Given the investigations and unfolding news about Russian interference into our 2016 election, the League of Women Voters (LWV) Orange County Hot Topics program for November focused on the question of electoral integrity. The panel was composed of Susan Pynchon, Executive Director of Florida Fair Elections Coalition (FFEC) and Supervisors of Elections in Orange and Seminole County, Bill Cowles and Michael Ertel.
The general consensus of the panel, in line with other national organizations, is that “voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.” Voting machine glitches, whether due to user mistakes or the possibility of something more sinister, irregularities involving misinformation, voter intimidation and suppression, missing ballot boxes, etc., are all examples of election administration problems, not voter fraud. Conflating these issues under the voter fraud umbrella makes an almost non-existent problem seem more widespread than reality would dictate and justifies unwarranted restrictions on eligible voters and distracts from the real problems facing our electoral system.
The Election Integrity Commission, set up recently by President Trump to “fight” the almost non-existent voter fraud problem, is chaired by Vice President Pence with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, “a notorious advocate of voter suppression laws.” Kobach’s background elicits a sense of foreboding as to the real intention of the Commission. VP Pence has a similar sketchy background in voter suppression as Governor of Indiana and Trump’s running mate.
Michael Ertel made a humorous show downplaying the significance of the Commission’s request for, and receipt from many states including Florida, comprehensive voter registration info from all states to be centralized in a national database. Given the news of Russian hacking into the voter registration databases of 21 states (as well as the latest hack, the Experian hack, which compromised the sensitive data of almost 145 million Americans), his response was either hopelessly naive or something less charitable. Real and serious concerns remain about the risk of amassing, for the first time ever, a federal database of all U.S. voter information–a potential gold mine for hackers to exploit, merge with other databases, optimize and weaponize for any imaginable purpose. Since no federal effort seems to be taking place to protect victims of the various and recent data hacks, we can’t ignore the potential threats that exist with the creation of another centralized database. As history has shown repeatedly, these additional data points can and will be used eventually to create even more robust dossiers on U.S. citizens to be exploited by enemies, both foreign or domestic.
After the meeting, some in the audience remarked that our voting systems most likely require more effort, public oversight, and accountability to attain the level of system perfection extolled by Ertel. A transparent, readily and publicly auditable electoral system is the only way to elicit enough public trust in the process to successfully get out the vote. Ensuring every eligible person can vote and that vote is counted properly is the key to upholding our unique and democratic way of life.
Now, more than ever, the LWV has their work cut out for them to fulfill their mission to make sure our elections are fair, secure and express the will of the people. Any help you can provide this excellent organization will be a worthwhile and patriotic effort you can be proud of.
The Nation is asking the question many of us are, “What killed the Democratic party?” Under the obtuse and dictatorial party leadership of DINO’s (Democrat in name only), the Democrats have worked ceaselessly and undercover to marginalize and disenfranchise the bedrock of the party, the populist progressives. Its tactics have resulted in a disaffected, discouraged and disillusioned base and many, many political losses.
Since Obama’s election, the Democrats have lost the house, the senate, over 1,000 state legislative seats and, of course, now the presidency. The Republican party now claims 34 governors, with 26 states in full Republican control. The Democrats have control of only six states. Without major changes, the Democratic party is swiftly heading towards irrelevance.
“Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis” is a must-read analysis of the continuing purge and dissolution of “the party of the people” under the rule of corporate democrats and how we must and can change.
The report states “There’s an undeniable current with Clinton surrogates that their time is better spent attacking Sanders’ supporters rather than trying to welcome them.” This is sad, but so true. Many progressives have endured senseless attacks time and time again, even from people in the upper levels of the Dem hierarchy that should be trying to unite the party. The badgering to just “stop” trying to be heard (because we’re told our inquiries are wedge issues/divisive) and get on board with whatever the top echelon dictates is unproductive nonsense as well as demeaning and disrespectful. It’s not working, will never work and they should “just stop.”
To win, Democrats need to energize and inspire their legitimate and historical base by welcoming and implementing progressive ideas and plans ASAP. DINOs have outstayed their welcome and relevance. They need to go the way of the dinosaur or dodo bird, or at least run as Republicans so we have an honest disclosure of who they’re working for and can vote accordingly. Without DINO baggage weighing us down, the progressive populist wing of the party can flourish once again, win elections and take back our country (for real now).
With the on-going carnage being wrought within our democracy by the Trump/Koch cabal, we need intelligent and courageous leadership more than ever. Sadly, it seems in short supply. Our Members of Congress (MOC) from Florida are on record (or not) for supporting critical bills that will help get our country back on track. Prime among them are Universal Healthcare and getting big money out of politics (repealing Citizens’ United). Also important are bills for 100% renewable energy by 2050 and transparency in Trump’s tax returns. He’s defiantly refused to release his tax returns and after the unveiling of the tax plan yesterday, it’s more important than ever that we see them. We must be cognizant of the length and depth of his self-dealing and planned enrichment of himself and his cronies at the expense of the middle class and our democratic institutions.
Here’s a look at what we believe MOCs should be focusing on. The four important bills before this congress (and what should be major planks in both parties’ platforms) with phone numbers to contact your MOC are listed in the link below. You may want to thank them for supporting these important bills or ask them why they’re MIA on crucial matters like this. Even though widely supported by both parties, some of our representatives have been MIA on all these issues. We hope they’ll see the light and put the needs of the country ahead of any other consideration.
An analysis of the troubles the Democratic party finds itself in is outlined in the report entitled “Autopsy–The Democratic Party in Crisis”. Perhaps this report has some good ideas that the party should study and implement ASAP, especially after the latest news from Donna Brazile’s book about the secret granting of DNC control to Clinton before the elections. It’s well past time the party got beyond blaming, name-calling, divisiveness, subterfuge and listening to a small cadre of donors.
Next month, the Orange County League of Women Voters will host a panel on voting rights and the integrity of our election system. The panel will consist of the Supervisors of Elections in Orange and Seminole County, Bill Cowles and Michael Ertel, and Susan Pynchon, founder and executive director of the Florida Fair Election Coalition. Susan was one of the activists in the HBO and emmy-nominated movie “Hacking Democracy.” The movie can be viewed here for free. Even though the movie is 10 years old, the disturbing information revealed is just as relevant now, if not more so. Attached is another clip about Ms. Pynchon’s continuing efforts to fight for free, fair and transparent elections in Florida. The movie “Hacking Democracy” will inspire many more questions about the integrity of our election system. Hope you can make it to this most important event armed with your questions and concerns.
With all the bad news regarding possible collusion between Russia and the Trump administration interfering with the 2016 election, it’s hard to understand how so many Democrats and Republicans alike, members of national voting organizations, etc., continue to deny we have a major problem with our national computerized voting system.
A recent piece in “The Nation” is a must read for non-believers. It’s short, well-researched and well-written, and will put to rest all the tired arguments of how we have the most secure and fair voting system in the world. It’s also an alarming wake-up call, along with many others, that we must address this problem ASAP. Sadly, this administration appears to be actively engaged in undermining and stone-walling all efforts for fair and transparent elections. The State Department’s refusal to use $80M earmarked to fight Russian propaganda, which was successfully weaponized against our country in the last election cycle, due to fear it will “anger” Moscow, has also angered some legislators in Washington. Whether they fulfill their duty to protect our country against a dangerous and dysfunctional administration currently under investigation is another matter.
The July 31st edition of Time included a special report on “Inside the Secret Plan to Stop Vladimir Putin’s U.S. Election Plot” by Massimo Calabresi. The article details the federal government’s attempt to secure the 2016 elections after it became apparent that Russian hackers had broken into more than 20 state and local voter election systems. The 15 page previously undisclosed plan is here.
In June of 2016, voter registration databases were successfully changed by hackers in California which led to the need to use provisional ballots in the primary elections. Three weeks afterward in Illinois, along with a similar attack in Arizona, a Russian agent accessed the state’s voter-registration site and uploaded malicious software (SQL) which “opened a back door to all 15 million files on past and current voters”. The hackers were successful in stealing 90,0000 files before an alarm was triggered when they attempted to download all 15 million files. Changes made to voter registrations were caught by the FBI as there was a full backup of the system before the SQL attack. These brazen attacks, among others, signaled that the Russians’ game plan had changed from collecting intelligence, as had been done in previous election cycles, to a “possible intent to meddle with the vote.”
As the administration worked to halt the damage, Trump continuously denied Moscow’s involvement with the hacking and blamed the Democratic National Committee (DNC) of hacking itself. With the stolen email dump prior to the DNC convention, he doubled down on the claims. As if on cue, August 1st, he said, “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged.” Two days later, when the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, said he was considering declaring elections “part of the U.S. critical infrastructure, along with…the banking and electrical systems,” it was met with suspicion of partisanship by many of the states which seriously hampered the administration’s ability to respond to the attacks.
The continuous fueling of anti-government suspicion by Trump seemed to work in his favor as it made the President reticent to issue a stronger statement nationally as it would be portrayed as political meddling in favor of the Democratic candidate. President Obama did warn Putin and put into place a plan to counteract a full-out Russian attack on our election. In the meantime, the attacks continued with infiltration attempts into most states, including the electoral systems of Florida and New Mexico.
The election went off “free and fair from a cybersecurity perspective” according to officials, however, doubts about the security of our election system are spreading. The FBI’s counterintelligence probe about Russia aiding Trump’s campaign only began in earnest after the elections. The FBI’s preoccupation with Clinton’s emails prior to the election resulted in their Russian probe not getting “any intelligence legs until after the election,” a puzzling and disturbing blunder with questionable political overtones.
As the administration cozies up to Putin and the focus on methods of protecting our elections from Russian interference disappears, fears about fair elections are becoming widespread. With Trump’s creation of an “election-integrity commission” demanding the centralization of voters’ personal information from every state, many worry the true goal of the commission is voter suppression of Democratic voters. Republican efforts to defund the $8 million Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which guides states in conducting fair and safe elections, is being met with suspicion as well.
A recent Gallup poll found most Americans (70%) are not confident in the honesty of our electoral system. What a disaster for our democracy, especially since the current power structure seems to be quite happy with the situation and is tightening the noose on fair elections with additional questionable tactics. When finally no one has the confidence to show up to vote, they’ve won and we’ll have a permanent government in place, no voters necessary. A government of the oligarchs, by the oligarchs, for the oligarchs.