Go forward

This week we witnessed another 21st century virtual coup in America.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by well over 600,000 votes and by the time all the ballots are counted, it will be a margin in excess of 1.5 million nationwide. Hillary lost the electoral college vote, an archaic institution fashioned by the founders to insulate the making of a president from the democratic will of the voters.

On top of this, the intervention of the FBI in the election just 10 days before voting, and then the finding by the FBI that there was nothing new, announced two days before the election, had a significant dampening effect on voting for Hillary Clinton.

Just 16 years ago, Al Gore won the popular vote for president by a margin of more than half a million votes, and lost the electoral college vote to George Bush. What did that bring us: war, privatization, money for the already monied, stagnation of wages and income, the pulling apart of America. But America survived and we survived. We will survive the Trump years, and rise again.

Most likely, only bad things will happen at the federal level, from health coverage to environmental protection to corporate regulation and accelerated privatization to trampling on workers’ rights and their organization into unions.

What this means for us is that we can progress, we must progress, and we will progress at the state and local level. Election results from Tuesday underscore this. Our minimum wage and statewide paid sick days initiative in Washington won with 59% support.

We must look forward, and we must realize our responsibility to the people of our several states. So already in Washington we have a host of proposals for the coming year. Family leave insurance is of highest priority for the state legislature. We will also be working on compensation for early learning teachers and caregivers, progressive tax reform, higher education affordability and accessibility, health coverage, and a state supplemental social security system to add to federal social security as private retirement plans wither.

Then we have a host of openings and opportunities at the city level, especially in Seattle, including a family allowance and local tax reform.

We don’t have much of a choice, do we? We must go forward, or we must go forward. I would suggest we go forward, for the well-being of our people and our democracy.

I-1464 would put campaign cash in voters’ hands

State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner, made it into the political news recently. The FBI has been looking into her campaign fundraising.

sold-870x490

Image courtesy of Integrity Washington

What is strange is that Sen. Roach has said out loud what everyone walking the halls of the state Capitol knows: There is an intimate connection between campaign contributions, lobbying and legislators’ decisions on bills to support and to oppose. But our elected legislators are not supposed to publicly acknowledge these connections.

In 2014, Sen. Roach was campaigning for re-election. She was opposed by a fellow Republican, then-state Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw. Roach was trying to raise money for her campaign. By email, she reminded the Spokane private utility company, Avista, that she’d just been appointed to a legislative energy-policy advisory committee. Sleazy? Absolutely! Stupid? Yes. But, when these sentiments remain unspoken, absolutely commonplace.

What are we to expect when campaigns cost more than $200,000? If candidates don’t succeed raising money, they aren’t considered legitimate. So they spend a lot of time on the phone, organizing fundraisers, meeting lobbyists and the heads of political action committees, all in pursuit of campaign dollars. Who wouldn’t be surprised by legislative votes; just follow the money.

In the 44th District there is a real race between John Lovick, Democrat, who is the former Snohomish County executive and Janice Huxford, a Republican from Lake Stevens. Lovick has raised $47,000 and Huxford has raised $57,000. Whose on Huxford’s side? Premera, Regence, Ace Hardware, the Washington Food Industry Association, and the Trucking Action Committee. How about Lovick? The grocery store workers union, the Snohomish FireFighters, the teachers’ union, the state troopers and service employees. Who as a legislator will consider the public good?

How about unopposed candidates? Take for example Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe. He doesn’t have an opponent. Why would he need any campaign funds? But they have piled in, with Altria (Phillip Morris tobacco), 7-Eleven, Anhaueser-Busch, Chevron, the American Chemistry Council, PHRMA, Boeing, and Washington Banking PAC all contributing at least $900. Will Senator Pearson consider the public good of, for example, reining in drug prices, or will he be careful not to disturb the current status quo of the drug corporations and their high prices and profits?

Sen. Roach has merely pulled back the curtain on candidate-campaign contributors-legislative interactions. We don’t like what we see, but it happens all the time.

Is there a solution to this not-so-subtle corruption of public decision making? Yes! An unusual gathering of citizens, including tea party leaders, the League of Women Voters, and Connie Balmer,wife of ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer, are supporting Initiative 1464, the Washington Government Accountability Act.

This initiative will limit donations from lobbyists to candidates to $100. I-1464 also sets up a voucher system, sending three $50 vouchers, called Democracy Credit contributions, to every voter in the state of Washington. As a voter, you decide if you want to contribute these vouchers to a legislative candidate. So instead of begging for $1,000 contributions from affluent residents, candidates would be motivated to request $50, $100 or $150 contributions from regular citizens, and actually give them a reason to make these donations. To be a qualified candidate to receive democracy vouchers, the candidate must receive at least 75 cash contributions of between $10 and $50. If they choose to participate, they cannot accept other contributions to their campaigns, be those from Boeing or Comcast or Jeff Bezos. They cannot contribute more than $5,000 of their own money for their campaigns. Their campaigns are limited to $150,000 to raise and spend. So they can’t buy their elections, and neither can the corporations and their lobbyists in Olympia.

Where does the money come from for Democracy vouchers? Right now, if you don’t live in Washington but you buy things in Washington, you don’t have to pay our sales tax. When my sister-in-law from Oregon comes up for Thanksgiving, or all those cruise boat passengers spend time in Seattle, they buy stuff and it’s all exempt from the sales tax. We pay it. They don’t.

Closing this sales tax loophole will provide the financing for Democracy vouchers. That would put an end to voiced and unvoiced quid pro quo between lobbyists, candidates, elected legislators, and corporations in the halls of Olympia.

Our democracy would actually reflect the will of the people!

Originally published in the Everett Herald »

Should we eliminate the secret ballot?

In April of this year, The Free Thought Project published an article Land of the Free? Harvard Study Ranks America Worst in the West for Fair Elections in which it says

As if further proof could possibly be needed of the sorry state of the American electoral process, a new study just ranked the United States dead last in electoral integrity among established Western democracies.

The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP)’s 2015 Year in Elections report is an independent research project by 2,000 elections experts from Harvard University and the University of Sydney in Australia assembled to examine the world’s elections.

This reminded me of the many articles and books (e.g., by Bev Harris) suggesting widespread election fraud in U.S. elections, especially in Ohio in 2004 and 2008.  Election fraud would be harder if there were a paper trail or other means of verifying vote counting.   I looked at the Wikipedia article on Electoral Fraud, wondering if people had proposed eliminating the secret ballot.   Would you be willing to sacrifice the right to a secret ballot in exchange for a the ability to verify votes?

I edited the section on the Secret Ballot in wikipedia article on Electoral Fraud.  Previously it had said

The secret ballot, in which only the voter knows how individuals have voted, is a crucial part of ensuring free and fair elections through preventing voter intimidation or retribution.It was sometimes practiced in ancient Greece and was a part of the Constitution of the Year III of 1795, it only became common in the nineteenth century. ….

I changed it to say:

The secret ballot, in which only the voter knows how they have voted, is believed by many to be a crucial part of ensuring free and fair elections through preventing voter intimidation or retribution. [49] Others argue that the secret ballot enables election fraud (because it makes it harder to verify that votes have been counted correctly) [50] [51] and that it discourages voter participation [52]. Although the secret ballot was sometimes practiced in ancient Greece and was a part of the Constitution of the Year III of 1795, it only became common in the nineteenth century. ….

(I referred to [49=Why You Should Expect Challenges To Secret Ballots], [50=Consequences of the Secret Ballot and Electronic Voting], [51=Scrap the Secret Ballot], and [52=Abolish the Secret Ballot].)

I believe my edit is valid, because the original wording stated as a fact that “is a crucial part of ensuring free and fair elections.” That’s not a fact. It’s an opinion. It will be interesting to see if someone undoes my editing. In Battle over the facts concerning Chuck Hagel I discuss a previous experience with editing a wikipedia article.

I also edited https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_ballot#Criticism, adding “Some people believe that the secret ballot enables election fraud and so should be eliminated [25] or supplemented with other ways of verifying voting, such as cryptographically secure reciepts. [26] [27]“.

Caucus Integrity 2016

caucus-2016-wide

A caucus is an election style where participants come together in a meeting to first discuss, then vote. The process is more transparent than most U.S. elections because you can see who can vote, who did vote, observe the vote count, and (hopefully) observe the chain of custody. With caucuses, chain of custody has been a weak area. Sometimes party bosses set up procedures to remove chain of custody from public view, and in that way, they can control the outcome no matter how transparent the rest of it is. It doesn’t need to be this way.

What’s meant by “chain of custody” in a caucus? Simple: The count happens two places, first at the local precinct and next at the state where they add up all the local results. If vote counts can be changed as they move from precinct to state, and if this can be achieved without anyone seeing it, you have a chain of custody problem which can create “incurable uncertainty” for election results.

Republican Party chiefs grudgingly admit this happened in Iowa’s 2012 presidential caucus, where results traveling from precinct to the state reporting center got lost, and produced impossible totals (such as more votes than voters) in dozens of locations.1
At first the party bosses announced that Mitt Romney had won; they were forced to reconsider when a false total favoring Romney was flagged from Appanoose County by caucus participant Edward True (true story, name and all). At first party officials “stood by” the false number2; next decided not to comment until further notice3, and finally said they would never know the true result (incurable uncertainty),4 while admitting that, apparently, a different guy won (Rick Santorum).5 Even more egregious chain of custody breaches took place in Maine’s 2012 caucus,6 and Nevada came up with just plain impossible numbers.7

This can only happen if observable chain of custody is missing or delayed. It’s missing when state party officials announce a total without also publishing 100 percent of the precinct results. It’s delayed when election officials claim they won’t release all the parts of the total until days, or weeks, after they announce the total. Of course, because the total is a sum of its parts, you have to know the parts before you can know the whole, so it makes no sense to announce a winner but claim you can’t release precinct results until later.

If you hide the parts and a guy like True says one of them is false, as long as you delay publication of other parts you can still cling to a wrong total by shifting some of the other precinct results around.

ELECTIONS ARE POLITICAL

Political ethics follow a different script than you and I do in everyday life, partly because we don’t hold politicians accountable as rigorously as we should.8 The duty of party leaders is to deliver a win. If obscuring a portion of the process helps deliver that win, integrity loses.

In regular elections software counts the votes, automatically obscuring counting from the public. But caucuses (usually) don’t use software to count votes at precinct level. The only place left to obscure the process is in the transfer from precinct to state totals. Idealistic ethics get picked off like ticks as political players move up the ladder. Moving vote totals from precinct to state levels transfers vote data from the most idealistic participants (local citizens) to the most ambitious, beholden, and pragmatic players (state political bosses).

Election integrity doesn’t need to depend on trust and confidence in someone else’s ethics.

SOLUTIONS FOR CAUCUS CHAIN OF CUSTODY

In 2015, Microsoft announced that it was providing a technology solution for Iowa’s 2016 caucuses, providing both a technology to transmit precinct results and a media center to display them in “real time.”9

That’s a great start but not the whole solution. The Sanders campaign, and probably all the other campaigns, know that and made efforts to address it.

Did Sanders shun Microsoft? Or just set up prudent checks and balances?

Shortly before the caucus, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said that in addition to Microsoft’s technology his campaign had developed their own precinct reporting app. This was reported as “suspicion” of Microsoft, casting the issue in terms of trust rather than focusing on the more essential issues of election transparency and accountability. The Sanders campaign said their parallel method was to check and confirm and make sure precinct results were available timely. MSNBC, however, used the term “suspicious” four times and “conspiracy theory” once in their coverage of the Sanders app.10

Headline: “Sanders camp suspicious of Microsoft’s influence in Iowa Caucus” …”The arrangement has aroused the suspicions of aides to Sanders ” … “During the 2004 presidential election, for instance, there was widespread suspicion on the left about Diebold voting machines.” … “With Sanders supporters already suspicious of meddling from forces they see as hostile to their candidate, including the Democratic Party and corporations, the backup system could help tamp down questions and conspiracy theories.”

MSNBC missed the point and diverted attention away from accountability to trust and confidence. Here’s how MSNBC’s reporting could have been vastly more helpful. Compare:

“The Iowa Democratic Party has always believed in the importance of new election technology, and …  we completely trust the integrity of their staff and the app. — MSNBC reporting, quoting Sam Lau 11

Instead, they could have talked about something like this:

“Everyone can see and check for themselves that votes are counted correctly at the precinct and anyone can compare what they see with what was reported by the state to make sure it matches.”

Or, instead of:

“He has complete confidence in the Iowa Democratic Party, and absolute trust on integrity,” (MSNBC quoting Pete D’Alessandro) 12

They could have said something like this:

“Anyone can videotape the count and take a picture of the results form; anyone can send any of this to their social network using Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, text messages or anything they want, so everyone who wants to compare local results with official results from the state party (or Microsoft) can check and balance to their heart’s content.”

In fact, when Microsoft and the parties say they have developed complex algorithms to detect improbable numbers and impossible scenarios,13 that’s nice but in addition they could do something quite simple: Using everyday technology, precinct officials can take a picture of their signed, witnessed results form and send it along with their typed-in results. This requires no fancy mathematics and can resolve problems  immediately. Which calls into question why 48 hours is needed. According to John McCormick or Bloomberg News,  “The state parties have also put in place a plan to get all the paperwork from the precincts to Des Moines within 48 hours of the caucuses, should a speedy auditing be needed.”14

A “speedy auditing” should always be done, whether the race is tight or not, and there is no reason it can’t be done on election night. Which calls into question the next statement:

“Once the precinct figures are approved by the state party, they’ll be posted online in real time for the public to follow. …  The parties and political observers may have an easier time tracking the caucus result thanks to Microsoft’s technology, but that doesn’t mean we’ll know the Iowa winners on February 1.”15

Why not? With all the technology Microsoft is putting into this, and all the money behind the U.S. presidential race, why can’t we just get it right on election night? Maybe we need Apple iPhones instead of Microsoft apps and algorithms.

In the end, elections and caucuses don’t belong to political parties and candidates. They belong to voters. Technology is widely available to all and should be used that way. Indeed, technology can provide a great boost to public transparency and facilitate “speedy auditing” — if political party chiefs truly want that.

NOTES

  1. Jennifer Jacobs: Missing precincts: What happened in each county?, Des Moines Register, 01/25/2012, http://caucuses.desmoinesregister.com/2012/01/26/29049/
    Cerro Gordo County: missing Mason City Ward 2 Precinct 3. “‘All my stuff was in order when I sent it in a sealed box with delivery confirmation. When they opened up that box in Des Moines and spread it out on the table, I can’t verify what happened down there.’  County GOP Chairman John Rowe said he personally organized all the paperwork, a 12-inch stack, and mailed it himself.”
    Emmet County: missing Precinct 5 EM-ES according to Emmet County GOP Chairwoman Deb Satern, though state party officials reported missing Estherville Ward 2. “She declined to name the chair for the missing precinct….Satern said she has no idea what the vote count was for this precinct. “All my other packets have the ballots in them, but this one does not.”
    Franklin County: missing precinct: Geneva-Reeve. “When the votes were done, the four chairs called (GOP Chairwoman Karen) Zander with the numbers, and she submitted them via the party’s password-protected website.”  But when she mailed the envelopes containing Form E, the results report, to the state she didn’t check to see whether the form was included.
    Lee County: missing precincts Fort Madison 4A, Fort Madison 4B, Franklin-Cedar-Marion, Washington-Green Bay-Denmark. Two results forms were lost. “I don’t know what happened to them,” said GOP Chairman Don Lucas, and neither do the precinct officials. Two results forms were blank. “I didn’t feel it was ethically right to fill it out and have someone else sign it,” Lucas said.
    Pocahontas County: missing precinct Center-South Roosevelt-North Lincoln. Results form was missing because according to GOP Chairman Michael Ryan, the results form did not get back to him. He declined to name the person responsible.– Jennifer Jacobs: Santorum supporters upset that title has asterisk,  Des Moines Register, 01/19/2012, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120120/NEWS09/301200034/1007/NEWS05
    Plymouth County: three large vote changes between caucus night and certified totals, with 185, 144, and 129 votes.

    – Alison Gowans : UNI-Dome Caucus Originally Overcounted Santorum’s Vote, Party Leader Says , Cedar Falls Patch.com, 01/19/2012, http://cedarfalls.patch.com/articles/uni-dome-caucus-originally-overcounted-santorum-s-vote-party-leader-says
    Black Hawk County: UNI-Dome Caucus Originally Overcounted Santorum’s Vote by nine votes
    – Fayette County Contributes to Caucus Confusion , KCMH News, 01/20/2012, http://www.kmch.com/wire/news/00811_Fayette_County_Contributes_to_Caucus_Confusion_073155.php
    Fayette County: More votes than voters – Illyria township reported 54 votes but there were only 5; Oelwein’s third precinct reported 54 votes when it should have been 4, reporting 99 more votes than voters. As for the signed results forms: Four precincts results forms were signed by the wrong person (and the same person).

    – Jennifer Jacobs: Santorum supporters upset that title has asterisk, Des Moines Register, 01/19/2012, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120120/NEWS09/301200034/1007/NEWS05
    Typos discovered in 131 precincts for a sum total of 2,140 vote differences
    Precincts with double-digit errors: 51
    Precincts with errors of 20 votes or more: 33
    Precincts with a vote change of 36 votes or more: 20
    Precincts with errors of 50 votes or more: 11

    – Chad Selweski: SELWESKI: Another reason why Iowa should not go first, Daily Tribune, 01/21/2012, http://www.dailytribune.com/articles/2012/01/21/news/politics/doc4f1b0ee19a758476059268.txt?viewmode=fullstory
    “Results for some precincts came in on pieces of paper other than the official forms. Many forms had only one signature, or the wrong signature; 18 documents had no signatures at all.
    In past votes, among both Republicans and Democrats, the Iowa outcome was reported as official results – in many cases, these were game-changing events. Yet, many days later it was learned that only 70 or 75 percent of the precinct results were reported. In a tight 1980 race between Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, 165 mostly rural precincts favorable to Reagan were never included in the initial tally. It was later learned that 142 precincts never reported their results or didn’t hold caucuses.”

  2. Jason Clayworth: 2 votes, not 22, to Romney in precinct, county says, Des Moines Register, 01/06/2012, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120107/NEWS09/301070034/1007/NEWS05
    Appanoose County: “The issue came to light after Moulton resident Edward True signed an affidavit saying that he helped count the vote at the Garrett Memorial Library in Moulton and that the precinct had two votes for Romney, not 22, as reported online by the state GOP. ..Terri Haub, a Moulton resident who was secretary of the precinct, also confirmed Friday that the count signed in True’s affidavit is accurate. Haub, who works at the Elmer Wood Co. in Moulton, said she checked the numbers twice. .. “We stand by the figures that were presented by the Moulton precinct caucus,” said Lyle Brinegar, chairman of the Appanoose County GOP… State GOP chairman Strawn said, “Out of respect to the candidates involved, party officials will not respond to every rumor, innuendo or allegation.”
  3.   Carol E. Lee, Brody Mullins and Kristina Peterson: Iowa Caucus Totals May Be Shifting., Wall Street Journal, 01/13/2012, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2012/01/13/iowa-caucus-totals-may-be-shifting/
    “An Iowa GOP spokeswoman said she could not comment until the count was complete.”
    Note: However, the Iowa GOP did comment, in the most powerful way, by announcing that Mitt Romney had won the caucus.
  4.   Jennifer Jacobs: Did Romney win Iowa’s caucuses? Definitive answer may never come, Des Moines Register, 01/17/2012, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120117/NEWS09/301170041/1007/NEWS05
    “It’s possible that this year’s certified results will be incomplete, and that Iowans may never know the full outcome.”
  5. Jennifer Jacobs: Santorum supporters upset that title has asterisk, Des Moines Register, 01/19/2012, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120120/NEWS09/301200034/1007/NEWS05
  6. Ethan Andrews: Where’s Waldo? Waldo County mostly missing from official Maine GOP results, Village Soup – Waldo, 02/13/2012, http://waldo.villagesoup.com/news/story/waldo-county-mostly-missing-from-official-maine-gop-results/484636
    Maine: All but one of 18 Waldo communities were given zeros below the name of each candidate, as though no one had voted. “According to Mike Quatrano, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, and the person who issued the press release, the omission of the Waldo County votes was not a typo. … But according to Raymond St. Onge, who organized the multi-town Waldo County gathering, he submitted results of the Feb. 4 caucuses to the party immediately after the event, which was held a week before the deadline. “They had the numbers to count,” said St. Onge, referring to state party officials. “Why they didn’t include them, I don’t know the answer to that.” According to figures supplied by St. Onge, Ron Paul came out the winner among the 18 towns that gathered on Feb. 4 with 43 votes, followed by Rick Santorum with 41.  The Maine Republican Party drew criticism over the weekend for declaring Mitt Romney the statewide winner without results from Washington County (which also went for Ron Paul) and the Waldo County towns.
    Note: In addition, results released by the Maine Republican Party did not add up to their own self.
  7. Spencer Lubitz: Caucus chaos continues: Clark County GOP has more ballots than voters, KTNV News, 02/05/2012, http://www.ktnv.com/news/local/138756459.html
    Nevada: Clark County has more GOP ballots than voters, throwing the caucus process into disarray. In a statement, Michael Chamberlain, the communication director for the Clark County GOP addressed the concerns that there were more ballots than voters.  “I don’t know how that could’ve happened and I am not going to speculate on why that might be.”
  8. Steps to improve how we hold public officials accountable include:
    1. Defining accountability more broadly. Accountability isn’t just adhering to rules and laws. Include also expectations of ethical accountability and moral responsibility.
    2. There are many types of consequences which can increase accountability. Among these:
    – Inquiries, investigations
    – Sanctions
    – Suspension
    – Resignation
    – Impeachment
    – Recall elections
    – Prosecution
    – Vote of no confidence
    – Demand for account-giving or explanatory report
    – Media publicity
    Watchdog groups can help by demanding appropriate consequences.
  9. Dan’l Lewin: Microsoft technology to usher in new era for 2016 Iowa caucuses, Microsoft.com, 06/05/2015, https://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2015/06/05/microsoft-technology-to-usher-in-new-era-for-2016-iowa-caucuses/
    and
    – Microsoft: Press Release: Microsoft to Sponsor 2016 Iowa Caucus Media Center , Iowa Media Center, 08/19/2015, http://www.2016iowamediacenter.com/sites/default/files/iowa-media-center-press-release-081915.pdf
  10. Alex Seitz-Wald: Sanders camp suspicious of Microsoft’s influence in Iowa Caucus, MSNBC, 1/28/2016, http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/sanders-campaign-suspicious-corporate-influence-iowa-caucus
  11. Alex Seitz-Wald: Sanders camp suspicious of Microsoft’s influence in Iowa Caucus, MSNBC, 1/28/2016, http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/sanders-campaign-suspicious-corporate-influence-iowa-caucus
  12. Alex Seitz-Wald: Sanders camp suspicious of Microsoft’s influence in Iowa Caucus, MSNBC, 1/28/2016, http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/sanders-campaign-suspicious-corporate-influence-iowa-caucus
  13. Russell Berman: The Iowa Caucus Gets an Upgrade, The Atlantic, 12/20/2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/the-iowa-caucus-gets-a-much-needed-upgrade/422052/
    “The app is designed so it can’t accept results that don’t add up, and the parties have each developed algorithms to catch suspicious tallies. “They’ll flag results that are wildly off”
    and
    The app will allow “the media, the campaigns, and anyone else to see tallies posted in real time and to drill down to the precinct level for specific results.”
  14. John McCormick: Microsoft Puts Name on Line With Iowa Caucuses Tabulation , Bloomberg News, 01/27/2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-01-27/microsoft-puts-name-on-line-with-iowa-caucuses-tabulation
    “the state parties have also put in place a plan to get all the paperwork from the precincts to Des Moines within 48 hours of the caucuses, should a speedy auditing be needed in the case of another exceptionally close race.”
  15. Emily Cadei: Iowa Caucuses Go High-Tech, Newsweek, 01/08/2016, http://www.newsweek.com/iowa-caucuses-go-high-tech-412958
    “Once the precinct figures are approved by the state party, they’ll be posted online in real time for the public to follow. … The parties and political observers may have an easier time tracking the caucus result thanks to Microsoft’s technology, but that doesn’t mean we’ll know the Iowa winners on February 1.”

Originally published at BlackBoxVoting.org

‘No choice’ state voting needs tweak

Was there an election last week? Well, yes there was, but most people seemed to be more interested in the Blue Angels than participating in our seasonal exercise in democracy.

It’s pretty easy to vote at your own kitchen table, filing in the little ovals with your choices while sipping a cup of coffee, and then putting the ballot in the mail.  So why did most people do what my son did, just let the ballot sit on the counter until it was too late?  Probably because there has settled on our country a certain sense of dispiritedness, disengagement, and dissatisfaction with politics.  So why vote?

This question becomes harder to answer when considering the way our legislative districts are designed.  We have a redistricting commission.  It takes redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature, so that it doesn’t favor one party or the other.  But it hasn’t opened up competition.  The commission, with two Republicans and two Democrats, draws the district lines that favors incumbents of either party, and cuts up the state in a way that cordons off some districts (mainly east of the mountains) to the Republicans and other districts (mainly in Seattle and its suburbs) to the Democrats.  Makes you wonder why bother to vote.

Add to this status quo determination of districts the top-two primary. This system makes it impossible for either Republicans or Democrats to even advance to the general election in some districts.  And that means that our choices as voters are further limited.  Perhaps that’s why voter turnout was 31% of registered voters statewide, and only 25% in Snohomish County.  Compare that to turnout in a comparable election year, 2010, when turnout was 41% statewide and in Snohomish County over a third more people cast their votes than this year.

All this adds up to the fact that in over one-third of all the races for state house and state senate there was no Democratic or no Republican candidate in the primary election.  And because the top-two primary eliminated two more Republicans and one more Democrat from advancing to the general election, all in all over 36% percent of the general election contests will be missing either a Democrat or a Republican.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, has a free ride in the upcoming November election.  So do State Representatives Derek Sanford, D-Mountlake Terrace, and Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline.  State Representative Mike Sells, D-Everett, has only a Libertarian candidate to worry about.

We could say kudos to these already-elected officials.  But it is not as if Democratic or Republican voters don’t exist in these districts with one-party elections.  In Representative Kristiansen’s district, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by 1,000 votes.  In Mike Sells’ district, Obama beat Romney by 12,000 votes, but Romney still received almost 20,000 votes in that district.  So these voters, both Democrats and Republicans, are effectively disenfranchised from voting for candidates who represent their parties and their political beliefs.  So much for multi-party voting in a democracy!

What’s interesting is that it does not have to be this way.  We could create a new system of elections and districts, ensuring that voters’ choices are proportionately represented in the Legislature.  If we were to adopt three-member districts, with the members chosen proportional to the votes for their party, we would have much more fair and indeed democratic representation.  Republicans would get elected in Democratic strongholds like Everett, and Democrats would get elected in Eastern Washington.  For example, if Democrats garnered one-third of the vote in an Eastern Washington district, one Democrat and two Republican representatives would be elected.

Keep in mind that being represented isn’t just about a political party but also about race and ethnicity and gender and how these translate into party affiliation.  With proportional representation, the majority Latino constituents in Yakima and other eastside areas would finally get representation.  Changing the system could also help recruit candidates reflective of the diversity and strength of our citizens, including people of color and women.

Proportional representation gives voters a reason to mail in their ballots.  They would know that their votes would count equally and would result in truly fair and proportional representation in the Legislature. That would be a breath of fresh air for all of us.

Originally published at EOI Online

Systemic injustice threatens democracy

One hundred fifty one years ago today the pivotal battle of the Civil War was fought, as Union soldiers succeeded in holding off Confederate charges on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. If the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment had been overrun by southern troops, the Confederacy may very likely have prevailed in the Civil War, embedding slavery even deeper into the fabric of our country.

I have been thinking about Gettysburg a lot over the past week. Just eight days ago, my 95-year-old father died, after a great and productive life. His great grandfather, Ira Meserve, was a union soldier wounded at Gettysburg, shot through both knees and not discovered until a couple of days later when the dead were being picked up off the field of battle. Ira survived, and our family still has the bullet that brought him down. Ira was one of 46,000 casualties of Gettysburg, including almost 8,000 dead.

President Abraham Lincoln declared, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

And yet, when my father was born, the new birth of freedom for black Americans had been turned back by Jim Crow laws, lynchings, withholding of the franchise, and just plain mean discrimination, fear-mongering, and white-on-black violence.

Fast forward to 1964. Fifty years ago Freedom Summer was launched in Mississippi to attempt to register black citizens to vote. This threat of equality was met by terrorism from the white power elite. Four civil rights workers and three Mississippi blacks were killed, 80 Freedom Summer workers were beaten, 1,062 people were arrested, 67 churches, homes and businesses were bombed or burned.

Freedom Summer was part of the civil rights movement that led us to a new nation, in which racial equality was possible, indeed, the law. But underneath the cover of equality and the seemingly racial blindness of the law, a different reality has emerged. Another layer of disenfranchisement, discrimination, and outright kidnapping of democracy has taken place.

Ronald Reagan signaled the start of this new reality when he launched his campaign for the presidency at a county fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, near where civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. Reagan promised to “restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them.” Welcome back, Jim Crow.

But Reagan was more sophisticated than this. He launched the War on Drugs in 1982, when the country was suffering through a recession and needed a scapegoat. Reagan targeted urban areas with large black populations. He increased the budgets of federal law enforcement by over tenfold, while slashing the budgets of agencies focused on drug treatment and prevention by 80 percent. With a series of Supreme Court decisions, we all lost significant constitutional rights regarding search and seizure, witness coercion, and legal representation. With a focus on drugs, but not drugs more habitually used by whites, the United States ramped up its policing. State and federal prisons now hold over 2.2 million people. Another 4 million are on probation. Almost another million are on parole. Altogether, over two and a half percent of the total population of our country are ostracized into a second-class caste, stripped of rights and responsibilities, and unable to vote. That includes almost one out of every 12 blacks.

The Civil War was a battle cry for freedom, not incarceration. And yet, we live in a country in which we deny six million Americans the right to vote. In Washington state, 30,000 people are incarcerated, 90,000 are on probation, and 8,000 are on parole. Of these, 53,000 are denied the franchise.

We like to think that we rehabilitate criminals, but we don’t. We punish them, we force them into a lower caste, and deny them the right to vote. As we celebrate our independence, we can draw a line from the Civil War and Gettysburg, to the Civil Rights Movement, and on into our own future. We can create a nation that indeed shall have a new birth of freedom, so we can realize a government of the people, by the people, for the people … including all of the people of our great country. It is our arc of history to make.

Via The Everett Herald 

Fact-checking a claim about Koch versus union spending

I signed a petition from Credo Action “urging PBS affiliate WGBH to remove David Koch from the Board of Trustees and Science Visiting Council because of his anti-science positions.”  After I signed the petition, it through up a fund-raising appeal from ActBlue containing the following claim:

The Koch brothers spent over $400 million in 2012—more than twice as much as the 10 largest unions combined.

Their network of shadow groups are pushing a radical right-wing agenda that is anti-healthcare, anti-climate science, and anti-worker—An agenda is designed to prop up big corporations and keep working people down.

I certainly oppose the Koch brothers and their toxic ideology but I’m curious about the highlighted claim, and I think that ActBlue should document such claims on their webpages.

In a HuffPost article Unions Gearing Up To Spend Big In 2012 Elections, it says ” Unions are gearing up to spend more than $400 million to help re-elect President Barack Obama and lift Democrats this election year in a fight for labor’s survival.” That article may in fact be consistent with Act Blue’s claim that the 10 largest unions spent less than $200 million: it’s possible that hundreds of unions contributed to the total near $400 million. Or it’s possible that the HuffPost article is wrong, and the total was less than $400 million.

But an article in The Nation, The Koch Brothers Spent Twice as Much on the 2012 Election as the Top Ten Unions Combined, gives more insight and substantiates Act Blue’s claim. Specifically,

For the last election, Koch PACs spent $4.9 million in disclosed contributions (figures that appear on the chart referenced by Strassel). But they also spent over $407 million on undisclosed campaign entities, which does not show up in the CRP chart.

All NRLB-regulated unions, on the other hand, disclose every outside payment…. The money Koch spends as a corporate entity, as it has in the past, may have gone unreported.

Ask our congressional delegation to support the Voter Empowerment Act

Parallel bills are moving through the US Senate and House, S.123 – Voter Empowerment Act of 2013 and H.R. 12: Voter Empowerment Act of 2013. “To modernize voter registration, promote access to voting for individuals with disabilities, protect the ability of individuals to exercise the right to vote in elections for Federal office, and for other purposes.”

H.R. 12 is endorsed by many organizations, including the National Education Association, the NAACP, Common Cause, Rock the Vote, and the League of Women Voters of the US.

S.123 has 12 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats. Our US senators are not among them. Please call Senators Murray and Cantwell and ask them to co-sponsor the bill.

Senator Patty Murray:  (206) 553-5545 Contact Me – United States Senator Patty Murray

Senator Maria Cantwell: 206-220-6400 Maria Cantwell – U.S. Senator from Washington State

H.R.12 has 176 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats, including Representatives Jim McDermott, Adam Smith, Rick Larsen, and Derek Kilmer. Please phone Rep. Suzan DelBene and Denny Heck and ask them to co-sponsor it.

(People who say there is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans are very wrong:  on this and numerous issues, the Republicans vote against proposals to help the 99%.)

Rep. Suzan DelBene

D.C. Office:
phone: (202) 225-6311
fax: (202) 226-1606
hours: M-F 9-5:30pm
Bothell Office:
phone: (425) 485-0085
fax: (425) 485-0083
hours: M-F 8:30am-5pm
Rep. Suzan DelBene

 

Rep. Denny Heck

D.C. Office:
phone: 202-225-9740
fax: 202-225-0129
hours: M-F 9-6:00pm EST
Pierce County Office:
phone: (253) 208-6172
hours: M-F 8:30am-5:00pm PST
Rep. Adam Smith

MoveOn sent out an email this morning asking readers to start a petition in support of a different bill, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, that would help restore some of the voting protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — protections that were overturned by Supreme Court last year.

Late last week, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced new legislation—the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014—that would strengthen the Voting Rights Act. This bill isn’t perfect but is the best vehicle we have for restoring the rights struck down by the Supreme Court last year. (source)Improving and passing this bill won’t be easy. Already, critics on the right are gearing up to try to kill it, and Speaker John Boehner has yet to commit to bringing it up for a vote.2 Despite the fact that the bill is bipartisan, it’s not guaranteed to pass.

MoveOn members in hundreds of districts across the country have started petitions calling on their members of Congress to cosponsor this important bill. But nobody has started a petition, yet, calling on your representative, Adam Smith, to add his name.

Start a petition to Rep. Adam Smith asking him to cosponsor the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014

If you start a petition, other MoveOn members in your district will help you get it going, and we’ll provide you with extra support. But first someone needs to take the lead by starting this petition.

Given Republican control of the House, these efforts may be symbolic at best.

Update on DoS attacks against Black Box Voting

Thank you for your patience and support as we migrate the huge old website to the “new” Black Box Voting. We identified the perpetrators of the DoS (Denial of Service) attack that permanently shut down our forums. The attack came from a source that turned out to be readily identifiable and to my surprise, is domiciled in the USA. I am researching its corporate parentage and political contributions and I am providing the logs and a complaint to law enforcement authorities.

A second hack targeted our new site. We dealt with that quickly and effectively. There appear to be connections with the second hack and a company owned by one of Rupert Murdoch’s former partners in NewsCorp, the discredited news organization prosecuted last year for illegal phone tapping. A consultant I spoke with encouraged me to turn the information over to the investigative agency in Great Britain handling the NewsCorp case; at any rate, this certainly makes me wonder just how widespread these private corporate invasions are, because the NewsCorp phone tapping scandal involved a large network of targets and was only caught when the dorks wiretapped the royal family. The linkage on the New Year’s Eve Black Box Voting attack is only slightly more ambiguous than the attack on our old forums; it traveled through two steps, the first of which disabled intrusion protection software, the second unleashing a DoS attack.

Frankly, I expected the hacks to travel through an impenetrable jungle of Chinese and Ukrainian IP hosts, but such was not the case. The attacks were readily identifiable and came through specific US and Western European companies, with identifiable timestamps, host IP, and a footprint that stuck out like a big cat on fresh-fallen snow. By all means, if you operate a political or voting rights website, I will be happy to privately share information on how to see if the same characters are bumbling around in your site logs.