We work hard on today's BradCast to stay focused on the crucial upcoming elections, even as Brett Kavanaugh's cavalcade of shame continues in D.C. [Audio link to full show posted below.]
Senate Republicans intensified their push for a floor vote as soon as possible, even as reports persist that the FBI is either refusing or failing to interview dozens of witnesses in their supplemental background probe of Kavanaugh following sexual assault against the U.S. Supreme Court nominee. At the same time, former classmates and clerks of Kavanaugh are retracting previous support for him, and three key Republican Senators (Flake, Collins and Murkowski) gently rebuked Donald Trump on Wednesday for mocking Kavanaugh's first accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, at a campaign rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night.
Amidst that circus, it's no easy feat to stay focused on the crucial upcoming midterm elections. But we try. And so are an extraordinary number of Americans. Today we learn that last week, on National Voter Registration Day, more than 800,000 signed up to vote, stunning organizers and smashing the previous record of 771,000 who registered on National Voter Registration Day in 2016, before the Presidential election.
But, even with all of the apparent enthusiasm, will all of those new and previous voters be allowed to vote this year? If so, will their votes be counted, tallied accurately, and in a way that the public can know they have been tallied accurately? In recent days, corporate media --- right on schedule --- has suddenly begun to churn out articles questioning the accuracy and security of our wildly insecure and frequently inaccurate electronic voting and tabulation systems...once its largely too late to do much about any of it, just weeks before an election. (That, of course, is why we have been trying to do so year 'round over the past 15 years!)
The corporate election vendors who have been allowed to privatize our public elections with systems that have long ago (over a decade ago) been found to be easily hacked --- and which have failed in election after election --- continue to sell their flawed systems to officials and offer false claims about security to the public.
One of those companies, Election Systems & Software, LLC (ES&S), the nation's largest voting system vendor, has now threatened a lawsuit against a small, non-profit election transparency organization which has been fighting to encourage election officials to take advantage of a security setting available on newer models of paper ballot scanners made by ES&S and others. The group, AUDIT-USA, has been sent a cease and desist letter [PDF] by ES&S corporate attorneys objecting to the organization posting user manuals for their scanners that capture digital images of ballots when they are scanned. The group has been working to encourage states and counties to make sure those which use the newer systems have them set to retain all such ballot images so they can potentially be reviewed by the public after an election. That, in lieu of the public being allowed to examine paper ballots themselves in order to assure unverified computer-tabulated results are accurate.
We're joined today by long-time election integrity champion EMILY LEVY of AUDIT-USA and their long-time election attorney CHRIS SAUTTER of American University, to discuss the ES&S threat letter sent to the group last week, charging copyright infringement for making their instruction manuals available to the public. The letter, as we discuss, fails to even cite security concerns. Levy notes the irony in this case, given that AUDIT-USA is actually supporting the newer ES&S systems for their security feature that many election officials appear unaware of.
"What we've found from talking to election officials around the country is that a lot of them don't really understand the systems that they're using in their own counties," Levy tells me. "They don't understand why they need ballot images when they have the paper ballots. And they don't understand that, in order to preserve the ballot images, all they need to do is not change the settings that the machines come with. The default settings on the machines are to preserve the ballot images, and it's only by having someone --- whether a vendor working for them or elections officials themselves --- changing those settings that the ballot images get destroyed.
"So we want people to understand both the importance of the ballot images and preserving them --- that it's legally required to preserve them, just as it is to preserve all election materials. And that's it's not a difficult thing to do."
Sautter argues the information in question, as posted to their website, is in the public interest and, therefore, falls under the Fair Use Doctrine. "Cease and desist letters like the one that ES&S sent AUDIT-USA are a common form of intimidation," he says. "These companies have a lot of money, and sometimes they figure, well, we can overpower them, we'll file this lawsuit and we'll try to break this little non-profit in attorneys fees and we'll set an example."
As we also discuss, threats of lawsuits by voting system vendors against voting system experts and computer scientists have been going on for years (here's The BRAD BLOG exclusive from 2008 that I cite on the show), even as tax payers continue dolling out billions of dollars to these shameless and irresponsible private companies...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)