By Jessica Huseman in ProPublica:
On March 20, state election administrators got on a conference call with the Election Assistance Commission to plead for help. The EAC is the bipartisan federal agency established for the precise purpose of maintaining election integrity through emergencies, and this was by every account an emergency. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus had grown from an abstract concern to a global horror, and vote by mail was the only way ballots could safely be cast in the states that had not yet held their primaries. But many officials didn’t know the basics: what machines they would need and where to get them; what to tell voters; how to make sure ballots reached voters and were returned to county offices promptly and securely. “I have a primary coming up, and I have no idea what to do,” Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said on the call.
She and her colleagues didn’t get the help they were looking for. Of the EAC’s four commissioners, only chair Ben Hovland spoke, and his responses were too vague to satisfy his listeners. The lack of direction was “striking,” said one participant, Jennifer Morrell, an elections consultant and a contractor for The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). “It felt to me that there was no leadership. Nobody was saying, ‘Hey, let’s figure this out.’ Questions just went unanswered.”
The commission punted. On a follow-up call, Hovland volunteered the state of Washington, which votes almost entirely by mail, to respond to questions and provide materials. But Washington built its vote by mail system over more than a decade and had accumulated thousands of pages of detailed instructions, too much for other states to implement quickly. Hovland agreed in vague terms to pitch in, but others involved saw little evidence. “We started working with the EAC, and then it just started to get kind of cold,” said Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state. “Nothing happened, nothing good or bad. Just nothing.”
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