Usually in advocating for ideals, legislation, community, politics, common sense, or other matters, I try to maintain an open discussion, an open mind and open ears, and an omni-partisan effort toward the common good.
But I have just about had it. For this one moment, I am throwing off my non-partisan hat, distancing myself from my colleagues and friends in the nonprofit world, and calling it as I see it.
For one thing, for nearly 17 years we have pushed for secure voting systems with recountable, auditable paper ballots. I got involved just as the Help America Vote Act was coming into law. That act, passed in 2002, was introduced by Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who was later convicted on charges of corruption.
Seems to me that the Act (often called HAVA) had some good intentions of getting everyone using good voting systems, but the implementation of HAVA essentially shoved half-baked and jury-rigged voting systems at American citizenry. There were systems that ran on old Commodore 64 technology. There were systems running an old and abandoned version of Windows (some are still in use). Two companies making machines that gave us no reason to trust their security were run by brothers: ES&S and Diebold. Those brothers were supporters of the Republican Party. Those companies were buying expensive dinners for folks at the national conventions of Secretaries of State. Somehow their less-than-wonderful machines ended up in the majority of polling places. There was $4 billion in HAVA, and those two companies and various Republican initiatives got the lion’s share of it.
There had been other machines available, some pretty good such as AccuPoll which was created to respond to requirements of HAVA, but one by one they were knocked off the market.
One of those two big companies hired a computer fellow to rig their machine to change votes. He had thought he was showing them how it might be done, but he later testified as a whistleblower that he was certain they wanted to use the hack. Of course, many of the machines offered no paper ballot – either written on personally and cast by the voter or printed out, reviewed, and cast by the voter. Thus there was no way to audit the results after the fact. Many have written about the foibles of these voting systems. One statistician held that the machines were adding votes to Republican candidates only in the larger precincts – only after a significant number of votes had been cast, so as not to invite suspicion. But few paid attention to her, nor to the numerous reports and exposés in Rolling Stone magazine, on 60 Minutes, in so many publications and books.
Meanwhile, Republican-based ALEC (a coalition of legislation pushers) was churning out legislation for Voter ID mandates which were meant to disenfranchise those who do not generally have photo ID – those who do not drive due to living in a city and not needing to drive, or due to infirmity or disability; those who live too far from a DMV depot to easily get a photo ID (especially in rural areas where the few and distant offices are open only sparsely through the month or are only open during weekday hours which working would preclude or not being able to drive would make more difficult). Because these particular demographics most often comprise Democratic voters, disenfranchising them boosts the Republican Party’s chances. Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Turzai famously ticked that off (“Voter ID – check!”) as one more item that put the Republicans closer to winning. Sort of tipped their hand, didn’t he?
Of course the deletion of the Voting Rights Act is another attempt at paving the way for jurisdictions to pass laws that disenfranchise voters who tend to vote Democratic.
Meanwhile, another piece of legislation (which I believe was also created by ALEC) spread around the country. We had to fight against it two separate times in Pennsylvania, as legislators forgot from one year to the next the science and technology we had carefully explained to them. The second time the bill was introduced, they had changed only one or two words from the prior version. This bill offers internet voting to UOCAVA voters, those who are living and working outside the country. (UOCAVA refers to those voting under The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.) This particular state bill offers them internet voting. More than half the states have passed this law. When lobbyists push it, they describe UOCAVA voters by picturing the soldier in a trench with an iPhone to evoke sympathy, but UOCAVA really encompasses everyone from ambassadors and embassy workers to professors in foreign lands to students outside the country, to workers on the couple hundred military bases we have overseas, and so on, in addition to the military who are in foreign countries. Those folks are generally voting on the internet provided by a foreign company or country, likely unsecure. Their votes could be swiped and recast by foreign actors through the device on which the vote is cast, when the vote is in transit through the internet, or at the county or state office’s computer at which it arrives.
We worry about other countries hacking our elections, yet we pass laws such as this one. Internet voting cannot now (nor any time soon) be done securely, according to numerous computer scientists and voting experts. Yet we have parked our experiment with it in foreign countries with foreign internet and unsecure conditions. (As a side note, we do know that it was likely Russia was behind a denial-of-service attack on Ukraine’s election in 2014 that nearly shut down their election. And in 2019 Ukraine accused Russia of attempting to hack into their election systems.)
This week when someone discovered discarded UOCAVA ballots in Luzerne County, in eastern Pennsylvania, which had reportedly been mishandled by a temporary worker, they were paper ballots. (UOCAVA ballots were sent out in August, the officials in Luzerne say, and apparently the system worked – the error was discovered, there is surveillance video to be reviewed, the worker was let go, and the trash is being sifted through.) Immediately reported in national media was not only where and how they had been discovered, but for which presidential candidate the ballots had been cast. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but it seems to me that someone may have planted this whole scenario just to cast doubt on the way Pennsylvania runs our elections. News media generally can’t get investigators to release information from an ongoing potential crime even when the crime is obvious and the need to know is dire! Why would we suddenly have details from the federal investigation on this matter?
Although I presume that UOCAVA voters may cast a paper ballot in any state, including in those offering internet voting to them, this setting was swing state Pennsylvania, my home state. This is the same state where President Trump has sued over the way we conduct elections (which method was devised quickly in the face of an epidemic which the President feels will be conquered by folks not wearing masks so we can sneer in its face).
Now the President is casting doubt on the election even further by saying that if counties and states cannot get their zillion ballots counted within a couple hours it is a “disaster.” He says that receiving ballots which are postmarked by election day and arrive within three days is cheating, even as he makes certain to dismantle the Post Office. He feels that having official county drop boxes on county property is also a “disaster.” He thinks he could go for a third term if he does it right. He pontificates on the Supreme Court having to decide the election, so he wants to insert a justice loyal to him to decide it in his favor, before the previous justice’s body is in the ground (z”l).
Were the Republicans also behind the theft of voter information from Hillary Clinton’s database, looking to change the registration of voters before the primary in a massive hack of the voter databases in the state computers? Seemed to many poll watchers that a lot of voters were complaining that their registration had been changed without their knowledge. We can’t know, though. I am trying not to be skeptical.
Several years ago, the numerous polls before each election stopped proving correct after each election. Seemingly no one paid attention to whether we should look more closely at that phenomenon. They presumed folks either lied before or changed their minds after. I think it is possible the machines were pre-rigged for Republicans to win. Mind you, it pains me to say that, as I have spent so much time trying not to be accusatory of any one party in this matter. But I am not feeling magnanimous at the moment. The Republicans are accusing the Democrats of cheating.
I do understand that both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of limiting ballot access for other parties – the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, et al. They have huge hurdles just to get their names in front of voters and they have to hold (and pay for) their own primaries, we don’t do it for them. Having more parties and different opinions involved in our government would broaden the field and could only help all of us in the end. (Please see my previous post about Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop, and read Lee Drutman’s book.)
Finally I mention the President’s own words which he keeps repeating to all who will republish them: “the election is rigged unless I win.” Isn’t that what all the dictators used to say in old Mission: Impossible episodes? Isn’t that what all the would-be dictators say now? Trump says it right out, as if all American Presidents should talk that way.
Yes, anyone can try to cheat in an election. Some may succeed. Folks say that voter fraud is “rare.” So far as we know, it is. Yet having no evidence of fraud does not mean that there wasn’t any fraud. All we can do is set up policies and procedures that would open the windows on any bad actions. We are all supposed to keep our eyes on our elections, as officials doing the work, or as individuals either certified as poll watchers in our own counties and precincts or as citizens asking all the right questions and pushing for better and better procedures.
By the way, some say the difference between “voter fraud” and “election fraud” has been demonstrated by example: a candidate claiming to live in his son’s basement so he could vote in that district is “voter fraud”; a voting machine flipping votes toward a particular party is “election fraud.” Both are illegal. I chose to speak more broadly here.
This year we have to remember that the election will continue until all the votes have been counted, it will not be called on election day. Many jurisdictions are forbidden by state law from beginning to count ballots until election day, and some must wait until the end of that day. Elections generally are not officially certified until weeks later, and this year there will be no basis for election night declarations. Candidates should not be making victory speeches or concessions on election night. Also, the news media should make every effort not to predict anything based upon voters who vote actually in the polling places on election day, as there are too many voters voting by mail out of caution over the pandemic.
Every citizen, by the way, should be voting. A representative government is not representing you if you do not vote.
To sum up my feelings of the moment, Republicans pointing to Democrats as being responsible for nefarious election behavior is the way they divert attention from themselves. It seems to me I’ve witnessed an awful lot of Republican efforts to sway the vote in their favor. They don’t necessarily use subterfuge: many times they do it right out under our noses.
We can all do better.