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Electionland 2020: USPS Chaos, Election Cybersecurity, August Voting and More

This week’s headlines on enfranchisement efforts, election law changes and the Trump administration’s attacks on mail voting.

This article is part of Electionland, ProPublica’s collaborative reporting project covering problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Sign up to receive updates about our voting coverage and more each week.

What’s Happening to the Postal Service?

  • On Friday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy reassigned or displaced 23 executives, which analysts say centralized power around DeJoy. He claimed that his recent sweeping changes to the Postal Service aren’t at the president’s behest. (The Washington Post, The Guardian)

  • Financial disclosures revealed that DeJoy still holds a multimillion-dollar stake in a USPS contractor; experts said the stake is likely a conflict of interest and were shocked that agency ethics officers approved it. (CNN)

  • Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling on the Postal Service to reverse operational changes that have slowed down mail delivery. (Associated Press)

  • The president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union said mail sorting equipment is being removed from post offices, further slowing down delivery. (NPR)

  • A former top USPS official warned that changes at the postal service could disenfranchise voters in the fall. (The Guardian)

  • Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, on local delays: “I have heard from constituents in the Second District who have not gotten their mail — including vital medications and paychecks — for weeks and sometimes not at all.” (Baltimore Sun)

  • There’s been some confusion over whether the USPS plans to charge more for election mail; the agency claims it's merely recommending states use first-class mail. (The New York Times)

The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Voting

  • On Wednesday, Trump said he would not approve emergency USPS funding, and stated: “They don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can’t do it, I guess. Are they going to do it even if they don’t have the money?” (The Washington Post)

  • On Thursday, Trump made further remarks on USPS: “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots ... But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.” (Fox Business)

  • Trump’s aides are allegedly considering executive actions to curb mail voting, even though some Republicans are worried the president’s anti-mail voting rhetoric could harm the GOP in the upcoming election. (Politico)

  • Trump encouraged North Carolina voters to vote absentee, even as he continues to assail mail voting. (CNN)

  • Donald Trump Jr. made contradictory statements about mail voting in Maine, and Maine’s secretary of state pushed back. (WMTW)

  • Trump’s criticisms of absentee voting may be having an effect: an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll found that a majority of Republicans don’t think the election will be fair. (Newsweek)

  • In a TV appearance Thursday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said: “So much of the Democratic asks are really liberal left wishlists we don’t want to have — voting rights, and aid to aliens, and so forth. That’s not our game.” (CNBC)

Cybersecurity News

  • Ransomware remains a serious threat to voting operations, experts say. (AP)

  • In July, the Department of Homeland Security held its annual election tabletop exercise with state and local officials; the event gamed out potential cyberattacks, civil unrest, and disinformation, among other things. (State Scoop)

  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) published an infrastructure risk assessment on mail voting and on how cybersecurity could affect vote by mail. (MeriTalk)

  • At this month’s Black Hat hacker conference, voting tech company Election Systems & Software announced new policies that will allow cybersecurity researchers to test the company’s technology. Also at the conference, the director of CISA touted the government’s progress on cybersecurity since 2016, saying it was “like night and day.” (The Wall Street Journal, CyberScoop, NextGov)

  • Ohio published guidelines for security experts to identify flaws in the state’s election websites, the first state to do so. (CyberScoop)

  • A nonprofit government watchdog alleges there was a coverup of a Florida elections supervisor using tens of thousands of dollars meant for election security on personal shopping sprees. (Tallahassee Democrat)

  • The Center for Election Innovation released a new report on the security of voter registration databases, and found six states still don’t use multifactor authentication to restrict access to those databases. (Election Innovation)

Vote by Mail News

  • A Stanford University study of the July runoff election in Texas found that Democrats used absentee voting at a rate three times higher than Republicans, but there was no partisan impact on overall turnout. (Stanford University Democracy and Polarization Lab)

  • A watchdog group released a report on Florida’s ability to deal with expanded vote by mail, based on recent elections and policy changes. (Tallahassee Democrat)

  • Between 10,000 and 15,000 Connecticut voters typically request absentee ballots during primaries. This year, about 300,000 people asked for a mail ballot for the August primary. (The Wall Street Journal)

  • Ohio’s secretary of state announced that county board of elections can only offer one absentee ballot drop box per county. Counties are now barred from setting up more drop boxes. (Columbus Dispatch)

  • Tennessee updated its absentee ballot applications after a court ruled against expanding mail voting for the general election. (AP)

  • Georgia’s election board approved a measure to allow the state to create an online portal for voters to request absentee ballots. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • A nonprofit organization sent out more than half a million absentee ballot applications to Virginia voters with the wrong return address. The same organization caused confusion with unsolicited absentee ballot applications it sent in Ohio. (Virginia Mercury, ABC 6)

  • The New Hampshire GOP sent out mailers with the wrong return address for absentee ballot applications. (NHPR)

  • The D.C. Board of Elections mailer’s poor design and instructions on how to confirm their address confused some voters. (The Washington Post)

  • The New York State Board of Elections will change the design of the letter that comes with absentee ballots so voters know to sign it. (New York Post)

  • Hawaii’s shift to a mail voting state has brought challenges for homeless voters. (Honolulu Civil Beat)

  • San Diego County’s GOP chairman has complained about the unfounded dangers of mail voting, despite the fact that he’s voted by mail 22 times. (Voice of San Diego)

Voting in a Pandemic

  • Puerto Rico partially suspended voting during the primary last week due to a lack of ballots at polling places. Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ordered voting to resume on Sunday. (AP, NBC News)

  • Connecticut held its primary this week in the wake of a tropical storm, and some polling places lacked electricity and Wi-Fi the night before the election. (WTNH)

  • Elections this week in Georgia, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont saw low in-person turnout with relatively few problems and many mail ballots. (The Washington Post)

  • Some of Pennsylvania’s largest counties aim to set up satellite election offices to provide early voting. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • New Jersey’s July primary provided lessons in holding an election during a pandemic, both for mail voting and in-person voting. (Courier-Post)

  • States without expanded vote by mail may not be prepared to handle voters who get COVID-19 right before the election. (NPR)

  • Maryland’s governor approved an elections board plan to instate a voting center model for the November election. (Baltimore Sun)

  • The Brennan Center and the Infectious Diseases Society of America published guidelines to vote and hold elections safely during the pandemic. (Brennan Center)

Election Funding

  • Funding for the general election and USPS are on hold after coronavirus relief package talks collapsed. (Politico)

  • Florida election supervisors are still waiting for CARES Act funding; the money is supposed to arrive this week. (WFLA, Tallahassee Democrat)

  • Pennsylvania could spend $1 million on envelopes and postage for mail ballots this fall. (York Daily Record)

  • After a problematic primary, the New York state board of election says it needs $50 million to make the general election work. (Gothamist)

  • Voting rights expert and law professor Justin Levitt on election funding: “My usual election-cycle comment is that we’re trying to find enough duct tape to cover the holes in the bucket. This time, we’re trying to make the bucket out of duct tape.” (Rolling Stone)

Enfranchisement Efforts

  • Since 2016, 11 states and D.C. have enfranchised currently and formerly incarcerated Americans. (The Washington Post)

  • The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition announced it raised $2 million to pay off Florida ex-felons’ fines. But finding out how much debt is owed is often a byzantine or almost impossible process. Just this week, Florida’s Department of State published guidance on ex-felon voting eligibility. (Fox 35, The Guardian, Danny Rivero)

  • Snapchat is developing tools to help users register to vote and get the information needed to vote by mail or in person. (Axios)

  • The NFL announced a get out the vote campaign and a partnership with voting advocacy groups. (NFL)

  • Extended Stay America launched a voter registration drive at its hotels. (CN Traveler)

  • Researchers at the University of Texas Austin released a report on how journalists, advocates and election administrators can talk about election problems without discouraging people from voting. (University of Texas)

  • A study found that voter registration increased in June, likely because of the Black Lives Matter protests across the country. (NBC News, The Guardian)

The Latest Lawsuits

  • New appeals on decisions in Alabama.

  • New decisions on in-person voting in Georgia.

Election Law News

  • Arkansas: The governor issued an executive order allowing voters concerned with contracting COVID-19 to vote absentee. (KATV)

  • California: The governor signed a bill that allows counties to consolidate polling places for the general election and to open a ballot drop-off location for every 15,000 registered voters. (AP)

  • Indiana: The governor said he doesn’t support expanding mail voting for the fall, and encouraged voters to cast a ballot in person. (The Times of Northwest Indiana)

  • Kentucky: The secretary of state submitted a plan to the governor for fall voting that excludes no-excuse absentee voting for all voters. They say they’re close to an agreement. (, WFPL)

  • Michigan: The governor wants the legislature to pass legislation to make absentee ballot processing and counting easier. (MLive)

  • Montana: The governor issued an order allowing counties to decide whether to expand early and mail voting. (Great Falls Tribune)

  • New York: After the legislature passed bills to make improvements to mail voting and expand absentee voting in the fall, the governor hasn’t signed anything yet nor issued new executive orders. (Gotham Gazette)

  • Pennsylvania: Legislators are running out of time to pass voting reforms for the fall election, particularly regarding mail voting. (PA Post)

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