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The rush to ditch the Confederate battle flag is making the country’s shift in favor of gay marriage look like slow motion. A groundbreaking 2003 ruling from the highest court in Massachusetts was the first to legalize same-sex marriage. In 2011, Gallup reported another first: Gay marriage now had majority support.

If eight years is a sea change in the blink of an eye, the sprint away from the Rebel flag by politicians and CEOs qualifies as whiplash. It was at full speed less than a week after the Emanuel AME church tragedy in which a white supremacist shooter apparently took succor and affirmation from the flag as he laid his plans to murder nine people. “The flag now is owned by him. It’s the flag of the murderer in our time,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a GOP presidential candidate, told CBS.

Everything that has been said about the flag in the past week has been true for the past 150 years. It represents treason and brutality, white supremacy and black bondage. So how much credit should today’s “leaders” get for their sudden bid for distance from Dylann Roof and that flag?

It is tempting to go with a safety-in-numbers theory. Politicians and businesses may recognize a unique moment of opportunity to act on principle without paying a penalty. It’s like speeding at the same rate as other cars when you’re in a long line of traffic. Everyone’s doing it, so nobody’s likely to get a ticket or — in this case — lose votes or customers.

The risk has been high until now. For instance, a Winthrop University poll last November showed 61 percent of people in South Carolina — including 73 percent of whites — wanted to keep the flag on the Capitol grounds. Gov. Nikki Haley, an Indian-American Republican running for re-election that month, called it a non-issue in her campaign. But this week, surrounded by Democrats, Republicans, blacks, and whites, she called it part of the state’s past and said it needs to go. And with that she set off the swarm.

The GOP’s 2016 presidential candidates were first to say they agreed. They were quickly followed by governors and legislators in other states suddenly feeling moved to exorcise statues, flags and license plates. And then came the national and state business communities. WalMart, eBay, Amazon.com, and Sears said they would stop selling Confederate flag merchandise. Boeing, BMW, Michelin, and multiple chambers of commerce in South Carolina fell in line behind Haley. Perhaps most miraculously, so did the state legislature. The state House voted 103-10 to allow debate this summer on removing the flag. The state Senate agreed by voice vote.

Obviously, it would have been admirable for all of this to have happened without the cruel shock of a massacre of innocents, and without the pressure of an early presidential primary in South Carolina. And there were some people who did what they considered to be the right thing long ago — among them former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, who shrank the Confederate battle emblem on his state flag and says that’s the main reason he lost his 2002 re-election bid; and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who moved the Confederate flag to a museum when he was the governor of Florida and reportedly advised Haley on her course in the current crisis.

The lightning reactions of the past few days suggest to me that many people have been uneasy about Confederate flags and symbols for many years. Whatever their reasons, they have seized this moment to act. It didn’t hurt that the same week as the church killings, the Supreme Court ruled Texas does not have to issue Confederate flag license plates. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe promptly announced he would phase them out in his state.

The conversation continues to spread, with Tennessee leaders calling for the removal of a bust of Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol, and a petition filed to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis from the University of Texas campus in Austin. The sudden consensus is that these men, these flags, these emblems, are history. They belong in museums or on personal property. They don’t belong at seats of learning and government, where they contradict our national values and ideals by their very presence.

This discussion is too valuable to quibble about who waited too long and who did not. It’s more than enough that it’s happening at all.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. 

The Confederate and South Carolina State flags fly during a march in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Aliferis via Flickr.com)

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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.

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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.

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