By Doug Porter
The fourth of July is typically a time Americans have celebrated the success of our great national experiment with democracy. This year, more than ever, I reflected on just how much we as a nation stand to lose as the Trump administration takes us down the road to oligarchy.
The first thing they are coming after is our right to vote. This is not hyperbole. We are witnessing a nationwide campaign of voter suppression led by the executive branch and enabled by their Republican minions in Congress.
And, in the event we are able to make it to our polling places, based on what I believe was a trial run aimed at redefining the political landscape via information warfare, there remains the real possibility of voting being a mere affirmation of the views being thrust upon us.
There is more to this than the oafish creation of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, headed by a Kansas politico whose attempts to purge voter rolls have a 100% failure rate.
Last week, the only federal agency that helps states make sure their voting machines aren’t hacked–.Election Assistance Commission — was defunded by the House Appropriations Committee.
Sam Bagenstos, the former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Obama administration, has recently sounded the alarm over the Justice Department’s intention to sue states not aggressively purging voter rolls.
A Guardian story, quoting San Diego Bernie Sanders organizer John Mattes, features a look into questions concerning whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow in spreading disinformation aimed at discrediting candidate Hillary Clinton.
Mattes believes that the aim of the campaign was to damage Clinton, who Vladimir Putin saw as his arch foe, and then, after the primaries were over, to minimise the number of Sanders voters who switched their support to Clinton in the face-off against Trump.
He was particularly struck by a report on 10 August that formed part of the dossier on the Russian interference campaign compiled by the former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, which quoted an unnamed Trump associate discussing a Russian-driven campaign to alienate Sanders supporters from Clinton.
“He was writing in real time about things I was seeing happening in August, but I couldn’t articulate until September,” he said. Because the Sanders online campaign was so open, democratic and relatively unregulated, Mattes says he now realises: “We basically set ourselves up to be victims of an international cyberwarfare campaign. We were pawns in this but very effective pawns.”
Trump campaign digital consultant, Brad Parscale, has reportedly been summoned to appear before the House intelligence committee looking into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election.
The Senate intelligence committee is carrying out a similar investigation. Sen. Mark Warner has made claims about at least 1,000 “paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia” funneling anti-Clinton misinformation into social media sites during the campaign.
And that’s all BEFORE we get to the White House Commission.
The administration’s electoral review group is headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. In addition to losing four cases brought by the ACLU challenging efforts to restrict voting, his track record includes the conviction of exactly one non-citizen for voter fraud while blocking legitimate 35,000 voters from registering.
The man New Yorker magazine called the source of “the voter-fraud myth,” Hans von Spakovsky was nominated by President Trump to serve on the commission.
From the Washington Post:
Over the years, von Spakovsky has been accused of masterminding widespread efforts to suppress voting by marginalized populations, particularly African Americans and immigrants, who tend to vote for Democrats.
Von Spakovsky argued against renewing the Voting Rights Act while serving in Bush’s Justice Department. Bush later named him to the Federal Election Commission with a recess appointment, but so many senators objected that von Spakovsky eventually withdrew.
The bi-partisan aspect of the group promised by President Trump in his May executive order, turns out to be three county-level Democratic election officials, one of whom told ThinkProgress he’s not entirely sure why he was named the Election Integrity Commission.
One of the members of the White House’s commission, Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Luis Borunda, reportedly resigned from the panel over the weekend.
The commission’s first public act was a letter sent to 50 states asking them to provide sweeping voter data including “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”
There are now 44 states refusing to cooperate with all or part of that request for data. Public officials in both Republican and Democratically controlled states want to know what the commission will do with this information and how it will protect the data from scammers.
Many suspect the Trump administration’s reasons for wanting to compile this information in a national database is so it can double check that voters are not casting ballots in two places, or that non-citizens are registering.
This is regarded as an intrusion into what has normally been the purview of state governments.
And then there are the security concerns, described in a Politico article:
Digital security experts say the commission’s request would centralize and lay bare a valuable cache of information that cyber criminals could use for identity theft scams — or that foreign spies could leverage for disinformation schemes.
“It is beyond stupid,” said Nicholas Weaver, a computer science professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
“The bigger the purse, the more effort folks would spend to get at it,” said Joe Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital advocacy group. “And in this case, this is such a high-profile and not-so-competent tech operation that we’re likely to see the hacktivists and pranksters take shots at it.”
Although the administration has pushed back on these concerns, the lack of security surrounding the methods required for submitting state voter information has specialists “stunned” according to Politico.
“Nothing about this letter appears to take information security into account,” said Matthew Green, a computer science professor and cryptography expert at Johns Hopkins University. “If I didn’t know this letter was real, I would assume it was a clever spearphishing campaign.”
In Kansas, Kobach created a mini database of the sort he reportedly wants to be rolled out on a national scale. He has been repeatedly sued–and lost– under the premise that instead of rooting out voter fraud, he has instead kicked innocent people off the voting rolls.
This latest obsession with voter fraud goes back to claims made by President Trump that millions of people cast fraudulent ballots in the 2016 general election.
White House officials have reacted negatively to news of states refusing to cooperate, telling Fox News on Tuesday non-cooperation was because states are “concerned they will find fraud” which will “raise doubts about Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote.”
I doubt that Mississippi gives a hoot about Trump’s delusions over who won the popular vote. From Think Progress:
The idea that partisan politics is motivating the states is belied by the fact that many of the states refusing to cooperate with the commission are run by Republicans.
“My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office,” Tom Schedler, Lousiana’s Republican Secretary of State, said Monday.
Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, was even harsher. “My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes,” Hosemann said.
A 10-year study into voter fraud in U.S. elections by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and an expert in constitutional law found 31 different incidents, some of which involve multiple ballots, since 2000.
Included were general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In the general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast during that period.
A Justice Department study conducted under Republican President George W. Bush found the rate of voter fraud to be 0.00000132% in two federal elections out of 197,056,035 votes cast.
These and other studies are cataloged by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University school of Law.
The voter fraud Republicans in the Trump administration claim to be so concerned about is a red herring. What they are really concerned about are the changing demographics of the nation, namely the impending minority status of those voters most likely to vote for conservative candidates.
One concern with voting I wish would get more attention concerns the abysmal ignorance of too large a segment of the electorate.
National Public Radio made the case for civic education on July 4th by broadcasting and tweeting the Declaration of Independence, the founding document all real Americans should revere.
As happened during the height of the McCarthy era, too many people thought there was something subversive about what they were hearing/reading:
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