Tag Archives: voter suppression

‘Election Integrity’ Commission Eliminates Middleman in Giving Trump, Republicans Tools to Steal Elections

Trump’s “Election Integrity” commission should be less focused on whether there were 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes cast, than how Russia – and any future cybercriminal – hacked 39 states’ election rolls. The fact it isn’t, points to its true purpose. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

While everyone was obsessing over the latest Trump twitter outrage, his administration was moving forward with the latest assault on democracy and American rights. His Orwellian-named  “Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity“  (which is anything but), otherwise known as the Voter Fraud Commission, sent out a letter signed by Kris Kobach to every state’s election official “requesting” (since the commission has no real authority or power) their entire voter database, including party registration, a decade’s worth of voter history, address, partial social security number, birthdate, military service and felony convictions, and whether  the voter is registered in more than one state.

Indeed, Secretaries of State, be they red, blue, purple or green, are horrified at the notion of transmitting this information, which, contrary to Kobach’s claim, is not “public.” Moreover, there are “protected classes” such as victims of domestic violence, whose private information is shielded. Louisiana told the commission to “jump in the Gulf”; Kentucky’s said “there isn’t enough bourbon” that would make her deliver this information.

But Kobach’s “request” sounds less like an effort to find out whether our elections are honest and fair, versus a data mining operation for Trump and the Republicans so that they can expand upon their tactics of the 2016 campaign – focusing on fake news, social media trolling in pinpointed districts where just a small nudge could tilt the balance in their favor- which is why a mere 70,000 votes across three states trumped a loss of 3 million popular votes for Hillary Clinton nationally.

That is what is at the heart of the Russia collusion investigation – and what Kobach and his commission, if he is really interested in “election integrity” should be examining, but clearly they are not, because Trump was the beneficiary and because it contradicts his claim of a “mandate” to unleash his ultra-rightwing agenda.

And what if they find that there are 5 million or even 10 million people who have registered in more than one place – like Ivanka Trump and Steve Bannon – or that there are 1 million “dead people” still on the rolls? Unless they voted twice or if a dead person sent in an absentee ballot, they did not alter the result.

What is more, Kobach is demanding this data be sent over unsecured email servers, an engraved invitation from this inept administration for malevolence, when even government agencies as secure and cyber-sophisticated as the NSA, Pentagon, Office of Personnel Management, the Secretary of State’s office, indeed the election rolls of 39 states, have been hacked.

The cyberattacks are getting more and more dangerous, moving closer and closer to infrastructure – like shutting down utility plants, the power grid, air traffic control, rail switching stations, and yes, voting  databases and machinery. Putin’s goal was to foster suspicion in the democratic process – and he succeeded beyond his wildest imagination, helped by candidate Trump’s constant claims of a “rigged election” and urging his minions to strongarm their way into polling places to make sure that “those people” don’t vote (which had the strategic effect of preventing Democrats to scream “foul” afterward, since they had already made pronouncements that the elections were fair).

The states’ election machinery – made worse after the “Help America Vote Act” that followed the 2000 pregnant chads controversy – is woefully inadequate, and was even in 2004 when Walden “Wally” O’Dell, CEO of Diebold, the black box manufacturer promised to deliver Ohio to George W. Bush, and he did (see story)– and if the NSA, Pentagon, banks, utilities could all be hacked, why would elections not be?

The argument here is that elections are so decentralized, the results could not be altered sufficiently. In the first place the weak link is where the various election districts electronically send their results to a single center for tabulation. And the 70,000 versus 3 million vote tally which gave Trump the White House is proof enough that the argument that decentralization is what protects the sanctity of the democratic process is specious. (See: Russian hackers’ election goal may have been swing-state voter rollsRussian Hacking on Election More Widespread Than ReportedElection Hackers Altered Voter Rolls, Stole Private Data, Officials Say)

There is something wrong in America with voter turnout rates of 60% in the presidential election (higher than 2012, as it turns out, but less than the 62.2% that turned out in 2008) as controversial and consequential as 2016. (And how much of that was voter suppression or outdated voting lists?)

States that made it easier to register to vote had higher turnout – such as Oregon, Connecticut, Alaska, Vermont and West Virginia, where eligible citizens who interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles are automatically registered to vote. Similar laws are taking effect in California and Colorado. No wonder Republicans will use the commission to find an excuse to roll back the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the motor-voter law, which has registered millions of voters, as Richard Hasen writes in Slate, Trump’s Voter Fraud Endgame.

In Oregon, automatic voter registration added an extra 225,000 people to the rolls; in Wisconsin, which Trump “won” by a mere 25,000, voter suppression tactics reduced turnout by 200,000.

Kobach’s “election integrity” commission is about voter intimidation, on top of the voter suppression tactics that Republicans have put through in the states they control, because Republicans realized long ago that low turnout favors their candidates. The problem isn’t over voting, it is under-voting – and this is exactly how the data that Kobach is mining could be weaponized. There are already enumerable examples of Republicans committing election fraud.

Instead of the non-existent voter fraud issue – 44 instances out of more than 1 billion votes cast between 2000-2012, a rate of 0.0000044% – there needs to be reforms made to voting, which though a function the constitution leaves to the states, should still include federal minimal standards for access to voter registration and polling places (to satisfy the 14th Amendment providing for Equal Protection as well as the 15thAmendment, the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged)  – where located, people served, hours of opening, minimal number of voting machines per voters, provisions for early voting and absentee voting; requirements for security for electronic, black-box voting devices, back-up paper ballots and auditing after each election, as well as requirements for mandatory hand recounts if the margin is 1% or less; a requirement that when a person is “purged” from voting rolls, a letter be sent informing them, with a remedy for correcting the record; making tampering with voter registration, rolls or elections, including giving fraudulent information about voting places, hours, accessibility a felony crime; and yes, a provision for nullifying an election which has been demonstrated to have been substantively tampered with.

Also,  a reason why young people do not vote in the numbers they should: they are too fearful of breaking a law if they vote absentee in their home districts after having moved to a new place for a job. And moved. And moved again. There needs to be clarification of rules allowing people to vote where they were last registered, or regularly vote, and provisions that require people who have not voted in a district for, say, 10 consecutive years, to reregister or be removed.

On this July 4th, even Trump supporters should be standing up for the basic principle of a government established for and by its people. Which means promoting voting, not suppressing it.

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

To Get to a More Perfect Union, Reform Electoral College, Promote Access to Ballot Box

Electoral College reform and a greater federal role in setting minimum national standards for access to the ballot box are necessary to insure that Americans get the president who reflects the will of the majority in a free and fair democratic election © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Electoral College reform and a greater federal role in setting minimum national standards for access to the ballot box are necessary to insure that Americans get the president who reflects the will of the majority in a free and fair democratic election © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

There is no question that the will of the majority was thwarted in the presidential Election of 2016 – but if ever there was a time when the Electoral College should have proved its purpose, it was this election.

Instead, the Electoral College demonstrated the worst of all anti-democratic worlds: denying the popular will while also enabling the exact sort of candidate that Alexander Hamilton described in justifying the Electoral College: so “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” and to prevent a “desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils”. Trump fails on all accounts.

And here, you have not only Hillary Clinton receiving nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump – the most in history for any candidate who did not go on to win the presidency – but you have clear evidence of foreign manipulation (the Russian hacking, very possibly with collusion by the Trump campaign), fake news, not to mention voter suppression (interesting that every battleground state where Clinton lost was also where Republican legislators had imposed measures designed to suppress the vote of groups inclined to vote Democratic; in Wisconsin, 300,000 registered voters lacked the photo ID necessary to cast their ballots. Indeed, two weeks after the election, a federal court struck down Wisconsin’s legislative map as illegally partisan. And,  “on Election Day, there were 868 fewer polling places in states with a long history of voting discrimination, like Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina,” (www.thenation.com/…)

The result was that Democratic-leaning voters had hours-long waits which many could not afford. And then there was the call-out by Donald Trump for vigilantes to police “you know which” neighborhoods. Turnout was affected. Indeed, despite historic levels of engagement in Election 2016, the number of votes cast in Ohio was down 1.1% and down 4.0% in Wisconsin – more than the margin of victory for Trump. That’s the art and the science of voter suppression, which was the primary strategy for the Trump campaign.

But instead of serving properly as a check-and-balance, everything that is undemocratic and archaic about the Electoral College (devised to give disproportionate power to slave-holding states and small rural states) was in play. As a result, a single voter in Wyoming is worth 200 times a voter in California, rendering this country’s notion of “one person, one vote” and “equal justice” a fraud.

(Why is it that only rural, white Middle Americans are considered “Real Americans,” but coastal, urbanites, professionals, college-educated people are considered “elites” not deserving of a say in their governance?)

Its malfeasance justifies the rising calls to abolish the Electoral College altogether – which would require amending the Constitution which is unlikely. Instead, there are calls to dramatically reform it to more properly address 21st century America, through changes that the states can make to the regulations that bind their Electoral Voters, now termed “faithless” if they vote against their state’s popular vote.

The predominant reform is for states to join the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact would require participating states to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote. It wouldn’t take effect until enough states joined in to add up to the 270 electoral votes required to elect the president– ten states and the District of Columbia have already signed on, totaling 165 electoral votes.

If the compact were in place, Hillary Clinton, who received nearly 3 million more popular votes than Donald Trump, who only won the Electoral College by winning the slimmest of margins (less than 1%) in a few battleground states (amounting to about 70,000 votes altogether, the result of concerted voter suppression actions by Republicans), would have been President.

But this election also demonstrated how easily even a 21st century populace can be manipulated by fake news, social media and a populist snake-oil salesman, not to mention the possibility of hacking the election architecture. Indeed, it would seem that the Electoral College does have a purpose as envisioned by the founders of the Republic, as a check on populism.

Still, there are ways to make the Electoral College more democratically representative, while still functioning as a “check and balance.”

First, there needs to be an end to “winner take all” which basically erases the votes of millions of voters. Instead, states should apportion their electoral votes based on the popular vote in the state. That would be a much more representative method and more efficiently make each state and each person’s vote count.

During this election, we kept hearing how discouraged and disaffected those who would vote for third-party candidates, and their complaint that the two-party system is what is so detrimental to a true democracy. But multiple candidates virtually guarantee that the winner does not represent the majority, as is clear in 2016, where the scant votes for Jill Stein in Michigan gave the state to Trump, putting him over the Electoral top despite winning only 46% of the national popular vote.

So the second element is to allow the lowest vote-getting candidates to give their Electoral Votes to one of the top two candidates.

Another idea which would be very possible in the age of sophisticated electronic voting, is for “second choice” weighting, and if no candidate gets 50.1%, then a run off of the two top vote getters (as is the case in some primaries).

The end to “winner-takes-all” and allocation by popular vote in a state could not happen until virtually all the states (and not just Blue states or Red states which have voted for a Democratic president) have approved the policy.

Federal Government Needs to Guarantee Minimum Standards for Voting

It may surprise people to realize the federal government has no authority over elections, which are controlled by states – even within states, counties may have different rules (so much for Equal Protection). Indeed, the Constitution does not actually provide a right to vote at all, and the Roberts right wing Majority on the Supreme Court did its damage to remove what oversight the federal government had when it eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

There needs to be a new Voting Rights Act that protects the essential principle of one-person, one vote and the federal government, under the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, should have the ability to establish minimum standards for access to the ballot box. It should protect more than racial discrimination, but should acknowledge partisan discrimination as a threat to the spirit and essence of democracy.

What else is needed to reform a weakened election system in these days of technological sophistication, a sprawling and diverse voter population, and the huge stakes to controlling the political reins of power? Here are more ideas:

  • An end to partisan-control of drawing district lines; standards that affirm – as the Voting Rights Act did – that districts have to be contiguous and make sense
  • And end to partisan control of state elections (like Katherine Harris, Secretary of State in Florida 2000 and also the chair of George W Bush’s campaign who purged voting rolls of 20,000 people and did all she could to insure Gore never got a fair count)
  • Requiring notification to every voter before an election confirming their registration, voting place and hours, and if a voter has been removed or purged or changed for any reason, timely notification with a process to challenge
  • A standard to allow voters to vote where they were last registered
  • To address the very real possibility of hacked black-boxes, require a paper trail and mandatory audits of a certain number of voting places to confirm the veracity
  • Minimum national standards for where polling places can be designated, how many voting machines per voting-age population, minimal number of hours open, early voting days, including spreading voting to the weekend before Election Day, and making Election Day a national holiday
  • A requirement that if a voter moves and re-registers, that notice be sent back to the prior voting place to be removed
  • Clearer, more uniform regulations about where people can vote if they are in college or have moved (for example, allowing people to vote by absentee at the last previous registered place)
  • Automatic sending of voter registration materials upon 18th birthday
  • Establish criminal penalties for interfering with voting, whether fraudulently telling people the wrong date, time or place to vote, ripping up voter registrations or interfering with voter registration; penalties for states that impede voter registration such as failing to process registrations in a timely way
  • Restore reasonable controls on spending – by wealthy donors and corporations – eliminate SuperPacs, pass the DISCLOSE Act, overturn Citizens United
  • A new Voting Rights Act that goes beyond racial discrimination but includes any type of systematic discrimination to dilute “one-person, one-vote”
  • Constitutional amendment that affirms the right to vote (the Constitution doesn’t actually provide it now)

None of this will happen because the Republicans have realized they can keep power without ever having to worry about the demographic shifts and pesky things like needing a majority. Putting a gate at the ballot box has worked very well.

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin