Election Integrity In 2018 and Beyond

Our elections can be secured before 2018, using existing systems and randomized checks on the process. It’s a simple fix, if not altogether easy.

Collusion, hacking, suppression, vote manipulation, gerrymandering, microtargeting, database theft, spearphishing attacks on election officials in multiple states.

All of these accusations have been leveled about the 2016 election. Each one would be a scandal in and of itself, requiring a lengthy investigation, mountains of data for statisticians to pore over and translate into evidence. Once a crime has been committed, and ample evidence exists, justice steps in. But justice takes time, and it does nothing to address the issue of vulnerability. It’s possible the full truth of this moment will only be known by historians after years of study. Or that the full facts are already known by some, but will remain classified.

There seems to be a consensus among intelligence officials that:

  • Russia meddled in our elections in 2016 and perhaps earlier, using ‘active measures.’
  • They show no signs of stopping.

Taken a step further, Russia has proven to other opportunists that US elections can be hacked.
And even if we deal with Russian interference and put a complete stop to it, others are sure to try.

But we need some things fixed RIGHT NOW.

Our election process must be priority #1 for immediate action. Elections are the foundation on which our government rests. If that foundation is cracked, or made from substandard materials, all that it supports will eventually fail. Our election process might be vulnerable.

We can’t stop the scandals. But we can very simply block intrusions into our elections.

And the fix is a simple one. Not easy, but simple, and possible to implement before the 2018 midterms.

In four steps:

1)Paper ballot. Verifiable at the time of voting, by the voter. Scanned or machine-counted or hand-counted, doesn’t matter. Most importantly: the paper ballots are saved for at least a year. Securely stored.

2)Random audits, hand-counts and recounts. A random selection of precincts are named, after polls close, for hand-counting. Anyone conspiring to hack the vote wouldn’t know in advance if their precinct would be hand-counted. Mathematically select the percentage of precincts for hand-counts that would make fraud detection highly likely.

2a)Hand-counts and recounts are performed by people selected using the same system as is used for jury duty. This is already in place, randomized, and has appropriate forms for people who need to opt-out, etc. No need to reinvent the wheel. Additionally, it selects w/o regard for party. Those who volunteer for recounts might have a vested interest in an outcome. Those who serve as part of their civic duty may, or may not, be political.

3)A helpline for people who have problems on Election Day with voter registration, who are turned away at polls, etc. Run by Homeland Security or the FEC, with the aim of compiling data on areas of voter supression. Additionally, precincts with a statistically larger than normal amount of provisional ballots will be audited. And, to make sure no one’s tempted to mess with these systems:

4)Severe federal penalties for any person or business interfering in the election process.

This in no way interferes with local administration of elections. It merely adds on a layer of randomized checks, to whichever process/machines/precinct boundaries a local election board chooses. If Homeland Security pays for the paper ballots and mandates it, at least as a stopgap in 2018, we can then work more methodically on election policies, knowing that we can be measured and thoughtful creating long-term solutions, and be sure that voters are protected in the meantime.

And for people who think the Russia story is a ‘hoax’, the above solution should still be a desirable option. You would choose a strong password and 2-factor authentication for your banking information, whether or not you thought your bank had been hacked in the past. In the same way, the future security of our elections deserves nonpartisan protection.

Heartfelt Discussion of the Healthcare/Tax Cut Legislation

When ordinary people speak out, it resonates in a place pundits can’t touch. It reminds us all that passing laws is more than just an intellectual pursuit, or a philosophical argument, or a thorny accounting problem. Our hearts are a part of the equation we rarely witness in the media. This segment of The Last Word on MSNBC opened up the heart of health care in the US.

It reminded me of Jimmy Kimmel’s frank speech about the painful reality of watching loved ones suffer through health problems, and the emotional toll it takes on families.

Food for thought.

Public Comment Open for Trump EPA Regulations Rollback

With only 20 days left, the Federal Register website has logged only 19,000 comments.

In February, President Trump signed an executive order asking federal agencies to look at regulations that could be rescinded or repealed. This was the executive order that stated for each new regulation, two should be repealed.

As part of the process, the Environmental Protection Agency is asking the public to weigh in. The public comment period is open until May 15, 2017. Comments can be made here.

Most of the comments support the EPA’s results and mission since its inception in 1970, and many said we need stronger regulations to protect the environment.

The public comment section lists 2,888 comments. When there are mass emails, or very similar, scripted appeals, the Agency will sometimes post a representative sample, rather than the entire group of comments/letters. The majority of comments are full of concern about our environment and the effects of climate change.

One anonymous commenter wrote:

“We need more environmental protections and regulations. As someone who lives near Lake Michigan, I am very concerned that any roll back of regulations will adversely affect the Great Lakes region. It is undeniable that the climate is changing and there is excessive proof that this is due to human behavior. Please allow the EPA to continue to regulate and monitor how we interact with the environment. It is well worth short term economic loss (if necessary) in order to preserve long term environmental benefits. Thank you.”

Congressman Tim Walberg, a Republican from Michigan’s 7th District, wrote:

Rolling back environmental regulations is the worse possible thing a government can do other than starting an unnecessary war. The EPA regulations are the only thing keeping greed from harming our air, water and land. This rollback is a shortsighted plan to exploit the earth for corporate gain. The environment shouldn’t be reduced to a partisan issue. Having a clean country should a something all Americans are proud of but instead, it’s been used as a political tool. In the 80s President Reagan was a big environmentalist and President H.W. Bush was as well. Why now is the Republican establishment against the environment? This rule stinks of greedy corporate influence, creating this rule means they are bought and paid for.”

Another anonymous commenter wrote:

“EPA regulations should be expanded, not reduced. The life of our planet is at stake, not to mention our health. Allowing people and corporations to pollute at will is not in the best interests of either.”

If you have questions about the commenting process, you can contact Sarah Rees, Director, Office of Regulatory Policy and Management, Office of Policy, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Mail Code 1803A, Washington, DC 20460, Phone: (202) 564-1986; Laws-Regs@epa.gov.