Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, December 14, 2019 2:12 pm

We’re not nearly as worried about 2020 election security as we should be

Earlier today I started a Twitter thread on this subject. It ended up being long enough that Twitter was a cumbersome format for reading it, so I’m combining the thread and reposting the content here, with a bit of editing and formatting to make it more like a regular blog post.

A thread of uncertain length on 2020 election security:

I think that up to now, GOP attacks on an honest voting system have been attenuated: They wanted just enough votes to win without, they hoped, attracting much attention. And I think it’s fair to say that that’s what they’ve gotten.

When Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, illegally kicked a bunch of Florida voters off the rolls just before the 2000 election, the attention in the immediate aftermath of the election wasn’t on that act. Rather, it was on recounts, stopping recounts, and hanging ballot chads – all of which were important but missed the bigger picture. It took the investigative work of reporter Greg Palast to bring the voter-roll purge to detailed light in a chapter of his 2002 book, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”

In 2004, the issues seemed to revolve around the state of Ohio rather than Florida, and its secretary of state. There were reports of voting-machine malfunctions and other irregularities that seemed to suggest the possibility of sabotage. But nothing was ever conclusively proven.

Then Obama got elected, and the Republicans seemed to recognize the need for more and better ways to fix the vote. Vote suppression seemed the way to go, which is why Chief Justice John Roberts practically went case-shopping to get Shelby County v. Holder before the high court.

(It didn’t help that Dems stayed home in droves in 2010 because they were mad that Obama didn’t give them a rainbow single-payer health-insurance unicorn or whatever. That temper tantrum put a lot of psycho Republicans in power at all levels and, in Congress, often at the cost of Dems who had voted for the Affordable Care Act.)

Immediately after Shelby County — and I mean “immediately”; some of the bills were pre-written — GOP legislatures across the country began enacting vote-suppression measures. One was voter ID, based on fictitious claims that in-person vote fraud was a widespread problem. Such requirements, of course, usually were accompanied by measures that severely limited the types and availability of complying ID. No state university ID cards, for instance. Availability was limited by limiting the number of locations where one could obtain valid ID, which put a huge burden on people without reliable transportation — the people who disproportionately are minorities and vote Democratic.

And voter-roll purging became more widespread, led by transparent opportunists like then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose “Crosscheck” program – a sloppy way of matching voter names against lists of convicted felons, say – was adopted by Republicans in more states. (The fact that such efforts appeared to be felony violations of 18 USC 241 was widely overlooked.)

But even that wasn’t enough for the Republicans, so Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign accepted the fruits of Russian hacking of Democrats’ computers.  (The Russians also hacked GOP computers, and while there’s no proof, it’s a popular theory that they found info with which to blackmail some GOP officials into doing their bidding.) And let us not forget Russian manipulation of social media to influence public opinion, using messages targeted to many different relatively small groups of people to try to influence outcomes at the margins.

The result, of course, was that while Trump lost the 2016 popular vote by almost 3 million votes, he won the Electoral College by a mere 80,000 votes divided among just three states: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

(And don’t get me started on the Electoral College: Its purpose, per the Federalist Papers, was to prevent the election of a demagogue. It has failed in that purpose twice in the past 20 years. Its real purpose was to get slave-owning states to ratify the Constitution, and it serves no useful purpose today and should be scrapped lest our future be that of minority governance. But that’s an issue for a different thread.)

So we know what happened in 2016: Far from being an awful candidate, Hillary Clinton could be defeated only by a perfect storm of a slave-era election mechanism, Russian election sabotage in cahoots with Trump’s campaign, GOP vote suppression, and possible machine hacking.

(The lousy news media coverage of the campaign also immeasurably helped Trump, as did James Comey’s bogus announcement of possible new evidence against Clinton right before the election. But those, too, are subjects for another thread.)

So Trump got in and started criming on Day 1 with violations of the Emoluments Clause. He has crimed away since while weakening our global standing, viciously attacking our most vulnerable Americans, betraying our national security and our allies, and ignoring the existential disaster that is climate change. His popularity remains underwater, and a slight majority of Americans favors his impending impeachment.

Regarding that impeachment: I am under no illusions that the GOP-controlled Senate will vote to convict. McConnell and his party are too corrupt. So our only way of getting rid of this agent of a hostile foreign power is at the polls on Nov. 3.

The problem for the Republicans is that they have become so corrupt, and their corruption so thoroughly intertwined with Trump’s, that they cannot allow Trump to be beaten. If he is, not only is it game over for him, with indictments likely the instant he leaves office, but it’s also game over for them — their tax cuts, their appointment and confirmation of inept and corrupt judges, their profiting from the school-to-prison pipeline and for-profit corrections, and so many, many other scams, particularly if Warren or Sanders wins.

So Republicans must win in 2020 by any means necessary. Any. Means. Necessary. And that means not just stealing the presidency again. That means congressional races, legislative races, you name it. The alternative is too frightening for them to contemplate.

And why shouldn’t they? It’s not like we have a lot of ways to detect and stop it even after the fact, let alone in real time. For example, international voting-rights groups have found that comparing exit polling against ballot counts is a reliable way to detect cheating. But we don’t do that in the U.S. Because of Republican opposition, we have enacted no protections against foreign sabotage of our elections. We do not routinely audit voting machines and elections. We have mandatory recounts in far fewer situations than robust election security would call for. We need to be using voter-hand-marked, voter-verified, hand-counted paper ballots to prevent electoral sabotage and fraud. But because our elections are governed by state and local governments, almost nowhere are we doing so.

Which all brings me to my concern: If the Republicans decide to steal big in 2020 — so big that it becomes obvious to most people, not just interested parties like me — what’s to stop them? We have no standard mechanism for election do-overs. (The do-over this year in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which was ordered after widespread absentee-fraud ballot by employees of a Republican candidate, is an exception.) We have no constitutional mechanism for undoing fraudulent elections,  let alone mechanisms for undoing the consequences of fraudulent elections. We can’t fire all the bureaucrats appointed by a fraudulently elected president. We would have to impeach them (and all the judges), one at a time, and then hold individual Senate votes to remove them from office — again, one at a time.

So what’s to stop Republicans from going so big on election theft that everyone is aware of it? Because no one will be able to do anything about it but demonstrate. And the GOP has an answer for that, too. From Trump’s executive order this week about Judaism down to bills in state legislatures, Republicans are seeking to criminalize our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition our government for redress of grievances. So while I have no evidence that suggests the GOP WILL do this, I look at our situation and their corruption and think, well, why WOULDN’T they?

If Americans protested and Republicans tried to put down those protests, we might have riots. And, having no answers to how to fix this, I have to confess that I don’t know which I’m more afraid of: that we might riot, or that we might not.

Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:12 am

Phil Berger and Thom Tillis think they’ve found themselves some voter fraud. Fine. Let’s see if they’re right.

Fred sent me this link (thank you, sir), which purports to claim “widespread” voter fraud in North Carolina during the 2012 general election. That link in turn links to a news release issued jointly on Wednesday by Phil Berger, the state Senate GOP leader and father of one of the Republicans trying to succeed Howard Coble in the 6th Congressional District race, and Thom Tillis, the state House speaker and one of the Republicans seeking Kay Hagan’s U.S. Senate seat this year. They write:

[We have learned of] more alarming evidence of voter error and fraud discovered by the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Initial findings from the Board presented to the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee today show:

  • 765 voters with an exact match of first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in N.C. and the other state in the 2012 general election.
  • 35,750 voters with the same first and last name and DOB were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in both states in the 2012 general election.
  • 155,692 voters with the same first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state – and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.

These findings only take into account data from the 28 states who participated in the 2014 Interstate Crosscheck, leaving out potential voter error and fraud in the 22 states that do not participate in the consortium.

My first reaction, which I admit is kind of geeky and inside-baseballish, is: Show your work, guys. Post the board’s findings online even if it’s in hard-to-search .pdf format. (As of now, the State Board of Elections itself hasn’t done it.) Otherwise, you’re asking me to trust a couple of demonstrably untrustworthy pols, although I’m gonna  set that point aside and examine this argument as if it were being made by someone with no obvious political interest one way or the other.

That said, the massive gap between the number reported in point 1 (with SocSec numbers) and the number reported in point 2 (no SSNs) leaves an awful lot of room for speculation and even more for  mismatched records. Cops have access to info that I didn’t have as a reporter, but when I was doing investigative stuff, particularly on people with very common names, I always tried to get an SSN. That’s the gold standard of unique identifiers.

All point 3 says — allowing for the elision between being registered and casting a ballot, which is actually enormous; I wonder why? — is, “and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.” That’s a big-ass loophole, considering that “voter activity” can be as simple as changing a phone number and that N.C. counties, last I checked (which I admit was years ago),  purge their voters rolls typically only once every four years — immediately after a presidential election.

But, OK, let’s put this in the light most favorable to the authors: Even with all my caveats, no fewer than 765 voters appear to have voted in both N.C. and another state in the 2012 general election, per elections data. Voter fraud is a felony, and if that report is true, all 765 should go to prison. I’d be happy to be the person to slam the door on ’em.

Problem is, it won’t be true, because — and this is a national shame and embarrassment, but a topic for another time — voter-registration data is some of the dirtiest mass public info out there. (The reason is that it attempts to gather a large amount of basic information about a lot of people, and in a society as dynamic and mobile as ours, that pool of data is changing in small but measurable ways thousands of times a day, on average.) Now, our friends Berger and Tillis claim to have attempted to “clean up” voter rolls, but they have done so in ways that give advantages to likely Republican voters while creating barriers for the young, the very old, racial and ethnic minorities, women, convicted felons and other likely Democratic voters. But that’s also an issue for another day, as is the Republicans’ reluctance to look into voter fraud in absentee balloting, where most of the real voter fraud takes place, because absentee voters are more likely to vote Republican.)

But don’t take my word for it that the 765 alleged cases aren’t real. Examining 765 records, one at a time, to determine whether or not the registrant committed a crime would take a while, but not that long. So I encourage — nay, challenge — the State Board of Elections to refer the case to the SBI and get it done. And assuming that happens, I think you’re going to find that many, and probably most, of those 765 are paperwork errors of some kind. A person was recorded as having voted in one state or the other — or at all — when he/she in fact did not vote. Whatever. Because that’s what almost always happens. Because the data is always that dirty.

That’s what I think will happen. I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

Pro-voter ID types hop on preliminary numbers like this because they look like proof of serious undermining of the very bedrock of democracy, the vote. Unfortunately, when it gets down to proving actual voter fraud, those numbers fold like a cheap card table into something a lot less impressive, interesting or dangerous, thereby undermining their rationale for voter ID as well as their rationale for other limits on voting rights alluded to above.

The bottom line here is that 765 cases is a manageable number to check into. So let’s check. Let’s have the State Board of Elections turn these cases over to the SBI for investigation. Let’s see what we learn. I’m eager to find out.

Heck, I might even be more eager than Phil Berger and Thom Tillis.

UPDATE, 4/3: Commenter George Barnett below wisely adds, “Keep in mind too that even if this does turn out to be true voter IDs would not have prevented it.” No, they wouldn’t have.

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