The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

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

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

The Trump campaign filed a legal petition Thursday to stop Michigan’s presidential recount, saying Jill Stein has no chance of winning and no grievance, and there’s no way a hand count can be done before the Electoral College meets December 19.

“Despite being a blip on the electoral radar, [Green Party nominee] Stein has now commandeered Michigan’s electoral process,” said Trump’s petition to Michigan’s Board of State Canvasser. “Indeed, on the basis of nothing more than speculation, Stein asks that Michigan residents endure an expensive, time-consuming recount, and the scrutiny and hardship that comes with it.”

The Trump campaign called the recount an “electoral farce,” ignoring that it has been filed in a state where its candidate leads Hillary Clinton by almost 11,000 out of 4.8 million votes cast, the smallest margin of the final three states that gave Trump an Electoral College majority after election night. (The Green Party is also seeking recounts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin began its recount Thursday, while challenges continue in Pennsylvania as the Green Party is filing local petitions at county election boards.)

“She does not allege, let alone explain, how a fourth-place finisher could be ‘aggrieved’ by the election canvass,” Trump’s petition said, saying candidates must be harmed to seek a recount under Michigan law. “And even if that could be overlooked, Stein’s request would have to be denied because no recount can be reliably competed in the time required by state and federal law” (to meet the Electoral College’s deadline).

Trump’s objection comes just one day after state officials said they would do a full, statewide hand recount of all votes cast in Michigan, beginning Friday, December 2. Because of the filing, the state canvassers’ board, an appointed body that has already pledged its support of the recount, will have to postpone counting until it holds a hearing and issues a ruling within five days. If the recount goes forward, Trump’s objections will have delayed the process up to a week and made it that much harder to complete before presidential electors convene.

“You wonder why they are fighting it so hard,” said Bob Fitrakis, an Ohio-based attorney who was involved in that state’s 2004 presidential recount and has been advising the Green Party in 2016. “Michigan, with its thousands of undervotes [no vote recorded for president] in Democratic strongholds—these people voted the whole ticket but left off Hillary Clinton?”

“They are trying to run out the clock,” he said, saying that same delaying tactic was used in Ohio in 2004 when the Green and Libertarian parties filed for a presidential recount in the state where George W. Bush unexpectedly beat John Kerry, despite media exit polls and other indices suggesting the incumbent president would be defeated.

Stein issued a statement blasting Trump’s petition to stop the recount, calling it a “shameful” and “outrageous” attempt to verify the accuracy, security and integrity of the election.

“The recount in Michigan, which has been driven by an outpouring of grassroots support in the state, will go forward,” Stein said. “The Michigan Board of State Canvassers and Director of Elections has been a model of professionalism in moving this recount forward in an efficient, transparent manner. Yet the Trump campaign’s cynical efforts to delay the recount and create unnecessary costs for taxpayers are shameful and outrageous.”

The Green Party filed its recount petition Wednesday, paying an initial filing fee of $973,250 for the state’s first presidential recount in more than a half-century. That sum may be adjusted upward once the recount is complete. Her campaign paid Wisconsin a $3.5 million fee for a recount in a state where Trump leads Clinton by 23,000 votes. Stein’s statements emphasized that the recount’s purpose is to verify the vote and showcase vote count problems, including the possibility the machinery malfunctioned or was hacked.

“The true costs of this recount are the result of elected leaders who have refused to invest in a 21st-century voting system and powerful politicians who are putting up obstacles in an effort to prolong, undermine and stop this recount,” Stein said. “But as the overwhelming grassroots demand shows—close to $7 million raised by nearly 150,000 people—Americans are hungry for a voting system they can trust, and they won’t let these obstacles get in their way.”

On Monday, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers certified that Trump won by 10,704 votes, or a margin of just 0.22 percent of the total vote. But computer scientists and election experts have raised serious concerns about election results in papers filed for the Wisconsin recount. These include the vulnerability of voting machines that can be breached without detection and have a tendency to misread ballot markings. In Michigan, there were 75,335 under-count tallies—votes that machines did not record as selecting anyone for president—nearly double the amount recorded in 2012.

“America’s voting machines and optical scanners are prone to errors and susceptible to outside manipulation,” said J. Alex Halderman, one of the nation’s leading cyber security experts and a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan who filed court papers supporting a recount.

“Paper ballots, like those used in Michigan’s elections, are the best defense we have against cyberattacks, but that defense is only effective if we actually look at the paper trail after the election,” he said. “That’s precisely why we need this recount—to examine the physical evidence, to look under the hood. A recount is the best way, and indeed the only way in 2016, to ensure public confidence that the results are accurate, authentic, and untainted by outside interference.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues. 

IMAGE: A sample ballot is seen in a photo illustration, as early voting for the 2016 general elections began in North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

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 }}