The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — At Noble Prentis Elementary School, a classroom is crammed with 31 students and all their backpacks and books. Last year, the fifth-grade class had just 17 students, but a teaching position was cut when the school ran short of money.

The school nurse, who comes in only twice a week, freezes kitchen sponges to use as ice packs because her budget is too small for her to buy any.

Schools have always had to fight for more funding, but Noble Prentis’ problems were exacerbated during the recession when state budget cuts left schools, like many other public services, foundering. Now, the state’s general fund revenues are up $150 million since 2008, but Kansas officials are in no hurry to restore spending cuts the economic downturn made necessary.

It’s not just Kansas. Conservative legislators committed to the idea that smaller government works best are passing tax cuts that they say help stimulate the economy. They are moving to make recession-era budget cuts permanent.

Even some Democratic governors, stung by the painful cutbacks of the economic downturn, are hoping to rebuild reserves: Governor Jerry Brown has proposed that California’s surplus go to a rainy day fund, while his fellow Democrats are calling for the state to restore services.

In Ohio, the legislature eliminated mandatory full-day kindergarten in 2011 and cut state money for local government funds, which help pay for police and fire services, by $1 billion — a decrease of 50 percent. Wisconsin slashed the amount of money available to local governments. Oklahoma’s governor this year has proposed trimming state agency budgets by 5 percent, while also suggesting a tax cut.

“Some states are choosing to make reduced services the new normal,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Funding per student in Kansas schools is 16.5 percent lower than it was during the recession, according to Leachman’s organization. State support for libraries, health services and community corrections is also down, all by more than 10 percent. Kansas state and local governments employ 5,700 fewer people than they did in 2008.

Sara Belfry, a spokeswoman for Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback, said in an email that the governor came into office when the state had $876.05 in the bank and a projected deficit of $500 million. Brownback “made it a priority to streamline and make government more efficient while protecting core services like public safety and education,” she said.

Under Brownback, Kansas has put money back in taxpayers’ pockets. His administration points out that, among other things, the state ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of its budget committed to education. (Kansas ranked 33rd in the nation in per-student spending in 2012, according to the National Education Association.)

“A decade of higher taxes, more spending and bigger government failed to deliver prosperity,” Brownback said in his state of the state address this year. But now, he said, “Simply put … the government is back in its proper place –ed serving the people.”

But smaller state government has failed Kansans in some corners of the state.

Saline County in central Kansas lost more than $1 million in state funding and lacks enough money to maintain the roads, so it closed 20 bridges, forcing residents to drive farther to get to their destinations.

In wealthy Johnson County, the director of the health department says staff cuts mean the department can’t respond as quickly to disease outbreaks.

And in Shawnee County, where the coroner’s budget was cut by more than half in 2011, there is only one forensic pathologist left. If the coroner, Donald Pojman, goes to a meeting or is out sick or on vacation, bodies are held for days before an autopsy can be performed.

“I’m really behind in getting these autopsy reports out in a timely manner — and I used to be very efficient with these,” Pojman said. “But we went from a daytime staff of 15 down to four, and now I have to do the autopsies and the paperwork and coordinate with law enforcement and the courts.”

The governor’s office says that Brownback has streamlined government and encouraged business creation: About 13 percent more businesses were created in 2013 than in 2011.

Not surprisingly, whether states revert to pre-recession spending levels depends primarily on the party in power. Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center, points to several states that elected Republican governors in 2010 — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin — as examples of the philosophy of lower spending.

“For a lot of these actors, the budget cuts and the fiscal crisis is greeted more as an opportunity than a tragedy,” said Lafer, who studied the issue for the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

Returning money to taxpayers is also a popular prescription in an election year. Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida all face potentially tough re-election battles in November, and many are finding tax cuts politically advantageous. In January, Florida Gov. Rick Scott unveiled what he calls the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget.”

Leachman, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says that state legislatures are also more polarized than they’ve ever been, making it easier for states to follow one political party’s agenda. In 23 states, Republicans control the governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature; Democrats hold that advantage in 14 states.

“States are more able to pursue a policy prescription that isn’t the result of a compromise between both parties,” he said.

Photo: Austinbarrow via Flickr

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

Screenshot from azaudit.org

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template


In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Keep reading... Show less

Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

Keep reading... Show less
x
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}