Democracy dies in daylight, too
September 3, 2019 7:38 PM   Subscribe

With 426 days until the 2020 U.S. Election ( countdown), you may be wondering about the state of election systems around the country. If so, NPR recently provided what you need to know about U.S. election security and voting machines, which can be paired with EFF's 2016 general article on e-voting machines and elections around the world. Meanwhile, as FEC nears shutdown, priorities such as stopping election interference on hold (NPR, Aug. 30, 2019).

The NPR election security article cites a Brennan Center report from May 2019, which sites that
12 states still use paperless electronic machines as the primary polling place equipment in at least some counties and towns (Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas). Four (Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina) continue to use such systems statewide.
FEC shutdown — Democracy dies in daylight, too (Boston Globe, Sept. 3, 2019)
The Federal Election Commission is essentially toast.

Last week, Matthew Petersen, its Republican vice chairman, resigned, leaving the six-member panel with only three members — one person short of the requisite quorum.

“Without a quorum, certain Commission activities will not take place,” said FEC commissioner Caroline C. Hunter in a statement. “For example, the Commission will not be able to hold meetings, initiate audits, vote on enforcement matters, issue advisory opinions, or engage in rulemakings.”

In one of his last actions, Petersen, along with Hunter, also a Republican, stopped the FEC from using its powers as intended. They blocked an investigation into a report that Alexander Torshin (a Russian central banker close to Russian President Vladimir Putin) and Maria Butina used the NRA as “a conduit” to illegally funnel money between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Butina later pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian state. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Now the FEC’s dysfunction is tumbling toward disaster. The regulatory agency charged with enforcing campaign finance laws in federal elections has been kneecapped during a general election season already under a sustained attack by enemies both foreign and domestic.
This doesn't mean the FEC will be shuttered. Could take FEC a while to regain a quorum, but don’t expect a ‘Wild West’ (Rollcall, Aug. 28, 2019)
Even as the Federal Election Commission prepares to grind to a halt on the cusp of the 2020 elections, campaign finance experts say politicians and donors who flout the nation’s political money rules may still suffer consequences.
“First of all, clear violations of the law could get the attention of the Justice Department,” said Rick Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine. “I don’t think it’s quite the Wild West that some people have described.”

The FEC will continue to collect and post online campaign finance records for congressional and presidential campaigns, the agency’s deputy press officer Christian Hilland confirmed in an email. Its staff of 300-some employees will also continue to collect complaints, which a reconstituted commission could take action on in the coming months or years.

Former FEC Chairman Michael Toner, who runs the election law and government ethics practice at the D.C. firm Wiley Rein, said he would not be surprised if the agency is without sufficient commissioners through next year’s elections. The White House has nominated one person, Republican Trey Trainor, to serve on the commission, but the Senate has not taken up his nomination. Nor have congressional Democrats and the White House announced any Democratic nominees.
Wikipedia's page on the Federal Election Commission notes that the chairman and two remaining comissioners in the FEC were appointed by George W. Bush, and all are serving until replaced as their terms have technically expired.
posted by filthy light thief (24 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
More: Rule Proposed To FEC Would Further Constrain Foreign Election Contributions (NPR, August 1, 2019)
The Federal Election Commission is considering proposed new rules to outlaw exchanges like the one that took place when a Russian delegation visited Trump Tower in 2016 to offer Donald Trump's campaign "dirt" on Democrats.

Although U.S. law already forbids contributions from foreigners to American political campaigns, President Trump has said that the meeting taken by his son Donald Trump Jr. and others was business as usual and that everybody in politics accepts "opposition research."

There's a difference, though, between material obtained by specialists working for a campaign and information provided by a foreign government, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub says.
Weintraub signed a notice about the potential new restrictions, submitted by a group of outside petitioners, in the official Federal Register.

"The petition would require any person who receives 'foreign' or 'compromising information,' or is offered any 'foreign' or 'compromising information,' to notify the commission in writing within three days," it said.

The FEC won't take action on the proposal until after the window closes on Sept. 30 for public comment on the proposed new rules.

If the proposal does get voted on by the commissioners of the campaign finance watchdog, it probably won't advance. The agency currently has only four confirmed commissioners (at full strength, it has six). By law, four commissioner's votes are needed for any official action to proceed, a hurdle that in recent years has been high enough to deadlock much of the FEC's work.
As Secret Money Surges In Elections, The FEC Considers A Small Step For Transparency (NPR, June 29, 2018)
The commission, after months of urging by Democratic Vice Chair Ellen Weintraub, wants to develop a transparency rule for political groups that advertise online. The rule would mandate "paid for by" disclaimers, like the ones long required for political ads in broadcast and print media. But the rule would apply only to the relatively narrow category of "express advocacy" ads, which explicitly support or oppose a candidate.
DNC Recommends Scrapping Plans For Virtual Iowa, Nevada Caucuses Over Security (NPR, August 30, 2019)
Security concerns have prompted the Democratic National Committee to recommend nixing a plan that would have allowed Iowans and Nevadans to remotely caucus for candidates next year.

Supporters have long argued that "virtual caucuses" would open up Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential contest, which requires caucusers to physically attend sometimes hours-long events to declare their choice for president.

But upon the recommendations of security consultants, the Democratic National Committee said Friday that it is recommending its Rules and Bylaws Committee reject Iowa's and Nevada's plans when it votes next week.

"There is no tele-caucus system available that meets our standard of security and reliability given the scale needed for the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the current cybersecurity climate," said DNC leadership in a statement.

"For these reasons, we are recommending to the committee that virtual caucus systems not be used in the Iowa and Nevada 2020 caucus processes."

Iowa's caucuses require voters to go out in brutally cold February weather. And because the caucuses take place at set times and set places, people with inflexible hours at work also have trouble attending.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:45 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

None of this is good. Everything is awful. It's all being allowed to go to shit, or being actively encouraged. It's like, forewarned is forearmed, but how do we even arm ourselves against governing bodies using inaction as a means of at least the appearance of corruption if not actual. And shouldn't the avoidance of that appearance be, somehow, tantamount?

He asked bravely in the Trump era.
posted by hippybear at 7:59 PM on September 3, 2019 [22 favorites]

Not voting machine related, but : good news from North Carolina:

North Carolina’s state court delivered Democrats a big win Tuesday, ruling the state’s legislative district map unconstitutional, and paving a path to undo years of Republican gerrymandering in a traditionally competitive state.

In a 357-page decision, a three-judge panel ruled the state’s legislative districts violated the North Carolina State Constitution through “extreme partisan gerrymandering.” The case was brought by Common Cause North Carolina, a nonpartisan group working to end gerrymandering in the state.

posted by thelonius at 8:00 PM on September 3, 2019 [16 favorites]

Behold Pud's new website,
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:05 PM on September 3, 2019 [11 favorites]

Yes but by all means let’s continue to hold up the US an (the?) example of a healthy, functioning democracy where all candidates have a fair chance and everyone has an equal voice, cos that’s totally the system we have
posted by interrupt at 8:13 PM on September 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Behold Pud's new website,

Woah that’s a deep cut.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:59 PM on September 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

The general message board on fc was just concentrated evil. Even before it got colonised by sto****ont it was genuinely horrible.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:38 PM on September 3, 2019

Learn to program in CRM language!
posted by thelonius at 12:01 AM on September 4, 2019

“First of all, clear violations of the law could get the attention of the Justice Department,” said Rick Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine.

We currently have a DOJ that let a rich pedophile ringleader die mysteriously on their watch with zero consequences. I don't think Barr is going to be staying up late to file election fundraising charges against his King.
posted by benzenedream at 1:15 AM on September 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

The Republican Rich Revolution continues. Everyone who's not very rich is screwed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:48 AM on September 4, 2019

A quick google didn't get me a whole much, so I'm asking metafilter: should I be worried about this in Canada, too? We have an election coming up this fall. In the last election I voted by mail so I don't remember what the state of things is here in terms of electronic voting.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:34 AM on September 4, 2019

Some good news: Here in St. Louis County the local government recently approved a move to new voting machines that print paper ballots on demand, which are then marked by hand. Some touchscreen devices will be retained for people with disabilities. This replaces the current system under which one could use either a pre-printed paper ballot (always my choice) or a touchscreen that recorded the vote purely electronically.
posted by jedicus at 6:43 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

quaking fajita: A quick google didn't get me a whole much, so I'm asking metafilter: should I be worried about this in Canada, too?

Government of Canada unveils plan to safeguard Canada’s 2019 election
Ottawa, January 30, 2019 – Canada’s electoral system is strong. As we approach the next federal election, we recognize the importance of protecting Canadians from foreign interference, protecting our democracy, and ensuring our next election is fair and free.

Today, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, the Honourable Karina Gould, along with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, and the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, announced Canada’s plan to defend Canadian democracy from threats.

The government is announcing a series of actions across a number of areas that will further strengthen our electoral system. The plan includes four pillars.
  1. Enhancing citizen preparedness
  2. Improving organizational readiness
  3. Combatting foreign interference
  4. Expecting social media platforms to act
It's a Canadian government PR piece that sounds good, though Reuters reported Foreign interference in 2019 Canada election very likely (April 8, 2019)
It is very likely that foreign actors will try to meddle in Canada’s October federal election, with the focus on political parties, voters and candidates, Canada’s electronic signals spy agency said on Monday.

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) did not mention any specific threat from Russia.

U.S. intelligence officials and the governments of some European Union countries have accused Russia of interfering in their elections in recent years, allegations denied by Moscow.

“It is very likely that Canadian voters will encounter foreign cyber interference ahead of, and during, the 2019 general election,” said the CSE, which noted democratic governments around the world were experiencing more cyber attacks.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said last week she was “very concerned” by possible Russian interference in the vote and said there “have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy”.
In short, it sounds like the Canadian government is saying the right things, unlike your southern neighbors, where GOP senators block election security legislation hours after Mueller warns of Russian interference (July 25, 2019).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:02 AM on September 4, 2019

quaking fajita: A quick google didn't get me a whole much, so I'm asking metafilter: should I be worried about this in Canada, too?

It's a Canadian government PR piece that sounds good, though Reuters reported Foreign interference in 2019 Canada election very likely (April 8, 2019)

This interference in the Reuters article is all on the social media and so on side. This particular post is around hacking or tampering with electronic voting systems, which are not used in Canada. We have a national nonpartisan electoral commission, where the US has state and county level controls (instead of one election, there's really effectively thousands in the US once you look at what actually happens on the ground).

And the national electoral commission uses paper ballots, which are much more secure against the kind of tampering this article talks about. While I'm talking about how nice it is to have a national nonpartisan electoral commission, I should mention they do a very good job of making polling places accessible to everybody -- I once had a federal election where my polling location was literally the lobby of my (low income, likely to vote against the government in power) apartment building.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

We also have ballots designed to reduce rejected votes, it’s all black with white circles lined with the candidates name/party mark ONE AND ONLY ONE of the circles in any way you want and you have a valid vote.

We also have much stricter laws about spending during an election campaign and they last one month, even if there’s obviously positioning going on before the campaign.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 12:30 PM on September 4, 2019

Me too, captain. Now I'm grappling with the fact that I'm literally afraid that, upon losing re-election, the POTUS will claim the election was rigged, and incite his base to take up arms. So many signs that he's going to refuse to leave office are so clear.
posted by Rykey at 1:52 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

At this point we should make a plan for what to do when Trump "wins" again amid obvious voting irregularities.

I can already hear Pelosi telling us that looking into voting irregularities would be too divisive for the country and the public just isn't there yet.
posted by diogenes at 2:05 PM on September 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think Hong Kong is our model for action in the event of compromised 2020 elections. It's not clear whether it would work here, but it's clear that nothing else would.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:18 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Way back in the day, either NCR or Diebold (can't recall which off the top of my head) said that they were not able to produce a voting machine that would create a physical paper record of your vote to ensure your vote was counted correctly because they were not able to guarantee there would be no issues in trying to print & pass all of those tiny pieces of paper reliably.

They also make ATMs, by the way. How many times have you been given the wrong number of tiny pieces of paper from an ATM? It seems like they have a pretty bulletproof system of knowing exactly how many they should and have passed along if they're literally money.
posted by radiosilents at 2:23 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

They also make ATMs, by the way. How many times have you been given the wrong number of tiny pieces of paper from an ATM? It seems like they have a pretty bulletproof system of knowing exactly how many they should and have passed along if they're literally money.

One take-away: Your vote is literally worth less than one dollar.
posted by mikelieman at 2:58 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

dollars are things that hold social power. if you receive more dollars, you have more economic power after. votes are things that hold social power. if you receive more votes than anyone else in a particular race, you get the power and responsibility associated with the office you are running for. moreover, your political party gets more leverage over the governance of the country, in proportion to the power you hold through your new office.

in the case of atms, the entity dispensing the power tokens manages the dispenser, and is therefore incentivized to ensure that it doesn’t dispense more tokens than the recipient is authorized to receive.

in the case of voting machines, we often see situations where the organizations receiving the power tokens — the parties that put up candidates for office — manage the machines that dispense the power tokens. a voting machine managed by a partisan elected official is roughly equivalent to an atm installed and maintained by a guild of bank customers, rather than by the bank itself. we can see clearly that banks should tend to distrust customer-managed atms likewise, we should also see clearly that we should distrust elected-official-managed voting machines.

the janky corrupt quality of voting machines when compared to the relative reliability of atms has nothing to do with the relative “value” of a vote and a dollar or whatever. it’s that in the case of voting machines, we-the-people are the bank and we’re letting the customers program our atms for us.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:38 PM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Voter suppression is going to have far more of an effect on 2020 than minute differences between healthcare plans or "electability" or whether somebody sufficiently decries capitalism, but good luck getting anyone to mobilize about it. The left has been dropping the ball on this issue for well over a decade while the Republicans busy themselves with dismantling our democracy, and I don't have a lot of faith that will change before it's too late--if it's not too late already.
posted by Anonymous at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2019

Note: this week's News You May Have Missed linked to this thread (intro) & story #8 is all about racist voter purges.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:18 AM on September 8, 2019

« Older Juke   |   The coming death of just about every rock legend. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments