On today's BradCast: Senate Dems strike a very big deal and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission gets sued again, this time for rolling back voting system standards after secret, unlawful meetings with the manufacturers they are supposed to be regulating. [Audio link to show is posted below.]
First up, in what is being reported as potentially "transformative" legislation for the country, Senate Democrats on Tuesday night announced they had come to an agreement on a deal that would invest $3.5 trillion into the expansion of Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, child care and a host of other "human infrastructure" priorities, while also addressing climate change with a broad array of clean energy incentives. The blueprint for the agreement still lacks specific legislative language, but was struck after weeks of work in the Senate Budget Committee chaired by Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Democratic Committee members, such as centrist Mark Warner of Virginia, are also said to be on board with the package, which would be paid for by increased taxes on those making more than $400,000 a year and on large corporations. If all Senate Dems agree to the final bill and no more than 4 Democrats defect in the House, the measure could be adopted under Senate Reconciliation rules with a simple majority vote without the need for any Republicans.
Passage of that package, along with adoption of the smaller bipartisan nearly $600 billion proposal recently hashed out among moderate Senators on more traditional infrastructure spending, such as for roads and bridges, would amount to a massive victory for Democrats (presuming Republicans do not renege on their part of the agreement) and, more importantly, for jobs, families the climate and the American people as a whole. It would be the largest such spending package since the New Deal. We walk through some of the reported details of the new reconciliation package and what it may mean for Americans before the 2022 mid-term elections.
And, speaking of elections, earlier this year we reported on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)'s secret and unlawful meetings last year with voting system vendors, as discovered by SUSAN GREENHALGH, longtime election integrity advocate and Senior Advisor on Election Security at the non-partisan government watchdog group, Free Speech for People (FSFP). As she revealed at the time, the EAC's meetings, even with vendors, are all supposed to be public, according to the federal Help American Vote Act (HAVA). Her group was forced to sue to make the EAC cough up emails and other records detailing the secret vendor meetings. Most disturbingly, the EAC's Commissioners made alarming changes to newly drafted voting system certification guidelines just after those meetings.
The EAC is the federal agency responsible for creating certification guidelines for the nation's voting and tabulation systems. After a painstaking 5-year process in public consultation with technical advisors and other experts, the final draft of the much-needed and long-awaited Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) 2.0 was released last year. It included, among other important elements, a ban on wireless modems in voting and tabulation systems. Cybersecurity experts applauded the provision, after long warning of the dangers of such devices in systems that register, record and tabulate the nation's votes.
After the EAC's secret meetings with voting system vendors last year, however, the agency weakened the new guidelines --- removing, for instance, the ban against wireless modems --- and revealed an amended, watered-down version just days before Commissioners voted for final approval of the new standards. Experts were stunned. Now Greenhalgh's FSFP is suing the EAC again, along with co-plaintiff Philip Stark, an elections expert from UC-Berkeley and a member of the EAC's own Board of Advisors (as well as a recent guest on this program). The complaint [PDF] calls for the EAC to roll back the last minute changes made to the guidelines after they secretly met with the voting system manufacturers.
Greenhalgh joins us to explain all of this latest madness, what it could mean for election security, why the EAC made these changes and continue to roll over for the vendors they are supposed to be regulating, and to discuss the perils of the woeful EAC's under-handed changes at a time when cyberattacks are on the rise and confidence in election results (justifiably or not) is plummeting.
"Rather than being an independent source of information regarding voting systems, the EAC is going to the vendors to ask them the questions and understand how the systems work. And, of course, the vendors aren't going to say, 'Yeah, this is highly insecure, we shouldn't be doing this,'" Greenhalgh explains.
"It's mind blowing to me," Greenhalgh tells me, when I ask if the EAC Commissioners fully understand the security risks involved in allowing the modems that vendors want in their systems (for reasons she also explains.) "You would think they'd want to err on the side of caution, they would want to err on the side of security. And if there was a good reason to allow this, then why not have this process out in the open where they can make the case to the public as to why 'we think this is a secure way to go.'? Instead they did the whole thing behind closed doors, in a super shady manner. Doesn't engender a lot of confidence."
Finally today, in addition to the Dems' massive new infrastructure proposal announced on Tuesday night, Senate Democrats also unveiled a long-overdue, landmark proposal to finally legalize cannabis at the federal level. That bill, however, will require some Republicans to come aboard for passage, so we'll see how it goes...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)