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

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In an op-ed for CNN, constitutional law professor F. Michael Higginbotham suggests strongly that President Donald Trump should resign from office.

Higginbotham argued in the op-ed that President Richard Nixon’s resignation in the face of his own impeachment could be seen to represent, despite his grave abuses, “an act of patriotism.”

Nixon “protected not only his own historical legacy but also the country he had taken an oath to serve,” Higginbotham wrote. “Donald Trump should follow suit.”

He continued:

Trump should resign so the country can begin the process of healing. The divisions in the country today are even more corrosive than they were in 1974. That’s why it’s even more important that Trump emulate the best of Richard Nixon, who, in a rare moment of grace, understood he could only weaken the nation he led by focusing solely on himself, and chose the better path.

In President Trump’s acceptance speech of the Republican nomination at the Republican National Convention in 2016, he told the nation, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” While many mocked the hubris behind that claim, at this moment of national danger it is undoubtedly true: Trump alone can spare the nation the painful ordeal of an impeachment trial in the Senate.

While Trump is written about extensively every single day, such calls are relatively few. For all the tumult, investigation, and fierce partisanship Trump’s presidency has produced, it’s produced surprisingly sparse demands for his resignation. Even as Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives, and top newspapers have called for the president’s removal, the other option — the only way a president has actually been ousted from office via the impeachment process — remains woefully under-discussed. And though Democrats have occasionally called for the resignation of administration officials such as Attorney General Bill Barr and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, they seem hesitant to take the same step for the president himself. Instead, they often call on him to stop creating division and “lead” the country.

But “leading the country” is exactly what Trump has repeatedly proven himself incapable of doing.

What’s odd about the relative dearth of calls for is that Trump’s conduct clearly merits it. I’ve argued that calling for Trump’s resignation was the Democrats’ best move since they took the House of Representatives. And if, as many do, you think it’s appropriate for Trump to be impeached or removed, you should probably also think that it would be best if he just stepped down without all the conflict. In fact, it would be reasonable to argue that Trump should resign, but that an ultimately doomed impeachment process is too disruptive for the country. So in theory, there should be more support for Trump’s resignation than there is for his removal.

So why aren’t we deluged with calls for Trump’s resignation? CNN host Chris Cuomo’s response to the Higginbotham piece probably sums up the explanation:

Everyone assumes — almost certainly correctly — that Trump will never agree to resign the presidency. He hates admitting failure, he loves the adulation the office provides, and he fears the potential legal consequences of no longer being protected from prosecution. Nixon was a monster with a devoted base of support, but he realized eventually that it was time to throw in the towel. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a plausible scenario in which Trump does the same — and not just because the Republican Party seems even more devoted to the current president than it was to Nixon. He won’t even admit that his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was far from “perfect,” even though this admission could have helped him.

But the fact that Trump would almost never agree to resign doesn’t mean we should ignore the obvious fact that he should. Ignoring this option lets Trump off the hook for his own responsibilities, and it lowers the bar for the presidential standard of behavior.

Many Republicans have spoken out against impeachment by citing the fact that it will be divisive for the country and create more animosity or tension. By calling for resignation as a potential alternative to impeachment, Trump’s critics could point out that any resulting division from impeachment proceedings is at least as much the fault of the president. Democrats could argue that Trump’s behavior forced them to pursue impeachment, but if he were gracious and cared about the country, he could bring it to a peaceful end.

This reframes the discourse around Trump’s impeachment in a useful way, especially when pressed against Republicans who can’t bring themselves to defend the president’s conduct on the merits. And it exposes and dispenses with the implicit idea that Democrats are the only actors responsible for preserving constitutional government; that obligation falls just as heavily on the shoulders of Trump and the Republicans.

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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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