Guest: UC-Berkeley's Philip B. Stark, post-election audit expert; Also: Another young GOP anti-vaxxer dies in SoCal; 2021 ends and 2022 begins with another round of deadly, climate change-fueled extreme weather...
On today's BradCast: Last September, Donald Trump demanded an "audit" of the 2020 Presidential election in Texas, where he was certified to have won by about 550,000 votes, the narrowest victory for a Republican nominee in the Lone Star State in decades. Hours after he demanded it, his lapdog, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, made it happen. Despite the state's top election administrator previously describing the 2020 election as "safe and secure", state taxpayers are now quietly paying for another review of results in the so-called "conservative" state. Four of its largest counties are being reviewed. Three of them went to Joe Biden in 2020. A report from the first phase of the so-called 'forensic audit' was released last week, when as few people as possible might notice: At the end of the day on Friday...New Years Eve. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
But before we get there today, a quick update on the quickly intensifying Omicron surge of the coronavirus, as more than 100,000 Americans were hospitalized as of Monday, the highest number since the late summer Delta surge. President Biden once again urged Americans to get their shots. In White House remarks he said the public should "be concerned about Omicron, but don't be alarmed," before adding, "but if you're unvaccinated, you have some reason to be alarmed."
It's unknown if the Republican anti-vaxxer community in Orange County, CA will be moved by the President's comments. Perhaps the death this week of their well known 46-year old Deputy District Attorney, Kelly Ernby, a longtime GOP anti-vaccine activist and failed political candidate, will get their attention. We share her tragic, if predictable, story today, just weeks after the prosecutor's last Southern California rally in December in favor of "freedom" in opposition to vaccine mandates.
Then we're joined by PHILIP B. STARK, longtime Professor of Statistics at UC-Berkeley and the inventor of the post-election Risk Limiting Audit (RLA) protocol, to discuss the very quietly released "Phase 1 Progress Report" [PDF] of what Texas is describing as a "Full Forensic Audit of November 2020 General Election". The phrase "forensic audit", as Stark notes, doesn't actually have any accepted definition or specific meaning. But, we also discuss much more about the newly found "forensic audit" fever among Republicans who have spent years blocking Democratic measures in Congress to institute legitimate post-election audits in all 50 states after every election.
You'll not be surprised to learn that the Lone Star State's review, at least so far, appears to have turned up pretty much nothing unusual at all. Their hand-count of ballots (not of results, apparently, but simply of the number of ballots) in a number of precincts in each of four different large counties (Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin) appears to have largely confirmed the original certified totals in those precincts. We discuss the not-much-to-see-here details that add to the continuing pattern of Republicans finding no evidence at all that the 2020 election was stolen, as Trump continues to falsely complain to this day.
But there is a much larger picture to discuss. The implementation of secret, computerized tallying of ballots over the past two decades has made election results virtually impossible for the public to oversee. That has helped open the door to crackpot claims like those from the loser former President that our elections are littered with fraud and false tallies. Stark explains how the lack of legitimate post-election audits, safeguards, transparency and "evidence-based elections" has led the nation to this moment when American democracy itself is now under very serious threat.
"The end goal is to conduct elections in such a way that we have strong evidence that the reported winners actually won," Stark explains. "In order to do that, you need to start by running your election well. You will have the documents, processes, the security protocols, etc., in place that allow you to do a meaningful audit that can tie a bow around the election, and say, yes, whatever might have gone wrong with the election didn't change the reported outcome."
"The problem," he continues, "is if you go into an election that wasn't run especially well, and then afterwards try to do something based on the records that you do have. You're never going to be able to present affirmative records that the reported winners really did win. They won't give you evidence for or against the outcome being right."
And then, the conversation turns much darker.
"I don't want to be alarmist, but I think we have a very short period of time in which to make our election processes far more publicly transparent and visible, and have much more public participation," Stark warns. "If we haven't implemented evidence-based elections by the 2024 Presidential election we are very likely to see serious civil unrest in the aftermath. We have to make it a top priority to conduct our elections in a way that they produce real evidence of who won, not just 'trust me, I did it right,' or 'trust the vendor who sold me the [voting and tabulation] equipment' or 'trust the people who configured it for me,' or 'trust this or trust that,' but actually 'show me!' We really need to have 'show me,' not 'trust me' elections."
As much as we strive to avoid false "both sidesism" on this program --- and even though some Dems in Congress have tried for years to adopt federal legislation mandating real post-election audits, only to be stymied by Republicans every time --- this really is a bipartisan problem. "After the 2016 election, the Republicans didn't want to look. After the 2020 election, the Democrats don't want to look. If you like the answer, you don't want to look too hard. I think that's a terrible mistake. It allows uncertainty to be weaponized, which is what we've seen in the aftermath of the 2020 election," Stark cautions.
He continues: "The fact that a system is vulnerable does not mean that it was exploited. But we ought to build our systems or run our systems in a way that if a vulnerability was exploited, we can catch it and correct the outcome before it becomes final. And we know how to do that. It is a solved problem. It is not rocket science. It does involve a lot of shoe leather. And it involves not trusting computers on the whole. It requires public transparency."
But if that is not going to happen at the federal level (thanks in no small part to Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema, who are joining Republicans to block passage of audit mandates in the Freedom to Vote Act), it can certainly happen at the state level, where very few, if any, states currently carry out audits that are robust and transparent enough to earn full voter confidence. "I hope that some state legislatures rise to the occasion and decide to do evidence-based elections in time for at least 2024, if not the midterms," Stark tells me.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for our first Green News Report of the new year, with deadly climate change-fueled extreme weather already wreaking havoc across both the nation and the world as 2022 begins...
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