Town Hall on Securing Our Elections

By Ted Landau

For Representative Mark DeSaulnier’s 61st Town Hall since taking office, he focused on a single critical and timely issue: Securing Our Elections. Free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy. Unfortunately, as evidenced by Russian interference with the 2016 election, the integrity of our voting process has never been under greater threat. The purpose of the Town Hall, held in Walnut Creek on August 13, 2018, was to consider what we should do about this — for the 2018 midterms and beyond.

The Town Hall began with a brief slide show presentation followed by opening statements by Rep. DeSaulnier and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Next, three election experts, Dr. David Jefferson, Professor Philip Stark and Mark Kumleben, joined the panel discussion. Taking questions from the jam-packed audience of about 300, they delivered both good and bad news.

Let’s start with the bad news: Here in California, attempts to “break in” to our election hardware continue unabated. Efforts to employ social media as a means to disrupt our elections also remain ongoing. We need to be more vigilant than ever if we expect to safeguard our election process. And unfortunately, with Trump at the helm and his GOP enablers downplaying Russian interference and blocking the Democrats’ attempt to increase election security funding, we can’t depend on much help from the federal government.

The good news: DeSaulnier continues to work to get Washington to act. He is currently the co-sponsor of at least 5 bills to improve election security (such as the aptly named Election Security Act, H.R. 5011). While none of these bills has made it to the GOP-controlled floor as yet, this is a start. If you live in CA-11, DeSaulnier’s district, thank him and urge him to keep pushing! Meanwhile, Secretary of State Padilla claimed that no one has yet succeeded in “hacking” California voting equipment. To help keep things that way, the state has allocated over $134 million dollars to upgrade our voting machines and to provide additional election protections. One caution came from Professor Stark, who pointed out that just because you’ve found no evidence of hacking, that doesn’t guarantee none has taken place; hackers may have succeeded in preventing your ability to detect them.

So what should we be doing? The panelists agreed on several key recommendations:

  • Paper ballots are essential. Electronic voting, online voting, whatever: they’re all bad. Only paper ballots allow us to reliably track, audit and verify the authenticity and accuracy of the vote. Accept no substitute. Further, no voting machines should be connected to the Internet; it’s too much of a risk. California has gotten the message: it keeps its machines offline and uses only paper ballots unless people with disabilities need an accessible voting machine. As for the rest of the country, while the Constitution prohibits most federal regulation of the electoral process, it allows for the federal government to require states to use paper ballots. We should demand that they do so!
  • Beware of bots. As discussed primarily by Mr. Kumleben, bots are mini-programs designed to imitate humans on social media. We can’t outlaw them but we should be aware of them. They can create an illusion of consensus or popularity that can unduly influence people’s perceptions and thus how they vote. Always be skeptical of what you read and view online — especially from unfamiliar sources! We should also demand that politicians reveal not only where their campaign money comes from but where it goes. If they’re spending money on bots, the voters should know!
  • Gerrymandering and voter suppression are rooted in white supremacy; their goal is to inhibit minorities from voting or having their vote matter. That was the strong assertion made by the Secretary of State to open this topic, which drew applause from the audience. The ideal goal should be for every eligible person to vote — and to do so within fairly-drawn districts. Again, California has led the way here with its recent bipartisan redistricting. All states should move in this direction.
  • Make the move to open source: non-proprietary software that anyone can see, explore and even modify. As elucidated by Dr. Jefferson and Professor Stark, most voting machines in use today run on proprietary software, owned entirely by the same companies that manufacture voting machine hardware. Even though election officials “purchase” voting equipment, they are prohibited from viewing or modifying the machine’s software source code. This leads to a quasi-monopoly that costs the government dearly. If voting machines were instead truly owned by the public and ran on open source software, it could reduce election costs by a factor of five, leading many experts to urge that we should push for a move to open source. While it is not a panacea for security concerns, and while it’s controversial (because, among other things, it is open to modification), open source makes the process much more transparent and accountable. Yet again, California is ahead of the curve. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles counties are planning to transition to open source. Other districts are expected to follow.

Several additional points of interest were raised by the panel:

  • You may not be aware of this, but a significant change is coming to the voting process in California, perhaps as early as 2020 in Contra Costa County, as a result of the Voter’s Choice Act. Most significantly, the law provides a new voting option, intended to facilitate in-person voting: No longer will you be restricted to vote only on election day at just one specified polling location. Instead, for the 11 days prior to an election, you will be able to vote at any of numerous “vote centers” located throughout the county. If you currently use a mail-in ballot, you already can come close to achieving this flexibility. You don’t have to mail your ballot in, risking problems with postal delivery or interference en route. You can drop it off at a city hall or, on election day, at a polling location.
  • Here is a truly cool tip revealed by Secretary of State Padilla: Did you know you can check the status of your vote after an election — and even get a history of your previous votes? To do so, start here.
  • Professor Stark explained the benefits of “risk-limiting” audits. These are partial audits that, combined with statistical analyses, determine when a full audit of a vote is needed. This allows the county to save time and money that would otherwise be wasted on full audits when they have little or no chance of changing the results. Expect to see the implementation of these audits here in California.

Are you interested in working with the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team? Send us an email or join the voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.

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.

Call to Action at IEB All Members Meeting

Get out of your chair and do something! Now!

That’s the essential message of the July 29, 2018 Indivisible East Bay All Members Meeting.

Midterm elections are now less than 100 days away! And these aren’t just any old midterms. They will determine whether Trump’s abuses of power can continue to go unchecked — without any restraint from a spineless GOP-controlled Congress — or whether Democrats can take back at least one house and begin to apply some checks and balance to stop the crazy.

Not sure what you can do? No problem. Representatives from several groups stood before the IEB attendees to pitch for support and activism from our members.

Adena Ishii, President of League of Woman Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, started the ball rolling by reminding us that there is still much get-out-the-vote work to be done right here in our own backyard — where voter turnout among registered voters remains less than 40% for midterm elections! And that’s just registered voters; many potential voters still need to be registered.

Amy Golden from Swing Left East Bay asked volunteers to help with phone-banking and canvassing in critical California swing districts CD-10 and CD-21. See their events calendar and sign up!

Vivian Leal and Laynette Evans, visiting from Indivisible Northern Nevada, appealed for our help in the US Senate race targeting Senator Dean Heller, one of the most vulnerable Republican Senators. Opportunities include phone-banking in August and canvassing starting in September. There’s a Virtual Phone Bank on Sunday, Aug. 5; to volunteer for other opportunities sign up here

IEB’s powerhouse Linh Nguyen, who among her other hats co-leads the Judiciary and Senator Feinstein and Harris teams, spoke about issues that members are concerned about and working on:

  • Border separation: About 700 refugee children have not been reunited with their parents, and the administration does not have plans to reunify many of those. Of those children the administration says are “ineligible” for reunification, 431 have parents who are no longer in the U.S.  The administration did not get information regarding where the parents who were deported currently are, so there is no way to reunite the families.
  • SCOTUS: GOP Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Chuck Grassley has requested documents from only half of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s tenure in the White House.
  • Healthcare repeal 2.0: The House portion of Budget Resolution would make possible ACA repeal with ONLY 51 votes (again)! We are keeping an eye on this to see whether the Senate passes the same.

In a follow-up to the July 15 Indivisible webinar Fair and Secure Elections: What’s at Stake and How to Take Action, Melanie and Ion, co-leads of the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team, explained the importance of taking action to secure our elections even as we participate in get out the vote efforts, canvassing, and other electoral work. Melanie and Ion, part of the Indivisible Safeguard Our Elections Working Group that  presented the webinar, explained that our election infrastructure is in terrible shape, struggling with vulnerable and hackable voting machines that too often provide no way to monitor their accuracy. The Voter Rights and Election Integrity team is seeking volunteers to help work on these issues. You can watch the recorded webinar at this link and if you have questions or would like to help, send the team an email.

IEB July 26 All Members Meeting

After the inspiring speakers the crowd was eager to hear about our upcoming events, which include:

  • August 12, 10 AM-noon: Indivisible We Write! IEB August postcard party, Sports Basement, Berkeley. Info & RSVP (free).
  • August 25, 2-4 PM: IEB Ale & Mail! No-host mingle & postcarding at Hop Yard Alehouse in Pleasanton. Info & RSVP.
  • August 26, 1-3 PM: IEB August All Members Meeting, Community room at Sports Basement, Berkeley. Info & RSVP. All welcome!

Finally, we broke into smaller groups. IEB Governance Committee member and Volunteer Coordinator Andrea led a packed breakout to introduce new members to the many ways they can work with Indivisible East Bay. IEB is always looking for volunteers who want to help organize events, research actions, and contribute to the newsletter. Email Andrea for more details. (And don’t forget the weekly action items in the newsletter!)

At another breakout several members sat down to take immediate direct action, writing 50 postcards in just a few minutes! We penned fifteen to our Members of Congress, asking them to support the PAVE Act to protect election security, and to oppose the asinine military parade. And twenty-four postcards are on their way to Democratic voters in New York, in support of Alessandra Biaggi, running for state senate. Want to learn more about postcard-ivism? Email Heidi.

Next month’s All Members Meeting will be at the Sports Basement in Berkeley on August 26, 1-3 PM. See you there!

Photographs by Andrea Lum and Heidi Rand

Protecting American Votes & Elections Act

This action will appear in the Indivisible East Bay newsletter on July 26, 2018. 

Deadline: ASAP and ongoing — Even without Russian hacking, elections can be compromised if we don’t protect the ballots! Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S.3049, the PAVE Act, to require that all voters have the option to use hand marked paper ballots in federal elections. Paperless voting is vulnerable and problematic (see Georgia, South Carolina). The PAVE Act also requires Risk Limiting Audits for all federal races. Midterms are coming up, and we need to tell our Senators it’s time for them to support the PAVE Act, and to demand a 2018 implementation date (it’s currently 2020) for the hand marked paper ballot clause.

What to say:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want Senator _____ to support the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act, S.3049. We need to ensure that California’s voters are protected from malicious influence. We also need the hand marked paper ballot clause implemented for 2018 to cover the upcoming midterm elections.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

 

Want to learn more about, and help to work on, election integrity issues?

  • Watch the recording of the Indivisible Fair & Secure Elections Webinar at this link (here’s our background article about the webinar)
  • After you watch, you can connect with people from your state by filling out this form. The working group will follow up with an email to introduce you to other people in your state interested in taking action
  • You can also view the webinar slides and other resources at this link
  • Work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team — email: heidi@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack. Want an invitation to join Slack? Email: info@IndivisibleEB.org
  • Help spread the word on social media! Follow IEB member and election integrity advocate Jennifer Cohn (@jennycohn1) on Twitter, and re-tweet her  excellent content. Read Jennifer’s blog.

 

Subscribe to the newsletter. See our newsletter archive.

Graphic copyright @equalandallied1

 

 

 

Contra Costa County Sheriff skates on thin ICE

Protesting works! Activism pays off! That’s a message we got loud and clear from Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston’s July 10, 2018 press conference announcing that he is terminating the County’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In practical terms, this means the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Richmond will no longer be used to “incarcerate undocumented migrants.” In resistance terms, it’s a victory that many, including members of Indivisible East Bay and our CA-11 team, have long worked to accomplish.

For months previously, WCDF had been the site of increasingly frequent and larger protests over the immigrant detainee issue. The matter gained additional traction in the chaos caused by the Current Occupant’s policy of separating refugee children from their parents. In announcing the termination, Livingston admitted that the public’s growing opposition and mounting political pressure significantly affected his decision. As we said, score one for the effectiveness of persistent protesters.

Cancelling the ICE contract was praised by most local politicians and officials, including Supervisor John Gioia, who declared that housing ICE detainees “erodes the trust between local government and local law enforcement and our immigrant communities. Ending the contract is a critical step in rebuilding this trust.”  Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), who previously called for termination of the contract, also spoke out in support.

Not everyone shared this view. At the press conference, County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said she was sorry to be losing the contract. One concern was about how the County would make up for lost revenue; the ICE contract reportedly provided around $3 million in profit. Another was that detainees would be moved to sites much further away from family members, supportive communities, and their immigration lawyers.

A solution to the relocation problem, advocated by the Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance and other groups active in assisting immigration detainees, would be to release currently held detainees as they await their immigration hearings. Not relying on the administration to release the detainees, these same groups have organized the West County Detention Facility Community Fund to raise donations to pay bond for those who can’t afford it and to pay for related expenses such as phone calls from detention centers.

There’s more than a bit of irony to the Sheriff’s decision. While he deserves credit for  finally terminating the ICE contract, we can’t forget that he has long supported and defended it — which is why people have been protesting at WCDF. His decision looks more like political pressure forcing a one-time capitulation rather than a change of heart. The Sheriff himself has given us much reason to take such a harsh view. To see why, let’s take a closer look at Livingston’s political history:

Looking back

David Livingston was first elected as Sheriff for Contra Costa County in 2010. His initial term passed with apparent little controversy, leading to his unopposed reelection in 2014. Over the next four years, his tenure took a dramatic turn.

In 2017, the East Bay Times‘ Editorial Board objected to Livingston’s heavy-handedness and “bombastic bullying” in dealing with those who “dare disagree with his policies.” As one example, the article noted that the Sheriff rejected a police dispatch contract for El Cerrito as “punishment” for the city’s opposition to an unrelated Livingston-supported West County jail expansion plan.

Later in 2017, twenty-seven WCDF inmates sent a letter, detailing allegations of abuse, to civil rights organization Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC — the national group recently re-named itself Freedom For Immigrants). Among the allegations, detainees described being locked up for hours and told to use bags in their cells when they needed to go to the bathroom. In response to the letter,  Rep. DeSaulnier asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the claims of mistreatment. Numerous other politicians were similarly critical of the Department. Sheriff Livingston denied the accuracy of the letter but did pledge an investigation (we are unaware of any publicly released results). 

In March of 2018, the Mercury News reported that Livingston banned CIVIC volunteers from entering the jail for a routine visit. The advocacy group labelled it as “retaliation” for their prior publicizing of the allegations of abuse. Human Rights Watch supported CIVIC’s complaint, noting that the Sheriff’s decision appeared to be “in response to protected speech, rather than alleged violations of policies and procedures.” In other words, Livingston was again deploying his tactic of “bullying” opponents.

In April, Livingston was accused of publishing the release dates of inmates in what appeared to be an attempt to assist ICE in tracking the inmates upon their release. In response, the California Senate began debate on a bill that would end the ICE contract and prevent “law enforcement from communicating and cooperating” with ICE. Not surprisingly, Livingston strongly opposed the bill, calling it a “disaster.”

During this same period, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt sought to have a tour of the West County facility and Rep. DeSaulnier sought to visit a local children’s shelter that was housing two adolescent girls separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Both politicians were denied permission initially, but by July, close to the time of the ICE contract termination, permissions were granted.

Looking ahead

Amidst all of this controversy, Livingston was again running — unopposed! — for re-election as Sheriff. A strongly worded editorial in the East Bay Times lamented the lack of an opponent to Livingston and his “wrong-headed ideas and practices.” Similarly, IEB asserted that we should “speak out against his record and make sure none of our Democratic representatives supports him.”

Given the lack of an opponent, IEB and the CA-11 team, and several other groups, endorsed a “no confidence” write-in campaign against the Sheriff, rather than asking people to leave the ballot blank. Although the County’s official final vote tally shows Livingston receiving 100% of the vote (160,926), that is misleading — the County told us prior to the election that only write-in votes for “qualified candidates” would be reported. In fact, Assistant Registrar of Voters Scott Konopasek has now informed us that the “total unqualified write in votes for Sheriff-Coroner was 5563.”  That is 3.46%, a significant increase over Livingston’s prior races:

  • 2010: 0.41% (692) of those voting for Sheriff used the write-in option
  • 2014: 1.22% (1,328) of those voting for Sheriff used the write-in option

David Livingston is now on track to be the Contra Costa County Sheriff until at least 2022. In response, the CA-11 team, in coalition with other groups, may consider a recall effort. Recalls are very difficult, so we’ll also continue to search for someone to oppose him in the next election. One problem is that California law requires that a Sheriff candidate be in law enforcement — and it has been difficult to find qualified candidates willing to oppose Livingston.

In the meantime, we will continue to closely scrutinize his actions, ready to protest again whenever the situation demands, and to support those vulnerable populations who suffer most from his policies and practices. It worked this time. It can work again!

How you can help!

Reunite families fund

  • Actions at West County Detention Facility: The Interfaith Coalition for Human Rights holds a monthly vigil there, usually the first Saturday each  month – check their calendar for date & time. And Kehilla Community Synagogue’s Immigration Committee holds a protest there the second Sunday of each month, from 11 AM to 12 PM.
  • Keep the Heat on ICE! Join the weekly El Cerrito Shows Up protests organized by a coalition of groups including IEB and CA-11 team members; every Thursday from 6 to 7 PM at western entrance to El Cerrito Plaza
  •  Work with, support and/or donate to Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement
  • Donate to the West County Detention Facility Community Fund    
  • This local fundraiser by the El Cerrito Progressives seeks to raise $5,000 to get at least one detainee out of WCDF. Donations will go directly to the West County Detention Facility Community Fund, and will be managed by Freedom for Immigrants.
  • Want to work with IEB and the CA-11 team to organize against the Sheriff? Email indivisibleca11@gmail.com or join the @moc_team_ca11 channel on IEB’s Slack.

Indivisible webinar to secure our elections

July 30 update: watch the recorded webinar here.

The 2018 mid-terms are mere months away – do you trust that our local elections will be fair, and that our election processes are secure? Indivisible National and several election security experts in Indivisible chapters around the country will present a webinar on July 15 to give Indivisible members and chapters critical information about how our elections can be undermined, and tools and strategies to hold our election officials accountable. 

The Safeguard Our Elections Working Group, made up of members of Indivisible groups in Maryland, Washington state, Hawaii, and California (that’s us – Indivisible East Bay), will present the free webinar, “Fair and Secure Elections: What’s at Stake and How to Take Action” on Sunday July 15 at 5 PM (PDT).

In March 2018, Congress allocated $380 million for states to secure elections against cyber attacks, and Indivisible chapters must press our state leaders to ensure that our states receive the grant money and use it wisely. The webinar will show us how to assess our states’ vulnerabilities and advise us how to lobby our state authorities to secure the elections.

The agenda and speakers include:

  • Introduction:  Jon Foreman, Indivisible Montgomery Maryland
  • Challenges and Threats and State Report Cards: Liz Howard, Counsel for the Democracy Program (Cybersecurity & Elections), Brennan Center for Justice
  • How States Can Act / Take Action Locally – Successful example of lobbying and getting action: Lisa Gibson, Indivisible Hawaii
  • How States Can Act / Take Action Locally – Rejection of public input on election security grant and Email voting insecurity : Kirstin Mueller, League of Women Voters – Washington State
  • Key Vulnerable States – Competitive states in next election and What to do at the state and local levels: Aquene Freechild, Campaign Co-Director, Democracy Is For People Campaign, Public Citizen
  • California – and We’re not Even a Red State: Melanie Bryson, Indivisible East Bay (California)
  • Looking Forward – Funding for 2019 and beyond: Congressman Jamie Raskin, Maryland, District 8
  • Discussion / questions

We Indivisible-ites are rightfully focused on taking back the House and Senate in the 2018 mid-terms. To ensure that our hard work isn’t in vain, we need to also learn how our election processes are vulnerable, and what actions we must take to ensure that each state has fair and secure elections. Indivisible must hold local officials accountable, just as we do our members of Congress! Learn how:

  • See the agenda and find more valuable background information here.
  • Sign up for the free webinar here.
  • Can you help work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team? Email: heidi@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack. Want an invitation to join Slack? Email: info@IndivisibleEB.org
  • For more info about the webinar, email Stephanie Chaplin: stephanie.chaplin20@gmail.com or Jon Foreman: jonforeman@gmail.com

Update on IEB endorsements

It may be several weeks before final results of the June 5, 2018 California primary election are reported, but here are the day-after results in local races that Indivisible East Bay supported or endorsed.

Contra Costa County District Attorney: Indivisible East Bay and the IEB CA-11 team endorsed interim DA Diana Becton. With the in-person votes counted, Becton garnered the greatest percentage of the votes — besting Paul Graves 49.59% to 42.06%. In order to clinch the race and avoid a runoff in November, one of the candidates would have to win 50% plus one; at this time Becton falls short of that number by .04. However, the East Bay Times reports that election officials state there are about 70,000 mail-in votes and 10,000 provisional ballots yet uncounted. Should there be a runoff in November, IEB will continue to work hard for Becton. Can you help? Email info@indivisibleeb.org or join the #moc_team_ca11 team on Slack.

Contra Costa Sheriff: Although incumbent David Livingston ran unopposed, IEB and the CA-11 team found him so unacceptable that we recommended writing in “no confidence” rather than leaving the ballot blank for this office. At this time the County reports that 1.76% of voters chose a write-in option, with Livingston capturing the remaining 98% of the votes. We’re disappointed but not surprised. The CA 11 team, in coalition with other groups, is considering mounting a recall effort and will renew efforts to locate a candidate to run against Livingston next time around. Want to help? Email info@indivisibleeb.org or join the #moc_team_ca11 channel on Slack.

U.S. House of Representatives: IEB also endorsed incumbent Congresspeople Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Eric Swalwell (CA-15), all of whom won easily. Although all garnered way more than 50% of the vote (with Lee running unopposed!), they must all run again in the general election we expect them to win easily again in November.

Oakland Measure D: IEB strongly supported this bond measure supporting Oakland’s libraries, which garnered more than the required 2/3 vote despite low voter turnout. Thanks to all who came out in support of library love, we love you back!

Speaking of voter turnout: always poor in midterm elections, turnout was shamefully bad, at only 19% in Alameda County and 20% in Contra Costa — although those numbers will increase when remaining ballots are counted. But we must do better! And we also need to work to make sure that our election processes are fair — there were significant problems in some precincts. IEB observers reported that paper ballots at some Contra Costa precincts ran out well before closing time and people were told to vote provisionally on their sample ballots! We invite you to work with us on IEB’s Voting Issues Team– contact info@indivisibleeb.org or join the #voting-issues channel on Slack.