images of ballots after an election, especially with the state’s reputation for razor-thin election margins. The lawsuit, by Rep. Joseph S. Geller, D-Aventura, Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, Sen. Victor M. Torres, D-Kissimmee, Dan Helm, a candidate for Supervisor of Elections in Pinellas County, as well as eight voters and the Florida Democratic Party, asks a judge to require the state to order local election officials to retain the ballot images from optical scanning machines for 22 months. State and federal laws require that paper ballots be retained, but there is no requirement that the images used to verify the ballots be kept as well. The lawsuit asks that ballot images be treated as public records available for inspection and production. “We believe that local election officials want to follow the law, but they need clear direction from the Secretary of State, who is the chief elections officer for the State of Florida, and the courts,” said attorney Chris Sautter, who also serves as counsel to AUDIT Elections USA. The complaint was filed in the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County. Read More

Maryland: Officials exploring mail vendor options for November election after problems with ballots in primary | Talia Richman/Baltimore Sun

Maryland officials are looking at new vendors to potentially print and mail ballots for the November election after having several issues during the primary with the company the state used to handle sending out ballots. The June 2 election was Maryland’s first attempt at mostly mail-in voting, a move spurred by safety precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic. It used out-of-state mail vendor SeaChange. In Baltimore, some ballots were printed incorrectly, forcing election workers to manually transfer voters’ choices to new forms that could be scanned for correct results. Ballots also were delivered late to voters in the city and Montgomery County, which state election officials blamed on SeaChange. The vendor argued in turn that the state was late in sending it the necessary voter lists. Also, Prince George’s County voters initially were sent only Spanish-language instructions, while residents of Hagerstown didn’t get a court-ordered notice in their ballot packets. The state elections board issued a report Thursday to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, summarizing how the last election went and outlining what steps would be taken in the future to ensure a smoother process. Read More

Massachusetts: Vote-by-mail bill heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk | Steph Solis/MassLive

An $8 million voting reform bill that would allow residents to vote by mail in this year’s state primary and general elections because of the coronavirus pandemic is heading to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. Senators approved the legislation Thursday after it came out of a conference committee, where lawmakers reconciled the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. “For the first time ever in Massachusetts, voters can vote by mail and vote early in both the 2020 primary and general elections. In-person voting on election day remains an option and is made safer in this legislation,” Senate Election Laws Committee Chair Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat, said in a statement Thursday night. “The bill equips clerks with the tools they need to count ballots expeditiously and adapt to these election advancements.” The House approved the final iteration of the bill on Tuesday. Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, a Boston Democrat who leads the House Ways & Means committee, said the legislation “will ensure that the voters of the Commonwealth have safe and easy access to the ballot box throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.” Read More

Ohio: Task force fears poll workers won’t return in November | Chris Stewart/Dayton Daily News

Whether Ohio poll workers — often in their golden years — will show up to work in November if the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage was a topic of concern at a state election readiness task force meeting Thursday. “We need to emphasize to our Election Day volunteers, our elections workers, our poll workers, is we appreciate their support, their health is great, but do not make this commitment and then break it,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. “Because just not showing up on Election Day morning is a highly irresponsible thing to do.” Some elections boards are conducting surveys of poll workers to find out if they remain willing to work if the virus continues to circulate. Elections boards and the Secretary of State’s office are also stepping up recruitment efforts to replace those who don’t return. Terry Burton, Wood County’s elections director and a guest speaker, told task force members the county surveyed workers to determine now if they will still serve if the pandemic worsens. “We’re trying to make sure that we figure out right up front what sort of numbers we’re looking at,” he said. Read More

Texas: U.S. Supreme Court won’t fast-track Texas Democrats’ bid to expand mail-in voting during pandemic | Emma Platoff/The Texas Tribune

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t fast-track a bid by Texas Democrats to decide whether all Texas voters can vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving in place the state’s current regulations for the July 14 primary runoff election. But the case, which now returns to a lower court, could be back before the Supreme Court before the higher-stakes, larger-turnout general election in November. Texas law allows voters to mail in their ballots only if they are 65 or older, confined in jail, will be out of the county during the election period, or cite a disability or illness. But Texas Democrats have argued that voters who are susceptible to contracting the new coronavirus should be able to vote by mail as the pandemic continues to ravage the state. Thursday’s one-line, unsigned order denying the Democrats’ effort to get a quick ruling comes a week after another minor loss for them at the high court. On June 26, the Supreme Court declined to reinstate a federal judge’s order that would immediately expand voting by mail to all Texas voters during the coronavirus pandemic. Read More

Wisconsin: New study confirms that Black voters were heavily disenfranchised in April 7 election over COVID-19 fears | The Milwaukee Independent

Researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice say their study is the first to measure the impact of the pandemic on voting behavior. The study found that Milwaukee’s decision to close all but five of its 182 polling places reduced voting among non-Black voters in Milwaukee by 8.5 percentage points, and that COVID-19 may have further reduced turnout by 1.4 percentage points. That would mean the overall reduction in turnout among non-Black voters was 9.9 percentage points. Black voters experienced more severe effects: Poll closures reduced their turnout by an estimated 10.2 percentage points, while other mechanisms — including fear of contracting COVID-19 — lowered turnout by an additional 5.7 percentage points. Those factors combined to depress Black voter turnout by 15.9 percentage points, the researchers estimated. Overall, turnout in the city for the election — which determined a hotly contested Wisconsin Supreme Court race and the state’s Democratic nominee for president — was 32%, according to the Milwaukee Election Commission. Read More

Bolivia: Bolivia Tries to Hold Elections Amid Pandemic, Risking Chaos | Carlos Valdez/Associated Press

Deserted during months of quarantine, the streets of Bolivia are roiling again with protests that have forced the government into an uncomfortable challenge: trying to resolve the country’s long-term political crisis with elections in the middle of a rising pandemic. If plans hold, Bolivia will conduct presidential elections in September, giving former President Evo Morales’ leftist party a chance to return to power after he resigned and fled the country at the end of 2019. The looming vote is increasing political tensions in Bolivia just as the novel coronavirus overwhelms the health system. The capital, La Paz, and other major cities see demonstrations near daily in defiance of antivirus measures. On Tuesday, teachers protested in La Paz. On Wednesday, health workers marched in Santa Cruz, and the streets of Cochabamba were blocked by a variety of groups decrying the government. Protesters rarely follow requirements for social distancing and pack closely together unmasked as they shout anti-government slogans. Police presence is at a minimum because much of the force is sick with the coronavirus. Read More

Poland: Poland’s bizarre electoral bazaar is open for business | James Shotter/Financial Times

As Poland voted for a new president on Sunday, my Twitter feed became populated by a surreal mix of people. Some had very strong opinions about the relative merits of jam and custard. Others just seemed determined to show the world their feet. “My daughter wanted custard for breakfast. I told her this was embarrassing and suggested some delicious jam sandwiches,” one internet user informed his followers. “[Walking barefoot] is so nice,” tweeted another, adding a picture of her bright red toenails for good measure. “It can be so healthy and beneficial for the whole nation.” Welcome to the bizarre alternative reality of Poland’s election day “bazaar”, where pre-internet-era electoral rules confront the anarchy of social media. Poland has strict rules prohibiting political “agitation” on polling day and for 24 hours before. Banned acts include urging support for a candidate, holding political rallies and publishing opinion polls. But social media gleefully dodges these rules. Instead of urging people to back candidates, users write about the benefits of various types of food that are in some way linked to them. And instead of posting leaked exit polls or partial results, they post shopping lists with “prices” representing the candidates’ alleged vote share. Read More

Russia: Putin’s Landslide Referendum Victory Is Slammed by Critics | Georgi Kantchev and Ann M. Simmons/Wall Street Journal

The day after a landslide vote that cemented President Vladimir Putin’s quest to prolong his stay in power for up to another 16 years, critics slammed the plebiscite as undemocratic, while supporters praised the results as validating his policies. Preliminary results showed that 78% of voters Wednesday approved Russia’s largest constitutional overhaul since the end of the Soviet Union that included a provision resetting presidential limits for Mr. Putin and allowing him to potentially stay in power until 2036. This would make him the longest-serving leader in Russia’s modern history, surpassing Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who ruled for almost three decades. The broad support underscores Mr. Putin’s grip on power and the value Russians place on stability and continuity, analysts and voters said. Russia’s Central Election Commission reported a 68% voter turnout. All but one of Russia’s regions voted in favor, with Moscow recording 65% support and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city, reporting 78%. Final results will be announced Friday. On Thursday, Mr. Putin thanked Russians for their “support and trust,” during a video meeting with the Victory committee, a Kremlin-backed advisory body, and said that Russia needed to continue on the same path. Read More

National: Hackers Say Voting Machines are Vulnerable. But That’s Not the Real Problem | Maya Shwayder/Digital Trends

The U.S. is in no way ready to move any of its election processes online, white hat hackers told Digital Trends. But while a lot of attention has been focused on the vulnerability of new voting machines, the more imminent danger is the electronic infrastructure around elections, experts said. The new voting machines that have attracted a lot of attention during the primaries aren’t even the biggest concern, said Jack Cable, a famed hacker and software expert now focused on the U.S. elections. Voter registration system and election night reporting systems are far more vulnerable — and easy — to attack, he said. While trying to register to vote, Cable found massive vulnerabilities in the Illinois voter registration system that could have allowed hackers to see and potentially alter voter data. If a database of voters is easily accessed and corrupted, election results could be unverifiable. Hackers could, theoretically, wipe or change voter registration, which could cause widespread voter disenfranchisement. A bad actor could even change the results or wipe people’s votes completely through an unsecured back-end. “There is so much more work that needs to be done” before elections can be really secure, Cable told Digital Trends. And it will take a lot longer than the five months left until the 2020 U.S. presidential election to get those theoretical elections systems properly in place. Read More

National: Senate Republicans remove measure demanding campaigns report foreign election help | Savannah Behrmann/USA Today

A measure requiring presidential campaigns to report any attempts by foreign entities interfering in U.S. elections was stripped by Senate Republicans as a condition of passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a “backroom deal” Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA., said Tuesday.The NDAA, which is being debated on the Senate floor this week, will include the Intelligence Authorization Act but not the amendment requiring campaigns to report foreign help to the proper authorities after that provision was stripped from the bipartisan defense bill. The NDAA, which is being debated on the Senate floor this week, will include the Intelligence Authorization Act but not the amendment requiring campaigns to report foreign help to the proper authorities after that provision was stripped from the bipartisan defense bill. Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that his Republican colleagues had forced the deletion of the foreign assistance reporting provision as part of a condition to combine the intelligence legislation with the annual defense policy bill. “I fear the Senate is about to fail once again to protect our elections from foreign interference,” Warner said on the Senate floor Tuesday. Read More

National: GOP support for mail voting is growing, despite Trump | Eliza Newlin Carney/The Fulcrum

President Trump’s increasingly hyperbolic attacks on voting by mail, amplified by Attorney General William Barr and the Republican National Committee, have triggered alarms that the country is heading toward another contested election. Trump appears to be gearing up to cast doubt on an outcome that doesn’t go his way. Primaries marred by hours-long lines, voting machine malfunctions and controversies over absentee ballots have many bracing for a meltdown starting Election Day. A much bigger surge of mailed-in votes in November virtually guarantees the results won’t be known for days, setting the stage for a crisis in voter confidence if the results are close enough to be challenged, as happened in 2000. Yet for all that, voting rights advocates mobilizing to secure the election and neutralize Trump’s divisive voting rhetoric have surprising and influential allies in their corner: many leading Republicans. GOP governors, Republican election officials and prominent conservatives are increasingly pushing to expand voting by mail. They’re also forcefully rejecting Trump’s baseless claims the practice is “corrupt” because it invites fraud and foreign tampering — and helps Democrats, to boot. Read More

National: DHS Looks to Expand Tracking of Election Interference Through Social Media | Brandi Vincent/Nextgov

The Homeland Security Department intends to tap into custom-created algorithms, analytics and commercially-offered services to trace and capture deliberate efforts by foreign state and non-state actors to sway Americans’ views via social media leading up to the 2020 election. Four months before voters head to the polls, the agency—through its Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Mission Center—released a solicitation asking contractors to speedily weigh in on services they can provide to collect and analyze potential foreign influence using online posts, and ultimately produce social media-centered intelligence products to enhance election security. “Currently, there is a significant amount of foreign influence activity targeting U.S. 2020 elections on social media platforms, and the [intelligence community’s] lack of capability and resources in this area result in this activity being left largely untracked. Agencies with the requisite expertise and tradecraft to do this work are building the capability but those efforts will not be operational in time to help defend the 2020 general election,” officials wrote in a request for quotations published Tuesday evening. “An urgent and compelling need exists to build the capacity to detect and mitigate foreign influence operations conducted against the U.S. using social media in time for the 2020 U.S. elections.” Read More