It’s Been Open Season on Voting Rights Since SCOTUS Gutted Voting Rights Act

Election protection is increasingly seen as a critical issue in the US. Since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, there have been problems with voter purging, voter ID laws, what some call modern-day ‘poll taxes’, precinct closures, and difficulties with voting machines. Congress has noted serious attempts to hack into voting systems in the US based in partisan politics. Women Rising Radio joins two election protection activists to talk about threats to the U.S. electoral process.

TRANSCRIPT

This week on Making Contact:

[Bite from Jennifer Cohn “I think election fraud has always been a problem and a concern to various extents and the main issue. Whether you’re talking about paper ballots or voting machines is transparency. Transparency is really the number one thing. I think you have to really have the public involved from beginning to end.”]

[Bite from Andrea Miller “We’ve got people that are really trying to cheat to win at all costs. Remember, we are talking about power. Power is never going to be given away by anybody. So it has to be taken.”]

Sandina Robbins: In the United States vote rigging and election fraud have become increasingly high tech and more difficult to expose in this Women Rising Radio edition of Making Contact we feature two election protection activists. Andrea Miller is an organizer and digital strategist fighting voter suppression. Jennifer Cohn is an attorney investigating the dangerous flaws in voting machines and technology.

I’m your host, Sandina Robbins.

I remember when after the hotly disputed Bush versus Gore election in 2000, I volunteered to be a poll worker to see democracy in action for myself. At the end of a 12 hour day, we had to pack up our voting machines, count all the leftover ballots and supplies, and drive them to an unmarked trailer truck where they were loaded up and sent off into the dark of night. No one could tell me when or where these votes would be counted. Meanwhile, election results were already being announced on the radio based on early voting trends.

It left me wondering, does every vote really count for the next election in 2004? I was asked to be in charge of a precinct and sent to a training that primarily dealt with how to set up the voting machines so their legs wouldn’t collapse.

I was told to pick up our precincts equipment before election day. That meant that I had the keys to the voting machines. Ballots, a card encoder all in my home for a week with no security to prevent anyone from tampering with the system. On election night, we packed everything up, drove to a drop off center, and once again I watched in amazement at how our votes were being boxed up, just as the election results were being called. The question remains for me. Does the U.S. really have free and fair elections?

TV SOUND BITES:

“Many of us don’t know the first thing about how all votes get counted.”

“When you cast your ballot, how do you know that they’re getting it right, that they’re getting it right?”

“Yeah. Well, isn’t that their job?”

“Do you trust that your vote is being recorded as intended? What do you think? I think so. What are you basing that on? How do you know that they got it right? Well, I’m sure they did. What are you basing? I wouldn’t be there in the machine. I have to assume…”

“A roomful of hackers all trying to hack into voting machines. You can possibly make it accept the fake card or accept any card so you could add your own votes.”

These are supposed to be the latest machines. They’re still used in elections and they’re running ancient software. I think that like if somebody wanted to, it would be pretty easy to fake an election

VOICE: Report from the Select Committee on Intelligence. United States Senate:

Cybersecurity experts have studied a wide range of U.S. voting machines, including both D.R.E.s and optical scanners. And in every single case, they found severe vulnerabilities that would allow attackers to sabotage machines and to alter votes. That’s why there is overwhelming consensus in the cybersecurity and election integrity research communities that our elections are at risk.

Sandina Robbins: One of the critical issues facing our democracy is the use of electronic voting machines. Election officials have tried to assure voters that the machines are accurate and safe from hacking. But an increasing number of digital security experts are saying, no, they are not secure nor reliable.

Attorney Jennifer Cohn has done extensive investigation into voter technology and is sounding the alarm.

Jennifer Cohn I got drawn in by at least two things. The first was this chasm between what election officials were telling the public about the security of our elections, comparing that with what election security experts were saying about the security of our elections. Tom Hicks, who is on the Federal Election Assistance Commission, which certifies voting machines, was on the news telling the public that we didn’t have to really worry about voting machines being hacked because they weren’t connected to the Internet.

But even when voting machines themselves are not connected to the Internet, they all receive programing from these centralized county or state computers. And in many cases, those do connect to the Internet.

So in reality, we’re really just one or two steps away from having an Internet hacker attack our system. When you’re dealing with a black box voting machine, the public has no way of knowing what’s happening inside of the machine.

And the best way to describe transparency in this context is the translation from a German court ruling. I think it was in 2009, their constitutional court outlawed touchscreen voting machines — and said that the average person needs to be able to understand the mechanisms that are being used to count their votes. And if you can’t do that, then it’s unconstitutional. That was in Germany. But the same principle, if not in law, just in logic, applies to elections everywhere.

Transparency is really the number one thing. And I think it’s certainly conceivable that political operatives have hacked some prior elections. There are very many red flags. I don’t say that there’s proof. But one of the red flags is that no one ever seems to really allow meaningful manual recounts.

And the other thing with these touchscreens is to have disproportionate distribution of touch screen voting machines. In Ohio in 2004 typically, it was in the high proportion minority districts. There were lines from 5 to 10 hours long, which absolutely can make a huge difference. I actually, I’m pretty certain there’s going to be some disproportionate distribution. There are arguments over that already in Georgia. In Georgia there is a lawsuit that was filed by a small nonprofit called the Coalition for Good Governance, and it’s founded by a woman named Marilyn Marks, who’s a really fantastic election security advocate. And they have done a few things.

The first step was to get a court ruling that Georgia’s current paperless touch screen voting machines are unconstitutional because they deprive voters of the right to have their votes counted as cast. And they actually got the federal court to rule, to find them unconstitutional, which was huge.

The second step is to get a similar ruling for these new touch-screen universally used barcode ballot marking devices. It appears that it is not going to happen in time for the primaries. But I think there is knock on wood, (I don’t wanna jinx anything) a reasonable chance that they may prevail in time for the general election.

Sandina Robbins: Jennifer Cohn is concerned about electronic ballot marking devices or BMDs, because there’ve been problems with them in previous elections. She wants them banned from use.

Jennifer Cohn: They’re essentially really complicated, hackable malfunctions, all electronic pens. And then if you’re going to want to have a machine count the ballots, you still need the scanners. And I’ve really been tracking the purchases of these systems throughout the country, and it’s very alarming.

It’s often the most populous counties in many states that have purchased these between 2016 and now. And there are some swing states that have done this. We’ve had over a decade and a half of vote flipping that’s always attributed to calibration errors. .And these new ballot marking devices are going to have the same problems.

And this is despite the fact in Pennsylvania an ES&S representative gave this presentation and it’s on YouTube where he’s assuring everybody ,scout’s honor, that you don’t have to worry about calibration with these new machines and everybody sort of cheers. Yay, we don’t have to worry about calibration. Well, guess what? In Northampton County, Pennsylvania, they had massive issues with calibration and vote flipping. So this is just another problem.

Sandina Robbins: Jennifer Cohn mentioned E.S& S., a company that provides almost half of the voting technology in the U.S., she contends that it raises serious red flags when private for- profit companies, using proprietary rights to keep their technology secret, monopolize our elections. And an investigation by The Guardian found that voting machine companies have been actively seeking to avoid scrutiny.

Jennifer Cohn: Right now, two vendors, ES&S of Omaha, Nebraska, and Dominion Voting, which at least started out as a Canadian company, account for more than 80% percent of U.S. election equipment. There’s a third vendor called Hart InterCivic that accounts for about another 11% percent.

So combined, the three vendors account for about 93% percent of U.S. election equipment and all three are owned by private equity—– which means we really don’t know very much about who specifically owns the companies. They’re LLC’s:

ES&S which accounts currently for about 44 percent of U.S. election equipment, was founded in the 1970s by two brothers named Bob and Todd Urosevich. And they founded the company with money from the families of two religious right activist billionaires.

One was named Howard Ahmanson Jr and the other was named Nelson Bunker Hunt. Both of these billionaires were major donors to the Chalcedon Foundation, which is Christian reconstruction’s main think tank. Both of these individuals, Hunt and Ahmanson, were high profile and early members of a very powerful and secretive right wing group called the Council for National Policy. And its recent members as of 2014, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center which obtained a copy of its 2014 directory, include the whole Cambridge Analytica cabal, which includes Kellyanne Conway, who is a consultant for Cambridge Analytica.

Steve Bannon, who was the vice president of Cambridge Analytica, and Bob and Rebekah Mercer, who were the founders of Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica is the organization that worked with the 2016 Trump campaign on big data assimilation, and they used stolen Facebook data from many, many Facebook users to do targeted advertising.

Other members of the Council for National Policy include Richard DeVos, Jay Sekulow, who is Trump’s personal attorney. And it also includes Wayne LaPierre of the NRA.

This 2014 directory also states that the Council for National Policies goal is by 2020 to have, as they put it, reestablished or reaffirmed both religious and economic liberty under the U.S. Constitution. Many of the members in the group are very devout or hard right religious right activists. And it’s really a networking group for the religious right and billionaires.

Sandina Robbins: After it was sued by the U.S. government in 2019, Cambridge Analytica declared bankruptcy. It was then acquired by a holding company with direct ties to its previous founder, right wing billionaire Robert Mercer.

Mercer and others in the Council for National Policy preach an ideology called Dominionism, which seeks to impose a Christian government in the U.S. based on a fundamentalist interpretation of biblical law.

Jennifer Cohn monitors the progress of legislation designed to rein in private equity voting technology companies and supports passage of the SAFE Act, which will ban BMDs or ballot marking devices. She also advocates for the use of hand marked paper ballots and mandatory audits.

Jennifer Cohn: There have been several bills in the U.S. Congress to make our elections more secure. So the first it’s called the Pave Act. Most of the universally used ballot marking devices would be banned under it. The ones with barcodes, which is most of the current generation. but it would also ban Internet connectivity and remote access. There’s another bill called the Safe Act, which incorporated most but not all of the provisions of the Pay Act. And it passed the House and went back to the Senate. But Mitch McConnell pretty much said that they were all dead on arrival and hasn’t even allowed a Senate vote on any of them.

Mitch McConnell is not, my knowledge, directly connected with Kellyanne Conway and the other members of the CFP. But he did receive donations from both of these mega vendors and S. and Dominion voting before putting the kibosh on any sort of meaningful election security legislation.

There are always things we can do short of even federal legislation. And what that requires is advocacy at sort of the grassroots. You can start with just an inquiry, just sending an email or making a phone call and asking, are we going to be using electronic poll books on Election Day? And if so, are you going to have backup paper voter lists? And then if the answer is no. I’m on Twitter at @Jenny Cohn1. And I now have this very large following of over 100,000 people and quite a few in the media do follow me now, and I will amplify it for you.

Sandina Robbins: Andrea Miller is the co-executive director in charge of information technology with People Demanding Action based in Virginia. She also spearheads the Center for Common Ground’s Reclaim Our Vote Campaign. In 2015, nearly half of the seats in the Virginia state legislature did not even have a Democratic Party contender.

Miller and other grassroots organizers helped change that, making Virginia’s legislature more representative of the state’s diverse population. Andrea agrees with Jennifer Cohn about the dangers of voting machine technology, starting with electronic poll books.

Andrea Miller: uuug– Electronic poll books.

Wow, those are amazing things because, my mother had a really great saying anything made by man bricks. It’s not a question of if it’s a matter of when. So polling books, when they break, they’re going gonna break on election day. And so you can’t be sitting there, going, “Well I have no idea who the voters are so, you know, nobody gets their vote.” How’s that?

Or we also have seen the threat and the issue with hacking. You have an electronic poll book. It is living out there in the ether. Someone could go in. They could change addresses, shift one column down, aAnd everybody on that poll book is screwed because now nobody is giving you the right address. So now what do you do? Our technology, while it’s designed to help us, we haven’t thought it through properly and we are just opening ourselves up for a major, major fall.

Can anybody say 2020 Iowa Caucus?

Virginia had voting machines up until 2013. So when I voted in the 2013 primary, I was voting on a touch screen machine. And when I touched the screen for the person I wanted to vote for and went next and it was showing me what I’d marked, that was not what I marked. So I went back, did it again. It took me three tries on that touchscreen machine before I was able to get the candidate that I wanted.

Now, that also happened to the man who was governor. The governor tried to vote and the machine, it wasn’t properly calibrated. It would not accept the people he had selected. So that’s why Virginia went suddenly. We literally turned on a dime 2014 and the general machines were gone and 90 percent of Virginia counties were voting on paper. So let’s look at Virginia. In 2017, wWe got a lot of candidates to run. Grassroots activist type people decided they were going to run for office. All of them, it was their first run. Many of them had $10,000, maybe $20000 for a well-funded one going up against a 5, 10, 15-year incumbent who had millions of dollars in the bank.

And with grassroots support we came within one vote of one seat of tieing for control of a house. And then 2019 Democrats took control of her Senate and her house. That is what changed Virginia.

Virginia ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, the Virginia Green New Deal, which is a very aggressive, progressive green new deal passed out of the Labor and Commerce Committee. Virginia is working on repealing right to work. Virginia is a completely different place. And I always say thank you to everybody who helped us because Virginia and now say she is the former capital of the Confederacy.

We did two main things, and there’s really only two things you can do for elections. Number one, we looked at who were the people who have been–I call it de-registered– and we work with what we call underrepresented voters: African-American and Hispanic Native American Asians.

And so I started looking at how many voters of color were in Virginia who voted, who didn’t vote. And I realized what we really needed to do was add community of color voters. So we were giving people valuable information. We were letting them know you better check your voter registration status. And if it’s not active. You’re going to have to get reregistered.

NEWS CLIPS COLLAGE: Election election purging, voter purges, people from its voter rolls a hundred twenty five thousand vote, Representative Raul Grijalva released a statement. It reads in part:

“where there are lines lasting hours on end ballot shortages, ID issues, erroneous party affiliations or sparse polling locations. We must document these problems and implement policies that ensure they never happen again.”

Sandina Robbins: Since the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, it’s been open season on voting rights nationwide. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, voter suppression happens in many ways.

That’s why Andrea Miller founded the Center for Common Ground to empower underrepresented voters. Her advocacy focuses on the American South, a region well known for voter disenfranchisement against communities of color and more recently, against younger voters.

Her Reclaim Our Vote campaign is changing southern states like North Carolina, where a recent court ruling said that the state’s suppression of African-American voters was done with, quote, “almost surgical precision. “

Andrea Miller: The Voting Rights Act did put standards into place. And the others in that it did was it looked very hard at states that had tried to prevent people from voting based on race or religion or various things. And they had come up with a term that they called pre-clearance: in order to change your state election laws, you had to get permission from the Department of Justice to make these changes. And that had kept everything much more even handed. And so what happened was under President Obama, there was this voice and this rolling call that. America is now “post-racial.” “We don’t need pre-clearance anymore,” which basically neutered it. And the moment that happened, then we started seeing states doing these wild and crazy things.

We see Kris Kobach of Kansas saying, oh, there are these rampant issues of voter fraud. People are voting in multiple states. It’s like, wait a minute. How is it possible? You know, are we talking about people jumping on their own private jet, flying from state to state to to vote and 7.8 million people lost their ability to vote. Notice I didn’t say “right” I said their ability.

If we had a right {to vote} it wouldn’t be so easy to take it from us, which is why they stopped too soon in the civil rights movement. They needed to take voting as a right all the way to the constitution. If they had done that, that would have struck down felony disenfranchisement laws. So they stopped too soon.

So that’s one of the other things that I do work on — constitutional right to vote.

One of the other incredible forms of voter suppression and it was in the movie Suppressed would be closing a polling location. So they wanted to close that polling location in Georgia saying, “oh, it cost $4000. And that’s just we can’t spend $4000 to allow all these Black people to vote. You know, who can afford that?”

And then it turns out they’re spending $18,000 a year on Christmas decorations. You know, it’s like, guys, really? Come on, please.

[Music]

So you just have every state has different rules. Every state has come up with a new twist or a new gotcha for the unsuspecting voters. My favorite was in 2015 when Alabama went to strict photo I.D. they closed every DMV in the Alabama black belt. Just closed them, said, “gee, gosh, golly, we don’t have money to run the DMV.” Apparently in no county in the black belt did they have enough money to keep the DMV office open.

Sandina Robbins: For the upcoming election, Andrea hopes to mobilize the largest turnout ever, and key to that turnout is the 18 to 24 year old voter. Andrea Miller has turned her attention to the youth vote.

Andrea Miller: There are so many different ways that the 18 to 24 year old vote is suppressed, for instance, in Texas, a you can vote and use a handgun license as your I.D., but you can’t use your college I.D. as a photo I.D. You have to either get a Texas driver’s license or buy a Texas I.D. In many states, the voting precinct is a long way from campus, so in Alabama we are working on the notion of let’s get voting precincts on campus.

Sandina Robbins: Andrea Miller is also convinced that in order to win in 2020, Democrats must concentrate on taking back the South. Her work promotes this strategy.

Andrea Miller Civics lesson on America, America: We do not elect a president by popular vote. So when I ask the question, how many votes do you need to win the White House? There is only one correct answer. Two hundred and seventy. We need 270 electoral votes. Boom that’s it. That’s the way it works. Doesn’t matter that we wish it works some other way. It doesn’t. So that means we’re thirty nine votes short.

Texas has got thirty eight of the thirty nine votes that we need. One state. Texas is coming in right behind California. And then Georgia. Georgia’s got two Senate races and 16 electoral votes. North Carolina has got 15. Alabama’s got nine. Arizona’s got eleven. Florida’s got 29. These are the numbers that I live with — Everyday of My Life.

Sandina Robbins: Andrea Miller supports eliminating electronic voting machines and returning to verifiable paper ballots, restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people and making Election Day a federal holiday.

And that’s it for this Women’s Desk edition of Making Contact. Produced by Women Rising Radio, listen to our programs at WomenRisingRadio.com and at RadioProject org. Special thanks to Lisa Fiorino and National Voter Corps and to Lisa Rudman, and Making Contact. Women Rising Radios producer is Lynn Finerman, audio engineers Emily Harris and Stefanie Welch. And I’m your host, Sandina Robbins. Thanks for listening.

Music credits: instrumental intro from “Democracy” by L. Cohen and America the Beautifiul” by Charlie Haden.