Coronavirus

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National: Nationwide voting by mail will be a massive undertaking say those who’ve done it | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post

It will take a massive effort of time and resources to increase voting by mail across the nation if the coronavirus pandemic is still jeopardizing in-person voting in November. And the $400 million appropriated by Congress is nowhere near enough to make it feasible. That’s the warning from election officials in states that vote almost entirely by mail, who say it took years of careful planning for them to make the transition. “It’s going to be a herculean effort, but failure is not an option,” Washington state Secretary of State Kim Wyman, whose state is among five that vote that way, told me. By contrast, there are 13 states that don’t currently even offer all their voters the option of casting ballots by mail, according to a tally released yesterday by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. The warnings underscore the unprecedented challenge facing officials who are beginning to contemplate a complete overhaul of their election operations during just seven months and in the midst of a global health crisis. The shift to better secure elections against hacking after Russian interference in 2016, by contrast, took place over more than three years and still produced mixed results. Read More

National: Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) vowed on Thursday to keep pushing for additional funding for states to boost their mail-in voting efforts in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. The pledge by Klobuchar and Wyden comes a day after the Senate unanimously approved a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill that included $400 million for states to enhance mail-in voting and other efforts to keep elections stable despite the ongoing pandemic. For the two senators, and for other election advocates, the funding level fell woefully short of the $2 billion they had pressed the Senate to include for elections earlier this week. “Clearly when you get $400 million in a bill, it is a priority, but we need to get the secretaries of State what they are looking for,” Klobuchar told reporters during a press call on Thursday, stressing that “we are in the middle of a crisis.” The amount was far less than the $4 billion proposed in the stimulus bill rolled out by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for elections earlier this week. Read More

National: Coronavirus ‘worst-case scenario’: Could the presidential vote be done by mail? | Alex Seitz-Wald/NBC

If the coronavirus pandemic continues to make in-person voting virtually impossible by November, conducting the 2020 presidential election largely by mail isn’t out of the question. Advocates say a massive expansion of vote-by-mail is technically feasible, but may require more time, money and political willpower than is available, with the $400 million included in Congress’ new stimulus bill just the beginning of the need. “In my view, with the right leadership and with the right amount of funding by the federal government, most states would be able to go to a vote-by-mail system for November — if we begin planning now,” said Jocelyn Benson, the secretary of state in Michigan, where vote-by-mail has exploded in popularity since voters there approved a referendum in 2018 to allow anyone to request a mail-in absentee ballot. “In this extraordinary, unprecedented moment, there is an opportunity,” Benson added.An American presidential election has never been postponed or canceled, but a majority of poll workers are over the age of 60, a group at heightened risk for COVID-19, and health officials have discouraged crowds like the kind that are generally unavoidable at polling places. “It’s either going to be vote-by-mail or nothing if we have to deal with a worst-case scenario,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is sponsoring an emergency bill to expand vote-by-mail, told reporters on a conference call. Read More

National: Coronavirus Relief Bill Includes $400 Million To Protect Elections | Pam Fessler/NPR

The Senate coronavirus relief bill now under consideration would give states $400 million to protect upcoming elections against the pandemic threat. The money, far less than the $4 billion some Democrats had wanted, would allow states to expand mail-in and early voting, as well as online voter registration. The money could also be used to help secure in-person voting sites. Primaries and other elections have been postponed in more than a dozen states so far because of concerns about the coronavirus. Several states – including Ohio, Georgia and West Virginia – have announced that they will send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters so they do not have to vote in person. The package does not require states to offer 15 days of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting and other changes some Democrats had sought. Congressional Republicans, as well as state officials, oppose imposing federal requirements on elections, which are traditionally run by the states. Read More

National: States would get $400 million to run elections under COVID-19 threat | Derek B. Johnson/FCW

The $2 trillion economic relief package passed by the Senate March 25 would set aside $400 million for states and localities to restructure their election processes to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some lawmakers and election security experts say the sum is paltry compared to what is needed. The Election Assistance Commission is charged with distributing grants on a per capita basis within 30 days of passage. The bill does require that each state provide a report to EAC at least 20 days out from their election, detailing how they spent their share and how it allowed them “to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus.” The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, which examines election security and integrity issues, calculated that states need more funding to expand vote-by-mail infrastructure. Read More

Editorials: We Must Vote in November. This Is How to Ensure That We Can. | Bob Bauer, Ben Ginsberg and Nathaniel Persily/The New York Times

Voters should not have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their health. They should not have to endure confusion over the location of polling places or the availability of vote-by-mail. Yet voters might face exactly those problems in November if we do not act now to protect the election from Covid-19. To safeguard the inclusivity and legitimacy of our elections, the federal government should provide resources that states should use in a credible, bipartisan fashion. We must act now. Elections — American democracy itself — should not be among the pandemic’s victims. We’ve done something like this before. Roughly seven years ago, we led a bipartisan commission set up by President Barack Obama. There had been significant problems with the operation of the electoral process in 2012, and our task was to suggest possible solutions. Two of us (Mr. Bauer and Mr. Ginsberg) were co-chairs and the other (Mr. Persily) was the senior research director. As part of our broad charge, and in light of Hurricane Sandy, we looked at the challenges posed by natural disasters. Our recommendations on these and other election administrative issues were well received by election administrators across the country, of both parties. We also noted where more progress was urgently needed. Read More

Editorials: Congress has to immunize Election Day against fear of coronavirus | Los Angeles Times

In the days, weeks and months ahead, we can expect all sorts of dramatic disruptions as a result of the coronavirus sweeping the nation and the world. But one that Americans absolutely must begin thinking about and planning for right now is the threat the virus poses to our democratic process in a year in which voters will choose a president, a third of the U.S. Senate and the entire House of Representatives. Several states have already postponed presidential primaries. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and President Trump as well, are already rethinking what it even means to campaign at a moment in time when voters can’t come out to rallies, debates must be held virtually, and all discussion of issues from foreign policy to climate change to homelessness are subordinated to the one great concern on everyone’s mind. Obviously — but shockingly nevertheless — there is also speculation that this summer’s party political conventions might have to be canceled or drastically scaled back. But there is one political event that will and must go on as scheduled: the Nov. 3 general election. While prognostications about the spread — or hopefully the containment — of the pandemic are risky, it isn’t too early for Congress and state election officials to begin planning for an election that might have to be conducted under plague conditions. The goal must be to ensure that fear of contracting COVID-19 (or transmitting it to others) won’t cause participation in the election to plummet. Even if, as we all hope, self-isolation and social distancing are no longer necessary in November, lingering concerns about contamination could easily depress turnout at traditional polling places. Read More

Editorials: The Vote Must Go On – Don’t let the coronavirus undermine America’s election | Ken Harbaugh/The Atlantic

A few days ago, a friend sent me a video intended to recruit military veterans to “protect our right to vote.” The group behind it has an appalling record of voter intimidation, and is one of a growing number preparing to influence this year’s election through the strategic deployment of “poll watchers.” The video’s narrator spoke about his time in Iraq providing security during a tense election. “We had snipers across the whole city protecting polling booths,” he said. Then he issued this ominous call to arms: “My brothers and I were willing to shed our blood … So I’m asking you as Americans to take involvement in this vote … Military, vets, first responders, we’re asking for your support.” I came to expect paramilitary vigilantes stalking polling places when I served overseas. I never imagined it could happen at home. But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, suddenly the most far-fetched scenarios seem plausible. State governments around the country have imposed lockdowns on their residents. The U.S. Department of Justice has proposed suspending certain constitutional guarantees. And during the most important political contest of our lives, elections have been totally upended, as in Ohio, where I live, and where Republican Governor Mike DeWine delayed the primary. The decision came about chaotically, delivered the night before the election in open defiance of a court order. But as poorly executed as the governor’s decision was, I agreed with the rationale behind it. Ohioans will have their chance to vote. Holding the election as scheduled, with transmission rates of COVID-19 still accelerating, posed too great a risk. In this case, acting out of fear made sense. Read More

Florida: Florida held its primary despite coronavirus. Two Broward County poll workers tested positive for COVID-19 | David Smiley and Bianca Padro Ocasio/Miami Herald

Two poll workers who spent Florida’s primary day at precincts in the city of Hollywood have tested positive for coronavirus, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections said Thursday. According to a spokesman for Supervisor Pete Antonacci, the office learned over the last 24 hours that two workers have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The workers, who have not been identified, worked March 17 at precincts at the Martin Luther King Community Center and the David Park Community Center, both in the city of Hollywood. Spokesman Steve Vancore said the elections office — which oversees voting in one of the Florida counties hit hardest by the global pandemic — does not know when the workers contracted the virus. But he said their contact with voters was limited. “We just don’t know, did they contract it after or before? That’s between them and their physician,” Vancore said. “It’s just something that can’t be known, at least not to us. We just felt it was important to notify the public and, of course, their fellow poll workers who were there.” Read More

Minnesota: All-Mail Ballot System Under Consideration For 2020 Elections | WCCO

Minnesota’s top election official said Thursday that the 2020 elections in the state “must go on” in Minnesota, even if the country is still grappling with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In a video statement, Secretary of State Steve Simon said his office is planning for a number of possibilities looking ahead toward November. “Whatever option we use, we’ll do this thoughtfully and carefully,” he said. “No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote.” One option under consideration is an all-mail balloting system. In this scenario, each registered voter would be mailed a ballot, which would be filled out at home and returned by mail. Other states, such as Oregon, already do this. “I’m looking to [those states], and their leaders, right now to figure out what components of that system to bring to Minnesota,” Simon said. Read More

North Carolina: Elections board wants to make Election Day a holiday because of virus | Travis Fain/WRAL

The State Board of Elections recommended more than a dozen changes to state election laws Thursday in response to COVID-19, including making Election Day a state holiday. Most of the suggestions stem from an expected uptick in absentee voting by mail. Among other things, state Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell will ask the General Assembly to pay postage on absentee ballots, make it easier to request absentee ballots and to ease witnessing requirements when people vote by mail. She laid out the requests in a six-page letter. “We believe the legislative recommendations released today would go a long way toward ensuring safe, accessible elections in 2020,” Brinson Bell said in news release accompanying the letter. “We look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly to respond to the unprecedented threat facing our elections system at this time.” Legislative leaders have said they’ll consider changes, but the process will have a lot of eyes on it. North Carolina tightened its absentee ballot rules last year after an illegal ballot-harvesting campaign forced a do-over election in the state’s 9th Congressional District. Read More

North Dakota: Counties can hold June election via mail-in ballots only | Andrea Johnson/Minot Daily News

Gov. Doug Burgum issued an executive order Thursday that will enable counties to conduct the June 9 election by mail-in ballot only if they choose to do so. The order eliminates a requirement that counties maintain a physical polling location. Burgum announced at his daily briefing that the order is intended to protect the right of North Dakotans to vote and also to protect polling workers and voters from coronavirus if the pandemic is still a concern come June. Burgum also announced guidance that is intended to shore up child care providers in the state. Child care providers will be required to take extra steps to protect against the spread of the virus, such as making sure that there are no more than 10 people, including both adults and children, in a room at one time and staggering use of common areas to keep too many people from being in an area at once. Providers would also be required to limit access to the facility as much as possible and ask families questions about how they are feeling before a child is able to come into the facility. Read More

Ohio: Former elections official: Ohio called ‘well-positioned’ to transition to an all-mail-in ballot state | Michael D. Pitman/Journal-News

The Ohio House unanimously approved a novel coronavirus bill package on Wednesday that includes formally extending absentee voting and nixing in-person voting this election cycle. And one former Ohio elections official believes the Buckeye State is set up to be the country’s fourth all-vote-by-mail state. The in-person March 17 presidential primary election was postponed to June 2, but in a March 21 letter, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose urged legislators to support a mail-in-only election for the primary. Ohio House members approved the legislation that outlines other relief efforts related to the outbreak COVID-19. The bill unanimously cleared the Ohio Senate earlier on Wednesday, and the 2020 presidential primary will be an all-absentee election. Absentee voting is now extended through April 28, and no in-person voting will be conducted, according to the bill. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 1,700 absentee ballot request forms have been received by the Butler County Board of Elections since March 17, and that could exceed 2,000 by today. Warren County reported 1,476 ballot requests as of Wednesday. Read More

West Virginia: Secretary of State launches plan to send absentee ballot applications to all voters | WHSV

West Virginia is rolling out a plan to send every registered voter in the state an application to vote absentee in upcoming elections as people across the state follow a ‘Stay at Home’ order from the governor amid the COVID-19 outbreak. On Thursday, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced that he was issuing guidance and an opportunity for funding for all county clerks to mail absentee ballot applications to every single voter. Voters returning those applications is the first step to be able to receive a ballot by mail in West Virginia, which is the method state leaders are recommending every citizen use to vote as the COVID-19 response goes on. During West Virginia’s state of emergency, every registered voter is eligible to vote absentee by a mail-in ballot for the May 12 primary election. Read More

Wisconsin: Two more lawsuits filed over April 7 election seeking to change how and when people vote during coronavirus | Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wisconsin’s chaotic spring election got even more unpredictable Thursday as two new lawsuits were filed attempting to alter voting rules because of the coronavirus pandemic that has forced people to stay at home. The lawsuits — the third and fourth to be filed over the April 7 election — come as clerks scramble to figure out how to safely run an election when they are short on poll workers and hand sanitizer and health officials say people should stay at least six feet from each other. One of the new lawsuits, led by voter mobilization group Souls to the Polls, seeks to put off the election for weeks or months. It’s in line with a lawsuit Green Bay’s clerk filed this week to postpone the election. The other suit filed Thursday seeks to allow people to cast absentee ballots without having to get a witness to sign their voting certificate. The barrage of litigation comes after the Democratic National Committee sued last week to try to extend absentee voting. That resulted in an order that reinstated online voter registration until March 30. U.S. District Judge William Conley will rule later on other aspects of that case. On the April 7 ballot is the presidential primary, a victims rights amendment to the state constitution and a seat on the state Supreme Court. Also up for election are local offices around the state, including Milwaukee mayor and Milwaukee County executive. Read More

Australia: Queensland elections: coronavirus poses ‘lethal risk’ to voters, experts say | Ben Smee/The Guardian

A leading medical ethicist said Queensland was taking a “lethal risk” by holding elections on Saturday, as the Australian Medical Association, virologists and others called for them to be postponed because of coronavirus. Local government elections will be held in council areas across the state. Byelections will be held in two key state electorates, Bundamba and Currumbin. About 570,000 people applied for postal votes before the deadline, but large numbers said they had not received them. The Queensland electoral commission told those people they could vote in person on Saturday and that physical distancing and other precautions would be taken. The New South Wales government delayed its local government elections, due in September. But Queensland was following its own medical advice. Calls to delay the poll, or provide for people to postal vote after election day, have increased. This week Queensland closed its border with NSW and suspended the state parliament. Read More

Mali: Despite coronavirus, insecurity Mali heads to polls | AFP

Malians vote Sunday in a long-delayed parliamentary election, despite a raging jihadist conflict, the recent kidnap of a leading opposition politician and the coronavirus pandemic. Experts see the vote as a key step towards leading the West African state out of its spiral of violence and closer to a political solution to stop the bloodshed. The parliamentary election has been delayed several times since 2018, mostly over security concerns. But Mali’s government says the poll will go ahead on Sunday, even as the novel coronavirus has added to the country’s chronic security problems. Authorities this week recorded Mali’s first coronavirus cases, and afterwards announced measures including a night-time curfew to stop its spread. Read More

Russia: Coronavirus Threat Delays Vote to Keep Putin in Power | Charles Maynes/VoA News

President Vladimir Putin acknowledged Russia’s growing crisis surrounding the spread of the novel coronavirus — postponing a constitutional referendum whose key provision provides a path for the longtime Russian leader to retain power beyond the end of his current term and far into the next decade. The nationwide vote was to have taken place in April. “The absolute priority for us is the health, life and safety of people. Therefore, I believe that the vote should be postponed until a later date,” said Putin in a hastily scheduled address to the nation on Wednesday. The decision came as a government task force said the number of suspected coronavirus cases in Russia surged past the 800 mark, with the government embracing tighter restrictions and acknowledging the deaths of two elderly patients due to complications from the virus. This marked the first time Russia attributed deaths to a global contagion. “What is happening today in many Western countries, both in Europe and overseas, can become our immediate future,” warned Putin. “We must understand that Russia, simply because of its geographic location, cannot isolate itself from the threat.” Read More

National: Stimulus Money to Protect Elections Falls Short, Critics Say | Michael Wines/The New York Times

The $2 trillion stimulus package that appeared likely to be approved by the Senate on Wednesday contains $400 million to address one of the most uncertain impacts of the coronavirus outbreak — its potential to wreak havoc with voting, including the presidential election in November. The figure falls far short of what state officials and voting rights experts have said is needed to ensure a safe and accurate count if the virus keeps millions of people away from polling places in primary elections and on Election Day. The $400 million in the stimulus package is one-fifth of the $2 billion that voting experts said was needed and that some Democrats had sought. The money could only be used to help states create and staff new polling places to reduce crowding, or to increase opportunities to register online and vote by mail, according to a Senate official who declined to be named because he was not authorized to talk about specifics of the legislation. Voting-rights advocates said the money was a shadow of the amount needed to ensure that the November general election goes smoothly if the pandemic has not ebbed. “It’s a start, but inadequate to the crisis,” Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said of the proposal. “If Congress doesn’t provide full funding, we could have a fiasco in November.”

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National: Vote-by-Mail Gains Momentum, But It’s Not Fast, Cheap, or Easy | Ryan Teague Beckwith/Bloomberg

The coronavirus outbreak that has forced Americans to retreat to their homes and brought the economy to a standstill also threatens to upend the presidential election. Multiple states have rescheduled their spring primaries as the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 keeps climbing. Some polling places in states that held primaries on March 17 were hastily closed; at others, workers scrambled to disinfect voting machines and keep people 6 feet apart in line. Voters were encouraged by officials to avoid the health risks of in-person voting entirely—by casting their ballots by mail. The pandemic has prompted new attempts to expand mail-in voting, a trend that has been slowly building over the last two decades. A bill introduced on March 18 by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden—the first U.S. senator elected in a statewide mail-in election—and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar would require states to allow mail-in and early voting during a pandemic or natural disaster and would provide funding for the cost of ballots and postage, among other things. The stimulus bill passed on March 25 includes $400 million for states to allow vote by mail, expand early voting and online registration, and hire more workers, but it doesn’t include a mandate. Read More