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.
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.
Happy Independence Day!!
As we celebrate our independence on this special day, it’s useful to remember some of the things that make our country so amazing. Tops among the many achievements we can be proud of is the right to vote in fair, free and transparent elections. The Three Wise Guys is broadcasting an interview today with Susan Pynchon, Executive Director of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition in DeLand. She has concerns, as many others do, that this bedrock of our democracy is endangered. Hope you can check out this most informative interview today @ 6:30 pm on WMFE 90.7 FM. And please view some of the links on their website if you haven’t done so already. They’re quite a revelation.
From the same producer of the “Hacking Democracy” film, Simon Ardizzone created the short film (above) “Protecting Democracy.” It shows glaringly some of the problems that continue to haunt voting in Florida and the hard work that Susan Pynchon, Executive Director of Florida Fair Elections Coalition, has done and continues to do to promote election integrity. She and Associate & Research Director Kitty Garber will conduct a panel discussion after the movie event on June 24th. The questions surrounding the 2016 elections, which are still being investigated by the federal government, have yet to be resolved. This short film generates even more questions and concerns.
Also tying into the upcoming event and pertinent to the recently released information about Russian hacking of our election system, is a link to a piece in the CFL Grassroots Progressives website. There’s a letter from the Supervisor of Elections in Seminole County stating that Russian hacking into our elections “didn’t work” and a rebuttal based on the recently leaked NSA document.
The “fourth estate” is becoming an increasingly important resource for the protection of our democracy. By forsaking alt-facts and publishing the truth, even if leaked by career civil servants, the legitimate media organizations are fighting against the extensive dysfunction and rampant rot within our three branches of governmental “checks and balances.” Sadly, these checks are now proving useless in protecting our country against “enemies foreign and domestic” but, thankfully, we still have a free press that is proving resilient in combating this corrupt administration.
Regarding the upcoming “Hacking Democracy” movie event, Daily Kos had a write up about the movie recently with a link to viewing the movie for free on-line.