On today's BradCast, we continue down the long and often-too-winding road toward democracy and justice. [Audio link to show is posted below.]
After some 14 hours of debate on Thursday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee made history on Friday morning by voting along party lines to approve two Articles of Impeachment --- for Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress --- against Donald John Trump. It is only the fourth time in America's 243-year history for such a "solemn and sad" event. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell couldn't even wait for this morning's vote before declaring out-loud on Fox "News" Thursday night that he intends to rig the U.S. Senate's impeachment trial. The Kentucky Senator (who is up for re-election next year) and leader of the Senators who will serve as jurors in the impeachment trial to consider removal of the President early next year --- presuming the full House votes to adopt the Articles next week --- boasted that he has been colluding with the accused in order to assure the Senate trial will be anything but fair.
Speaking of Kentucky and the importance of uncorrupted democracy, on his way out the door, now thankfully-former Republican Tea Party Governor Matt Bevin, who narrowly lost reelection last month in the otherwise "red" state to Democrat Andy Beshear, pardoned and/or gave commutations to 428 convicted criminals. Among those granted clemency are a convicted child rapist, a man who hired a hit man to kill his business partner, and a third who killed his parents. Perhaps most appalling, however, was the pardon for a home-invasion murderer in the second year of his 19-year sentence, after the man's family threw a fund-raiser for Bevin's campaign just last year. (His two accomplices, whose families did not donate to the Governor, remain in jail.)
By way of contrast, the new Democratic Governor, on his second day in office this week, restored voting rights and the right to run for public office to some 140,000 non-violent former felons, leaving Iowa as the only state in the union which still bans all former felons from voting for life. Yes, voting and elections still matter.
But the right to vote and have that vote counted accurately, in a way that we can know it has been counted accurately, continues to be an ongoing fight for Election Integrity advocates across the country as we are weeks away from the start of voting in the 2020 Presidential race. On Friday, several such groups filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania to block the use of brand new, 100% unverifiable touchscreen Computer Ballot Marking devices made by ES&S, and set for use in the key battleground state next year, after the systems failed to correctly record tens of thousands of votes during last month's municipal elections. The suit seeks to block the new touchscreen systems from use and to require hand-marked paper ballots instead in at least 17 percent of the state, including Philadelphia. Failure in that much of the state next year would be more than enough to throw the results of the 2020 Presidential election one way or another in the critical swing-state.
After those new systems failed so catastrophically during their first use last month (as new, similarly unverifiable touchscreen systems did in Georgia on the same day), long-time, previously well-respected e-voting watchdog group VerifiedVoting.org seemed to help both elections officials and private vendors off the hook by endorsing so-called Risk-Limiting Audits of some of the computer-marked paper ballot summaries produced by the systems in both states.
That appears to have been the last straw for Verified Voting's Board of Directors member Prof. PHILIP B. STARK of UC-Berkeley. Stark, a math and statistics professor, as well as a Board of Advisors member on the US. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is the inventor of the post-election Risk-Limiting Audit (RLA) protocol. He has been trying, in recent months, to make clear to elections officials and vendors that RLA's of computer-marked (versus hand-marked) paper ballots are "meaningless" [PDF], because its impossible to verify that they reflect voter intent. With Verified Voting jumping in to publicly praise GA and PA's use of such tests to proclaim that reported results accurately reflected voter intent, Stark submitted a blistering resignation letter [PDF] to the group.
The missive, which he shared with me on the night he recently sent it, decries VV's "whitewashing [of] inherently untrustworthy elections by overclaiming what applying RLA procedures to an untrustworthy paper trail can accomplish." He accused the non-profit, non-partisan organization of "providing cover for inherently untrustworthy voting systems --- and the officials who bought them, the companies that make them, and any officials who might contemplate buying them in the future --- by conducting 'risk-limiting audits' of untrustworthy paper records, creating the false and misleading impression that relying on untrustworthy paper for a RLA can confirm election outcomes." His resignation letter charged that the result of VV's action was "security theater, not election integrity."
Stark joins us on today's program to discuss the response to his resignation from leadership at Verified Voting and the other well-respected, world-class cybersecurity and voting systems experts who serve on its Board (many of whom have appeared as guests on The BradCast and sources for BradBlog.com over the years). "Verified Voting retracted a tweet that had claimed that Risk-Limiting Audits, or audits to be conducted in Pennsylvania, would confirm outcomes when they suffered from the same flaw that the audits in Georgia did," he says. "I think in general, the board and I are sorry to part ways. I would gladly go back, if they revised their public position with regard to what audits of an untrustworthy paper trail can possibly accomplish."
[Update: No sooner did we get off air tonight, than the resignation of yet another, very well-respected VV Board Member, Prof. Rich DeMillo of Georgia Tech and former Chief Technology Officer at Hewlett-Packard, became public as well. DeMillo's most recent appearance on The BradCast is here. His resignation letter and a story about it is now posted here.]
Stark also explains --- as I've been very skeptical of the efficacy of post-election audits for many years, for reasons described on the program --- how RLAs work and/or don't. He tells me what type of voting systems he believes to be best for the secure and overseeable casting and counting of votes in American elections (hint: no computers necessary), and much more, including a conversation about just some of the many dangers of computer Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) proliferating the country for 2020, and the ability for voters to cause chaos with them by reporting --- either accurately or not --- that the systems have misprinted their votes on Election Day.
"They're completely vulnerable to crying wolf. Even if an election official trusts public complaints that their votes were altered or contests were missing, then their only recourse is to run a new election, and that opens the possibility for people colluding to cry wolf and have an election invalidated. In the other direction, the incentives are stacked in favor of election officials saying, 'well, it was probably just voter error, we're going to let it stand.'" That, argues Stark, is exactly what we saw last month in Northampton, PA, when elections officials and ES&S claimed that "just by re-tabulating the paper that was printed by technology that malfunctioned big time, they can figure out who really won. It's farce."
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