Help asylum seekers stranded at the border

By Erica Etelson

Do you want to help the asylum seekers at the U.S. border? Al Otro Lado (“On the Other Side”) wants YOU to spend a work week volunteering to help asylum seekers at the border in Tijuana. People with legal or medical skills or who speak Spanish are particularly needed, but ANYONE who wants to lend a hand is welcome, and there are a number of English-speaking asylum seekers in addition to those who speak Spanish. Tens of thousands of refugees from all around the world pass through Tijuana, and volunteers are needed to inform people of their legal rights (don’t worry, you’ll get trained in how to do this) and in helping them prepare for their asylum interview, as well as helping with child care, food preparation, data entry, and working in the medical clinic.

Volunteers are asked to arrive on a Sunday afternoon and stay through the following Friday. If you want more information or a first-hand account of what volunteering is like, please contact ericaetelson@gmail.com and/or visit alotrolado.org and fill out the volunteer application with your available dates.

Supporting Criminal Justice Reform Bills in the California Legislature

By Toni Henle

Action Deadline: today and every day through May 30 –

On May 20, 2019, Indivisible East Bay members joined a large crowd at the State Capitol in Sacramento at the 2019 Quest4Democracy (Q4D) Advocacy Day. Q4D is a statewide coalition of grassroots groups supporting a platform of bills to improve access to employment, housing, and education for all Californians, and to restore civil and human rights for prisoners and the formerly incarcerated. Several of the bills supported by Q4D are on the Indivisible CA StateStrong list of priority bills for this legislative session, including ACA 6-Free the Vote, which would restore voting rights to approximately 50,000 people on parole in California who are currently prohibited by the State Constitution from voting, and AB 392, which clarifies that police should use deadly force only when there are no alternatives and requires de-escalation whenever possible. IEB strongly supports, and has written about, both ACA 6 and AB 392; see below for actions you can take to support these bills with your East Bay assembly members.

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The rally had many emotional high points, especially when family members who lost loved ones to police violence, including the mother of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man shot by police in Sacramento, spoke about unjust violence and their horrendous losses and led chants of “Remember their name…” And Assemblymember Rob Bonta, a co-author of ACA 6, said “The right to vote is the greatest anti-recidivism tool that we have.”

Before Lobby Day began, attendees received legislative advocacy training on the general mechanics of the California legislature and the specific bills the coalition is supporting. Then over 100 people spread out inside the Capitol to talk with elected representatives and their staffs in support of proposed legislation, while other supporters made phone calls from outside. IEB members met with groups organizing actions at the event, including All Of Us or None, Initiate Justice, Prisoners with Children, and many others.

IEB interviewed attendee Abdul Haqq Muhammad, Community Outreach Coordinator for Open Gate, an Oakland-based jail-to-college pipeline nonprofit. Muhammad explained that he wanted to make a difference in supporting Free the Vote for the 50,000 people on parole, including himself, who don’t have the right to vote. As he said:

The black and brown community has been sold a bill of goods that their vote doesn’t count, but if it didn’t, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep it from so many. If ACA 6 passes, it would give those of us on parole a voice to effect change, instead of the system affecting us. Voting is the first step in being a citizen.

IEB was approached by two young women from UC Riverside with their Underground Scholar Initiative. Bibiana and Jazmin came from the Inland Empire to lobby legislators “to shift the School-to-Prison pipeline to a Prison-to-School pipeline using higher education as an alternative to incarceration through recruitment, retention, and advocacy.” One of them told us that her brother was incarcerated when she was seven years old, and that has had a big impact on her life. We were moved by her personal story and how she was trying to do something meaningful while attending college.

What you can do:

Each legislative chamber must vote on bills and send them to the other chamber by May 31, meaning that floor votes can happen any time from now until then. So call your state assemblymember NOW!

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (AD-15):
    • supported AB 392 in the Public Safety Committee. Call to thank her and ask for her vote for AB 392 on the floor.
    • She doesn’t have a public position on ACA 6 and needs calls asking for her support.
    • District: 510-286-1400; Capitol: 916-319-2015
  • Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (AD 16):
    • supported AB 392 in the Public Safety Committee
    • supports ACA 6
    • Call to thank her and ask her to support both bills on the floor.
    • Capitol (handles legislative calls): 916-319-2016
  • Assemblymember Rob Bonta (AD-18):
    • has not yet taken a position on AB 392 and needs calls to support.
    • Is a co-author of ACA 6; thank him.
    • District: 510-286-1670; Capitol: 916-319-2018
  • Assemblymember Bill Quirk (AD-20):
    • needs calls on both AB 392 and ACA 6.
    • voted “aye” in public safety committee for AB 392; thank him and ask him to do so again in the Assembly.
    • District: 510-583-8818; Capitol: 916-319-2020

What to say:

For AB 392:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask for (or: thank you for) your support on AB 392. We need this bill to update California’s use of force standard, to make sure that police officers avoid using deadly force whenever there are alternatives available to them. AB 392 is modeled after best practices across the country. This bill will save lives. “Yes” on AB 392!

For ACA 6:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask for (or: thank you for) your support on ACA 6, the Free the Vote Act. ACA 6 restores the right to vote to about 50,000 Californians who are on parole. Taking away the right to vote from formerly incarcerated people is a form of voter suppression that dates back to Jim Crow laws. People on parole pay taxes; they should be able to vote and be full participants in our communities and democracy. Please vote “Yes” on ACA 6!

If you want to learn more about the work that IEB’s Voter Rights & Election Integrity team is doing, and how you can help, email us at info@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.  For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

Toni Henle is retired after a career in policy work at non-profits focused on workforce development. She is a member of the IEB Governance Committee, co-lead of Outreach to Organizations and a member of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

It’s impeachment inquiry time

Katie Cameron and Nancy Latham contributed to this article

Deadline – ASAP until the House Judiciary Committee launches an impeachment inquiry.

​​With ​Game of ​Thrones ​over, we​’re hoping to watch the final episodes of the (not)Game of (de)Throning the Criminal-in-Chief who Thinks-He’s-King, but is not! We, along with some Democratic House leaders, a majority of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, the one Republican who has read the Mueller Report, and millions of our fellow citizens, think it’s high time for the House Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment inquiry.

You’re bombarded with news stories, hot takes, and wildly diverse opinions about the “I” word. If you’ve been working for impeachment since inauguration day, or are now convinced from the evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors in the Mueller Report, we’ve got a great list of things you can do. If you’re still debating the need to take action, or want more info, keep reading below our action list.

What you can do now:  

  • Use Indivisible National’s page to urge your representative to cosponsor House Resolution 257, Rep. Tlaib’s resolution which would authorize an impeachment inquiry.
    • UPDATE May 24: Representative Barbara Lee is the first (and so far only) of our East Bay Reps to cosponsor the resolution. If you are Rep. Lee’s constituent, thank her!
    • You can also check out Need to Impeach’s tool to learn where your Member of Congress stands on impeachment (and share it with your out-of-town friends).
    • This May 2 SF Chron article covered Bay Area MoCs’ positions on impeachment.
    • Here are some of our MoCs’ comments: Rep. Swalwell’s tweet; and an interview with Rep. DeSaulnier. 
  • Visit bit.ly/impeachresolution for By the People’s template to send a letter to your representative.
  • Send House Speaker Nancy Pelosi an email using this Need to Impeach tool. Adapt the suggested text to your own personalized message. Send her a tweet expressing your opinion.
  • Tweet to Representative Jerry Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, urging him to take the lead and start an impeachment inquiry. 
  • Who said political action can’t be joyful and serious at the same time? Join IEB members and thousands of others at Impeach on the Beach, June 1, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Five thousand people (or more) will arrange their bodies to spell out “IMPEACH” in 150-foot-tall letters stretching for 610 feet on Ocean Beach, to be photographed from above. More details and sign up at this link
  • Spread the word! Talking directly to people you know is the most effective way to spark change. Urge friends and relatives, especially those who live in districts represented by Democratic House leaders and Committee Chairs, to contact their Reps, urging an impeachment inquiry. Keep that word “inquiry” in your messages, so people understand you’re not trying to convict without the House investigation. Give them this link to get in touch with their Members of Congress.
  • Join the discussion on the #impeachment channel on IEB’s Slack. For an invitation to join Slack, email info@IndivisibleEB.org
  • Want to work with Alameda4Impeachment (A4I)? Email them for more info: Alameda4Impeachment@gmail.com 
  • We don’t often suggest signing petitions, but it’ll just take a minute – and these, from Need to Impeach, and Free Speech for People, have already proven to be effective.
  • Come to our All Members Meeting on Sunday, May 26, from 1-3 PM at Sports Basement, Berkeley. It’s an informal potluck get-together, and members informed about impeachment will be there.

What else you can do: Read up! 

  • Know the impeachable offenses: Unindicted co-conspirator Individual-1  has committed many impeachable offenses, some in plain sight, only a few of which rely on the Mueller Report  (“Russia, if you are listening…”). See for example Need to Impeach’s list and Lawfare’s article
  • Bone up on the impeachment process. These links help explain what the Constitution says about impeachment, the history of it and how the process works, and FAQs:
    • Robert Reich has this excellent short video on the impeachment process.
    • By The People is a national grassroots action group holding demonstrations in DC. Their website has excellent, easy to read info on impeachment.
    • Need To Impeach, the group Tom Steyer launched in October 2017, has grown to a movement of nearly 8 million people. NTI uses grassroots organizing to mobilize people to demand that Congress begin impeachment proceedings to uncover the full extent of Trump’s lawlessness.
  • Read the Mueller Report, in large part an impeachment inquiry referral to Congress. Or listen to Audible’s free audio recording of the report. For the Cliffs Notes version, check out Lawfareblog’s excellent notes about the Report.
  • Read The Constitution Requires It, by Free Speech For People Legal Director Ron Fein, co-founder and president John Bonifaz, and chair of the board Ben Clements, with a foreword by The Nation’s national affairs correspondent John Nichols. The book lays out information on impeachment clearly and concisely. And listen to The Constitution is Clear: Impeachment Hearings Now, authoritarian scholar Sarah Kendzior’s Gaslit Nation podcast interview of Bonifaz.

More info: the Whens, Whys, Hows & Whats of impeachment

When? Impeachment talk right now feels like a modern day Goldilocks & the Three Bears, with some people saying “Too soon!” others “Too late!” and the rest “Now!”

  • In the first category we most notably find House Speaker Pelosi and some other House leadership members, who say we need more investigations and more witnesses and more evidence.
  • In the second are those who think we already lost the “window.” According to them, we’re now too close to the 2020 elections and we should just settle it at the ballot box.
  • The third category includes those who’ve been on board all along or have recently reached the tipping point. This large group includes Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, who wrote To End a Presidency, the Power of Impeachment, which cautioned against impeachment, but who is now calling for hearings after the release of the Mueller report. Also in the “Now!” group: members of Congress angered by stonewalling over ignored subpoenas and worse, and some of the 900+ former federal prosecutors who signed onto a statement saying they believe Trump’s conduct as described in the Mueller Report would result in multiple felony obstruction of justice charges for any other person.

Why?

  • For one, as those former federal prosecutors put their reputations on the line to publicly state, the Mueller Report describes numerous acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge, conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming. And, as we used to say to people who complained that the Mueller investigation was taking too long – he keeps committing crimes!
  • In addition, even if it’s unlikely that 45 will be removed from office, we can’t stand by while he shreds the Constitution and damages our democratic institutions. 

How & What?

  • Short answer: Impeachable offenses, impeachment inquiry, articles of impeachment, voting in House, trial in Senate. Sometimes people think impeachment means removal from office, but that happens only if the Senate votes to convict. Bill Clinton was impeached in the House, and acquitted in the Senate.
  • Longer answer:
    • Impeachment doesn’t begin as a foregone conclusion. It begins with an investigation opened by the House Judiciary Committee.
    • Second, the impeachment inquiry can be done quickly or slowly, to accommodate the election season.
    • Third, we believe a well-organized review of Trump’s impeachable offenses won’t hurt Democrats – it would rather be compelling television, informing the public of every high crime and misdemeanor.
    • Fourth, if the Republican dominated Senate refuses to convict, the voters can “convict” at the ballot box, armed with evidence from the House inquiry.
    • Finally, for those who worry about Pence becoming #46, the failure of the Senate to convict resolves that concern, and the investigation may entangle Pence in some of the offenses.

There’s a spectrum of pressure we can put on our electeds, depending in part on our own decisions about how to proceed. The point is that we should NOT sit idly by and say “Wait for 2020” – and you, dear IEB member, can choose to pressure for impeachment or impeachment-adjacent actions – whatever feels right to you. Whether or not we succeed in launching an impeachment inquiry, whether or not that inquiry helps end the Trump nightmare, our actions matter. Bear witness. Go on the record. Stand up and be counted at what could be the most important moral and legal turning point in our lifetimes. 

 

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.

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.

Imp Peach Mint photo: Indivisible San Francisco’s Master Steve Rapport 

Activating East Bay Activists!

Indivisible East Bay governance committee members Liz and Ted joined Indivisible Berkeley and a dozen other local organizations at the East Bay Activist Alliance Reactivate Our Network event on May 19.

Among other presentations, a webinar described the work of Reclaim our Vote, a nonpartisan voter registration and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign that reaches out mainly to voters of color on “unregistered” and “inactive” lists in key voter-suppression states. ROV is directed by the Center for Common Ground, with help from the NAACP, Black Voters Matter and other organizations. Many Bay Area groups support these efforts and IEB is looking to get involved as well.

Liz and Ted made valuable contacts, including for one of IEB’s current projects, helping GOTV in the 2019 statewide elections in Virginia. The East Bay Activist Alliance is working with partners in Virginia Beach, an area of the state where Democrats could pick up two seats and the Alliance has strong relationships from the 2017 elections.

Some basics about 2019 VA elections:

  • A hundred percent of both upper and lower house seats are up for re-election.
  • We need to flip four seats to turn the state legislature from red to blue.
  • A blue legislature could fix gerrymandering in 2020 (after the Census) until 2030!
  • We’ll help build momentum in 2019 … because VA is critical in 2020, too!

IEB will be developing events this summer to support both ROV and through November 2019 to help flip the four VA seats. If you want to be a part of the action, contact us at info@indivisibleeb.org or via Slack at @Liz and @Ted Lam. Email andrea@indivisibleeb.org or via Slack at @andrea to get involved in ROV.

Georgia (and AL, KY, OH, TX …) On My Mind – and Out of My Uterus

It’s all over everywhere on social media: Women, leave Georgia. Leave Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Kentucky. And: No rights, no sex! We at Indivisible East Bay respectfully wish to say: that’s not a plan.

Running away, starting over, is only a fantasy for most women. Most women don’t have the privilege, or the money, or the support, to be able to pick up and leave their home state if it enacts legislation that deprives them of their reproductive rights. And if those with the means to leave do leave, then those left behind are the most vulnerable (and those who thought the restrictions were hunky dory to start with). As for “no rights, no sex”: it’s classic – literally – but we were under the impression that abstinence-only was a tool of the religious right, not the progressive left. Why should hetero women become celibate because they can’t get reproductive freedom? And please, let’s not forget our queer sisters – they need reproductive rights too, and you know that they’re in the crosshairs of the same folks behind the abortion bans.

And then there are calls to boycott. Boycotts are a powerful economic tool, but they’re also a double-edged sword. Don’t forget, industries in these states hire … women in these states. And people of color, and LGBTQI people … none of whom benefit from boycotts in the short term. These are the same people who are losing their rights – and possibly their health, or even risking their lives – because of these insane anti-choice bills. They don’t need to lose their financial well-being, too. Analogies to the grape boycotts of the 1960’s and 70’s aren’t accurate: the farmworkers’ union called for those boycotts. If women workers of Alabama, Georgia, etc., aren’t calling for boycotts now, please think twice before you do.

So, what’s best to do? Empowerment is more realistic and compassionate than telling people to move, less potentially harmful than boycotting, and a damn sight better than enforced chastity. And all told, helping our sisters is way better than telling them how to run their lives (which, after all, is what we’re fighting against, right?). In sum: Below are ways to respond to the abortion bans by supporting pro-women organizations that will fight for women’s rights and fight to get the controlling bastards out of power:

  • Take action to help disenfranchised and inactive voters in GA by signing up with Reclaim our Vote (ROV), a national group working with Black Voters Matter and NAACP. ROV focuses on empowering under-represented voters, particularly in communities of color. Email Andrea at andrea@indivisibleeb.org and sign up if you want to get involved with IEB efforts and/or sign up for one of ROV’s weekly Thursday Zoom orientations here.
  • Support Fair Fight in Georgia: through this ActBlue fundraiser, all donations during the month of May will be split evenly among “organizations that have been fighting and will continue to fight for reproductive rights.”
  • Here’s an amazing thread with lots of great organizations that provide abortion and health care for women in Georgia and throughout the southeast, women of color- and queer/trans/people of color-led organizations working to advance reproductive justice, organizations fighting for fair and honest elections, and more!
  • This site (which is regularly updated) can connect you with local, grassroots organizations in Ohio, Alabama, and throughout the Southeast that serve women; organizations fighting for Asian-Pacific Islander women, including transgender and non-binary folk; and ways to become a clinic escort at women’s health care clinics.

Do you know of more ways to help women in embattled states? Ways to support progressive candidates or get involved in GOTV (Get Out The Vote) efforts? Support shelters? Help women’s groups that will take back the power? We want to hear from you! Email us at info@indivisibleeb.org!

Graphics: Soulless elephant by Mr Spark and uterus by Uterus Magna 

 

Help IEB #resist on social media

Deadline: you guessed it, right NOW –

The Mueller Report contains the most in-depth summary the U.S. government has produced about how the Russians used social media to interfere in our 2016 election on behalf of Unindicted Co-conspirator Individual-1. While legislators futz around with how to rein in the fearsome power of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, the distortion campaigns continue. And withdrawing from social media in protest is tempting for many, but dangerous: according to reports, 45’s re-election campaign has spent nearly double what the entire 2020 Democratic field COMBINED has spent on Facebook and Google ads! How do we fight such massive out-spending? We must all join together to spread the truth and to amplify the resistance’s messages! We need your help – we’ve got something for everyone, no matter how much (or little) time you have or what platforms you prefer.

What you can do:

Step one: if you don’t already, follow Indivisible East Bay online:

Step two: read below to see where you fit into the IEB social media team (we’ll provide support, training, etc.), and then fill out our brief volunteer form. Select the “social media” team option, along with any others you’re interested in. And tell us in the “skills” and “comments” boxes what social media platforms you use, what your superpower is, etc. Even if you’ve filled it out before, we’d love to update your social media and other info. And if you have questions, want to let us know more, or prefer to talk directly, email us: info@indivisibleeb.org

How much time do you have?

  • Crushed with work & life but still want to help out? Do these things if you have as little as a couple of minutes a day:
    • Check out our posts / tweets; click “like” and then share or retweet them to your followers and friend
    • Share us in other progressive groups you’re in
    • Email links to our social media posts to anyone you know who’d be interested
  • Taking a break at work or commuting (don’t do this while driving!)? Spend five to fifteen minutes:
    • Join the #comms-social-media channel on IEB’s Slack. For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org;
    • Add your personal voice by commenting on, or replying to, our posts or tweets;
    • Grab the link to an article on our website and post it online;
    • Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter; copy and post info about an action or event. Check out prior newsletters in our archive (it loads sloooowly at the bottom of the page, take a sip of tea), there’s lots of info that’s still timely – share it!
  • Have half an hour now and then, or an hour or so spread out over a week, and a creative bent or other expertise?
    • You can help us come up with original content by:
      • Writing and/or editing
      • Photography
      • Videography
      • Other graphic design or arts
    • Are you an expert on any of the platforms we’re on – or on others that we could branch out to? Help guide and advise the rest of the team, answer questions and give “how to” tips!
    • Do you enjoy doing research? Let us know what hashtags are trending, or suggest accounts that we should be following or posting to, and more!
  • Have more time, energy, ideas? Mix and match any or all of the above! And if you’d like to help the social media organizing team, let us know that also.

 

Building Teams to Secure Our Elections

Haleh S contributed to this article

A webinar presented by the Secure Elections Network titled “Elections Officials: Building a Team to Secure Our Elections” on May 19 at 5 PM, will feature speaker Tina Barton, an election security advocate and the City Clerk of Rochester Hills, Michigan. In her presentation, “Building Networks/Working Together to Build Election Security,” Barton will describe her community work and ideas for creating a team of election officials and advocates to secure the 2020 elections.

Barton was appointed to Michigan’s Election Security Commission by the MI Secretary of State. The Commission, the first of its kind, was created in March 2019 to help boost voter confidence, increase turnout, and secure the integrity of elections against known and future threats such as hacking. Barton also oversaw Michigan’s first risk limiting audit pilot project after the 2018 midterm elections.

The Secure Elections Network (SEN) is made up of leaders and members of several Indivisible groups nationwide, including Indivisible East Bay. For more info about the webinar, email stephanie.chaplin20@gmail.com. You can watch SEN’s past webinars here. And read our articles about prior SEN webinars: Ballot Marking Devices 101 and Indivisible Webinar to Secure Our Elections

If you want to learn more about the work that IEB’s Voter Rights & Election Integrity team is doing, and how you can help, email us at 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

For all women, not just mothers

Mother’s Day! Loved by some, hated by others, commercialized to within an inch of all our lives. Celebrate it or not, as you will; but it’s a fact that women are at the heart of Indivisible and the resistance movement – so how about we use this as an occasion to spread the word about some of Indivisible East Bay’s members’ favorite women’s organizations and endeavors?

We’ve set up some categories; your results may vary. The point is, these groups are out there fighting for women. You can support them, work with them, be part of them, and also part of Indivisible, because we need to fight for each other and we need to fight together.

Check them out:

Women organize

Women’s Health, Equity and Reproductive Justice

Mother Earth

Progressive women in media

Featured graphic “People” by Max Pixel

Read for the resistance!

Deadline: May 13 and ongoing 

Starting Monday, May 13, tens of thousands of Americans will resist the Obstructor-In-Chief and his lawless administration by reading and discussing the Mueller Report – together. Join us!

Despite our efforts to make sure that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was able to complete his Trump-Russia investigation and deliver a report, according to a CNN poll only 24% of Americans say they’ve read any of the report. 75% have so far opted not to read it, and only 3% say they’ve read all 448 pages.

Unindicted co-conspirator Individual-1 and Attorney General Bill “Stonewall” Barr have sparked a constitutional crisis, blocking Congress and the public from seeing the full report. They’re also trying to prevent witnesses, including Mueller himself, from testifying in public hearings. But while the Democrats, with our support, fight those battles, we have the report, and a critical way to resist is to READ IT!

Members of the Not Above the Law coalition began the Mueller Book Club to encourage more people to read the report. They’re calling on Americans to start local reading groups across the country, and to join them for a once-weekly broadcast to discuss it.

The “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election,” aka the Mueller Report, is the most in-depth summary the U.S. government has produced about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our 2016 election on behalf of  Trump. The two-year investigation also resulted in a sickening chronicle of Trump and his cronies intent on obstructing the investigation.

Over the course of a month, participants in the Mueller Book Club will read the report together, section by section. We’ll devote two weeks each to the two volumes, including footnotes and redactions, to learn what they tell us about the investigations and their consequences. Legal and policy experts will explain the contents and address key questions, and we’ll debate and discuss its findings online.

How to participate:

  • Join the #mueller_book_club channel on Indivisible East Bay’s Slack. Not yet on Slack? Email us for an invite: info@indivisibleeb.org
  • Start a reading group in your own group or community.
  • Sign up to receive a weekly reading guide and information about the weekly online discussions – registration is open for the first call now
  • Encourage others in your community to engage with the report and its findings – organizers will send you suggestions
  • Join the Mueller Book Club facebook group

The organizers’ ultimate goal is for participants to understand the implications of the report, and to use that understanding to inform their friends, family and communities about what it means to them.

The Report debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and tops Amazon’s best seller list, but you can download it for free. Here are some alternatives to get the report:

 

More info & background

To find out more about the Special Counsel’s investigation, and learn what actions Indivisible East Bay has been taking to support it for over a year, read our past articles:

 

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