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By Ginger Gibson

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (Reuters) – Republican Donald Trump said on Monday he would work closely with NATO allies to defeat Islamic State militants if he wins the White House, reversing an earlier threat that the United States might not meet its obligations to the Western military alliance.

In a policy speech, Trump said he would wage a multi-front “military, cyber and financial” war against Islamic State, although it was not clear how that would differ from the Obama administration’s fight with the jihadist group.

“We will also work closely with NATO on this new mission,” said Trump, whose remarks about the defense organization earlier this summer drew heavy criticism from allies and even some of his fellow Republicans.

Trump said a newly adopted approach to fighting terrorism by the organization had led him to change his mind and he no longer considered NATO obsolete. He was apparently referring to reports the alliance is moving toward creating an intelligence post in a bid to improve information sharing.

While Trump appeared to claim credit for prodding NATO to focus more on the threat of terrorism, the 28-nation alliance has been grappling with the issue for more than a decade. NATO invoked Article 5, its collective self-defense mechanism, for the first time in its history to offer support to the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Trump called for shutting down access to the internet and social media for those aligned with Islamic State, which holds territory in Syria and Iraq. But he said he did not want to detail military strategy because it would tip off potential foes.

“We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism just as we have defeated every threat we’ve faced at every age and before,” Trump said, blaming his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, and President Barack Obama for aiding the rise of Islamic State.

In a speech in the swing state of Ohio, Trump also said that in implementing his call for a temporary ban on Muslims immigrating to the country, he would institute “extreme vetting” and develop a new screening test to try to catch people who intend to do harm to the United States.

As president, he said, he would ask the U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security to identify regions of the world that remain hostile to the United States and where normal screening might not be sufficient to catch those who pose a threat.

The Clinton campaign said Trump‘s plan to have immigrants submit to ideological tests was “a cynical ploy to escape scrutiny of his outrageous proposal to ban an entire religion from our country and no one should fall for it.”

Reading from a teleprompter, Trump said Clinton did not have the judgment and character to lead the country.

“Importantly, she also lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS and all of the many adversaries we face,” he said.

Trump, a wealthy New York businessman whose volatile campaign has alienated some in the Republican establishment, faced a fresh rebuke on Monday as he falls behind Clinton in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

The Wall Street Journal, a leading conservative voice, said in an editorial he should fix his campaign within weeks or step down. Echoing growing alarm about Trump‘s candidacy among many leading Republicans, the newspaper said Trump had failed to establish a competent campaign operation.

‘STOP BLAMING EVERYONE ELSE’

“If they can’t get Mr. Trump to change his act by Labor Day, the GOP will have no choice but to write off the nominee as hopeless and focus on salvaging the Senate and House and other down-ballot races,” the newspaper said.

Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 5 this year, marks the end of U.S. summer vacations and traditionally launches the final phase of the long U.S. election season.

“As for Mr. Trump, he needs to stop blaming everyone else and decide if he wants to behave like someone who wants to be president – or turn the nomination over to Mike Pence,” it said, referring to the Indiana governor, who is Trump‘s vice presidential running mate.

Adding to Trump‘s woes this week was the news, first reported by The New York Times, that the name of his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was on secret ledgers showing cash payments designated to him of more than $12 million from a Ukrainian political party with close ties to Russia.

Manafort denied any impropriety in a statement on Monday. “I have never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia,” he said.

Artem Sytnik, the head of Ukraine’s anti-corruption bureau, confirmed in a briefing with reporters that Manafort’s name appeared on a ledger and that more than $12 million had been allocated as an expenditure, referencing Manafort.

But Sytnik said the presence of Manafort’s name “does not mean that he definitely received this money.”

The Clinton campaign said the news was evidence of “more troubling connections between Donald Trump‘s team and pro-Kremlin elements in Ukraine.”

Trump has spoken favorably in the past of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last month, he invited Russian hackers to find “missing” emails from Clinton’s time as secretary of state, when she used a private email server to conduct government business, although he later described that comment as sarcasm.

The current RealClearPolitics average of national opinion polls puts Clinton 6.8 points ahead ofTrump, at 47.8 percent to Trump‘s 41 percent. Polls also show Trump trailing in states such as Pennsylvania that are likely to be pivotal in the election.

(Additional reporting by Alana Wise, Warren Strobel and Eric Beech in Washington, Luciana Lopez in Scranton and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

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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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Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

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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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