On today's BradCast, it's another one of those impossible Mondays catching up with a weekend full of news in the Trump Era, and the seemingly impossible fight on behalf of voters who seek actually verifiable election results (which require HAND-MARKED paper ballots, according to a new letter from two dozen computer science, security and voting system experts.) [Audio link to show posted at end of article.]
Before we get to our guest today on that crucial issue which threatens elections oversight from Georgia to Los Angeles, a bunch of news and quick headlines from across the country. Among those headlines...
Winter weather crippled much of nation over the weekend and into the beginning of this week, from heavy rains and flash floods in recently fire-ravaged California, to monster snowfall in the Midwest, to icy conditions in the East. The latter succeeded in shutting down even parts of the federal government in D.C. that weren't already closed due to Donald Trump's continuing partial federal government shutdown --- now the longest in U.S. history --- to demand $5.7 billion for his promised, pointless and ill-considered southern border wall.
Decidedly not shutdown in D.C. this week are disturbing new revelations, as reported by New York Times late Friday, that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence probe of the President of the United States in 2017, to determine whether Trump was either a witting or unwitting agent of Russia. That, as Trump's Attorney General nominee William Barr, on Monday, released his prepared opening remarks in advance of his confirmation hearings this week in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite his previous criticism of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe and his argument that Presidents cannot be investigated for certain things, Barr now says the Special Counsel investigation should be allowed to finish and its report should be made public.
In California, the state's largest private utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), announced their intention to seek bankruptcy protection in light of tens of billions of dollars in potential legal liability for maintenance failures that helped spark a number of the historic and deadly fires that crippled the state during last year's record wildfire season. And, in Los Angeles, some 35,000 teachers at the nation's second-largest school district walked out, striking to demand higher pay and smaller class sizes.
Next, we turn to some election news, with New York state, one of the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to voting access, finally moving to update its system with a package of bills this week that include early voting, vote-by-mail, same-day voter registration and other long-overdue reforms.
In Georgia, meanwhile, two dozen of the nation's top Computer Security and Voting Systems experts issued a critical landmark letter [PDF] last week to the state's Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission, essentially begging the panel, convened by former Republican Sec. of State and incoming Governor Brian Kemp, to not move the state's voting system from 100 percent unverifiable touchscreen Direct Record Electronic (DRE) systems to similarly unverifiable touchscreen Ballot Marking Devices (BMD), which print out a computer-marked and barcoded summary of voters' ballots. They call instead for hand-marked paper ballots, which they describe as "the best method for recording votes in public elections."
The letter notes that BMD systems are more expensive than hand-marked paper ballot systems but, more importantly, cannot be audited after an election to determine whether the results reflect the actual intent of voters. Despite the scientists crucial recommendation last week, and every comment --- other than from election officials and private voting system vendor lobbyists --- made by the public at last week's SAFE Commission hearing, Kemp's panel shamefully voted to recommend BMDs to state lawmakers.
But, while that virtually inexplicable action moves ahead in the Peach State under Republican rule, the nation's largest voting jurisdiction, Los Angeles County, under Democratic rule, has already decided to move to a pricey and similarly unverifiable touchscreen BMD system before the 2020 Presidential election!
We're joined today by MARILYN MARKS, a national leader in the fight for HAND-MARKED paper ballot systems. She heads up the non-partisan Coalition for Good Governance --- which filed several landmark lawsuits last year against Georgia's current unverifiable voting systems and in hopes of preventing their new ones.
"The point is a very, very simple point that the SAFE Commission --- and apparently L.A. --- pretends that they are missing," argues Marks. "They all talk about how they want elections that can be audited. Well, when you use these Ballot Marking Devices, the election cannot be audited, because the source document [the computer-marked, barcoded ballot] is not an original transaction. It cannot be audited. Therefore you cannot audit the results."
Making matters worse, even if every single voter manages to correctly verify the computer-printed, human-readable summary of voter selections, "what's actually cast and the actual official vote is a barcode. Now, none of us can read barcodes. I don't know what vote I'm actually casting. I am casting a barcode, but what in the world does that barcode actually say? That, to me, is a Constitutional violation."
We discuss that and the many other dangers of BMD systems being implement across the country --- with little or no pushback in places like L.A. --- as well as the differences between the proposed new systems from private vendors in GA and the publicly-owned one already coming to L.A. County. In short, despite a number of explanations offered to us by the County's Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan (shared on today's program) Marks argues there is little, if any, difference in the lack of verifiability and auditablity of such voting systems.
Finally, we take just a few listener calls on all of the above on our way out today...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)