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You can tell a lot about people by studying their priorities.

President Donald Trump is not spending too much time worrying about coronavirus surges and more than 270,000 Americans dead, as Dr. Anthony Fauci offers warnings about being vigilant while waiting for vaccine distribution. You did not hear the president express sympathy for those waiting in long lines for food over the holidays.

Instead, he has played a lot of golf and wailed on Twitter and television, refusing to accept his loss last month to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. Oh, yes, and the Justice Department found time to amend protocols to allow firing squads and electrocutions as a means to execute as many federal prisoners as possible before a new administration takes over.

Trump is also forging ahead with his campaign promise to veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act if changes are not made. There are several items in both House and Senate versions, including on troop movement and, most recently, liability protection for social media companies, over which legislators themselves and the president are still haggling. However, a bipartisan provision that has set Trump off for quite awhile is one that would rename bases and remove symbols from military installations that honor Confederate generals and leaders. This is despite consensus not only from both parties but also from members of the military that it's time to move on and stop fighting this last battle of the Confederacy.

On the one hand, Trump's stubbornness doesn't seem logical. As someone who likes to avoid the loser label — reportedly even hesitating about naming his son after him for fear of how the boy would turn out — why would Trump want to stand up for the losing side in the Civil War?

But then, as the president racks up loss after loss in his futile attempts to overturn the results of a fair election process — in Georgia, in Arizona, in Wisconsin, where a recount he shelled out $3 million for only increased Biden's lead — he has nowhere to go except to his faithful followers, many of whom are still fighting that long-ago war.

Remember how the president defended those marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from the public square? He showed more emotion toward the tiki torch-carrying mob than he ever did for Americans who dared vote for a candidate not named Trump.

It was not about erasing history, then or now, despite the halfhearted arguments to make that reasoning make sense. The war that divided the country and defended an institution that enslaved men, women and children is well-documented; and there are certainly many who fought for the Union and in wars since who deserve the honor of having their names and sacrifice immortalized.

With Trump, it's more about grudges and spite than the history lessons I doubt he ever paid much attention to. It's to please the Proud Boys he instructed to stand by, and the supporters who made a detour during a recent Washington march supporting the president to tear down signs and posters bearing the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Trump's actions now would seem to confirm reports of him calling those who sign up to serve, fight and sometimes die for their country "losers" and "suckers." Does he care less for veterans and military members of today, of every race and gender, than for the traitors of yesterday? It certainly looks that way. The only question is whether Republicans in the Senate will acquiesce once again and try to compromise on something about which there is no shade of gray.

What does it matter, though, especially since Biden has said his administration would surely favor bringing the bases into the 21st century?

Well, history tells us it matters a lot. The South may have lost the Civil War, but it won the post-war narrative, painting its Lost Cause as just and its plantation life —built on torture, rape and cruel exploitation — as the height of genteel living. After an all-too-brief period of Reconstruction that attempted to provide a semblance of equality to the country's citizens, Jim Crow crushed all-American freedoms for African Americans for the greater part of the last century.

In just one example, in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, an elected, integrated city government was overturned in a planned, murderous coup, an event, as described by David Zucchino in Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, that was shocking for its brutality and for how long it remained distorted and justified in the retelling.

Preserving the myth is far from harmless.

Yet Trump is among many who prefer the lie, naming Gone with the Wind, with its rosy depictions of plantation life and enslaved humans, one of his favorite films. That he disliked the thought of the South Korean film Parasite, with its critique of class inequality, winning top Oscar honors this year is almost too on brand for The Donald.

But it would be wrong to laugh at the folly of Trump trying to turn back the clock to an alternate vision of reality, which this time ends with the South, and his own presidential run, emerging as winners.

As the post-Civil War myth of the South as victim rather than aggressor stunted the country's progress, and prevented it from developing the potential of all its citizens, so too does the Lost Cause of Trump hobble a country whose strength comes from embracing an inclusive reality. He and other GOP officials, though blessedly not the ones certifying vote totals in most states doing the counting, have convinced millions that voter fraud, concentrated in cities with substantial Black populations such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Atlanta robbed Trump of his rightful presidential perch.

Sure enough, far too many Republicans who know better are following Trump's toxic lead, and trying to cynically use his delusions to further limit the franchise. Florida Sen. Rick Scott says the 2020 election, with "fraud" that lives only in Trump's head, is cause for new legislation. "We need standards nationwide to ensure voters decide the outcomes of elections — not the courts," Scott said of his VOTER Act.

We've been down this road before, after President Barack Obama's election and after a Supreme Court ruling that invalidated key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. States rushed to enact laws restricting the vote — and we know whose. A federal court ruled North Carolina's bill targeted African American voters with "almost surgical precision."

Trump won't be turned into a winner as his single-minded quest sputters, no more than officers Lee or Bragg or Benning triumphed in their disastrous, damaging and ill-fated war. But the legacy of this new Lost Cause — a country where a substantial minority doubts duly elected leaders as legitimate and blames Black and brown voters for the imaginary injustice — means that democracy is in danger of losing as well.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

CQ Roll Call's newest podcast, "Equal Time with Mary C Curtis," examines policy and politics through the lens of social justice. Please subscribe on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.


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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

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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

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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