Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, November 24, 2016 12:34 am

The presidential election was stolen

Second in a series (first installment here)

One way or another, and maybe in more ways than one, the 2016 U.S. presidential election was stolen. There are several ways it could have happened — not did happen, but could have happened — so let’s look at them first.

We’ll start with FBI director James Comey’s late-October announcement that investigators were examining “additional evidence concerning Clinton’s use of a private email server.” And if we’re going to start there, we need to look at the context of that issue.

Yes, it was a dumb goddamned thing to do for Clinton to have used a private email server for government business. But some of her predecessors had done the same, including Colin Powell under President George W. Bush. And the W. Bush White House ran tens of millions of emails through a private server at the Republican National Committee without many complaints from the media or any complaints from Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans conducted multiple congressional investigations in hopes of finding evidence of a crime, as did the FBI itself. And what did they all come up with? Bupkus.

Still, Comey’s 11th-hour announcement did affect Clinton’s standing in the polls:

An ABC/Washington Post tracking survey released Sunday [Oct. 30], conducted both before and after Comey’s letter was made public on Friday, found that about one-third of likely voters, including 7 percent of Clinton supporters, said the new e-mail revelations made them less likely to support the former secretary of state.

The poll found that Clinton received support from 46 percent of likely voters to Trump’s 45 percent, suggesting the race is a toss-up. That contrasts with the 12-point advantage that Clinton held in the same poll a week ago.

And what Comey did wasn’t just damaging, it was also wrong. He caught hell from some of his Justice Department colleagues for having spoken out so close to the election on a matter likely to influence it (such matters usually aren’t supposed to be discussed by federal investigators or prosecutors within 60 days of an election):

“I got a lot of respect for Jim Comey, but I don’t understand this idea of dropping this bombshell which could be a big dud,” said former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, a veteran of politically sensitive investigations. “Doing it in the last week or 10 days of a presidential election without more information, I don’t think that he should because how does it inform a voter? It just invites speculation … I would question the timing of it. It’s not going to get done in a week.”

Nick Akerman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, was more critical: “Director Comey acted totally inappropriately. He had no business writing to Congress about supposed new emails that neither he nor anyone in the FBI has ever reviewed.”

“It is not the function of the FBI director to be making public pronouncements about an investigation, never mind about an investigation based on evidence that he acknowledges may not be significant,” Akerman added. “The job of the FBI is simply to investigate and to provide the results of its investigation to the prosecutorial arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. His job is not to give a running commentary about any investigation or his opinion about any investigation. This is particularly egregious since Secretary Clinton has no way to respond to what amounts to nebulous and speculative innuendo.”

That was also a theme of a former Justice Department and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller.

“The Justice Department’s longstanding practice is don’t do anything seen as trying to influence an election. That’s usually interpreted as 60 days, let alone 11. … It’s completely unfair to Secretary Clinton and it’s really unfair to the voters. There’s no reason he had to send this letter,” Miller told POLITICO.

So what Comey did was wrong and damaged Clinton’s chances. Was what he did solely responsible for her Electoral College loss? I won’t say that because I don’t think anybody has proved it, and I doubt anyone can. What I am confident in saying is that it eroded Clinton’s lead significantly, possibly enough to have contributed to some swing-state losses and enough to have hurt some downballot Democrats’ chances as well.

What else hurt Clinton, or might have? For the first time, we have credible evidence that Russia tried to interfere with the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. The most spectacular accusation is that Russia hacked enough voting machines to give Trump the win, and let me say right up front that I don’t necessarily buy it. I am, for the moment and pending further research, agnostic as to whether the Russians hacked any voting machines and/or vote-counting systems at all, let alone enough in swing states to tip the election to Donald Trump in the Electoral College. I just don’t know. But what do we know?

We’ve known since at least as far back as my work on “Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering in the 21st Century” more than a decade ago that electronic voting machines simply are not secure. We know that hackers breached voter-registration databases in Illinois and Arizona this summer, and that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, vice-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, claimed before the election that based on briefings she and other congresscritters had received, Russia was trying to influence the outcome of the election. And we know, from the Russians themselves, that Trump’s folks and Putin’s folks, if not the principals themselves, were in contact during the campaign, which should raise Logan Act red flags irrespective of questions about hacking.

There were things about the differences between vote totals and exit polls — more on those in a second — that simply weren’t explainable by random chance, whether you think Russians were involved or not. Journalist Bill Palmer summarizes them pretty well here. As he says, they don’t conclusively prove that the election was rigged, but if the polling really was simply off, it should have been off in a different way.

And we also know, thanks to journalist Greg Palast (and more about him below) that electronic voting machines in Ohio had an audit security feature — which a Republican judge allowed Republican state election officials to turn off for the Nov. 8 election. That still blows my mind: A judge basically issued an order making it possible for machines to be hacked without detection.

And there are other discrepancies. A group of prominent computer scientists affiliated with the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society is pressing Clinton to seek a recount in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which went to Trump, and Michigan, where votes are still being counted and it’s too close to call. Flipping those three states to Clinton would give her the White House. Again, the experts are not claiming they have proof of fraud, but they have found what they consider statistically suspicious differences in voting patterns in areas with electronic touch-screen machines compared with areas with other forms of vote tabulation. As I wrote this tonight, Jill Stein, former Green Party candidate for president, was pressing for a recount in those three states.

Now, about exit polling: The exit polls failed to match up with vote tallies in a number of key states, particularly Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, any three of which — or, with Florida, any two — would have swung the Electoral College to Clinton. Exit polling is generally more accurate than pre-election polling, for obvious reasons. In pre-election polling you’re asking people to tell you what they’re going to do, which they might not get around to doing or might change their mind on, or what-have-you. In exit polling, you’re asking people what they actually did, right after they did it. Exit polling generally is so reliable that the U.S. has used it as a gauge of voting integrity in other countries around the world. It could be wrong here, but its record here and in other countries makes that less likely. That said, Election Day-only exit polling fails to account for early voting in states that have it, and, like all election polling, is only as strong as its computer models.

So although I am suspicious that the vote totals may have been monkeyed with by agents foreign and/or domestic, I grant that all the evidence — and there is a lot — is circumstantial, not directly probative. Therefore, as I said, I remain agnostic on that point, subject to the discovery of new information one way or the other.

So why am I stating as a fact that the election was stolen? Because while there’s some doubt about the shenanigans I’ve listed above, I am much more certain about another effort: Republican officials conspired to purge the voter rolls of a number of states in ways that overwhelmingly affected people likely to vote Democratic.

Journalist Greg Palast, whom I mentioned above, first documented in Chapter 1 of the first (2004) edition of his book “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” how this approach was used in the run-up to the 2000 election to kick enough minority and other likely Democratic voters off the Florida voter rolls improperly — and I’ll explain “improperly” in a second — to have swung the vote totals there, and thus the 2000 election, to George W. Bush.

I say “improperly” for this reason. The purging was supposed to remove from the rolls primarily convicted felons who had not yet had their civil rights restored and people who were, inadvertently or otherwise, registered to vote in two different places at once. However, the database query used only the loosest matching criteria, so that fathers ended up being purged because of their felon sons with the same name and vice versa, the John Smith on Main Street was purged when it was the John Smith on Elm Street who was the felon, John Adam Smith got purged when the felon was actually John Benjamin Smith, and so on. This work was done by a contractor with ties to the family of George W. Bush and retained by W’s brother Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida.

The scheme worked then, so the Republicans decided to take it national. No sooner had the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, Palast has found in an updated version of his book, than in 2013 a group of Republicans led by Kris Kobach, secretary of state in Kansas (and more about him to come), developed a system called Crosscheck to apply the technique to more than a dozen other states (most controlled by Republicans), looking for people who were, or who appeared to be, registered in two different states. From Palast’s article in the Aug. 24 issue of Rolling Stone:

The data is processed through a system called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is being promoted by a powerful Republican operative, and its lists of potential duplicate voters are kept confidential. But Rolling Stone obtained a portion of the list and the names of 1 million targeted voters. According to our analysis, the Crosscheck list disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters – with some of the biggest possible purges underway in Ohio and North Carolina, two crucial swing states with tight Senate races. (snip)

On its surface, Crosscheck seems quite reasonable. Twenty-eight participating states share their voter lists and, in the name of dispassionate, race-blind Big Data, seek to ensure the rolls are up to date. To make sure the system finds suspect voters, Crosscheck supposedly matches first, middle and last name, plus birth date, and provides the last four digits of a Social Security number for additional verification.

In reality, however, there have been signs that the program doesn’t operate as advertised. Some states have dropped out of Crosscheck, citing problems with its methodology, as Oregon’s secretary of state recently explained: “We left [Crosscheck] because the data we received was unreliable.”

In our effort to report on the program, we contacted every state for their Crosscheck list. But because voting twice is a felony, state after state told us their lists of suspects were part of a criminal investigation and, as such, confidential. Then we got a break. A clerk in Virginia sent us its Crosscheck list of suspects, which a letter from the state later said was done “in error.”

The Virginia list was a revelation. In all, 342,556 names were listed as apparently registered to vote in both Virginia and another state as of January 2014. Thirteen percent of the people on the Crosscheck list, already flagged as inactive voters, were almost immediately removed, meaning a stunning 41,637 names were “canceled” from voter rolls, most of them just before Election Day.

We were able to obtain more lists – Georgia and Washington state, the total number of voters adding up to more than 1 million matches – and Crosscheck’s results seemed at best deeply flawed. We found that one-fourth of the names on the list actually lacked a middle-name match. The system can also mistakenly identify fathers and sons as the same voter, ignoring designations of Jr. and Sr. A whole lot of people named “James Brown” are suspected of voting or registering twice, 357 of them in Georgia alone. But according to Crosscheck, James Willie Brown is supposed to be the same voter as James Arthur Brown. James Clifford Brown is allegedly the same voter as James Lynn Brown.

And those promised birth dates and Social Security numbers? The Crosscheck instruction manual says that “Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might not match” – which leaves a crucial step in the identification process up to the states. Social Security numbers weren’t even included in the state lists we obtained.

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

Swedlund’s statistical analysis found that African-American, Latino and Asian names predominate, a simple result of the Crosscheck matching process, which spews out little more than a bunch of common names. No surprise: The U.S. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of 100 of the most common last names. If your name is Washington, there’s an 89 percent chance you’re African-American. If your last name is Hernandez, there’s a 94 percent chance you’re Hispanic. If your name is Kim, there’s a 95 percent chance you’re Asian.

This inherent bias results in an astonishing one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian-Americans and one in nine African-Americans in Crosscheck states landing on the list. Was the program designed to target voters of color? “I’m a data guy,” Swedlund says. “I can’t tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities.”

Confronted by Palast, Kobach lied about his purge lists being publicly available and insisted that what was manifestly happening couldn’t possibly be.

In addition, some voters about whose eligibility someone raised a question were forced to cast provisional ballots which, in many cases, were never counted and which, in some cases, were simply thrown out, Palast found.

Palast also has evidence of widespread, illegal vote caging; indeed, thousands of North Carolina voters successfully sued just a few weeks ago to have their voting eligibility restored after an incidence of attempted caging here by the state GOP in a process the federal judge in the case called “insane.” But similar efforts went on elsewhere and most likely were successful.

And that’s on top of the efforts by states to impose onerous voter-ID requirements and limits on early voting, both of which disproportionately affect young and senior voters, minorities and the poor — who disproportionately vote Democratic. The courts threw out some, but not all, of these changes, which carried the force of law and helped provide at least a small bit of help for the Republican ticket.

Palast has an updated version of his book out that discusses some of the 2016 fuckery, along with an identically titled documentary film that you can order on DVD from GregPalast.com or rent on Amazon or Vimeo.

Despite all of this, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes (and counting, at this writing). She won more popular votes than anyone in history not named Barack Obama. But the GOP efforts provided a narrow edge — 1% or less — in a few key swing states to give the Electoral College vote, wrongly, to Trump. The question, which I’ll address in an upcoming post, is what can be done about it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 8:27 pm

Odds and ends for July 17

Greetings. Been busy.

Eight years ago, ExxonMobil pledged to shareholders that it wouldn’t spend company money to block efforts to fight climate change. Since then, it has spent at least $2.3 million trying to block efforts to fight climate change. If I were a shareholder, I’d be filing a civil suit against the officers and board for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, but I’m obnoxious like that.

After a two-year legal battle, police video was finally released that showed that the L.A.P.D. shot and killed an unarmed suspect who posed no threat. Even if you want to argue that the officers were merely doing what they were trained to do, you have to admit that when training leads to this result, it’s wrong and needs changing.

In another installment of our ongoing series, Police Behaving Badly, the police department in Bal Harbour, Fla., and the sheriff’s department in Glades County, Fla., combined to launder $55.6 million for drug cartels over three years, leaving no arrests but hundreds of thousands in cash missing.

And in yet another installment, two Georgia cops kill an unarmed woman and get away it it.

I’ve seen several good pieces criticizing Republicans for their opposition to the Iran deal. This is just one of them.

Some antiabortion yahoos released video claiming that it proves Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal organs. In point of fact, PP and its patients donate the organs for research, and PP may be reimbursed for such expenses as shipping costs related to the donation. The New York Times kinda sorta debunked the story. The mythbusting site Snopes.com did a much better job even though it characterized the story as “uncertain” rather than true or false — noting where the Times did not, for example, that the instigator of this stunt is tight with conservative fake journalist James O’Keefe.

Unsurprisingly, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump can be an idiot even when he doesn’t open his mouth. An image of himself that he tweeted contained pictures of re-enactors dressed as Nazi-era German soldiers, not U.S. GIs. Naturally, the campaign threw an unnamed “young intern” under the bus. (And don’t even get me started on who would want to dress up as a Nazi-era German soldier as a game.)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who’s about to enter the presidential race, says it’s OK that the banksters who blew up the economy haven’t been punished in this life because they probably will be in the next. If he’s that good at seeing the future, why’s he running a race he’s going to lose? Also: Bite me.

Filmmaker Laura Poitras has the quaint notion that if she’s not a terrorist, maybe the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security shouldn’t be hassling her all the damn time, so she’s suing them for records of the six years of stops she has endured on more than 50 occasions in airports.

Are ya thirsty yet?

Here in N.C., a trial has started in the lawsuit challenging the state’s vote-suppression efforts. Good.

I’m starting to think that the only question remaining about State Board of Elections member Paul Foley here in N.C. is whether he’ll resign before or after he gets indicted. Gov. Pat McCrory wants him to resign (but can’t make him); Foley refuses.

A two-year State Board of Elections investigation into political contributions to state officials from the sweepstakes industry won’t lead to a criminal probe. But, as Michael Kinsley famously said, it’s what’s legal that’s the problem.

Former UNC star Ty Lawson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just got his fourth DUI, and his second this year. His off-court behavior led to his early exit from UNC, and if he doesn’t get help, he’ll be out of the NBA, too.

As gigabit Internet service becomes a reality in some North Carolina metros (But not mine. Grrrr.) (Edit: See comments.), Time Warner Cable announces “TWC Maxx,” which is a blinding … 300 megabits. And people think newspapers don’t get it?

And, finally, hello, Pluto! And tell me that light-colored area doesn’t look like Pluto the Disney dog’s head, complete with the darker area indicating his right ear.

Pluto

Monday, March 9, 2015 8:59 pm

Odds and ends for March 9

I challenge any sentient carbon-based life form to read President Obama’s speech at Selma this past weekend and tell me that the man doesn’t love America.

Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel is all butthurt because President Obama talked about today’s voter-suppression efforts at Selma. Because Selma had absolutely nothing to do with voting rights. Dear sweet baby Jesus, please make Stoopid painful. Amen.

For what it’s worth, I took issue with many on the left who argued that the House GOP’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak constituted “treason” or a violation of the Logan Act. I thought it was despicable but didn’t meet the act’s definition of a crime. I also don’t see this letter from 47 senators to Iran warning them that any agreement not ratified could be overturned by executive action at any time as a violation of the law. Is it obnoxious and counterproductive? Certainly. Would the Republicans be unleashing the flying monkey poo if a Democratic Senate had done this to a Republican president? Oh, Lord, yes. Does it include a passage indicating that at least 47 of 100 U.S. senators do not understand what “ratification” is? Why, yes. Yes, it does. But the fact of the matter is that any agreement not approved for the president’s ratification by a two-thirds vote of the Senate is, indeed, that tenuous.

Fox News is America’s most trusted news network, this notwithstanding.

Like we didn’t have enough to worry about, Pakistan has tested a missile that can carry a nuke.

So we can insure 30 million previously uninsured Americans under the Affordable Care Act and still save a metric assload of money. Good to know.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in a world of hurt as he fights for re-election. I ain’t crying for him; I’ve never liked him and never trusted him.

Convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza decries Hillary Clinton’s “lawlessness.” From jail.

Relatedly, how bad has The New York Times’s reporting on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails been? Incredibly bad. (That’s not to say what Clinton did was right, but neither was it either as bad or as remarkable as the Times reported.)

The Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon gets busted after a video of members chanting racist lyrics goes viral. Remind me again how we’re a post-racial society. Go on. I’ll wait. Fortunately, that behavior already has caused the university some pain.

So the state of Connecticut has forced a 17-year-old to undergo chemotherapy even though both she and her mother didn’t want it. If only the state would crack down half as hard on Big Pharma.

Surprise, surprise. Not only is the GOP-backed N.C. tax “reform” screwing lower-income taxpayers, it’s even amounting to a screwing, or, at best, a wash for small-business owners it was supposedly intended to benefit. Meanwhile, the state’s job growth continues to lag the national average and the wealthy get wealthier.

 

Sunday, September 28, 2014 6:31 pm

When the Koch Bros.’ Americans for Prosperity meddles with voter registration …

Load Images To See What the Koch Brothers Are Doing Now To Influence Our Elections in North Carolina

 

 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 6:09 pm

I am not Pamela C. Marsh

… and it’s a damn good thing for some high-ranking Florida Republicans that I am not. For Pamela C. Marsh is the United States Attorney for the Northern Judicial District of Florida. And were I she, I would have begun convening a grand jury in Tallahassee this morning before my second cup of coffee:

A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post.

Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory.

Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.

“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.

“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”

Greer is now under indictment, accused of stealing $200,000 from the party through a phony campaign fundraising operation. He, in turn, has sued the party, saying GOP leaders knew what he was doing and voiced no objection.

“Jim Greer has been accused of criminal acts against this organization and anything he says has to be considered in that light,” says Brian Burgess, Florida GOP spokesman since September.

But Greer’s statements about the motivations for the party’s legislative efforts, implemented by a GOP-majority House and Senate in Tallahassee in 2011, are backed by Crist — also now on the outs with the party — and two veteran GOP campaign consultants.

Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal.

“In the races I was involved in in 2008, when we started seeing the increase of turnout and the turnout operations that the Democrats were doing in early voting, it certainly sent a chill down our spines. And in 2008, it didn’t have the impact that we were afraid of. It got close, but it wasn’t the impact that they had this election cycle,” Bertsch said, referring to the fact that Democrats picked up seven legislative seats in Florida in 2012 despite the early voting limitations.

Another GOP consultant, who did not want to be named, also confirmed that influential consultants to the Republican Party of Florida were intent on beating back Democratic turnout in early voting after 2008.

In 2008 Democrats, especially African-Americans, turned out in unprecedented numbers for President Barack Obama, many of them casting ballots during 14 early voting days. In Palm Beach County, 61.2 percent of all early voting ballots were cast by Democrats that year, compared with 18.7 percent by Republicans.

(Memo to the Florida Republicans: Jim Greer might well be willing to say anything at all to keep his own butt of prison, assuming the charges against him are legitimate, which is by no means certain at this point. But your main beef with Charlie Crist seems to be that he’s not batshit enough for you. IANAL, but I think you’re gonna need more than that to impeach his testimony when you cross-examine him. And not only does Wayne Bertsch not appear to have an ax to grind, he appears to be writing off a lot of future business by coming forward.)

What would be at issue in this grand jury investigation? Well, its formal title would be Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 13, subsections 241 and 242 of the United States Code:

UNITED STATES CODE
TITLE 18 – CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
PART I – CRIMES
CHAPTER 13 – CIVIL RIGHTS

§ 241. Conspiracy against rights

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or

If two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured –

They shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results, they shall be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life.
§ 242. Deprivation of rights under color of law

Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such inhabitant being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results shall be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life.

Within my lifetime, people of all races and creeds have died in the United States seeking, or trying to protect, the right to vote, and these smart-ass Republican white boys think it’s all a goddamn game. Of course, to them it is all a game. And it will stay that way until they spend a year or 10 in prison and cough up five-figure fines and six-figure legal fees.

As I’ve said before, the evidence strongly suggests that the death penalty is not a deterrent to homicide, even though the likelihood of being caught and punished is pretty high, because homicide is a crime frequently committed in the heat of the moment. But this? This is planned, rational, willful, intentional and cold-blooded. And that is exactly the kind of behavior that harsh penalties combined with the likelihood of being caught and punished will deter.

So were I Pamela C. Marsh, U.S. Attorney for the Northern Judicial District of Florida, I would not wait around for my worthless boss, Eric Holder, to get his thumbs out of his rear end and give me the OK or shoot an email to the Civil Rights Division. I’d do my job prosecuting conspiracies against civil rights in northern Florida and dare Holder, an African American, and his boss, the president, also an African American, to do anything about it. Holder might; after all, Karl Rove did something very similar and was never charged. But my guess is that once that investigation started, even Holder wouldn’t be idiotic enough to try to stop it. And the U.S. would be a tiny step farther down the still-very-long road toward the equal protection under the law that we wrote into the Constitution a century and a half ago.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 7:43 pm

Memo to Mitt and the GOP

I honestly don’t know who’s going to win the presidential election on Tuesday. The New York Times’s much-praised and much maligned Nate Silver gives Obama something like an 80 percent chance, but as Silver himself will tell you, that’s probability only and the other  20 percent — i.e., Romney’s chances — is not trivial.

But I think that the Republicans think they know who’s going to win on Tuesday, and they’re acting like they’re pretty sure it’s not their guy. Consider:

  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott — who, in a nation governed by the rule of law, would have gone to prison for defrauding the government during his previous life as CEO of a for-profit health concern — has tried as hard as he can to limit and harass early voting in Florida. I’m sure the fact that early voters there — as in most of the rest of the country — are predominantly Democratic has nothing to do with it.
  • Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who already has gotten in trouble with the federal courts over his messing around with voting, has imposed new rules that essentially require the voter to act as his own elections official or else his vote won’t count. Voting rights activists sued last name night, claiming that Husted’s action violates a previous court order, statements by Husted’s own attorneys and Ohio state law as well. Were I the judge in the previous case, I’d have had his ass in jail on a 6-month contempt-of-court sentence before the sun set today, because this is exactly the kind of behavior that contempt-of-court citations — and impeachments — were created to address.

And that’s just government. Here in the Republican-exalted private sector, things are even peachier for representative democracy:

WASHINGTON — The Mitt Romney campaign and its business allies are driving home a final message unlike one we’ve seen in past presidential campaigns: Vote Romney, or you’re fired.

The pressure on workers in swing states to toe the GOP line hasn’t been restricted to any particular industry. Corporate apparel makers in Ohio, truck stop attendants in Ohio and Virginia, casino employees in Nevada, construction workers in Florida, gift-card purveyors in Colorado and Florida, car-parts makers in Michigan, software technicians in Florida and Colorado, coal miners in Ohio, dock manufacturers in Wisconsin, frozen-food packers in Michigan, resort staff in Florida, Virginia and Nevada, and people all over the country who work — or used to work — for Koch Industries or another Koch-owned company have all been given notice by their boss that an Obama victory could lead to layoffs or otherwise harm the company and its workers.

Even workers who’d already been laid off by the Kochs were mailed letters urging them to vote Republican or else “suffer the consequences” of Obama policies that would harm the company.

Romney himself urged conservative business leaders this June to “make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”

Before the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision, it would have been illegal for a boss to tell an employee that “their job and their future” was on the ballot on Election Day. But the court now considers such electoral pressure an expression of free speech.

A few observations and opinions:

As I said earlier, this is not the behavior of a party that expects to win on the merits.

More particularly, if you have to engage in conspiracy to deny American voters their civil rights — which carries up to 10 years and a $10,000 fine, Rick Scott and Jon Husted — you’re not only acting like you don’t expect to win, you’re acting like you don’t want to be an American anymore. Well, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, because keeping legal voters from voting is about as un-American as it gets.

Americans let the GOP steal the election in 2000, and by a large majority, they think we got the worst president in modern times out of that deal. I doubt they’ll be so willing to let it happen again, particularly when, as is the case this time, it’s so blatant and out in the open.

And finally, for the moron CEOs who are threatening their employees if they don’t vote for Romney — despite the fact that under Obama they’ve posted record profits, amassed record cash reserves, watched the Dow double since this president took office, avoided any punishment for blowing up the whole economy in 2008 AND enjoyed the lowest top marginal income tax rates and corporate income tax rates since the Korean freakin’ War and the greatest income inequality since the days of Jay and Daisy — here’s our response to you:

  • We already had the feudalism-vs.-democracy argument. In 1776. Your side lost. Get the hell over it.
  • The U.S. abolished peonage a long time ago. Get the hell over it.
  • WE ARE AMERICANS. WE DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS.

Thursday, March 8, 2012 8:05 pm

Citizens United and this other thing; or, How to steal an election

This short post by Charlie Pierce at Esquire on a World War II veteran who was denied the right to vote on Tuesday because elections officials refused his government issued Department of Veterans Affairs card is a model of providing context, a key function that journalists now more or less refuse to do because it’s hard and they might get called a bad name or something:

As the election year goes on, these kind of stories are going to become a staple of campaign coverage, like watching the candidates try to eat corn dogs in Iowa, flip pancakes in New Hampshire, and pretend to care about baseball in Florida. There is going to be a story like this in every media market. Some ambitious young reporter is going to be assigned to the Old Guy Who Voted In Every Election Since FDR But Who Couldn’t Vote This Time Because Of The New Law beat. There will be pathos. There will be drama. But the fundamental fact that these laws are an organized national assault on the right of the people to elect their own leaders, because sometimes the people elect leadersof whom the rat******s of the organized right do not approve, like Kenyan Muslim Usurpers Of The Alinsky Underground, will get lost in all the pathos and drama. These people will be treated as sob stories, not cautionary tales. They will be used as background election-day “color.” They will be depicted as individual figures of pity and not of what they are: American citizens cheated out of the most precious right they have by a nationwide conspiracy to defraud. See the trees. See the forest, too.

A small quibble: I don’t think it’s “conspiracy to defraud” so much as “conspiracy against rights” as defined in Title 18, Section 241 of the U.S. Code:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same;…

They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

I think “oppress” covers what’s going on here, and given emails that already have been made public, there’s no lack of evidence.

Now, back to Pierce. There are, in order of increasing degree of difficulty, three types of hard-news stories.

There is the event story, such as that of our unfortunate voter.

There is the pattern story, which would note a confluence of similar events.

And, finally, there is the system story, which explains what gives rise to these patterns.

In one reasonably short paragraph, Pierce illustrates how this works. (I won’t say “shows how it’s done” because he makes assertions that, while provable, are not documented in this short blog post.)

The Republicans, given a clown car full of big red noses at the top of the ticket and a nearly unbroken string of losing issues from their economic plans to their drumbeats for war with Iran to their unconscionable defense of Rush Limbaugh to their attempts to ban contraception and shrink government enough to turn it into a transvaginal probe, know that there are only two ways to win in November: outspend their opponents overwhelmingly via the mechanisms made possible by Citizens United v. FEC, and keeping the other side from being able to vote. And if you have to break a few state and federal laws to do it, well, screw the Constitution, we’ve got an election to win.

There have been some encouraging developments along this front, but this was is not over and the good guys — by which I mean the people who believe that every eligible American citizen who wishes to vote should be enabled to do so and not frustrated by government efforts — will not stop.

Let me offer one last bit of systems reporting, or analysis of other people’s reporting, bringing in a topic that might appear mostly unrelated.

There has been a movement afoot among some conservatives lately to repeal the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to ensure that states that had been the most egregious offenders against minorities in the Jim Crow era didn’t act with respect to voting and elections in ways that would unduly burden minorities. One attractive argument for repeal is that we’re now in a “post-racial era” in which the sins of Jim Crow have been expunged.

But as the effort to enact photo-ID requirements for voting gains steam, it is clear that Jim Crow has not left the building: Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately less able to obtain photo ID of the type some states are requiring, and requiring people to pay for. (So are the very old, the very young, the disabled, those who do not or cannot drive, ex-offenders who have had their citizenship rights restored, and other groups, all of whom share a tendency to vote disproportionately for Democrats.) Not only does requiring people to pay to get ID suitable for voting violate Supreme Court rulings banning poll taxes, it also violates the Voting Rights Act, which bans not only the intent to discriminate against minorities, but even measures that have the unintended effect of disproportionately harming minorities.

That’s why Republicans, particularly, want to repeal the Voting Rights Act: Repeal would allow them to use the most potent weapon they have to suppress the votes of people who are unlikely to vote for them. They know damn well that racism hasn’t gone away, but that’s almost beside the point. The point is that they’re trying to prevent people from voting who almost certainly will vote against them. (The claim that voting fraud is a substantial problem in the real world, for which photo ID is a practical solution, is a canard. In the real world, vote fraud is vanishingly rare, in part because of the enormous personal risk relative to the reward.)

When people engage in this kind of behavior in almost any other realm, we call it cheating. In elections, we call it a federal felony and assign a significant, meaningful punishment. It’s long past time we started punishing people.

Friday, February 10, 2012 7:20 pm

The REAL voting problem — vote suppression by the GOP — by the numbers

If you’re a regular reader, you know how I feel about voting and the bogus “voter fraud” spectre being raised by the GOP. I’ve argued, to varying degrees of belief on the part of my readers, that the real problem isn’t voter fraud — that is, someone casting a vote he is not legally entitled to cast, by virtue of his not residing where he votes or by virtue (?) of his posing as  an existing eligible voter or by virtue of using an entirely fictitious identity.

Rather, I’ve argued, the real problem is that the Republican Party, apparently believing it cannot win an honest election, is doing everything it can to prevent legally eligible voters from voting, using “voter fraud” as an excuse for measures, such as requiring photo I.D. (an unconstitutional poll tax under another name, as more than one court has found), that it knows will make voting harder for certain large populations — the elderly, very young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, those who do not or cannot drive, and ex-felons — who tend to vote disproportionately for Democrats.

It’s an anti-get-out-the-vote campaign. It’s illegal and it’s unconstitutional (and arguably a federal crime), but the Republican Party and a good bit of our mainstream media are treating it as simply one more debatable notion in the era of postmodern law and politics.

Unfortunately, here in the real world, facts still matter, valid data still matter. And David Rothschild, an economist for Yahoo! Research (and, boy, doesn’t the phrase “an economist for Yahoo! Research” tell you how much the world has changed) with a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business, tells us that those data show that Republicans, on this issue as on so many others, are full of crap:

Based on the most conservative estimates, then, we can estimate that voter ID laws could disenfranchise between 10,000-500,000 eligible voters for every 1-100 blocked fraudulent votes. Here’s how I get there:

It may seem like a government-issued photo ID isn’t so much to ask to cast a vote—after all, you need one to drive, get on a plane, or have a beer. The fact is that many eligible voters do not have the right documents under new or proposed laws. The right-wing Heritage Foundation trumpets a paper that claims that only 1.2% registered voters lack valid a photo ID. That may seem low, but nearly 130 million votes were cast in the 2008 presidential election, so that would translate into roughly 1,560,000 voters. The Heritage Foundation’s estimate is the lowest I could find. In 2007, the Georgia Secretary of State estimated 198,000 registered voters there did not have government issued photo IDs and in South Carolina, 200,000 registered voters do not have a photo ID that would be valid for voting under the proposed law, according to the state election commission. That translates into roughly 4-5 percent of voters for Georgia and 8-10 percent of voters for South Carolina, based on 2008 registration and vote totals.

Those eligible citizens who do not have a photo ID tend towards the more disenfranchised citizens:25% of African-Americans have no photo ID, 15% of people earning less than $35,000 have no photo ID, and 18% of the elderly have no photo ID. This represents millions of citizens in each category. Such laws also penalize college students since many of these laws require in-state photo IDs, which prevents college students from voting at their college if they attend from out-of-state.

Voter ID laws do not stop people who have fraudulently registered as themselves. The vast majority of these cases are people who believed themselves to be eligible, notably felons that do not know they are ineligible to vote in a given state. States that bar felons, such as Florida, have traditionally been so vigilant in blocking felons that thousands of eligible voters have been inadvertently purged from the voter rolls in the state’s fixation to ensure that felons do not vote. Nor would these laws stop non-citizens from voting as themselves. (Even so, investigations have found voting by non-citizens to be extremely rare; a study of 370,000 votes cast in Milwaukee from 1992-2000 showed 4 votes by non-citizens.)

The main voter fraud that photo IDs would stop, then, is that of a person voting in lieu of another registered voter; this is likely someone who has died, as it is otherwise hard to estimate when a live registered voter will not be voting. Again, studies have shown very few votes by dead people in recent election cycles; this study by the FBI showed that all 89 dead voters in a Maryland election died after they voted. Many other presumed dead voters are caused by clerical errors on death certificates.

(snip)

So here’s the question: if the most conservative estimates are correct and 10,000 eligible voters are disenfranchised so that 100 non-eligible votes can be stopped, do you think that that is a fair deal for democracy?

That’s a good question. Let’s rephrase it:

So here’s the question: if the most conservative estimates are correct and 10,000 innocent people are executed so that 100 murderers can be stopped from getting off scot-free, do you think that that is a fair deal for democracy?

But wait, you say, voting and murder aren’t the same thing, and not getting to vote isn’t like being wrongly executed!

In terms of the consequences, of course, that’s absolutely correct.

But in America, we consider the right to life, absent due judicial process, to be fundamental and absolute. Guess what? We think exactly the same thing of the right to vote. Just as Americans have died over the centuries to protect their fellow citizens’ lives, so, too, have Americans died — and not just in the Jim Crow South — to protect the rights of their fellow citizens to vote. The right to vote is a Big Damn Deal and the closest thing to settled law, outside the realm of life and death, that this country has. Indeed, given our constitutional transgressions post-9/11, you could argue it is the most settled point of constitutional law.

So why are the Republicans doing what they’re doing, besides the tactical fact that if everyone who is eligible to vote does so, they’re going to lose a lot more than they’re going to win?

Because, philosophically, Republicans who support these voter-suppression efforts do not believe that every citizen has the right to vote.  And whatever else you want to call that belief, you need to call it what it is: un-American.

Monday, December 5, 2011 8:02 pm

Quote of the Day, democracy edition

From Digby at Hullabaloo, a better political analyst than anyone now working for The New York Times or Washington Post:

Both parties are woefully corrupt and inept, but only one of them is engaged in systematic vote suppression. It doesn’t make the other side heroes, but it does show one important distinction between the two.

When the Republican Party is running around trying to keep legally entitled people from voting, I think it’s fair to ask why they hate freedom and why they hate America.

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