It’s a bird, it’s a dog … it’s birddogging!

By Ann G. Daniels

Sorry, animal lovers, but although this particular action sounds like a trip to the dog park, we’re really asking you to get a different kind of exercise: tracking down your Members of Congress, other electeds, and candidates, and getting them on the record.

Amazingly, ordinary folks can often get elected representatives and candidates to commit to positions in ways that even the press can’t, by using a little persistence and showing up at public events. After all: they represent YOU – or they want to – and they love being seen talking to their public. Do a little homework, and you can turn a cute photo-op into a serious opportunity to get them on the record!

What birddogging can do:

  • Push our elected representatives to take action or get them to take a stance
  • Confront our electeds on issues where we disagree with them
  • Get candidates on the record on issues they’re dodging
  • Inspire others in your community to get out and take action!

The great thing about birddogging is that there are plenty of roles for folks to fill: the researcher behind the scenes, the people willing to ask the questions, the folks who record the encounters on video, the social media mavens … so whatever you’re good at, there’s a place for you on a birddog team.

Indivisible East Bay has a great team that’s been birddogging Representative Eric Swalwell. Watch how it’s done, as IEB’s CA-15 team co-lead Ward Kanowsky pushes Rep. Swalwell on the timing of the impeachment inquiry at the October 1, 2019 Union City Impeachment Town Hall with Rep. Swalwell and special guest John Dean; video by CA-15 team co-lead LeAnn Kanowsky.

 

What you can do:

  • Check out Indivisible National’s excellent guide for how to get started.
  • Keep up with your elected representatives’ or target candidates’ schedule of public appearances:
    • If you’re in the East Bay: the Indivisible East Bay newsletter has an extensive events calendar including town halls and other public appearances. Also, IEB’s Slack has teams for state representatives and Members of Congress (House and Senate). If you’re on our Slack, look for:
      • ad_team_15
      • moc_team_ca11
      • moc_team_ca13
      • moc_team_ca15
      • moc_team_feinstein
      • moc_team_harris
        Or if you’re not on our Slack, email us at info@indivisibleeb.org for an invitation.
    • If you’re not in the East Bay: you and a formal or informal group can birddog your member of Congress or state representatives, or you can choose a candidate to target. Search their websites and call their district office/local campaign office to ask about upcoming public events. See Indivisible National’s Town Hall Guide for really helpful tips.
    • No matter where you live: follow your Members of Congress and targeted candidates on Facebook and/or Twitter, and sign up for their email newsletters.

 

Photo and video of Rep. Swalwell and Ward Kanowksy by LeAnn Kanowsky

Ann G. Daniels’ checkered professional background includes practicing law, reproductive rights advocacy, creating web content for nonprofits and educational organizations, and teaching adult and family literacy. She also designs jewelry, teaches knitting, and sings second soprano.

 

Rep. Swalwell’s community forum on ending gun violence & domestic terrorism

By Ward Kanowsky

Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15) held a standing room only town hall meeting dedicated solely to the issue of gun violence at Hayward City Hall on August 7, 2019. During his opening comments at the “Community Forum on Ending Gun Violence & Domestic Terrorism,” Swalwell said he had just met with the heads of various law enforcement agencies, including local police departments, state operations, and the FBI, to discuss the threat assessment of gun violence primarily from white nationalist organizations, and the readiness of law enforcement. The feedback he received is that the threat level is high; he also has confidence that first responders in the law enforcement community are ready in the event of another shooting.

Notwithstanding this confidence, Swalwell emphasized that Congress needs to respond legislatively, and it needs to do so in the short term. Most importantly, he said that the background checks bill (H.R. 1112), which has passed the House, must be voted on by the Senate now, even if that means calling the entire body back into session from the current recess. (Read our recent article on this issue, with a call to action, here.) In response to a question from the audience about Senator Mitch McConnell blocking any efforts for such a vote, Swalwell called on one of the Senators now running for president to stand up and filibuster for a vote.

Other steps Rep. Swalwell urged to address ongoing gun violence are changes to laws on domestic terrorism and banning and buying back the 15 million assault weapons now in the hands of Americans. He noted that, with the recent tragedies in El Paso and Dayton and the NRA being “on the ropes,” the ban/buyback proposal continues to gain traction among the Democratic presidential candidates: former VP Joe Biden, Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are all open to or have come out in support of such a program. [Editor’s note: see this August 10 ABC News article for more information about where the 2020 Democratic candidates stand on gun control; and Politico’s web page, currently updated to August 14, with candidates’ views on gun control].

During the hour-plus Q&A session, constituents and others were able to express their views and concerns on the issue of gun violence and offer additional ideas for reducing the number of shootings. A teacher bluntly stated that ”more kids are afraid of dying at school.” Swalwell acknowledged these fears and reiterated the importance of getting guns off the streets, as opposed to proposals like arming teachers that would make a bad situation worse. A student from Baylor University in Texas proposed raising the minimum age to buy guns, while another attendee suggested a federal tax on firearms. Swalwell was open to both of these ideas. In response to one constituent’s proposal that the Second Amendment be repealed, Swalwell disagreed, and said we need to do a better job of interpreting the Amendment.

Addressing gun violence was the signature issue of Swalwell’s brief run for president and it remains a top priority for him as a member of Congress.

If you have questions or want to participate with the CA-15 team, contact Ward on Slack at @ward or by email at wardkanowsky@gmail.com

Ward Kanowsky is co-lead, with LeAnn Kanowsky, of the Indivisible East Bay CA-15 Team.

Photograph of Rep. Swalwell by LeAnn Kanowsky

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 Meets with Senator Harris’ Staff, January 2019

By Leslie A. Burton

On January 15, 2019, Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Kamala Harris’ State Director, Julie Rodriguez, and other office staff at the Senator’s downtown San Francisco office.  

Shutdown. We opened with the government shutdown, at that point on its 24th day – the longest in U.S. history (and still ongoing as of this writing). We asked that the Senator not back down on her opposition to the border wall. We pointed out the need to  disseminate more positive stories about immigrants and noted environmental hazards to wildlife caused by the wall. Julie acknowledged the problems with privatizing immigration detention centers. We asked that Senator Harris consider forcing a vote on the budget by making a motion to proceed, but Julie didn’t think that the senator was inclined to do that.

Barr for Attorney General. Although we disapprove of the appointment of William Barr as AG, Julie explained that though Harris will likely oppose (and she officially announced opposition soon after our meeting) his appointment is likely a “done deal.”

Judicial appointments. We expressed our dismay that judges who have been found “not qualified” by the American Bar Association are being approved.  ABA approval should be a non-negotiable qualification. We asked that each judicial candidate be put through the entire vetting and approval process, with no concessions to speed up the process. Julie noted that the Blue Slip process, which had been the protocol for every other administration, is not being followed now, and said she hopes in the future we can move to restore the previous protocol to confirm judges.

Julie was pleased, though, with the decision of the federal court in Manhattan that will prevent citizenship questions from being asked on the 2020 census. She is also heartened that Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts seems to be moving a little to the left.

Nuclear arms. We voiced concern over Senator Jon Kyl’s proposals to stockpile more nuclear warheads. Rep. Engel is willing to open debate on repeal of AUMF in the House. Sen. Merkley’s AUMF repeal framework includes tying humanitarian goals into any repeal legislation. We support Engel and Merkley and would like to know how Senator Harris stands on these issues. We would like her to support a No First Use (of nuclear weapons) policy. Julie was not aware of Sen. Harris’ stance on these issues but she promised that she would discuss them with her. Senator Harris, like us, is concerned that we have the right checks and balances in place when an unstable person is in charge of nuclear arms.

Defense Budget/Budget Control Act Caps. Senator Harris supports parity between military and non-military spending. Julie doesn’t know about the proposal to discontinue humanitarian aid to Yemen, but she will look into it, as well as into the proposal to bring the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act below $700 billion.

DHS/HHS appropriations for immigration centers. Two children have died in ICE custody at the border without explanation; there is no oversight or responsibility to prevent abuses by ICE; there are no background checks on ICE employees; anti-immigration actions are taking funds from cancer and HIV research. Julie explained that most of the monetary aspect of Homeland Security goes through the Office of Management and Budget, and not through the Senate. But the Senator is concerned with the locking up of children and families and the lack of humanity exhibited in these facilities. Harris also sponsored the non-expansion act that would prohibit the expansion of immigration detention and improve oversight of these facilities. The Senator will be flagging Rep. Norma Torres’s H. Amdt. 314 to H.R. 3354, which would prevent the re-allocation of non-immigration detention funds in DHS towards immigration detention, for her immigration team to study.

Climate Change. We inquired about Harris’ approach to controlling greenhouse gases. We pointed out that lower standards are being proposed for Superfund cleanups, which will hurt communities. Julie stated that California is at the forefront of environmental issues, including environmental justice. Among other clean energy proposals, Harris is seeking federal funding for electric buses in rural areas. Climate change will be on the agenda for her next town hall.

Green New Deal. We told Julie that proposals are afloat for a system of public banks or agencies to finance energy infrastructure, which will transform the economy while addressing environmental issues. These banks would be accountable to the people and could be used to give micro-loans for communities and for conservation projects and other projects and endeavors, including the cannabis industry. Julie was very interested and asked us to provide her with good examples of successful programs.

Income Inequality and Taxes. We asked whether Harris supports Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to increase the highest tax rate to 70 percent. Julie acknowledged that taxes need to be reformed, with the goal of getting money into the hands of the people. She noted that the majority of Americans are $500 away from life-changing status (such as homelessness) and that the Senator supports the “Lift the Middle-Class Tax Act,” which will give $500 annually to those who spend more than 30% of their income on rent.

Criminal Justice Reform and First Step. We aired our concerns over some of the terms of the criminal justice reform bill First Step Act, including its reliance on algorithms for predicting recidivism. Harris believes that AG Barr’s oversight of the First Step criminal reform bill will not be a serious concern because she has faith in the career employees at the Department of Justice who will handle most of the hands-on day-to-day administration of First Step. But the senator shares concerns over the recidivism calculations.

Drug Policy. Senator Harris supported the Marijuana Justice Act.  The next step is to help the cannabis industry transition to a fully legal business. Harris supports removing it from Schedule 1 of Controlled Substances. In response to her question to Barr about federal prosecution of users who are not violating state laws, he said he would not prosecute those cases.

Next Town Hall. Senator Harris will announce a Town Hall soon. We will let you know the date as soon as we find out.

 

Leslie A. Burton is a former lawyer and law professor. She is now a traveling professor, teaching Introduction to US Law classes and Legal Writing seminars in law firms and universities around the world.

DeSaulnier Hosts Emergency Town Hall on Trump Shutdown

By Toni Henle

You won’t fall asleep at one of Representative Mark DeSaulnier’s Town Halls! He’s done 75 of them since 2015, when he was first elected to represent CA-11, and it’s clear he loves this way of connecting with his constituents. I attended my third town hall in Lafayette on Saturday, January 19, 2019 – yes, it was the same day as the Women’s Marches, and in fact the audience cheered loudly when DeSaulnier mentioned that he’d come from the Walnut Creek Women’s March!

DeSaulnier’s town halls are always informative, but also entertaining and a chance for 500 or so constituents to express their opinions to their representative, which they did, resoundingly approving his stance that there should be no negotiations on the border wall until the government is reopened. “Democrats and Republicans should not shut down the government because they don’t get what they want through the legislative process, that’s not how democracy works,” he said. “The process should be open and public and you have to hold votes” to reach a resolution.

National Treasury Employees Union table
National Treasury Employees Union table

The Emergency Town Hall on the Trump Shutdown was serious indeed – outside, a dozen tables were set up to connect furloughed or working-without-pay federal employees with services, including food banks, a credit union offering interest-free loans for Coast Guard employees, the National Treasury Employees Union (its members work across many parts of government), CoCo Kids, Monument Crisis Center and the Contra Costa County Veterans Office, among others.

Rep. DeSaulnier began with a slide show, Special Edition: The Trump Shutdown, including these facts:

  • 37,000 California workers are furloughed due to the partial government shutdown
  • $5.7 billion won’t build the wall that Trump wants – independent and congressional studies estimate it could cost up to $40 or even $70 billion in all.
  • Illegal border crossings have been declining for nearly two decades; in 2017, border-crossing apprehensions were at their lowest point since 1971.
  • Two-thirds of the “illegal” immigrant population in the U.S. is due to people overstaying their visas, so building a wall will not address that part of the situation.

How would he address the border situation?

  • First, end the shutdown now and put people back to paid work.
  • Then the GAO needs to do a cost-benefit analysis by convening experts to address the best way to both secure the border and alleviate the humanitarian crisis. “Democrats continue to support strong, smart, effective border security solutions” like smart technology and more personnel.
  • Congress needs to hold hearings and we need to have a public debate.
  • In the long run, “I’d like to spend more money in the countries that asylum-seekers are coming from…to help them restore the rule of law, so that they can live in the country that they want to live.”
  • We need permanent legislation to address the Dreamers, not a temporary solution.

Rep. DeSaulnier serves on the Education and Labor Committee, which is preparing legislation on ways to help American workers, and Transportation and Infrastructure. He may also be able to “waive onto” a third committee, Government Oversight, on which he’d want hearings on the child separation policy and reunification of families as well as, of course, Michael Cohen and others.

DeSaulnier answered audience questions for the last 45 minutes, including:

  • How to end the shutdown (see above)
  • Concern about the potential for aviation accidents if the shutdown continues, voiced by an airline pilot
  • Concern about family separation policy and reuniting children with families
  • Restoring “regular order” so that we don’t go from one continuing resolution to another in funding the government
  • 7,500+ in Contra Costa County losing their Section 8 housing subsidy at the end of February
  • What is to be expected after the Mueller report is released?
  • What can be done to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in our military?

On Tuesday, January 22, the CA-11 representative will be back in Washington after having heard important input from his district. Want to contact him? Here’s how: (email): (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095

Did you miss the Town Hall? Watch the video recording here.

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.

Photographs by Toni Henle

Briefing memo for meeting with Sen. Harris, Nov. 2018

On November 30, 2018, a delegation from Indivisible East Bay visited with Senator Kamala Harris’s staffers Julie Chavez Rodrigues and Daniel Chen. As we do before all our visits with our Senators, we prepared a briefing letter on all the issues we wanted to discuss, including extensive background research. This meeting concerned the following topics:

  • Asylum seekers
  • ICE/CBP abuses and DHS appropriations
  • Comprehensive immigration reform
  • Climate change, including carbon pricing
  • Poverty reduction
  • Abuses of the intelligence agencies
  • Cabinet order
  • Digital privacy
  • Criminal justice reform and the First Step Act
  • Judicial nominations
  • Campaign finance reform
  • New blue house
  • Town hall

You can read the entire memo here.

 

Swalwell final 2018 Town Hall

By Ward Kanowsky

Close to 450 attendees braved the wind and rain to join Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15) on December 1 at Dublin High School for his last town hall of 2018.  Swalwell gave an overview of HR 1, the new Congress’ first major piece of legislation in 2019, touching on key issues of voting rights and dark money and also pledging to expand investigations so that the Oval Office is not used by the current occupant as an “opportunity to cash in.” On the issue of immigration, Swalwell said that despite threats of a government shutdown, he would never vote to fund the wall; rather, we need to focus on the “root cause” of the immigration crisis and work with other countries to help them address the poverty and violence within their own borders.

Rep. Swalwell Town Hall, photo by LeAnn Kanowsky
Rep. Swalwell Town Hall, photo by LeAnn Kanowsky

Some of the other issues discussed during Swalwell’s opening comments and during Q&A included:

  • Trump’s tax returns: “We will see them.” The House Ways and Means Committee could request the returns right now without a vote, but Swalwell thinks it will likely still go through the courts. Every President since Nixon has released their tax returns, and “we need to do an MRI” on Trump’s financial interests.
  • Impeachment: “The best thing for democracy is for Trump to be impeached,” but we need an impeachable case. “We don’t want to make a martyr out of him.”
  • Climate change: “The window is closing fast” to get something done. Since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord (and the U.S. can’t get back into the Paris agreement until we have a new President), the best opportunity to get something done would be through an infrastructure bill that includes provisions for energy alternatives. This is an area where Trump might agree.
  • Guns: In addition to background checks, Swalwell supports banning or buying back all assault weapons. He told a personal story from when he was a prosecutor about a victim of an assault weapon who was shot in the leg, but still died because the bullet was fired at such a high velocity.
  • Yemen: Swalwell said that he supports House Concurrent Resolution 138, which directs the President to remove United States armed forces from the Republic of Yemen.

Photograph (top) © Rep. Swalwell’s office

Ward Kanowsky is co-lead, with LeAnn Kanowsky, of the Indivisible East Bay CA-15 Team.

 

Rep. DeSaulnier’s Congressional Update Town Hall

By Ted Lam

Indivisible East Bay CA-11 team co-leads Kristen and Ted, and IEB member Tom, met with Congressperson Mark DeSaulnier and his D.C. Chief of Staff Betsy Marr before his Congressional Update Town Hall in Richmond on October 23. We updated DeSaulnier on CA-11 team members’ recent work helping elect Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, our involvement in pushing Sheriff Livingston to cancel the ICE contract, and our various Get Out The Vote actions in CA-21, Northern Nevada, and Arizona. DeSaulnier was impressed and immensely grateful, and Marr encouraged us to keep at it. DeSaulnier shared his unvarnished summary of the “goings-on” in D.C. with us, and we had a great back-and-forth on that. 

Looking to the future, we asked about DeSaulnier’s priorities after the elections, and what he’d recommend for our post-midterm grassroots efforts. To our specific question about whether the Democrats would re-establish the Office of Technology Assessment that was killed by Newt Gingrich in the Clinton era, DeSaulnier agreed that it should be a priority. Wrapping up, DeSaulnier offered to meet with the CA-11 team after the midterms to check in and dive deeper into our post-election ideas. We will hold him to that!

About 70 people attended the 90-minute Town Hall. There was an underlying tone of optimism in the Representative’s presentation about the midterms. One of his post-election priorities is to work on overturning Citizens United, banning stock buybacks, strengthening anti-trust enforcement, and updating the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN). The WARN Act of 1988 is a US labor law that protects employees, their families, and communities by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees.

IEB and CA-11 team member Janis Hashe asked two questions on what can be done about coal rail shipments through Richmond, and whether the interstate commerce clause can be utilized to help. DeSaulnier’s response was supportive, and he gave some suggestions. Obviously fascinated with the second question, he said he’d give it further thought.

Janis Hashe & friend at Rep DeSaulnier Richmond Town Hall, photo by Ted Lam
Janis Hashe & friend at Rep. DeSaulnier Richmond Town Hall, photo by Ted Lam

It was satisfying to hear our Member of Congress espouse progressive values and be so responsive to his community. 

Missed the Town Hall? Watch the video here.

Photo of Representative DeSaulnier © Mark DeSaulnier

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.

Swalwell’s Swell Town Hall

On August 11, 2018, Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15) spoke to an enthusiastic audience at his “How Can I Help? A Campaign Town Hall & Midterm Election Kickoff.” The purpose was to get the audience geared up for the upcoming midterms, particularly upcoming House races. To facilitate engagement in these efforts, Rep. Swalwell is opening an office in Dublin where people can take action to help with Democratic races. The space will have areas for phone and text banking and also for writing postcards. On the weekends, the office will serve as a coordination point for events out in the field, such as canvassing. Located at the IBEW Local 595 (6250 Village Pkwy, Dublin), the space is scheduled to open on September 4. Rep. Swalwell encouraged the audience to use this space to work toward getting the candidate(s) of their choice elected.  He recommended that everyone pick one or two candidates that they really want to help get elected, as it’s easier to focus on a small number, and you’ll feel more accomplished if your candidates win!

During the Q&A period, someone asked about election security and whether our ballots were going to be secure. Rep. Swalwell said that although election security is very important, the concerns should not be sensationalized, as it may cause some folks to sit out the election because they will think their votes won’t matter. Instead, he said, we should focus on getting everyone out to vote rather than worry about hacking.

An audience member also asked Rep. Swalwell if he’d be willing to co-sign House Joint Resolution 48, which would overturn Citizens United. Both Representative DeSaulnier and Lee have co-signed it already, and Swalwell said he is supportive and will look into co-signing.

Overall, it was a motivating gathering full of people eager to help take back Congress.  All CA-15 residents should consider joining Rep. Swalwell’s office on this fight!

Excited to join Indivisible East Bay’s CA-15 team? Email us to get started!

Photograph by Janine Costanzo

 

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.