Ballot Marking Devices 101

By Ion Y and Haleh S

The redacted Mueller Report is out, and we’re all trying to grapple with how the Russians interfered in our 2016 elections. But even at a whopping nearly 500 pages, the report reveals only one aspect of election interference; as we look to 2020 we need to be aware of other ways our elections might be compromised, hacked, and manipulated.

The Secure Elections Network, made up of leaders and members of Indivisible groups in several states, including California (that’s us – Indivisible East Bay), is trying to help as many people as possible understand how elections can be compromised. An April 28 webinar “BMDs: The Good, the Bad, and the Uglyaddressed concerns about the security of Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), computerized voting devices that enable voters with disabilities to vote when they’re unable to hand mark a paper ballot. In an attempt to simplify the purchase of voting machines, a number of states and counties are now considering BMDs for use in casting all votes. However, BMDs suffer from some fundamental security problems that make them particularly vulnerable to hacking. The webinar explains the particular nature of the issues with BMDs, and importantly, explains what can be done to alleviate them.

Background – Hacking BMDs

All voting systems, electronic and otherwise, are potentially subject to hacking. The primary trait of electronic voting systems is that they make everything about the process of casting and counting votes faster than doing the same things by hand. This includes real benefits such as votes being counted and tallied faster, more cheaply, and much more accurately. On the downside, they also make tampering with votes possible at a much larger scale and much more cheaply – and, critically, they make tampering much, much harder to detect: discarded boxes of ballots or erased marks are at least possible to observe, but altered bits on disk look no different from unchanged ones. It is possible to digitally add verification that catches accidental errors, and this is widely used, leading to the higher accuracy of tallies. But any part of a digital system can be hacked, which means that just as votes can be altered electronically, electronic verification can be altered as well. And electronic hacking is particularly pernicious because while a physical ballot would have to be destroyed or physically erased, altering a digital result leaves behind no obvious trace. The overall lack of verifiability may be BMDs’ most severe problem: a voting system that is cheap and error-free but whose results can never be trusted ultimately undermines faith and trust in all elections.

Fortunately, there is a way to provide the benefits of electronic voting and also satisfy the issue of trust: using the voter’s original ballot as the basis for a risk-limiting audit (RLA), an election audit that can be used to double-check the results of the election with very high accuracy and very low cost. If the results of an audit don’t match the election results, tampering can be detected. Statistics can be arcane, but the method is sound, and done properly the odds of an election’s results not matching the audit can be made less likely than being struck by lightning multiple times on a sunny day.

For the audit process to work, the voter’s original ballot must be saved and the ballot must record the voter’s original intent. And this is where the difficulties with BMDs come in. Unlike a hand marked paper ballot, where voters mark their choices directly on paper with a pen, BMDs first tally the vote electronically and only afterward produce a paper copy of the vote. But the moment an electronic system participates there is an unverifiable step: hacking a BMD can cause the printed ballot to not match the choices a voter made, compromising the vote just as thoroughly as if there were no paper involved at all. Thus, the paper ballot must exist before the electronic system comes in.

The Webinar

Featured speaker Andrew Appel, professor of Computer Science at Princeton University and expert in voting machine security, explained to webinar participants the ways that electronic voting equipment is vulnerable to hacking. He mentioned other machines, like Direct Recording Electronics (DREs) and Precinct-Count Optical Scanners (PCOS), but the focus of the presentation was on BMDs. Professor Appel described BMDs’ weaknesses, how they can be used to steal an election, and how to run a safe election and avoid the problems BMDs produce.

There are several ways to hack an election machine, including:

  • Altering the machine’s software in its original form before it is distributed to polling places. It is not enough for a polling place to be secure if the manufacturer or distributor is hacked instead.
  • Inserting a memory card into the machine, once it is installed at a polling place.
  • Hacking machines via the internet if the machine has internet access (voting machines are not supposed to have internet access, but they often do).

As a result, according to Appel, elections are most secure when NO electronic or computer-based voting systems are used in the actual casting of ballots. Whenever an electronic device is used at any stage of voting – marking or counting – the chances of distorting the result increases. But while hacking can occur at the counting stage with any device, hacking can still be detected if everyone hand marks a paper ballot and the actual ballot is preserved for purposes of audits or recounts. BMDs, however, compromise the marking stage and leave no original ballot that can be verified in an audit as not having been tampered with electronically.

What makes BMDs particularly pernicious is that unlike a physical ballot, which would have to be destroyed or physically erased, altering a digital result leaves behind no obvious trace of an altered vote. BMDs provide a paper copy of a ballot, giving the illusion of auditability, without the actual benefit. Hacking a BMD is no more detectable than if voting was done completely electronically.

What is more, a little hacking goes a very long way: changing only 5% of the votes on a ballot is enough to change the outcome of an election. Most voters, however, will never detect such a small amount of changed votes; even when the voter is given a paper copy of their votes for the purposes of double-checking, only a tiny percentage of voters actually examine printouts from electronic voting machines. Worse, even if they do check and spot an error, there is nothing a poll worker can do to correct it other than voiding the bad vote and allowing the voter to vote again. There is no way to prove that the error was caused by a compromised voting machine instead of voter error. A hacked BMD could thus remain in use for years even if errors were detected. Appel emphasized the need for a process that is auditable, and thus that hand marked ballots are essential for trusting election results.

Why use BMDs at all? Access to the ballot is also necessary to democracy, and because some disabled voters are unable to use paper ballots federal law requires at least one BMD in every polling location. Some election officials thus favor using BMDs for all voters, to simplify purchasing and training, and to cut down on (perceived) costs. Some officials and elected representatives also believe, incorrectly, that any paper output is sufficient for an audit, and don’t understand the importance of the ballot being hand marked before any electronic device comes into play. As a result a large number of counties use BMDs and a number of states are considering requiring them for all voters.

Appel recommended using BMDs only as required and needed for disabled voters, and not for all voters, and minimizing the use of computer voting devices at all possible stages of the process, to ensure that elections are trustworthy. Appel’s ideal approach:

  • Hand mark a paper ballot for nearly all voters. If a BMD is required for accessibility, ensure the user verifies the vote’s accuracy and prints a paper copy.
  • Feed the paper ballot into the Precinct Count Optical Scanner, which scans and stores the vote electronically and saves the physical paper ballot in a box.
  • Paper ballots may be audited by counting a sampling of the votes and compared to the PCOS count, to verify.

On the issue of costs, Appel noted that BMDs are individually much more expensive to maintain than optical scanners. It is thus more secure and three to four times less expensive to mix predominantly PCOS systems with a much smaller number of BMDs for voters who need them, as compared to using entirely BMDs.

Appel suggested safeguards for voters in states (Georgia was a prominent example raised in the webinar) that are mandating purchase of BMDs by law, and thus have no choice but to use them. These included educating voters (perhaps by poll monitors) to check the accuracy of their votes before submitting them, and printing a copy of votes after using a BMD to preserve a paper record in case of an audit or recount. He emphasized, however, that these methods do not reliably deal with the fundamental problem: there is no way to perform an audit without a trusted record that can be proven to never have been interfered with electronically, and BMDs by definition do not provide such a record.

Voting in the East Bay

Contra Costa County uses paper ballot scanners on Election Day. It uses BMDs primarily for accessibility and it appears they’re not intended for use by default. However, in the 2018 election they were the only option to vote in person at the County’s early voting sites. It is unclear what the County is planning for the 2020 election. Alameda County uses paper ballot scanners, and for accessibility they have “touchscreen devices.” Although they’re not explicitly called BMDs, that is what they are, and they have the same concerns.

To look up what kinds of voting machines your county uses, see the California Secretary of State’s list of voting machines used by county. For an overview of the three types of voting machines you’re likely to use or read about see the Brennan Center’s overview of voting equipment.

Did you miss the webinar? You can watch it, and see the comprehensive slides from Professor Appel’s presentation, at this link. You can also see the Secure Elections Network’s past webinars at the same link.

Can you help work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team? Email: info@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack. For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

 

Haleh S. is an Engineer turned Lawyer, turned Activist

Featured photo: Quadriplegic voter using a BMD, photograph by Joebeone

Meeting with Rep. DeSaulnier, who isn’t running for President

By Ted Landau and Ted Lam

Three Indivisible chapters met with CA-11 Representative Mark DeSaulnier on April 23 before his Town Hall at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. He was accompanied by Aaron Silver, a member of his staff. Indivisible East Bay was represented by Ted, Ted, and Edwin; Indivisible Resisters was represented by Gwynne; and Cora represented Indivisible Central Contra Costa County (I4C). We kicked off the meeting by congratulating Rep. DeSaulnier for being one of the few Democrats not running for president, which made him and Aaron laugh.

We covered five major topics: infrastructure, whistleblower protection, Department of Defense oversight, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the Mueller Report. You can read IEB’s pre-meeting memorandum here.

Infrastructure

The big hope for infrastructure is to reach an agreement with the White House, but DeSaulnier remains skeptical about prospects for this. A seemingly insurmountable stumbling block is the GOP’s refusal to talk about funding sources for any proposal, because of their party’s pledge not to raise taxes.

DeSaulnier mentioned that we need to provide incentives for “smart mobility and smart growth,” but noted that Senator McConnell will likely block in the Senate any bill that the House produces. He also said that the vehicle mileage tax is a good alternative to a gas tax, and that he could support it either individually or a combination of the two. Along the lines of smart and green infrastructure, DeSaulnier said he was rooting for Tesla to be successful. He believes that U.S. car companies, and the Chinese, have the incentive to beat Tesla to mass produce a viable electric car.

We discussed PG&E as an example of a utility company with the problem of being a “hybrid company” with too much emphasis on generating profits. He would like us to move away from this model, if possible.

Whistleblower Protection

DeSaulnier agreed that whistleblower protection is important. We reminded him that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed that the Department of Justice asked him to put the “citizenship” question on the Census form; DeSaulnier said that whistleblowers from the Department of Justice said it was actually the opposite, that Ross asked them to do it and whistleblowers provided the emails that contradicted Ross. This is just one example of the importance of whistleblowers and why they need protection. DeSaulnier encourages them to contact him directly or contact House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings. DeSaulnier thinks that Cummings is doing a great job protecting whistleblowers that come to his committee, and he reminded us that when Betsy DeVos recently testified to the Oversight Committee, he confronted her on ignoring statutes and laws in her duties as Education Secretary. DeSaulnier, however, had nothing flattering to say about Rep. Jim Jordan on the committee.

Acting Inspector General John Kelly for the Department of Homeland Security will come before the Oversight Committee to testify regarding Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death and related matters. DeSaulnier said that Inspector Generals do great work, and that they’re relatively insulated from partisanship.

Department of Defense Oversight

Regarding the FY 2020 budget for Defense, DeSaulnier will vote against the Department of Defense bills that increase the Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund. And yes, he supports rescinding DOD’s reprogramming authority, which has been used to divert funds to Trump’s Wall.

DeSaulnier supports Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill to rescind the War Powers Act, which would force the President to come to Congress before initiating military action in most cases.

He also said that the DOD has never done a financial audit, and although they’re in the midst of one now they are doing it kicking and screaming. In his opinion, it’s the military contractors that are the root of the problem.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

DeSaulnier strongly supports promotion of all aspects of the ACA. We briefly discussed the racial and economic implications of the ACA: how it is more critical for people with less resources. It was pointed out that ACA, and even more so universal health care, has “indirect” health benefits because it reduces stress of worrying about how to take care of one’s health. DeSaulnier agreed, and spoke of the personal issue regarding his leukemia that requires taking pills that cost $400 a day.

He similarly noted that the ACA requires “parity for behavioral and physical health.” He is especially sensitive to and familiar with behavioral health issues, partly because of what he has experienced in his own family. He supports a suicide prevention bill, and is currently working with Rep. Joe Kennedy regarding all of this. In general, he sees reason for optimism regarding the politics on these issues. Initially Democrats were on the defensive with health care and defending the ACA against attacks. Now Democrats are on offense, as the public has come to understand and support the benefits of the ACA.

Mueller Report

As a matter of principle, DeSaulnier supports impeachment proceedings, and he has voted to take up the matter on several occasions. However, he pointed out that support for investigations that could lead to impeachment is not the same thing as supporting a vote for impeachment. He cautioned that we need to move carefully here. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated, this is a long process with an uncertain outcome — and it is likely that there will be no result from Congress (even under the best of circumstances) before the 2020 elections.

He cited the investigatory work that the Financial Services, Natural Resources, Intelligence, Judiciary, and Oversight Committees are doing. As these committees hold hearings, the public will be given a spotlight on the administration’s many corrupt acts.  At the same time, he noted that the Mueller Report clearly shows ample evidence of crimes. As one example, he cited former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s turning over private polling data to the Russians as “treasonous.”

The meeting went very well overall. Rep. DeSaulnier was responsive to all of our questions. We thanked him for representing his constituents so well in Congress. If you want more info about the CA-11 Team, contact co-leads Ted and Kristen at indivisibleca11@gmail.com. Or if you’re on Slack, contact @Ted Lam or @KristenL and join the moc_team_ca11 team. Want an invite to join Slack? Please drop us a line at info@indivisibleeb.org

Photo by Aaron Silver

Ted Landau is a retired professor of psychology. He has also spent several decades as a tech journalist/author — writing primarily about Apple products. He has been politically active in the East Bay since moving here in 2004.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

Save California from fracking

Action deadline: comments on Draft Supplemental EIS due June 10, 2019 –

“Land management”: the words have such a nice ring to them, as if nice things will happen to, you know, the land. But if the Despoiler-in-Chief gets his way, more than a million acres of California lands could soon be subject to oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

On April 27, 2019, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) intended to open up public lands and mineral estates in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kern, and six other California counties to oil companies. Some of the targeted parcels are owned by the BLM; in other cases, BLM owns the underlying mineral rights. After a 45-day public comment period, the EIS will be finalized and BLM can auction off the drilling rights to these parcels for as little as $2.00 per acre.

The parcels on the chopping block include some of the wildest and most pristine areas along the Central Coast and Central Valley – lands in and around national parks, national monuments, and national forests, as well as state and local parks and preserves. Many are in areas of critical environmental concern. A picture is worth much more than our description – take a look at this interactive map posted by Los Padres ForestWatch, showing the areas that may be open for oil drilling and fracking leases and their relationship to environmentally sensitive areas. Neighboring cities, schools and farms will also be impacted.

We need to stop this before irreparable damage is done. Submit your comments online here by June 10, 2019! Read on for instructions, talking points, and more information:

What to do:

Comment now! The 45-day public comment period ends on June 10, 2019. Submit your comments online here. (If you comment online, you must fill in all boxes with red asterisks and you have a 60 minute time limit. Once you have finished with one screen, click the “Next” button in the lower right corner; the last screen will have a “Submit” button in that location.) Or you can submit comments by mail to this address:

Bakersfield Field Office, Attn: Bakersfield RMP Hydraulic Fracturing Analysis
3801 Pegasus Drive
Bakersfield, CA  93308

What to write:

Here are some suggested comments; please personalize what you write, because copied & pasted comments or overly similar comments may be grouped together and not counted separately. Some of these comments have been adapted from the comprehensive letter from California’s environmental and natural resources agencies responding to the BLM’s initial notice of intent related to the lease sales of federal lands in California, which you can read here.

  • Opening up new public lands to fracking and other fossil fuel extraction methods is contrary to California’s commitment to building a sustainable future without reliance on fossil fuels.
    • California has a statutory target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and a plan to reduce petroleum consumption by 45 percent by 2030 to meet this target.
    • We need environmentally and economically sound energy strategies focused on the development of renewable energy sources.
    • Why despoil our environment to extract a resource we have decided to move away from?
  • Fracking involves the use of toxic and poorly understood chemicals.
    • These toxic chemicals get into the groundwater, especially in California, where fracking operations are dangerously shallow.
    • Our communities, waterways, wildlife, and outdoor economy will all be put at risk.
  • Let’s not open our beautiful public lands to fracking and drilling.
    • Let’s not sacrifice our health, wildlife and climate to profit the oil and gas industry.
    • In a state where water is so precious — to agriculture, human populations, and wildlife — clean water is worth more than oil.

More info:

Fracking is an extreme oil extraction process that involves injecting chemicals and fluids at high pressure underground to access oil or natural gas. Environmentalists are concerned that fracking can contaminate groundwater and increase the risk of seismic activity. The public lands in question here sit over groundwater that supplies neighboring areas with water for agricultural and human uses. In addition, geologic conditions and hydraulic fracturing practices in California makes fracking particularly hazardous – fracking in this state occurs at unusually shallow depths, which heightens concerns about groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts.

The draft EIS is the latest step in Trump’s efforts to eliminate environmental protections and facilitate fracking on federally controlled lands. As you may recall, one of the administration’s first actions after the inauguration was to rescind Obama-era fracking regulations. As Senator Kamala Harris put it:

Under this administration, California’s beautiful public lands and its outdoor economy are under direct threat, and we must stand up against this active effort to chip away at vital environmental protections.

The proposed action would end a five year moratorium on leasing federal land to oil companies in California. No federal lands in the state have been subject to such leases since 2013, when a federal judge found that the BLM violated environmental laws by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without fully considering the environmental impact of fracking.

The supplemental EIS is the result of a lawsuit filed in the US District Court, Central District of California by Earthjustice, representing the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch, challenging BLM’s California oil leasing plan. In 2016, the judge found that BLM ignored the impacts of fracking in its original environmental studies and, in 2017, BLM agreed to produce a supplemental EIS analyzing the potential environmental effects of fracking.

You can find more information from the Los Padres ForestWatch.

 

Talking impeachment with Tom Steyer, April 2019

By Katie Cameron and Rosemary Jordan

Tom Steyer, head of Need to Impeach, held a Town Hall at Ruby Hill Winery’s Casa Real in Pleasanton on April 23, 2019, to encourage his large and enthusiastic audience to keep the pressure on Representative Eric Swalwell, who is now running for President. The following day, April 24, an impeachment petition with many constituent signatures was to be dropped off at Swalwell’s office; Indivisible East Bay member and CA-15 team co-lead Ward Kanowsky also planned an April 24 visit to Swalwell’s district office, making it an impeachment day of action!

Prior to the Town Hall, Steyer had asked to hold a private meeting with Alameda4Impeachment (A4I). Four members of A4I’s leadership team – Rosemary Jordan, Ken and Katie Cameron, and Lynn La Rocca (most of whom are also active IEB members) – met with Steyer at the winery, where we were joined by Need to Impeach staff members Jamiah Adams and Nat Arriola.

A4I's Katie, Rosemary, Lynn, and Ken meet with Tom Steyer, photo by Jamiah Adams
A4I’s Katie, Rosemary, Lynn, and Ken meet with Tom Steyer, photo by Jamiah Adams

From the start it was clear that Steyer was there to listen to us. We shared photos of our work over the past two-plus years and our original Articles of Impeachment, and then quickly turned to the current situation and possible actions to take.

A4I's Katie and Rosemary meet with Tom Steyer, photo by Lynn LaRocca
A4I’s Katie and Rosemary meet with Tom Steyer, photo by Lynn LaRocca

First, we commended Need To Impeach for its recent stronger efforts to coordinate with other national and local impeachment efforts. We explored ways to end-run or persuade the Republicans, especially in the Senate, and we discussed and evaluated the Pelosi-Hoyer negative messaging on impeachment.

Perhaps most important, we all expressed frustration over the stonewalling of subpoenas by the White House and other Administration officials. It was clear that none of us, including Steyer, had answers on how and whether the House can proceed with impeachment without cooperating witnesses and necessary documents. A4I followed up by sending some questions to legal expert Ron Fein, and obtained very helpful clarification within hours; you can read the Q&A with Fein here.

The Town Hall was very well attended. Great food, typical of Steyer events – he takes care of his audience! Steyer called for us, the people, to urge our Members of Congress to hold public hearings that reveal the impeachable offenses, and to remove an outlaw President.

Audience questions were invariably supportive of Steyer’s efforts, and of impeachment, but there was an undercurrent of frustration: Is the clock running out? What do we do if no witnesses comply with subpoenas? If the House impeaches, but the Senate does not convict, can Trump do a victory lap and win the White House? Steyer’s response is that hearings will encourage support for impeachment, and that when we don’t stop an outlaw President, worse will follow.

Takeaways from our meeting with Steyer and the Town Hall: contact your Representative on a regular basis and press for an impeachment inquiry, and educate yourself about how to deal with the obstruction!

What you can do now:  

 

Katie Cameron is a founding member of Alameda4Impeachment. She spent her career in state government in Washington State, and now devotes most of her time to defeating the Trump administration and the corrupt forces that got him elected.

Rosemary Jordan is co-founder of Alameda4Impeachment, a registered Indivisible group and a partner in the Citizens Impeachment Coalition, which includes representatives of cities, towns and counties nationwide (including four in the East Bay) that have passed local Impeachment resolutions. Rosemary also serves on the Steering Committee of All Rise Alameda and is co-leader of the End The Tampon Tax In California campaign. She has over 20 years of professional experience in healthcare and aging.

 

Fight Voter Suppression and Free the Vote in California!

Action deadline: Friday April 26 and ongoing –

There’s strength in numbers. (Go Warriors!) Every vote matters, and we need to do everything in our power to combat voter suppression. Restoring voting rights to Californians who are on parole is a critical step, and although we can’t do this in time for the 2020 election, there’s a path to achieve this goal in the near future. And your help is needed.

East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta is coauthor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, the “Free the Vote Act,” which eliminates the provisions of the California Constitution that disqualify people on parole from voting. A companion bill to ACA 6, AB 646, amends the relevant provisions of the Elections Code. Passage of ACA 6 requires a 2/3 vote in both the Assembly and Senate, followed by ratification by a majority of voters. AB 646, if passed into law, will only take effect if the voters pass ACA 6 in the 2020 election. ACA 6 and AB 646 have been designated as priority measures by CA State Strong.

Almost 50,000 Californians on parole are disqualified from voting, even though they have served their sentences and been released from prison. The right to vote is a pillar of citizenship, and people on parole for felony convictions are still citizens who pay taxes and have an overriding constitutional right to have their voices heard on political issues. As Assemblymember Bonta explains:

After paying their debt to society, people have a right and obligation to contribute to society. Part of building a productive life includes becoming civically engaged and exercising the fundamental right to vote.

Given the “racial underbelly of criminal justice policies in general,” it comes as no surprise that felony disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts people of color. In California, three out of four male prisoners are nonwhite. Black American adults are more than four times more likely to lose the right to vote than non-Black American adults. As the Sentencing Project puts it, research shows that:

African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences.

In other words: Black Americans are more likely to lose their voting rights, and to lose them for longer. To add insult to injury, prisoners are often counted as residents of largely white rural areas where prisons are located for the purposes of redistricting, leading to “prison-based gerrymandering.”

Felony disenfranchisement is a shameful reminder of California’s Jim Crow laws, enshrined in our Constitution. As a matter of fundamental fairness, we must amend the Constitution to restore the right to vote to people with convictions. Restoring the right to vote helps people leaving prison reintegrate into the community. Successful reintegration reduces recidivism and increases public safety. As Secretary of State Padilla commented: “Civic participation is foundational to a sense of community—and it can play a major role in reducing recidivism.”

California has already begun to reform its felony disenfranchisement policies. In 2016, voting rights were restored to people convicted of a felony offense who had been sent to county jail, but not those sent to state or federal prison. ACA 6 and AB 646 will advance this effort by ensuring that people on felony parole who have served their sentences will be treated equally regardless of the facility in which they were incarcerated.

This is an idea whose time has come. An increasing number of states have passed legislation eliminating or modifying felony disenfranchisement. It’s become a topic of discussion for Democratic Presidential hopefuls and other bigwigs and has entered the discourse on social media. California is lagging behind in this national movement to advance democracy.

What you can do:

1. Call your state representatives, now and every day.

If you’re a constituent of Assemblymember Bonta, thank him; if you’re a constituent of Assemblymember Wicks or Bauer-Kahan, call and encourage them to support ACA 6 & AB 646. Yes, call even when your representatives have taken good positions on an issue! The other side is calling, and you need to make your voice heard.

Find your legislator here.

What to say:

For Assemblymembers Wicks and Bauer-Kahan:

My name is _______, my zip code is ______, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want _______ to co-author and support Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, which restores voting rights to Californians on parole after they have been released from prison. I also want _______ to support AB 646, the companion bill to ACA 6.

For Assemblymember Bonta:

My name is _______, my zip code is ______, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want to thank Assemblymember Bonta for coauthoring ACA 6 and supporting voting rights for Californians who are on parole after they have been released from prison. I strongly support ACA 6 and AB 646.

  • Buffy Wicks 510-286-1400; email
  • Rob Bonta 510-286-1670; email
  • Rebecca Bauer-Kahan 925-328-1515; email

2. Come to Sacramento on May 20 for the 2019 Quest For Democracy Advocacy Day

Join IEB and community partners at this event at the Capitol in Sacramento, where participants will meet to strategize, train, and then advocate directly to legislators. A bus will leave for the event from Fruitvale and West Oakland BART stations in Oakland on the following schedule on May 20:

  • 7 AM: Bus will be at Fruitvale BART
  • 7:15 AM: Bus leaves Fruitvale BART
  • 7:30 AM: bus leaves West Oakland

RSVP (required!) and let them know you’re with IEB.

Read our prior articles:

Can you help work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team? Email: info@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack. For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

 

December 10 March for voting rights, photograph © Michael Fleshman

IEB Impeachment Updates: April 19-22

By Rosemary Jordan

Members of Indivisible East Bay and Alameda4Impeachment (A4I) visited Representative Barbara Lee’s Oakland district office on April 19 to reinforce their repeated requests for a meeting with Lee on next steps for impeachment. The group was well received by district staff, including aide Jain Thapa (who especially liked the group’s bold graphics on social media and printed signs – kudos to A4I/IEB member Lynn LaRocca, the graphic designer who created the powerful images).

 

On April 22, A4I/IEB members participated in a joint rally outside Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco office calling for her to advance an impeachment inquiry. The action was covered by the SF Chronicle. Members were glad to meet with representatives from By The People, a group that uses proven mass mobilization methods to bring greater attention to impeachment.

Want to take action or get involved?

  • Visit bit.ly/impeachresolution for By the People’s template to send a letter to your representative.
  • You can also use Indivisible National’s page to urge your representative to cosponsor H.Res. 257, Rep. Tlaib’s impeachment resolution. 
  • Watch for a major announcement from By The People about a significant non-violent civil disobedience action at the Capitol on May 14 – if you can go to DC to be part of this collective action, please email Alameda4Impeachment@gmail.com for more information.
  • Join the discussion on the #impeachment channel on IEB’s Slack. For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

 

Photographs by Katie Cameron and Rosemary Jordan

Rosemary Jordan is co-founder of Alameda4Impeachment, a registered Indivisible group and a partner in the Citizens Impeachment Coalition, which includes representatives of cities, towns and counties nationwide (including four in the East Bay) that have passed local Impeachment resolutions. Rosemary also serves on the Steering Committee of All Rise Alameda and is co-leader of the End The Tampon Tax In California campaign. She has over 20 years of professional experience in healthcare and aging.

 

Bake sales for Grannies Respond projects

Indivisible East Bay’s CA-11 Team has worked with Indivisible Kensington (IK) on many important local and national issues over the past two years. Now IK is raising funds for Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responden, an amazing group that fights against the administration’s zero tolerance immigration policies.

In the summer of 2018, hundreds of grannies traveled from all over North America to the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas, to protest what was happening at the border. Along the way, in various states, they picked up their own caravan of concerned Americans. What Grannies Respond saw at the border motivated them to continue helping immigrants seeking asylum, and they recently started the Overground Railroad Project. Modeled after the Underground Railroad, the Project helps immigrants at bus stops across the country as they make their way to family members and community hosts who will house them while they await court dates.

Indivisible Kensington is having bake sales to benefit the group on Sunday, May 5 from 11 AM to 2 PM, at two locations: the Kensington’s Farmers Market and Young’s Market. IK will also take donations of cash or baked goods. Email indivisiblekensington@gmail.com if you have questions or want to help.

To support Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responden directly, click here.

 

Tax the Rich!

By Nancy Latham

Of the many reasons you’re an activist, chances are that this country’s lack of economic justice is on the list. We have an economy that works extremely well for those at the very top, works well for the top 10%, and really fails the bottom 90%. There are several ways to look at it, and they’re all appalling. There’s income inequality: in 2017, the average income for the bottom 90% was $35,628, while the average for the top 1% was almost $1.4 million. Wealth inequality is if anything more shocking: in 2016, three men – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett – had more wealth than the bottom 50% of the entire population. And the top 5% owned two-thirds of the wealth in the United States. And there’s the real world: in 2016, the Federal Reserve found in a survey that about half of Americans would not have $400 to pay for an emergency like a car breaking down or an unexpected medical bill.

And there are so many more outrageous statistics about our economy. Does this make you angry? Meet the Tax March Organization. Tax March is an advocacy nonprofit that sprang up in 2017 with the grassroots Tax Day March that demanded that Trump release his tax returns; they also spearheaded the Not One Penny coalition that fought against the tax scam bill that Republicans shoved through Congress later that year.

Now, Tax March is launching a new campaign to Tax the Rich! On April 13 and 14, 2019, Tax March brought together 75 activists from all over the country to learn more about our wildly unfair tax code, and how – together – we can fight back. Taxing the rich will reduce inequality and help us pay for programs that support the common good, such as the Green New Deal, affordable college, universal health coverage, universal childcare, and more.

Activists Gathered for the Tax the Rich Training, photo by Nancy Latham
Activists gathered for the Tax the Rich training, photo by Nancy Latham

Just as importantly, taxing the rich is good for democracy. Highly concentrated wealth puts power in the hands of the few, distorting our political system as policy-makers respond to the rich donor class rather than to ordinary Americans. And in fact, we saw this in action with the tax scam itself: although the so-called reform legislation was deeply unpopular, it passed anyway. Was it just a coincidence that rich donors made it really clear they wanted the bill, even issuing threats like “Get it done or don’t ever call me again”? You decide …

Our Tax Code is Bad for Democracy
Our Tax Code is Bad for Democracy

At the Tax March training we learned about digital organizing, media strategies, shifting the public narrative, educating voters, and answering tough questions. I came back more fired up than ever to start unrigging the economy! And now, I’m inviting you to join. There will be regular calls with grassroots activists as we push the tax debate to the center of the political stage. If you are interested, reach out to me at nancylatham63@gmail.com, or if you’re on the IEB Slack platform, you can direct message me at @nancylatham and join the #economic_justice channel.

Taxing the rich is fair, and it is right. See you on the front lines, fighting for economic justice.

Nancy Latham is on IEB’s Governance Committee, and is a passionate member of the Resistance. In her day job, she works with non-profits, foundations, and government agencies that support greater equity and justice through initiatives in youth development, education, housing, and community development.

Photos by Nancy Latham

Coffee and Conversation with Rep. Lee

By Rosemary Jordan

Members of Indivisible East Bay and Alameda4Impeachment (A4I) attended the April 7, 2019 Coffee and Conversation event with Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13) at Paulista Restaurant in Oakland.

We passed out copies of the Open Letter to Representative Lee that A4I’s leadership had published in the previous week’s Alameda Sun newspaper. During Q&A, Lee responded to one of our member’s questions by committing to meet with us to discuss the topics raised in our letter, including next steps to launch an impeachment investigation. Addressing something Lee said about the likelihood of Senate approval, another member pointed out that a roll call of GOP Senators in the face of overwhelming evidence of misconduct could be very helpful to Democrats. He also stressed that in any case, if we don’t hold this President accountable, we will be putting our democracy in jeopardy forever.

At the event a lively group of Oaklanders, including teachers, students, and Poor People’s Campaign representatives asked great questions about climate change, education funding, the escalation of tensions in Venezuela – and more. Representative Lee affirmed her commitment to peace and justice, with specific references to Black women’s health, the Green New Deal, reparations, and reduced defense spending.

Photo of Rep. Barbara Lee at Coffee & Conversation by Rosemary Jordan

Rosemary Jordan is Co-Founder of Alameda4Impeachment, a registered Indivisible group and a partner in the Citizens Impeachment Coalition, which includes representatives of cities, towns and counties nationwide (including four in the East Bay) that have passed local Impeachment resolutions. Rosemary also serves on the Steering Committee of All Rise Alameda and is co-leader of the End The Tampon Tax In California campaign. She has over 20 years of professional experience in healthcare and aging.

 

IEB Members Gear up to Engage in the Democratic Primary

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By Nancy Latham

It’s a ways yet before the Democratic presidential primaries start, but the candidates — and possible candidates — are talking about serious ideas. Whatever you may think of the various individuals, it’s exciting to see their bold proposals, like Medicare for All (Bernie Sanders), a wealth tax and universal childcare (Elizabeth Warren), baby bonds to close the wealth gap (Cory Booker), and spending $315 billion over the next 10 years to dramatically increase teacher salaries (Kamala Harris).

The way we see it, candidates are responding to an activist base that’s pushing for policies that truly measure up to the nation’s challenges. And Indivisible East Bay and other Indivisible groups across the country are part of that activist base. For two years we’ve been building our people power; now, as the primaries get closer, we’re determined to use that power to influence the policy debate.

Indivisible National is developing its strategy for engaging in the primary, and as step one they sent a survey to Indivisible groups nationwide on a variety of topics concerning policy issues and campaigns. We want National to know what our members think, which means we want to hear from you!

To gather input from IEB members, we began by focusing on three key questions from the survey at our March All Members Meeting:

  1. What issues are most important to us as we consider whom to support in the primary?
  2. In what ways does our group want to engage campaigns during the primary?
  3. What are our initial thoughts about the possibility that Indivisible National might endorse a candidate?

To tackle these questions, Governance Committee members facilitated small group discussions of 5-6 people each. The questions sparked lively conversation that lasted over an hour (and involved the liberal use of sticky notes and dot-voting). Here are the results of the three discussions:

QUESTION 1: What issues are most important to us as we consider whom to support in the primary?

Issues on the Indivisible National List (ordered by how the groups prioritized them):

Highest Priority:

  • Environment
  • Democracy (voting rights, election security, campaign finance reform, ethics in government)
  • Healthcare
  • Judicial nominations

Important:

  • Civil Rights (racial justice, LGBTQ rights, gender equity, criminal justice)
  • Gun violence prevention
  • Immigration
  • Abortion Access
  • Financial regulation
  • Tax policy
  • College affordability
  • Foreign policy and national security

Back Burner:

  • Transportation and infrastructure

Additional Issues Suggested in Small Groups:

  • Constitutional process and reform
  • Green New Deal, including transportation, infrastructure, environmental issues
  • Climate change
  • More resources for people being detained at our borders: better beds, meals, shelter
  • Post-secondary school and job opportunity support for all (not just four-year college)
  • Wealth disparity
  • Housing
  • Online/data privacy

QUESTION 2: In what ways does our group want to engage campaigns during the primary?

Engagement Options from Indivisible National (ordered by number of votes across the three small groups):

  • Ensuring the grassroots are invited to debates (11)
  • Issue forums and large grassroots mobilizations (9)
  • Channels of communication from national and local Indivisibles to candidates (8)
  • Organizing for key statewide Democratic conventions (5)
  • Candidates joining indivisible national activist calls (4) (All three groups pointed out that this is a specific example of “channels of communication”)
  • Training programs for the primary process (3)
  • Organizing Indivisible planning spaces or events to power map our opportunities (2)
  • Bird-dogging (2)

Additional Ideas for Engagement Suggested in Small Groups:

  • Candidate questionnaires
  • White papers developed by local groups
  • IEB media contact
  • IEB partners with campaigns

QUESTION 3: What are our initial thoughts about the possibility that Indivisible National might endorse a candidate?

To address this topic, we asked people to vote on two simple poll questions.

Poll Question 1: How should Indivisible National approach the question of endorsements in the presidential primary? (Ordered by number of votes)

  • Wait a few months to collect more data and see how things unfold before making any plans (12)
  • Take endorsements completely off the table (2)
  • Start work now on a thoughtful and careful process intended to end in an endorsement, but only if sufficient unity is found (1)

Poll Question 2: It’s still early. But at this stage, what do you think is the best path forward for endorsement?

1 = I think Indivisible National should definitely NOT endorse (2)

2 = I’m leaning against endorsement (9)

3 = I can’t decide whether they should endorse or not (2)

4 = I’m leaning toward endorsement (1)

5 = I think Indivisible National should definitely endorse (1)

Average Rating = 2.3 (which roughly equates to “leaning against”)

We want to hear from you, too! If you couldn’t make it to the All Member Meeting, it’s not too late to share your input! Here’s a link to a survey with the questions that we addressed at the March meeting. All responses submitted by the deadline of April 10 will be aggregated (along with the results of the AMM discussions) and shared as part of IEB’s survey response to Indivisible National.

And this is not the last chance we’ll have to consider how we flex our activist muscle to push for progressive policy! It’s still 19 months until the election. Stay tuned for more lively debate, and even livelier action.

 

Nancy Latham is on IEB’s Governance Committee, and is a passionate member of the Resistance. In her day job, she works with non-profits, foundations, and government agencies that support greater equity and justice through initiatives in youth development, education, housing, and community development.