[UPDATE: In addition to the Wildstein indictment and guilty plea described below, two more top Christie officials, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, have now been indicted as well, on seven counts each for charges of conspiracy and fraud. Those indictments are now posted here.]
This will not be good for Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)'s already long-shot chances of winning the 2016 Republican nomination for President. In fact, this could be the end of the line for him.
David Wildstein, one of Christie's top staffers at the center of the notorious "BridgeGate" scandal which shut down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge [GWB] from the town of Fort Lee, NJ beginning on the first day of school in September of 2013, has now accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to two federal charges of "Conspiracy to Obtain by Fraud, Knowingly Convert, and Intentionally Misapply Property of an Organization Receiving Federal Benefits" and "Conspiracy Against Civil Rights".
The punitive traffic shut down occurred, according to the federal indictment (posted in full below), in retaliation against Fort Lee's Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich's refusal to endorse the Republican Christie in his 2013 gubernatorial re-election bid against Democratic state Senator Barbara Buono, as initially suspected when the "BridgeGate" scandal first came to light last year.
"The object of the conspiracy was to misuse Port Authority property to facilitate and conceal the causing of traffic problems in Fort Lee as punishment of Mayor Sokolich," the federal plea agreement charges. "Just as the Conspirators had intended, the lane and toll both reductions resulted in significant traffic in Fort Lee, both for motorists intending to access the GWB from the Local Approach and for the residents of Fort Lee, whose streets were choked with traffic backing up from the Local Approach. ... [T]he Conspirators purposely ignored communications from Mayor Sokolich, including his pleas for help, requests for information, and repeated warnings about the increased risks to public safety."
Despite a call from a Port Authority employee who was unaware of the scheme, warning that the traffic congestion had already caused problems for police and ambulance responding to a missing child and a resident having a cardiac arrest, the conspirators ignored all such concerns and kept the closure in place...
While today was Primary Election Day in North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio, we're just now learning about electronic vote tabulators which failed in last month's special election for the U.S. House in Florida, according to Fox4, WFTX-TV in Fort Myers/Naples, Florida...
LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Four In Your Corner has learned voters ran into problems in both Lee and Collier counties during the special Republican primary for the congressional district 19 seat last month.
The special primary was part of a process to replace Republican Trey Radel in Congress. He resigned in January after he was busted for cocaine in October.
On the day of the special primary, some voting machines malfunctioned and weren't accepting ballots.
"I had to vote because that's my good [sic] given right to vote," said Cape Coral resident Paul Barnes.
That's why he said he showed up to precinct 57 at Rotary Park in Cape Coral early election morning.
"[I] signed in on an electronic pad, which is something new. [I] got my ballot, filled it out. [I] go to the machine and scan it, and step three was broken," he explained.
From US District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen's ruling [PDF] yesterday, finding that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional under federal law (just as both Utah's and Oklahoma's bans were recently found)...
Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: "It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just. . . the same thing---fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have. "
The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court's power, they and all others shall have.
While undoubtedly Virginia's law would have been found unconstitutional and overturned eventually anyway --- just like similar laws in all fifty states will be very shortly --- it arguably will have happened much faster there and (take note, conservatives) with much less cost to the taxpayers, thanks to the results of last November's elections. Yes, as we've been detailing for more than ten years now, elections really do matter.
Oh, and happy Valentines Day, Virginia...and everyone else!
An announcement this week by the state's brand-new Attorney General offers a stark reminder, once again, of the importance of elections and of the work that The BRAD BLOG has done here for the past 10 years...
At a press conference in Richmond moments ago, late on the third day of a three-day "recount" process in Virginia, state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) conceded this razor-thin race against state Sen. Mark Herring (D) for state Attorney General.
Herring will replace VA's outgoing, far right Republican AG Ken Cuccinelli who lost his own battle for the Governor's office last month.
Obenshain's concession this afternoon comes after what had previously appeared to be the closest statewide race in history. Just 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast had separated the two when the November 5th race was certified by the State Board of Elections late last month. But, by yesterday, Herring's lead had widened to more than 800 votes after two days of what passes for a "recount" in VA (there is no "recount" on touch-screen electronic voting systems used by most voters in the state and most of the paper ballot localities simply re-run the bulk of paper ballots through optical-scan systems again, as per state election code.)
Obenshain's decision means that Democrats will take control of all three statewide offices --- Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General --- for the first time in the Old Dominion since 1969 and the first time in twenty years that a Democrat will control the AG's office there.
It also means that a potentially divisive election contest --- described by some as the "nuclear option" --- will not be invoked by the Republican candidate. Once the "recount" is fully complete on Friday, and all of the very few "challenged ballots" are adjudicated by a three-judge special recount panel in Richmond, Obenshain would have had until Monday to file a contest. Unlike similar post-recount contests elsewhere, in Virginia the matter is not decided by a court of a law, but rather by a majority vote of a joint session of the state legislature, which is currently dominated by Republicans.
With both candidates currently serving as state Senators, a special election to replace either winner of the AG race was going to happen no matter the outcome of the "recount". The only question was which state Senator would need to be replaced. Obenshain's district is believed to be solidly Republican and likely would have stayed that way had he won the AG election. Herring's district, however, is currently seen as a toss-up. While the VA House is predominantly Republican, a GOP victory in the special election to replace Herring in the state Senate would swing the balance of that chamber over to Republicans as well.
Given the way Virginia forces the majority of voters to vote on 100% unverifiable electronic voting systems, and that the majority of votes cast on paper ballots are first tallied and then "recounted" by electronic optical-scan computers (either correctly or incorrectly, who knows?), we'll never know who voters really wanted to win this year's AG race. But this, apparently, is, as they say, "close enough for government work". Voters in VA deserve, and should demand, a much more transparent and overseeable system for the most crucial element of their system of self-governance.
Barring any surprises, Herring will be sworn into office in January, along with Democratic Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe and Lt. Governor-elect Ralph Northam.
The "recount" is not going well so far for Virginia state Senator Mark Obenshain (R). What had been the closest statewide race in history, while still close, is beginning to open up for state Senator Mark Herring (D), who had been previously certified by the State Board of Elections as the "winner" of the November 5th state Attorney General's race.
After two days of what suffices for a "recount" in the Old Dominion's election to replace outgoing Republican AG Ken Cuccinelli, Herring's state-certified 165 vote lead prior to the "recount" expanded to more than 800 votes on Tuesday, out of more than 2.2 million cast. According to the Democrat's campaign, more than 70% of the votes have now been re-tallied across the commonwealth as of Tuesday night. The three-days of re-tallying will end Wednesday, with a three-judge panel in Richmond making the final determinations on any challenged ballots by Friday.
Herring may have hired MN Sen. Al Franken's election recount attorney to represent him in VA, but the three-day affair there, so far, is nothing like the epic six-month-plus post-election hand-count in the 2008 U.S. Senate race between Franken and his Republican opponent Sen. Norm Coleman.
There, every single paper ballot was examined publicly, by hand. The time it took was, in no small part, due to the transparent thoroughness of the counting, but perhaps much more to Coleman's attempts to challenge everything he possibly could, arguably as a way to forestall what would become a very short-lived filibuster-proof Democratic super-majority in the U.S. Senate once Franken was finally seated in July of 2009.
In Virginia, as we've described several times in detail, the "recount" process is barely a count at all, given that most votes in the state are still cast on 100% unverifiable (and unrecountable) Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems. The rest of the votes are cast on paper ballots, but those are tallied by often-inaccurate, easily-gamed optical-scan computer tabulators, either correctly or incorrectly --- without a hand-count, there's no way to know. By Virginia's "recount" statute, almost all of those paper ballots are simply being run through the same optical-scanners again, rather than examined by human beings. The exception is ballots that register no vote for either candidate during the re-scanning. Those are then set aside and examined by hand during the "recount".
But, in a race as close as this one, there are more than enough paper ballots to flip the results from one candidate to the other during such a post-election tally.
In this case, however --- at least as of Tuesday night --- it's not looking good for Obenshain, as Herring is racking up more newly tallied votes than the Republican in almost every locality where there have been any changes to the totals at all...
Election 2013 is but a memory --- good or bad --- for much of the nation. But, in Virginia, election officials, attorneys and partisans will still be busy as elves throughout much of the holiday season, and potentially even beyond, determining final results of the statewide November 5th Attorney General's election this year.
Last week, on the day before Thanksgiving, Virginia's Republican AG candidate Mark Obenshain filed for a recount [PDF] of the incredibly close race at the Richmond Circuit Court. Two days prior, his Democratic challenger Mark Herring had been certified by the state as the winner of the race by just 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million votes cast early last month.
Should those state-certified results hold, Herring would replace Republican Ken Cuccinelli as Virginia's AG. Cuccinelli was unsuccessful in his own run for Governor in November against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Along with the Democratic win in the Lt. Governor's race as well, a Herring victory would result in the first time since 1969 that Democrats held all three statewide offices, and the first time in twenty years that Virginia will have a Democratic AG.
As bad as those "recount" statutes are, however, a margin of 165 votes could certainly be reversed, even in a state where most votes are currently recorded (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) by 100% unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems, and where the rest are tallied (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) by paper-ballot optical-scan tabulators that will be used once again to "recount" (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) most of the state's paper ballots.
Yes, that's right. Hundreds of thousands of 100% unverifiable electronic votes cast in the closest statewide race in VA state history cannot be "recounted" now in any meaningful way. For those votes, state election code specifies that, during the "recount", election officials will merely recheck the voting machine computer printouts from Election Night to make sure the certified results match. Meanwhile --- and short of a court order --- votes that were cast on paper ballots will simply be run through the same optical-scan computers that tallied them the first time, after they've been reprogrammed to set aside all ballots which the scanner sees as an over vote, an under vote or a write-in vote in the AG's race. Those set aside paper ballots, at least, will then be examined by hand, in public, by actual human beings.
As ridiculous as the VA "recount" statute is, the "contest" law --- another procedure which the candidate who loses the "recount" may file thereafter --- is even more ridiculous. But, depending on the results of the "recount", that may be the only option Obenshain is left with...and it could result in a GOP "victory", even with fewer recorded popular votes, presuming there are enough heavily partisan Republicans in the VA state legislature...
Ruskin's report is chilling and the interview is disturbing. But the second half of the show is (largely) much less troubling! We update a lot of the stories we've been covering of late on The BradCast, most of them with good news updates!
So, curl on up to the holiday radio hearth and give it a listen...and all of my best to you and yours for Thanksgiving! (Or, as we call it around here since Chanukah falls on the same day this year: Thanksalatke!)
Sometimes it's a good idea to get a full explanation before these things become fodder in a contentious partisan legal election contest. So that's what we've tried to do. Happily, the General Registrar of Bedford County, VA was more than willing to help.
Last week, and the week before, The BRAD BLOG devoted quite a bit of coverage to the incredibly close Attorney General's race in Virginia. As of last week, the Democratic candidate Mark Herring was certified by the state's local voting jurisdictions (counties and cities), as the "winner" over Republican Mark Obenshain by just 164 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast.
The contest is, for now, in the hands of the State Board of Elections which will issue its own official official certification of results on November 25th, after which the candidate declared the "loser" is almost certain to ask for a "recount" and potentially file an election contest thereafter, depending on the outcome. (See the last section of this article for an explanation as to why we put quotes around the word "recount", especially in Virginia.)
During the week-long roller coaster canvass by jurisdictions across Virginia following the November 5th election, there were a number of minor adjustments to local tallies as county and city election officials checked and double-checked results printed by touch-screen and paper ballot optical-scan tabulation computers from Election Night and then adjudicated provisional ballots for tally and inclusion in the final results. While most of the adjustments made during the week following the election were relatively small, each was of great significance in a race this tight.
But there were three rather large changes to the results during the post-election canvass process --- two were in the Democratic strongholds of Fairfax County and the city of Richmond, and one was in heavily Republican Bedford County. All of the large tabulation adjustments were said to have been caused by various combinations of computer tabulator and human error.
Two of them, the ones which resulted in about 1,300 votes beginning picked up by the Democrat over his Republican rival in both Fairfax and Richmond, were covered and explained in the media in some detail. (See our coverage here of the discovery of the thousands of "missing" Fairfax votes and the eventual explanation the next day. The Richmond additions are described here.) The adjustments made during the canvass by heavily-Republican Bedford County, however, which resulted in a net pick-up of about 500 votes for Obenshain, received considerably less public explanation.
Given that all of these matters may be revisited once again in a "recount" --- and the inevitable legal challenges to go with it --- we thought it might be good to get the explanation for Obenshain's big vote pickup in Bedford County on the written record. Bedford's General Registrar Barbara Gunter was kind enough to reply to our queries last week on that point, offering her explanation for the known details of the computer and/or human errors that led to more than 700 votes in the AG's race being initially misreported on Election Night in Bedford County...
This story is horrific. It struck me even more so this morning, given that I had just been in contact with Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds (D) last week on several occasions and had asked him to appear as my guest on the KPFK/Pacifica Radio BradCast.
Deeds is currently said to be in critical condition after being stabbed multiple times today in his own home, "in the head and torso," according to officials. His son Gus was found dead in the same home, the victim of "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, adding the detail that the son "had been released Monday following a mental health evaluation performed under an emergency custody order." Joe St. George of CBS6 reports that Gus had withdrawn last month from William & Mary College.
"The son was evaluated Monday at Bath County hospital," Dennis Cropper, executive director of the Rockbridge County Community Services Board told the Times-Dispatch, "but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia."
The best news that can be reported from all of this for now is that officials said at a noon ET news conference today that VA's 2009 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate was able to communicate with state police about the incident before he was airlifted to a medical facility.
I had been in touch with Deeds over the last week or two in the course of our in-depth coverage of the incredibly close VA Attorney General post-election tabulation...
Residents of Mount Gilead, a town of about 1,100 people in central North Carolina, are reeling from a police sting operation that netted 59 arrests the morning of Election Day [11/5/2013]. All of those arrested were African Americans, all for possession of drugs, alcohol and guns. Some there are questioning the timing of the bust and believe it was an attempt to intimidate African Americans from showing up at the polls that day.
Police began rounding up suspects early in the morning, before polls opened, and, according to Mt. Gilead residents interviewed, none were released by bond until after 7:30 p.m. when polls were closed.
"It was a form of voter disenfranchisement and intimidation," said Mount Gilead resident David Allsbrook by phone. "That's what it was done for, to offset votes."
Among those on the ballot earlier this month was Mount Gilead's Mayor Patty Almond, who is said to have had the support of the town's African-American community. In 2011, as Mock reports, Almond "lost" the mayoral race by just two votes, until it was discovered that "four black voters were denied ballots when their town residencies were challenged." A new election was eventually ordered by the State Board of Elections. Almond won the new election in 2012, but, thanks to the legal fight, did not take office until December of last year. So Almond served less than a year before her recent re-election contest, held on the same day that the Montgomery County Sheriff's office and four local police departments decided to "swarm" the tiny NC town...
The last graf from an AP article describing the plunge in spending by "outside" Rightwing groups, so far this year, on 2014 campaigns...
Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, saturated Iowa mailboxes and telephone lines recently to support conservative city council candidates [in the November 5, 2013 election]. But they all lost.
On this week KPFK/Pacifica Radio BradCast I was joined by Heather Parton --- much better known as the great blogger "Digby" of Hullabaloo --- to discuss the complete collapse of CBS 60 Minutes' bogus Benghazi exclusive and their pathetic "correction". Moreover, we take a look at what Digby has uncovered about the apparent Rightwing, Fox "News"-like predilections of correspondent Lara Logan and how that (and a few other disturbing Fox "News" connections) resulted in Benghazi hoax disaster at the once-great CBS News.
Next, I bring everyone up to date on the insane roller coaster that has been the last week of the insanely close Virginia Attorney General's race and the surreal pitfalls to come in the likely "recount" and potential election contest thereafter.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for the latest Green News Report on the Super Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines, its connection to climate change and the new all-time low for global warming deniers in its wake...
The last of the votes to be tallied in Virginia, prior to the certification deadline at 11:59pm ET tonight is done. With the Fairfax County provisional ballots optically-scanned and added to the totals, it appears that the Democratic candidate Mark Herring will be declared the "winner" for now, by just 164 votes --- out of more than 2.2 million cast --- over Republican Mark Obenshain.
If Herring can maintain his extraordinarily slim lead throughout the almost-certain "recount", he will become Virginia's first Democratic Attorney General in twenty years, and his party will have swept all three top-ticket races in the state this year --- Governor, Lt. Governor and AG.
The final provisional tallies in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County resulted in 160 votes for Herring and 103 for Obenshain, a net 57 vote pickup. Barring any surprises in the next hour (there have been plenty of twists and turns in this nail-biter over the past week since the election - see related coverage below), the final tally before the full state certification process begins as of Midnight Tuesday night will be Herring: 1,103,777 - Obenshain: 1,103,613, according to the State Board of Elections (SBE) now-updated website.
Herring and state Democrats are declaring themselves the winner of the contest. For his part, the Obenshain campaign has issued the following statement...
The tally of the last of the provisional votes in Fairfax County, VA is now completed. See the blow-by-blow details below. Or see this breaking story for the final results before the certification deadline at midnight tonight.
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I'm testing out Twitter's new "Custom Timeline" feature below, while following the tallies of the provisional ballots in Fairfax County, VA...