On today's BradCast: There's an old idiom about the importance of "knowing the room" you're talking to. It seems the California Sec. of State and/or her office may be unfamiliar with that old idiom. At least based on the bizarre request they made during a meeting on Thursday with some of the nation's top cybersecurity and voting systems experts, asking them to be "cheerleaders" for the state's voting system security procedures. That, following the recent theft and release of key voting system software by rightwingers that has set the hair of those computer scientists on fire, leaving them to urge the SoS to take "urgent" and immediate "emergency actions" to protect Tuesday's Gubernatorial Recall in the Golden State. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
But before the inside details on that meeting, Republicans are now predictably freaking out after President Biden announced reasonable, science-based mandates on Thursday, requiring millions of federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 without an option to test out. There was nothing particular unusual about the executive directive. There are thousands of such vaccines mandates across the country, and have been for decades. They have long been approved by both state and federal courts.
But the GOP, having abandoned any and all actual policy agenda, has become little more than a party of grievance and evidence-free conspiracy theories. Following Biden's new mandates, their heads are exploding as they vow to sue and are equating reasonable new efforts to try and help keep Americans alive (while the Delta variant is surging and infecting and killing more school children) with "tyranny" and "Hitler". Some, including a top U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio, are even encouarging violence against Government officials he is now equating with the "Gestapo".
But that's what Republicans now do. Back here in the Not Crazy World, in places like San Francisco, the city's Health Department announced this week that there have been zero outbreaks of COVID since the school year began in mid-August. That's thanks to universal masking and other common sense requirements for staff and students alike. Contrast that with Florida and Texas and other GOP run states, where schools are shutting down yet again as hospitals are being overwhelmed with cases.
When they're not drama queening about the "FREEDOM!" to infect and kill their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers, they're busy pretending that elections are being stolen from them, despite any hint of evidence to support such serious charges. Lack of evidence this week has not prevented either the former President or rightwing radio host Larry Elder from claiming the ongoing CA Recall election is "rigged" if the popular Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is not removed from office...in a state where registered Ds outnumber Rs by about 2 to 1.
But even if there is no evidence to date of the "voter fraud" Trump and Elder are certain is going to rob Republicans of a victory, there is reason to be concerned about the results of the September 14th Recall. As we've been reporting over the past month --- too often exclusively --- the theft by a Republican County Clerk in Mesa County, Colorado of the Election Management System (EMS) software made by Dominion Voting Systems, and its wide release for download by anyone via the Internet, has placed Tuesday's election in peril, according to cybersecurity and voting systems experts.
Last week, eight of them penned an "urgent" letter [PDF] to CA Sec. of State Dr. Shirley Weber, warning her about the serious security breach caused by the release of the key software used to run and tabulate elections in nearly 60% of California counties. Those top experts --- including UC Berkley's Philip Stark, Georgia Tech's Rich DeMillo, the legendary cybersecurity and voting system white hat hacker Harri Hursti, Livermore National Laboratory cyber expert and longtime CA Sec. of State voting system Advisor David Jefferson, Univ. of South Carolina's Duncan Buell and others --- urged Weber, in their letter, to immediately mandate statewide, public, post-election Risk-Limiting Audits in order to ensure both the accuracy of the computer-tallied results and confidence in them by the public.
"It is critical to recognize that the release of the Dominion software into the wild has increased the risk to the security of California elections to the point that emergency action is warranted," the scientists wrote to Weber, citing the "critical new risk to the recall election" and how to mitigate those risks.
As we've reported, along with a number of the scientists who sent that letter who have appeared on this program, the Secretary's office, while claiming the state's existing security procedures will protect against any problems (even though the scientists explained otherwise in their letter), seemed to be in denial about the concerns. As we've reported, her office had not even offered a direct reply to the scientists until they and a number of state election integrity advocates were invited to a last-minute video conference meeting with Weber and her staff yesterday.
It was at that meeting where the participants --- again, some of the world's top experts in computer and voting system security --- were asked to be "cheerleaders" for California's current security procedures. Of course, anyone who knows folks like the legendary Hursti would be likely to laugh at that particular request.
We're joined today by two participants in Thursday's video meeting with Weber, longtime election transparency advocate EMILY LEVY of Scrutineers.org and JIM SOPER, co-chair of the CA-based National Voting Rights Task Force, which had also sent a letter to Weber urging improved post-election processes following last month's leak of the Dominion EMS software.
Levy confirmed that participants were asked, to be "cheerleaders" during the meeting. "Absolutely, that did happen," she tells us today, confirming my own reporting with a number of other participants. "And I have to say it was quite surprising, especially when coupled with the turning down of our requests about doing the Risk Limiting Audit. So, 'No, we won't do what you're asking, but we do want you to be cheerleaders for the security of the election.'"
"You know, I will applaud any increase in security procedures that I am aware that they are doing," she added. "But I'm certainly not in any position, and I don't think anyone there is, to put our reputations on the line saying we'll swear by the security of this election. Especially if they're not going to be increasing auditing procedures."
Both Levy and Soper suggested the office seems to understand that the Dominion Election Management System software has now been released, but didn't seem to fully appreciate the threat it poses to the election, as the scientists --- who were also on the video call --- made clear in their letter. "I didn't hear the level of alarm that I think is warranted," Levy notes.
"I think she understands the threat," Soper argued, before explaining that "a big part of the problem is the shortage of time" between now and Tuesday's Recall Election Day. He says, however --- as did UC-Berkeley's Stark, a signatory on the letter, participant in Thursday's meeting and the inventor of the Risk-Limiting Audit protocol --- that there are simplified versions of the RLA format that could be implemented quickly enough and announced for before Tuesday to avoid the appearance of partisanship.
"There is something called a 'Ballot-Polling Risk-Limiting Audit' that they could do," says Soper. "It's not as effective [as a regular, full RLA], but it would be better than doing nothing." He also notes that Weber asked the meeting participants to "send in a little letter with some notes on what we think should be done [and] that they're going to consider 'what can we do?' out of all of these suggestions."
Weber, a Democrat, may not be as concerned as she could be about all of this, as recent polling shows opposition growing to the removal of Newsom. Still, holding ones breath and crossing ones fingers is hardly a recipe for either success or for the protection of election results that voters of all political leanings can have confidence in.
On the other hand, Levy offers several actions that the public can take in the meantime, both from inside and outside of California, to help oversee and secure the election and try to ensure its integrity, via her Scrutineers site.
Finally today, we close with yet another warning of yet another monster hurricane. This time, it's the Category 5 Super Typhoon Chathu that recently spun up in record time. It's now set on a deadly collision course with Taiwan. Just more fallout from our ever-worsening climate emergency in yet another record storm season fueled by non-stop man-made global warming...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)