They described elections that were completely revamped in a matter of weeks and massive shortages of poll workers, since many were not willing or able to risk their health by showing up on Election Day. The percentage of absentee voters climbed to 10 and even 20 times their typical levels in many states.
The public hearing was among just a handful of instances when election officials from different states will gather before November, in hopes the lessons learned will help the general election run more smoothly.
“It's difficult to plan for this election [because] we always look back on history,” Sherry L. Poland, director of elections for Hamilton County, Ohio, told commissioners. “For presidential elections, you look back on past presidential elections …We have no history to go back to of conducting an election during a pandemic.”
Here are five big takeaways from the state and local officials:
1. More money will be vital.
Every official said they’ll need more money from the state or federal government to run the November election. In most cases, their share of the $400 million in election money Congress sent out during the early days of coronavirus is already running low.
Kentucky, for example, spent about 60 percent of that money preparing for its June 23 primary, said Jared Dearing, executive director of the State Board of Elections. Some of that was for equipment that can be reused during the general election. But a lot of it was for one-time purchases such as envelopes for mail ballots, he said.
“Funding is going to be an incredibly important topic we're going to have to face in November,” he said.
Yet, it’s far from clear whether Congress will be willing to commit more money to elections this year. House Democrats passed a bill that included an additional $3.6 billion for elections along with a slew of mandates such as requiring states to make early voting and voting by mail available to all residents.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has been loath to commit any new money to elections and is steadfastly opposed to any mandates.
“We’re not sure what it’s going to look like in November,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said. “We don't want to cry wolf, but, at the same time, we need to make sure we're prepared.”
2. Bipartisanship will be key — but it might be in short supply.
Kentucky ran one of the most successful primary elections, a fact Dearing attributed to cooperation between the state’s Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state.
“Our primary election’s… success was contingent on one factor: bipartisan agreement,” he said.
But that sort of cooperation may be in short supply come November — especially because President Trump has consistently used election administration and mail ballots in particular as an attack on Democrats since the pandemic began.
3. States must prepare for a surge in voting by mail.
Every official described a huge jump in voting by mail during the primaries, including some that held their contests nearly entirely by mail. That led to a crush of onerous paperwork, including tracking which residents had requested ballots and getting those ballots back to them on time. In many cases, officials had to deal with requested ballots that didn’t arrive, forcing voters to risk their health by voting in person.
Officials in Ohio learned a bitter lesson when the state legislature opted to send voters a postcard laying out their options for requesting a mail ballot for the primary rather than sending ballot request forms directly to voters.
Officials hoped people would print and mail absentee request forms that were available online but many voters didn’t have printers and couldn’t access them because public libraries and printing and shipping stores were closed, Poland said.
During the general election, the state now plans to send voters ballot request forms.
4. Last-minute decisions can be hugely detrimental.
That was especially true in Wisconsin, where Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wanted to delay the state’s April 7 primary but lost a last-minute battle with the Republican-controlled legislature.
That meant many people who thought they had plenty of time to mail in absentee ballots suddenly had less than 24 hours.
Barbara Goeckner, who runs elections in Cambridge, Wis., enlisted volunteers to call and warn people who’d requested absentee ballots that they were running out of time. People who hadn’t yet received absentee ballots had to risk voting in person.
“Even though they may have been at high risk for covid, the only manner they could [vote] now was to come to the polls in person,” she said.
5. Officials need to start recruiting younger poll workers — and training them, too.
Every official described a huge drop-off in poll workers during the primaries. That's largely because poll workers tend to be older and at greater risk from the virus. Some recruited high school students to replace them. Others recruited teachers and school staff.
The officials are already at work trying to recruit younger poll workers for the general election, but replacing so many people is a monumental task..
And merely replacing the workers won’t be sufficient, if there’s not enough time or resources to train the new workers for the complex task of managing a polling location — especially under the dangerous circumstances of a pandemic.
“I worry about the expertise level and the experience those poll workers would bring to polling locations,” Dearing said. “It could ultimately create more problems.”
Trump family members are urging Republicans to vote by mail as the president condemns it.
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter-in-law Lara Trump both recorded robocalls urging people to vote by mail in special elections during the coronavirus pandemic, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reports.
“Nancy Pelosi and liberal Democrats are counting on you to sit on the sidelines this election, but you can prove them wrong. You can safely and securely vote for Mike Garcia by returning your mail-in ballot by May 12,” Lara Trump said in the April robocall sponsored by the Republican National Committee stumping for a U.S. House candidate in California.
In fact, House Democrats have passed a $3.6 billion measure that would make voting by mail easier in November. It's being blocked by Senate Republicans. Republicans broadly have grown more distrustful of mail voting because of the president’s criticisms.
Facebook shut down a network of accounts affiliated with Roger Stone.
Stone, a felon and longtime friend of Trump’s, used fake accounts and other deceptive measures to manipulate public debate, the social network said. The company removed more than 100 accounts and pages affiliated with him for breaking its policies on “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Craig Timberg and Isaac Stanley-Becker report.
The violating activity dated back to 2015 but was especially active during the 2016 presidential election when Stone was advising Trump’s campaign, and in 2017, as federal investigators were probing his business dealings and links with Russia. On some occasions Stone amplified posts from the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which at the time was publishing damaging Democratic Party emails initially stolen by Russian hackers, Facebook said.
Stone’s personal accounts were also shut down, said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy for Facebook. Stone’s personal accounts were “deeply enmeshed” in the inauthentic behavior, Gleicher said.
Cybersecurity researchers are begging the Supreme Court to roll back the nation's major anti-hacking law.
That law, called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, dates to 1986 and is written so broadly it criminalizes many innocuous actions, such as lying about your name on a Web form or otherwise violating a website’s strict terms of service. The Supreme Court agreed to review the law in April. Top cybersecurity and privacy groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation are asking the justices to put strict limits on the law, Sean Lyngaas at CyberScoop reports.
“The researchers warned that if violations of a company’s ‘terms of service’ are deemed to be illegal, it risks chilling important research into voting systems, medical devices and other key equipment,” Sean reports.
The friend-of-the-court brief was signed by the Center for Democracy & Technology, cybersecurity companies including Bugcrowd, Rapid7, SCYTHE and Tenable and top cybersecurity researchers.
“Congress intended to outlaw malicious computer break-ins, not give private companies and the government the power to shut down valuable research and make us all less safe,” Naomi Gilens, a legal fellow at EFF, said in a statement.
Securing the ballot
Maryland plans to open every voting precinct despite the coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) says.
The decision to run what Hogan called a “normal” election puts Maryland at odds with many other states that are planning to consolidate voting precincts. Hogan will also ask the state Board of Elections to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, Erin Cox reports.
More on cybersecurity, campaigns and elections:
Researchers are buying used police body cameras and finding them full of footage.
Some of the footage allows researchers to identify which police department the cameras came from and could lead to serious privacy violations, Motherboard’s Janus Rose reports.
The company Axon, which is the largest supplier of body cameras, said it is “reevaluating our processes to better emphasize proper disposal procedures for our customers.”
More cybersecurity news from the public sector:
Advice from voting machine security expert and Georgetown University professor Matt Blaze:
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing on consumer risks during the covid-19 pandemic at noon today.
Secure log off
Ken Burns on liberty, the Statue of Liberty and the meaning of monuments: