Our Election System Is in Such Tatters That Even Mitch McConnell Can't Ignore It

Charles P. Pierce
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images

From Esquire

(Permanent Musical Accompaniment To This Post)

Being our semi-regular weekly survey of what's goin' down in the several states where, as we know, the real work of governmentin' gets done, and where the post office has been stolen and the mailbox is locked.

Let's begin with a short survey of where things stand with the political infrastructure of the world's longest-surviving democratic republic. Let's begin in Atlanta, shall we? From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Two computers that are used to check in voters were stolen from a west Atlanta precinct hours before polls opened Tuesday for a city school board election. Officials replaced the computers before voters arrived, and the election wasn’t disrupted, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. The express poll computers contain names, addresses, birth dates and driver’s license information for every voter in the state, said Richard Barron, Fulton County’s elections director. They don’t include Social Security numbers. They are password-protected, and the password changes for every election. The computers, which were in a locked and sealed case, haven’t been recovered.

And let's zip up north to the newly insane state of North Carolina and see how things are working out there. From the Winston-Salem Journal:

The panel of cyber experts, who were video-broadcasted into the discussion at New Light Baptist Church, took shots at bar code systems like the ones that Guilford County is considering. “It suggests more information than is there,” said computer scientist and engineer Duncan Buell of the University of South Carolina. Buell is part of a team auditing election data in his state that has discovered problems in the process that led to uncounted votes in previous elections.

The bar codes are only as good as what they are programmed to do, Buell said. Without a paper ballot showing how people voted, he said, they are unreliable even in a recount. Marilyn Marks of the Coalition for Good Governance agreed. “They are essentially forcing you to cast a vote you can’t read,” said Marks, who was in the audience and has sued in the state of Georgia over paperless voting.

And we conclude our brief tour-within-a-tour in Kentucky. From the AP via WCPO:

The Kentucky Democratic Party claims more than 150,000 registered voters were improperly placed on an "inactive list" that could jeopardize their right to vote in November. In a letter to the State Board of Elections, Democratic chairman Ben Self on Monday demanded that the board immediately reactivate those registrations.

Self says the elections board deactivated those voter registrations behind closed doors with no public notice. If action isn't taken, Self says the party will consider legal options.

One Eberhard-Faber No. 2 and a paper ballot. Simple. Easy. Impossible to hack. If you're going to steal an election under that system, you're at least going to have to get out from behind your terminal and actually go do something.

Photo credit: Jessica McGowan - Getty Images

Right now, the very first bill passed by the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is sitting in Mitch McConnell's Mausoleum of Dead Legislation that mandates just that very thing, and, on Thursday afternoon, even McConnell realized that killing election reform was a too bad a look for his public image to tolerate. From the Washington Post:

“I’m proud the financial services and the general government bill included a bipartisan amendment providing another $250 million from the administration ... to help states improve their defenses and shore up their voting systems,” McConnell said. “I’m proud to have helped develop this amendment and co-sponsor it in committee.” “That will bring our total allocation for election security — listen to this — to more than $600 million since fiscal 2008,” he added.

The House bill, of course, asked for $600 billion this year to help with the effort to thwart ratfcking in its many guises. But McConnell seemed to realize that this was not something he could bottle up without political peril. It's amazing what a successful hashtag—plus a 50 percent disapproval rating back home in an election year—can do to a fella.

“It’s a sign that even Mitch McConnell believes this is a serious issue,” Rosenbach said in an interview, attributing the move less to pressure from Democratic lawmakers than to what he described as the plain fact that the nation’s election infrastructure is insufficiently resilient. “Even McConnell needs to set politics aside and do what’s right for the country."

We'll see if he follows through as this bill goes through conference. We'll see if he works to convince the president* to sign it. For the time being, the #MoscowMitch generator keeps grinding away.

Photo credit: Boston Globe - Getty Images

We move on now to the Commonwealth (God save it!) where our state Republican Party has identified the true problems with our state politics—namely, members of Congress from Minnesota and Michigan. From Commonwealth:

Nevertheless, the Massachusetts Republican Party on Tuesday adopted a resolution claiming that the two Democrats have “aligned themselves” with terrorist organizations and Holocaust deniers, and “repeatedly demonstrated an anti-Semitic demeanor.” In addition to condemning Omar and Tlaib, the resolution adopted Tuesday night affirmed that the party “stands in support of the State of Israel.”

An earlier draft went further, urging the expulsion of the two first-term congresswomen, but that language was dropped, according to Mountain, who said it would have been pointless to ask the all-Democrat Massachusetts delegation to carry forth such a plan. Someone at the meeting at the Newton Marriott suggested including Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the condemnation, but Mountain said that wouldn’t be appropriate given the offenses listed in the resolution.

The brainiac behind this whole business is a guy named Tom Mountain, who has been a wingnut irritant in local politics in and around my town for a while now. So far, Governor Charlie Baker, Reasonable Republican Guy, has been silent over this act of overt bigotry on the part of the party he purportedly leads. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, however, hung the resolution around his neck on the electric Twitter machine on Wednesday.

Sooner or later, and probably sooner, Baker's going to have to fish or cut bait on how closely he wants to be identified with the Trumpian Republican Party. Massachusetts Republicans have been able to duck the radicalization of their national party for decades. That option is now closed.

Photo credit: George Frey - Getty Images

Remember our old friend, the F-35 Flying Swiss Army Knife, perhaps the single biggest boondoggle in the history of defense spending? Well, nobody's wised up yet to the fact that it is a glowing example of the problems with military Keynesianism, as Barney Frank used to say. And now, it's roiling local politics in, of all places, Madison, Wisconsin.

The National Guard wants to base a squadron of these lemons at Truax Field, and the locals feel, with good reason, that the environmental impact of that move would severely damage their quality of life, and that's not even taking into a account the possibility that an F-35 might simply fall to pieces in midair. My pal John Nichols from the Capital Times is in the middle of the row.

The prospect has stirred significant opposition locally, especially since a draft environmental impact statement released by the Air Force determined that bringing the National Guard's F-35 Fighter Squadron to town would subject almost 2,800 people to substantially increased noise levels — with an average sound level of 65 decibels or more. Some areas near the airport would become "incompatible for residential use," according to the report. With substantial spending to mitigate against the increased noise, homes in and around those areas might be made livable. But the questions of how decisions regarding mitigation will be made and what guarantees will be given Madisonians remain unresolved...

Proponents of the F-35 project remain enthusiastic about it, suggesting it could produce as many as 65 new jobs — and, potentially, secure the future of the Truax facility. But state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said, “I just really question (whether 64 or 65 jobs are) really worth it to displace people. Is it really worth it to disrupt the quality of life for these people?”

The Air Force is saying people will have to move if these turkeys come to roost in Madison. That should be answer enough for Representative Taylor's questions. Plus, anyone who gets involved with the F-35 at this point is complicit in swindling the American taxpayer.

And we conclude, as is our custom, in the great state of Oklahoma, where Blog Official Rodeo Stand-Up Friedman of the Plains brings us a tale of religious liberty, Sooner-style! From readfrontier.org:

The Tulsa pastor behind Gateway Ministries and its various trade names, Jesse Leon Rodgers, 58, has also used the organization’s status as a church to avoid thousands of dollars in property taxes on his Tulsa home by having it declared a parsonage, Tulsa County Assessor records show. Tulsa County Assessor John A. Wright said it is rare for a church without a formal house of worship or a congregation to obtain a parsonage exemption from property tax on a residential property. “The general theory about exempt property is that because the community is undertaking these efforts, that it perhaps is relieving a burden that would otherwise fall on government or the taxpayer,” Wright said. “That’s the general theory behind granting the exemption in the first place.”

Yes, it is indeed rare for a preacher to declare his home his parsonage. Of course, this particularly peculiar church has no actual churches, and it hasn't held services in five years.

“We’ve got to get involved,” Rodgers told the OCPAC group. “Government has become the primary instrument by which the kingdom of darkness uses to take our liberties and freedoms away. And so, enough.”

Today's reading will be from the Book of Exemptions, Chapter Five, Verses 3-33. Now will you all stand and join in our recessional hymn, "A Mighty Alibi Is Our Lord."

This is your democracy, America. Cherish it.

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