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

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

Ballot Marking Devices: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Ion Y contributed to this article

The 2020 election may be the most consequential election of our lives, and we must ensure that it’s secure and that all our votes are counted. Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), electronic marking devices that don’t make a lasting paper record of a vote, are used in 20 states statewide; another 23 states, including California, use them in some counties. However, despite their rising popularity and claims about their safety, BMDs have serious weaknesses we need our state officials to be aware of.

The Secure Elections Network, made up of leaders and members of Indivisible groups in several states, including California (that’s us – Indivisible East Bay), are presenting a free webinar about BMDs. Join us for “Ballot Marking Devices: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” on April 28 at 5 PM. You can register here

The agenda and speakers include:

  • Introduction:  Jon Foreman, Indivisible Montgomery Maryland
  • Program: Andrew Appel, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University and expert on voting machines and technologies, will present an Analysis of Various BMD Systems
  • Discussion and questions

For more info about the webinar, email stephanie.chaplin20@gmail.com.  And see the Secure Elections Network’s past webinars here.

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

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 if this issue has been rectified since. 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 have the same concerns.

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

Graphic of Polling place equipment in California, November 2018 © Verified Voting 

H.R. 1 is Priority One

By Ion Yannopoulos and Ann Daniels

Even little kids know how voting works: you vote, your vote gets counted, everyone else’s vote gets counted, the totals are added up, and the winner is the one who gets the most votes. Simple.

Or not. In real-life elections, there are so many ways this goes wrong. Let’s look at “your vote gets counted” – how do you know? And how do you know that the total of votes they announce is actually the same as the number of people who voted? There could be cheating or tampering. Even in honest elections, people can make mistakes all along the line. Bottom line: it’s so easy for there to be lost votes, miscounted votes. So how can you trust election results?

That’s why one of the first (if not the first) priorities of the new Democratic House of Representatives is H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which among other things lays the foundation for (more) secure elections. And that’s why we need you to tell your Member of Congress that you want them to support H.R. 1. Read on for more info and what to say.

Background

There are a lot of reasons why voting machines can be vulnerable to problems – and unfortunately, voting machines in the U.S. are subject to most of them. But there’s good news: it’s possible to count votes to a very high degree of accuracy, detect interference in elections, and prevent election tampering, all by using paper ballots and something called a risk-limiting audit – essentially, double-checking the election by using a specific statistical method of analyzing the votes cast.

H.R. 1 requires, among many other things, that new voting machines always start with paper ballots, and that those ballots be retained until the election is over. Why paper ballots? Digital data is cheap, fast, and very flexible – but it has a fatal flaw, because it can be changed nearly undetectably. The only way an audit can tell if there’s been tampering is if there’s a trusted source to verify the electronic vote against: namely, the voter’s original ballot. There are electronic voting machines that produce a paper ballot, but if they are hacked, the paper part produced by the electronic voting machine is just as tainted as the electronic part. In fact, there are even ways that the votes can be hacked based on the paper record produced by the electronic machine! Experts agree: Paper ballots are an indispensible part of election security.

What you can do:

1. Contact your Member of Congress. Let them know you support H.R. 1. All three of our East Bay Representatives have cosponsored the bill; thank them. Barbara Lee is on the House Appropriations Committee, which will have to come up with the money to address the funding needed for the states to agree.

What to say:

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to thank ______ for cosponsoring H.R. 1 to make our elections trustworthy by making them secure. Please make sure other Members of Congress understand how dangerously insecure our current voting machines really are, and convince them to support H.R. 1. Thank you.

For Barbara Lee, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, you can add:

I’m also asking you to make sure the provisions for funding voting machines with paper ballots are rock solid, to resist criticisms about “unfunded mandates.”

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 • DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 • DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065

2. Contact the California Secretary of State. The Secretary of State oversees elections. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) is having a conference in Washington from Feb. 1-4, 2019, and one of the topics they will address is voting on a resolution opposing any federal attempts to decide how state money is spent on elections – essentially leaving decisions about election machines in the hands of the states. Tell Secretary of State Alex Padilla that we don’t believe our elections can be safe nationally if any states are vulnerable, and that a minimum standard needs to be set for all elections.

What to say:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to thank Secretary of State Padilla for speaking out about the need to defend election integrity, and I want to ask him to speak against the NASS Interim Position on Potential Federal Election Funding. Our elections can’t be safe nationally if any states are vulnerable. For us to be secure and for our elections to be trusted they need to be verified by audit, and we need both paper ballots and risk-limiting audits in order to make that happen.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla: email; Main phone (916) 657-2166; Legislative Office: (916) 653-6774

3. 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

4. Find out more: For more information, read our past articles about election security and risk-limiting audits:

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

 

July meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s State Director

By Janna Layton and Catya de Neergaard

On July 25, 2018, a group of Indivisible East Bay members held our regular meeting with Senator Feinstein’s state director, Sean Elsbernd. As usual, the talk ranged over a wide variety of subjects, and Sean gave detailed answers to a large number of questions.

IMMIGRATION

Family Separation, Reunification, and Detention

Sen. Feinstein’s Staffers’ Visit to the El Centro Detention Center:

  • Sean reports that two of Feinstein’s staff visited the El Centro detention center last week, where they witnessed horrible conditions:
    • One cell was over capacity by about 30 people
    • The only food item available for any meal is a bean and cheese burrito
    • Separated children did not even have mats
  • Both children and adults are held in El Centro
  • Staffers were not allowed to bring mobile phones or speak to detainees
  • Feinstein was deeply troubled by her staffers’ report, and contacted Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
  • Feinstein’s reaction to the visit was covered in this article by the San Diego Union Tribune.

Other Detention Centers:

  • Feinstein has not visited any detention centers and is not likely to. The detention centers are more likely to prepare ahead of time for a visit from Feinstein than they are for her staffers.
  • Staffers will visit all centers in CA to determine if what they saw at the El Centro facility is typical or a one-off. Feinstein wants this information before Judiciary Committee hearing.
  • Staff are going to the Yuba City detention center next week, but will have similar restrictions as in the El Centro center.
  • Several detention centers have cancelled their contracts with ICE.
    • It is important to note that detainees in those centers are not released, but transferred to different centers.

Other Issues:

  • In the 48 hours before our meeting, it was announced that hundreds of parents have been deported without their children.
    • The ACLU suspects many of these parents might not have gotten asylum hearings.
  • Senator Harris’s REUNITE Act – a Feinstein staffer wrote the bulk of this act, so Feinstein will likely eventually support it. 
    • However, Feinstein has been working on another, similar act that has the support of all Democratic senators, which she believes has a better chance of passing.
    • Sean is unsure if Senator Cruz is still talking with Feinstein re: her act, but if he is, it is only because of local resistance groups in Texas putting pressure on him.

Asylum Seekers

  • This has not been focused on as much because there are so many issues to be highlighted, and the public can only take so much.
  • The fact that Attorney General Sessions does not attend oversight hearings as he should has been has been overlooked.
  • Even some GOP moderates like Senator Rubio have disagreed on the Trump administration’s treatment of asylum-seekers from Central America

ICE

Appropriations Bill:

  • Feinstein voted against the bill in the Appropriations Committee
  • This might get brought up again in September
  • There is slim chance of a government shutdown. Senator McConnell and Congressman Ryan know how bad that would look. However, Trump might not care.

Splitting ICE:

  • Feinstein has not discussed this with Sean.
  • If done, it would likely be done by Sessions rather than legislature.
    • If Sessions does this, it might be because part of the group that wants to break off from ICE is a union that supported Trump.

Other:

  • Sean will follow up with Feinstein re: letter to Grassley

 

SOCIAL SAFETY NET

Health Care

  • Senator Feinstein spoke with Peter Lee in the Covered CA administration.  It is expected that Covered CA rates will go up sharply next year. This will give Senator Feinstein a platform for a strong message to wrap the ACA mess around the Republicans. Hurt in the pocketbook is going to wake people up to the message that Republicans broke healthcare. They need to fix it.
  • We have asked Feinstein frequently and continue to ask her to consider supporting the single payer system. Sean usually replies that such a bill, for example, the ‘Medicare for All Bill’ introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, doesn’t currently have any hope of passing, so it is a low priority.

Housing/Homelessness

  • Senator Harris introduced The Rent Relief Act in the Senate on July 19, 2018.  There is already a similar bill in the House. Senator Feinstein joined Senator Harris in the introduction and will continue to touch base with Senator Harris about this bill. This bill is a big CA issue. 
  • IEB strongly supports the Rent Relief Act’s goal of giving low-income residents more federal support to pay for housing. Indivisible can to help this bill along by getting more co-sponsors.
  • Senator Feinstein is working on a new plan for cities and counties to apply for a new federal grant program to address homelessness. There would be strict quality controls, for example, for low income housing. She is calling it her ‘first day’ bill because she plans to introduce it the first day of the new Congress (provided, of course, that she wins the election).
  • Possible housing solutions:
    • Senator Feinstein has visited or had her staff visit various ‘tiny homes’ and other solutions to homelessness.  
    • She has a binder listing the name and description of the shelters and other facilities for the homeless across the state.  She sees the scope and quality of solutions across the state.
    • There is no one size fits all solution for homelessness and the housing crisis.
  • One potential source of funding is the VA. The VA and various veterans’ assistance programs have pots of money.  Housing homeless veterans with the money could be considered a front end solution to prevent the medical catastrophes that come with homelessness.
  • The federal government and each county have surplus property that could be used to build low income housing.  There is a federal law to transfer surplus property. The feds have just transferred a big lot between 7th and 9th streets to the City of San Francisco for $1.

 

NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Helsinki/Russia

  • There was a hearing that day in the Senate Formulations Committee with Secretary of State Pompeo testifying.
    • Feinstein is not on that committee, but she is anxious to talk to colleagues about how it went.
  • Feinstein does not think Russia will be an issue that sways Republicans, but trade. Last summer, Feinstein held a forum with farmers in the Central Valley. They said if trade issues continue until Labor Day, that will hurt their businesses. They invest their money into resources at the beginning of the year, so this is a big issue for them.
  • Efforts are being made by Intelligence to get info on what was said at the Summit, but it is unlikely that transcripts will be made public. Such transcripts have not been public for previous administrations.

Iran

  • Sean noted a Washington Post article that reported anonymous White House staffers have said Trump’s tweet was a distraction from North Korea.
  • Feinstein does not give his tweet much credence.
  • The Iran Deal is important to her, as she worked on it.
  • It is unlikely the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act will go to the Senate floor or be amended to something.
  • Sean will talk with Feinstein re: Senator Merkley’s 2001 AUMF replacement

Election Security

  • Feinstein has been focusing on California’s election security with CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla, not nationally, because she is pragmatic about what she can accomplish.
  • Sean will check with her re: Wyden’s act.
  • It is important for local groups to reach out to their Board of Supervisors regarding election security.

Security Clearances

  • Feinstein thinks this is a distraction technique and not a big issue.
  • Some former officials have said they don’t need it anyway, and temporary clearances can be gained if needed.

Whistleblowers

  • Sean stated that Feinstein has always protected whistleblowers.

 

ENVIRONMENT

EPA Fuel Economy Waiver for CA

  • Feinstein is very aggressive on this, because she passed the laws that let CA do this.
  • She has lobbied extensively, including reaching out to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
  • Advocacy groups need to elevate this issue.
    • One choice would be for consumers to demand car manufacturers continue to meet high fuel efficiency standards even if standards change.

Puerto Rico

  • We talked about the disaster in Puerto Rico in the context of the growing effects of climate change all over the country and asked if Feinstein would co-sponsor the Rebuilding Resilient Energy System Act to allow Puerto Rico and other disaster-affected areas (like our own state) to be rebuilt with greener and more resilient infrastructure; Sean said he would look up the bill and convey our request to the Senator.
  • Nationwide, Indivisible can help by writing lots more letters on the situation in Puerto Rico to their MOCs. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida would be a good person to lobby because he has 10 to 20K new Puerto Rican voters in his state.
  • Senator Feinstein will continue to advocate for Puerto Rico, but the Kavanaugh  nomination is her priority.
  • We thanked the Senator for co-sponsoring the Washington DC statehood bill and asked if Feinstein would introduce a Senate version of the Puerto Rico Admissions Act; Sean said she would not, because it isn’t going to happen in 2018.

 

JUDICIARY

Judicial Nominations

Supreme Court:

  • According to Sean, Senator Feinstein does not consider the proposal to request and view documents regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh a “sinking ship.”
  • The Senator’s negotiations have been focused on these documents. They are important because they get Kavanaugh on the record and give insight on his positions. Some valuable documents have been found already.
  • Half a million dollars have been given each to Senators Feinstein and Grassley from the Rules Committee to research this. Feinstein is using the money to hire staff to research and comb through documents.
  • The GOP is trying avoid the Democrats pointing out the hypocrisy of their treatment of this SCOTUS nominee versus their treatment of Obama’s nominees
    • Schumer has video of Grassley demanding all papers on Kagan.
    • This tactic won’t change McConnell’s mind, but might affect Republican senators who are on the fence.

Court of Appeals:

  • The Senator’s focus has been on Kavanaugh, and Sean does not have a statement from her on Eric Murphy, nominated to the Sixth Circuit, or Ryan Nelson, nominated to the Ninth Circuit.

 

TALK TO YOUR GOVERNMENT

Town Hall

  • We want Sen. Feinstein to commit to hold a town hall after the election; Sean said that she would think about that after the election.

Join the meetings!

  • Indivisible East Bay meets with Sen. Feinstein’s key staff every month. Be part of our team! It’s a fascinating way to find out more about the things you care about. Meetings are announced in the IEB weekly newsletter; subscribe to the newsletter for this and more!

 

Photograph by Catya de Neergaard 

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.

 

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Graphic copyright @equalandallied1

 

 

 

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

Risk-limiting audits: did your vote count?

This action originally appeared in the Indivisible East Bay newsletter on June 14, 2018. At that time, the deadline to make a call was Monday June 18; we will update as the status changes.

June 19 update

  • Thank you for all your calls and letters — it’s working! Today, AB 2125 was heard in the Senate Elections Committee. The courtroom was packed. Just prior to the hearing, negotiations about troublesome provisions in the bill resumed in an attempt to salvage it. Author Quirk offered another set of amendments to satisfy some of the most important provisions that were previously lacking in the bill:

    • The audits will be based on paper ballots
    • Audits will include Vote-by-Mail and provisional ballots
    • Secretary of State to write regulations on public verifiability

Though not yet written up by legislative counsel, these amendments were read aloud to all in the courtroom. The bill passed committee: 3 – 0 – 2 abstain.

As amended, AB 2125 sunsets in 2021, essentially making it a pilot bill. Advocates for election security and transparency are cautiously optimistic that a workable pilot bill may result. There are still kinks to be worked out (especially because it is voluntary for counties as amended today) so please stay tuned. We may need to put up our dukes one more time before this reaches the Senate floor.

Again, thank you. Nothing is more important to democracy than the accuracy and transparency of our vote totals. You did this. You prevented damaging election legislation from becoming law. Now buckle your seat belt.

June 18 update: Please keep the calls coming in today! Crucial vote on the integrity of our vote-counting audits is happening Tuesday June 19 at 1:30 PM. Can you join us and CA Clean Money to help pack the hearing room? Here is our joint letter explaining problems with the bill.

If you can’t come to Sacramento, please sign this coalition petition urging the Senate Elections Committee to vote “NO” on AB 2125 unless it’s amended. We need election audits but they must be transparent and accurate — AB 2125 is not there yet!

California vote-audit bill falls short

Vote vote vote! But — how do you know it was counted? In 2017 California enacted AB 840, exempting many vote-by-mail and all provisional ballots from audit. Security experts agree: to determine whether election outcomes are correct, we need risk-limiting audits (RLAs) which hand count a small sample of paper ballots, then expand as needed. AB 2125, headed for a crucial hearing in the CA Senate on Tuesday 6/19, nominally requires RLAs but has no teeth. Please tell the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee: We need state-of-the-art post-election audits to protect our democracy from cyberattacks. Why would we settle for less?

What to say:

My name is ___, I’m a California resident and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want our election outcomes to be verifiable and I strongly support risk-limiting audit legislation. But I oppose AB 2125 because the bill doesn’t meet best standards agreed upon by experts. California should lead with a model risk-limiting audit that makes our elections trustworthy. I ask Senator _____ to oppose AB 2125.

Senator Harry Stern, Chair
Phone: (916) 651-4027

Senator Joel Anderson, Vice Chair
Phone: (916) 651-4038

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IEB Meets With State Asm. Thurmond’s Staff

On May 29, Indivisible East Bay members Nick, Amelia, Ted, Melanie, and Mark met with Molly Curley O’Brien from State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond’s (AD15) office in downtown Oakland. IEB’s first-ever meeting with Thurmond’s staff was a positive experience.

We had sent Molly a memo beforehand listing the topics and state bills we wanted to talk about and to find out Thurmond’s positions. But first we asked a general question — why the Democrats didn’t use their super-majority advantage last year to push through more progressive legislation. Molly explained that negotiating between moderates and more progressive members was often tricky, with the worry that moderates would flip support to the GOP and doom more progressive legislation; this unfortunate dynamic illustrates why it’s so important for Indivisible groups to take an active role in holding Democrats accountable at the state level and electing progressives wherever possible.

Schools and Students

We began by discussing Thurmond’s support for AB-1502 (Free or Reduced Lunch Direct Certification) and AB-1871 (Charter schools: free and reduced price meals). These bills would provide crucial meals to low-income and poor students in both public and charter schools, and reflect Thurmond’s ongoing work to support students in California’s education system. We thanked him for these positions, which align with our progressive values; Molly was happy to hear our thanks, and it set a good tone for the rest of the meeting.

Stating that Thurmond believes our schools need more resources, Molly mentioned that he would like to tax private prisons to provide resources for public schools, especially for LGBTQ students. She also noted that Thurmond wants to find a solution for the lack of affordable housing for teachers.

After Molly mentioned that Thurmond’s priority focus on education is “his bread and butter,” we asked her to make sure that he remembers to support small school districts and their teachers’ associations, not just larger ones in major metro area. 

Criminal Justice and Policing

We turned to the topic of criminal justice and policing, particularly AB-3131. Introduced by Assembly members Gloria and Chiu, AB-3131 is co-sponsored by Indivisible CA: State Strong, the ACLU, the Anti Police-Terror Project, and others. It  would provide for civilian oversight of local police forces’ efforts to purchase excess military equipment, which is a newly allowed practice under the Trump administration. Molly said that the principles of this bill align with Thurmond’s values, and gave us hope that he would vote Aye on it in a floor vote.

Voting Rights and Election Infrastructure

We wrapped up the meeting with a discussion of voting rights and election infrastructure, including AB-3115 (Jails: Voter Education), AB-2165 (Election Day holiday), AB-2188 (Social Media DISCLOSE Act), and AB-2125 (Risk-Limiting Audits). The IEB expert on these issues, Melanie (the lead for our Voter Rights and Election Integrity team), began by describing the problems we’ve had trying to help with voter education and registration in jails, to illustrate why passing AB-3115 is so important.

We also talked about unintended negative effects of the Voters Choice Act, recent closures of neighborhood precincts, and the need to keep polling locations open and improve – rather than restrict – access to the polls. Melanie asked whether Thurmond could help move AB-2165 out of submission so it could get a floor vote this week in the Assembly, so Election Day would be declared a holiday, showing our commitment to voter engagement and civic participation.

On AB-2188, we explained that a technical ruling had exempted social media from last year’s DISCLOSE Act, which requires political ad transparency, and urged Thurmond to support AB-2188  to help prevent a repeat in future elections of undue influence by Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and others.

Finally, Melanie tackled a complex subject — Risk-Limiting Audits (RLA). She highlighted the importance of AB-2125, the RLA legislation currently moving through the Assembly, especially in light of AB-840, enacted last fall, which weakened our 1% manual vote tally by exempting late-arriving and provisional ballots. To impress on Molly the critical need for AB-2125 to be amended before it goes to the Senate, Melanie mentioned the UC Berkeley statistics expert who invented risk-limiting audits (Philip Stark), and explained that Stark’s and other election security experts’ proposals don’t line up with current language in the bill. She asked how Thurmond might help, including whether he could let it be known he’s aware that corrections are needed, and to push for a timely amendment. Melanie clarified that although California should begin using risk-limiting audits, AB-2125 must be amended to follow best practices, and we want to see a bill we can support before it goes to the Senate.

We asked for Thurmond to familiarize himself with these bills and others, and Molly seemed confident he would be eager to do so. She noted that protecting democratic practices is important at all levels of government, and promised to discuss our issues with the Chief of Staff at their next meeting.

We ended the jam-packed half hour meeting on a positive note with a photograph. We hope to have another meeting with Thurmond’s staff, perhaps after his campaign for California Superintendent of Public Instruction is over.

Photo by Nick Travaglini