On today's BradCast: Two mysteries solved in one single, if hectic, show! [Audio link to full show is posted at end of article.]
The first is the mystery of who presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden would select as his Vice-Presidential partner. Now we know. Less than an hour before showtime today, it was announced that California's first-term U.S. Senator Kamala Harris will become the first black woman (and first South Asian American woman) to be part of a major party's Presidential ticket. On short notice, we were able to scrounge up the great HEATHER DIGBY PARTON of Salon and Digby's Hullabaloo blog to join us for her "top-line, knee-jerk, hot-take" response to the big news and how she thinks it will play both among the electorate at large and the far, FAR more picky progressive electorate.
Parton, a progressive herself, who says she was rooting for Elizabeth Warren to be named for the slot, describes Harris as a "a very skilled politician"; argues that her selection "says something nice about Biden"; discusses the "legitimate concerns that progressives have had about Harris"; and whether she believes "the Left" will be able to "put aside their differences" to get behind the ticket, before "going to fight tooth and nail about the things that we care about" in the event that Biden actually becomes President next January.
Today's other solved mystery is much trickier. And it has to do with Georgia, which is holding primary runoff elections today, along with state primary elections on Tuesday in Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin. (We'll have noteworthy results from all of those states, as available, on tomorrow's BradCast, of course). Naturally, because it's Election Day in Georgia --- a key battleground state which some believe could finally flip from "red" to "blue" this year for the first time in decades --- there are problems at the polls. While hopefully not as terrible as the meltdown caused by the state's new unverifiable touchscreen voting systems and electronic pollbooks that resulted in hours-long lines in largely Democratic-leaning precincts during the state's June primary, we have early indications that the same, new, overly-complex, computerized voting systems failed voters again today in at least some of the 94 (of 159) counties participating in today's runoffs.
Despite that distressing (if unsurprising) news today in Georgia, there was some good-ish news from the State Elections Board (SEB) there. They met on Monday to adopt new procedures in advance of the November 3rd Presidential election. The SEB unanimously agreed to allow voters to request absentee ballots for November via a new online webpage to go live by the end of the month. That's good news for those who have easy online access. But, shamefully, it comes along with the news that Republican Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger, after successfully sending out Vote-by-Mail applications to all of the state's active registered voters before the June primary, will NOT be doing so before this year's Presidential election. Apparently, that plan worked too well and allowed too many to easily vote from home, when they might otherwise have had to struggle with long lines and Raffensperger's failed electronic voting systems at the polling place in the middle of an ongoing global pandemic.
Also at Georgia's SEB meeting on Monday, the Board agreed to make a change to the state's new computer-tabulation systems that scan and count those hand-marked paper absentee ballots. (Voters at the polls are forced to use unverifiable touchscreen systems.) The SEB's change to a software setting on the systems came about, thanks in no small part, to our guest today, JEANNE DUFORT of the Coalition for Good Governance.
Following the June primaries, Dufort was on a bi-partisan citizens' panel reviewing digital images of hand-marked paper absentee ballots on which the computerized digital-scanners believed there were over-votes with, for example, more than one oval in a single race seen by the computer as being filled in. State law requires manual examination of such ballots to determine if the voter's intent is discernible or not. While reviewing those ballots, Dufort and the other panelists in Morgan County noticed that the tabulation system had marked some clearly discernible votes on many of those same ballots as containing "no vote". Why were those votes not counted by the new, $100 million tabulation system made by the Canadian firm Dominion Voting? And would elections officials manually examine ALL of the hand-marked ballots to count those "lost" votes? As Dufort told us on this program at the time she discovered the problem after the June primary, there were potentially tens of thousands of perfectly legitimate votes that had gone uncounted.
Well, today we finally have the answer to the mystery of why the system had failed to count some of those votes. It has to do with a sensitivity setting on the digital optical-scan tabulators that the Secretary of State's office claims they did not originally know about when they initially dismissed Dufort's concerns back in June. That setting, apparently, directs the computer to ignore votes in which less than 12% of the bubble was filled in. (Often, instead of inking in the entire bubble, voters will use a check-mark or an X. While the voter's intent is easily discernible to the human eye, the new computers that tabulate votes were set to record such marks --- that filled less than 12% of the bubble --- as a "no vote".)
"It assigns it a 'percentage of fill'," Dufort tells me. "In our case in Georgia, what we later found out was that these Dominion factory settings said if a vote was deemed to cover more than 35% of that area...if the threshold percentage hit 35% or above, the system said, 'Yep, that's a vote! It counts!' If the threshold was between 12-35%, it said, 'that's ambiguous, I'm not sure something is there, better get a human to look at it.' If it fell below 12%, it said, 'I see that, but it's not a vote, so I'm going to label it unvoted, and I'm not even going to call it to the attention of the humans.'"
While Dufort says that it is good news that the SEB has now agreed to lower the bottom of the software sensitivity range setting to 10%, the longtime Election Integrity advocate says that she and others in the state believe it should be set lower still, to avoid more lost votes, in advance of the Presidential Election. "We think 10% is still too high," she says. "So we're going to be out talking to them. This rule is out for 30 days of public comment. We'll be saying thank you, but you really need to take it down to 5, which we have learned is what Colorado uses. And they've been doing hand-marked paper ballots statewide for a very long time. We think that's a good benchmark for Georgia."
She also observes that the the old settings, less sensitive settings, are still being used to tally today's runoff elections, which could be a problem in the event of close races. Moreover, she explains, "the color of the ink [and] the brand of the ink in your pen can change how the computer measures it." We discuss all of that, how the changes may affect results this November, and whether we should be worried that such a software setting could be abused by ill-intentioned election insiders (or hackers) in the critical battleground state (or others that use similar systems) during the Presidential election.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report, with more deadly fossil fuel disasters, a warning about this year's already-record Atlantic Hurricane season, and some very disturbing climate change news out of Canada, where the last intact ice shelf has finally collapsed and broken away...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)