by Greg Palast for Truthout
There’s been so much complete nonsense since I first broke the news that the Green Party would file for a recount of the presidential vote, I am compelled to write a short guide to flush out the BS and get to just the facts, ma’am.
Nope, theyâ€™re not hunting for Russian hackers
To begin with, the main work of the recount hasn’t a damn thing to do with finding out if the software programs for the voting machines have been hacked, whether by Putinâ€™s agents or some guy in a cave flipping your vote from Hillary to The Donald.
The Green team does not yet even have the right to get into the codes. But that’s just not the core of the work.
The ballots in the electoral â€œdumpsterâ€
The nasty little secret of US elections, is that we don’t count all the votes.
In Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvaniaâ€”and all over Americaâ€”there were a massive number of votes that were simply rejected, invalidated, and spoiled. They were simply, not counted.Â Officially, in a typical presidential election, at least three million votes end up rejected, often for picayune, absurd reasons.
The rejects fall into three big categories:Â provisional ballots rejected, absentee and mail-in ballots invalidated and in-precinct votes â€œspoiled,â€ spit out by a machine or thrown out by a human reader as unreadable or mis-marked.
So, as Robert Fitrakis, lead lawyer for the recount tells me, their first job is to pull the votes out of the electoral dumpsterâ€”and, one by one, make the case for counting a rejected provisional, absentee or â€œspoiledâ€ ballot.
Spoiled:Â over-votes and under-votes
How does a vote spoil? Most fall in the categories of â€œover-votesâ€ and â€œunder-votes.â€
In Michigan, the Green team has found a whole lot of people who voted for TWO candidates for President.Â These are the â€œover-voteâ€â€”votes that will count for neither candidate.
How odd. Â While the schools in Detroit are not stellar, its graduates do know that they can only have one president.
Then, some folks didnâ€™t vote at all.Â They are the â€œunder-voter.â€
But, Fitrakis and team suspect, many of these under- and over-voters meant to vote for a candidate but the robot reader couldnâ€™t understand their choice.
Hereâ€™s how it happens.Â Voters in Michigan and Wisconsin fill in bubbles next to their choice.Â The cards, filled up with darkened bubbles for each race, are gathered and fed through an â€œoptical scanner.â€ These robotic eyeballs mess up all the time.
This is what Fitrakis, an old hand at vote-machine failures (both deliberate and benign), calls â€œthe calibration problem.â€
Are machines calibrated with a Republican or Democratic bias? No, that’s not how it works. But just as poor areas get the worst schools and hospitals, they also get the worst voting machines.
The key is an ugly statistic not taught in third grade civics class:Â According to the US Civil Rights Commission, the chance your vote will be disqualified as â€œspoiledâ€ is 900% more likely if youâ€™re Black than if youâ€™re white.
So the Green Party intends to review every single one of the six million bubble-filled cards. Theyâ€™ll use the one instrument that can easily tell one bubble from two, or one bubble from none: the human eye.
As you can imagine, This will require several thousand eyes.Â The good news is, Fitrakis reports, that well over a thousand volunteers have already signed up.Â Training by Skype begins Tuesday morning.
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Provisional or â€œplaceboâ€ ballots
According to the US Elections Assistance Commission (EAC), Americans cast 2.7 million provisional ballots in the last presidential election.Â About a million were simply discarded.Â What?!
Yes.Â Discarded, not counted.Â You show up at your normal polling station and they canâ€™t find your name, or they donâ€™t like your ID, or youâ€™re supposed to vote in another precinct.Â Instead of letting you vote on a regular ballot, you fill out a â€œprovisionalâ€ ballot and place it in an envelope, sign your name, and under penalty of jail time for lying, affirm youâ€™re a properly registered voter.
The polls closeâ€”then the magic begins.Â Itâ€™s up to highly partisan election officials to decide if your vote counts.Â Hillary Clinton only won one swing state, Virginia, notably, the only one where the vote count was controlled by Democrats.Â She lost all swing statesâ€”Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina and Floridaâ€”where the GOP set the rules for counting these ballots and their hacks acted as the judge and jury on whether a ballot should be counted.
Wisconsin generally rejects votes cast in the wrong precinct, even if theyâ€™re legal votersâ€”and, says Fitrakis, â€œeven if their official precinct was just another table in the same high school gymâ€”and they were mis-directed by poll workers.â€
(Thatâ€™s why I sometimes call â€œprovisionalâ€ ballots â€œplaceboâ€ ballots.Â They let you feel youâ€™ve voted, even if you havenâ€™t.)
In Wisconsin, provisional ballots were handed to votersâ€”mostly, it appears, studentsâ€”who didnâ€™t have the form of ID required under new Wisconsin law. These ballots were disqualified despite zero evidence even one voter was an identity thief.
Fitrakis says the Stein campaign will fight for each of these provisional votes where this is clearly no evidence the vote is fraudulent.
Mail-in, Early and Absentee Ballots go Absent
If youâ€™ve gone postal in this election, good luck!Â According to EAC data, at least half a million absentee ballots go absent, that is, just donâ€™t get counted.Â The cause: everything from postage due to â€œsuspect signature.â€ Fitrakis told me that in his home state of Ohio, you need to put your driverâ€™s license number on the envelope, â€œand if you donâ€™t have a driverâ€™s license and leave the line blankâ€”instead of writing â€˜no driverâ€™s licenseâ€™â€”they toss your ballot.
From Palast’s book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits by Ted Rall
Itâ€™s a â€œgotcha!â€ system meant to knock out the ballots the officials donâ€™t want to count.Â (Remember, your mail-in ballot is anything but secret.)Â Team Green will try to fight for each absentee ballot rejected for cockamamie reasons.
If the recount doesnâ€™t change the outcome, can we feel assured the election was honest?
Sadly, no.Â As Fitrakis says, â€œIf a student is given a provisional ballot because they didnâ€™t have the right ID, or the state simply lost their registration, we can fight for the ballot to be counted.Â But most students who voted off campus didnâ€™t know their right to get a provisional ballot and most probably didnâ€™t get offered one.
Students and others were discouraged from voting because they lacked the proper ID (300,000 by the estimate of the experts with the ACLUâ€”thatâ€™s thirty times Trumpâ€™s plurality).Â But if you didnâ€™t cast any ballot, provisional or otherwise, no one can fight for it.
And final decisions may come down to the vote of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, God forbid.Â As Norman Stockwell, the editor of Madison-based The Progressive explained to me, formerly, elections law adjudications were made by a panel of non-partisan judges.Â These were replaced by this new commission of partisan shills appointed by GOP Governor Scott Walker.
Trump says millions voted illegally. Is he crazy?
Crazy like a fox.Â Thereâ€™s a method in his madness that affects the recount.
While the media dismisses Trumpâ€™s claim that there are “millions of people that voted illegally,” they have not paid attention to the details of his claim.Â Trump explains that millions of people are â€œvoting many, many times,â€ that is, voting in two states in the same election.
Trumpâ€™s claim is based on a list of â€œpotential duplicate votersâ€ created by his operative, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.Â Kobach (a top dog in Trumpâ€™s transition team) Â directs a program for hunting down fraudulent voters using a computer system called, â€œCrosscheck.â€
Itâ€™s quite a computer:Â Crosscheck identified a breathtaking 449,922 Michiganders who are suspected of voting or registering in a second state, a felony crime, as are 371,923 in Pennsylvania.
I spent two years investigating the Trump/Kobach claim for Rolling Stone.Â We obtained the â€œconfidentialâ€ suspect list of several million citizens accused of voting twice.Â In fact, it was no more than a list of common namesâ€”Maria Hernandez, James Brown, David Leeâ€”that is, common to voters of color.Â Read: Democrats.Â A true and typical example: Michael James Brown of Michigan is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Kendrick Brown of Georgia.
About 54,000 voters in Michigan, five times Trumpâ€™s plurality, lost their right to vote based on this nutty double-voter accusation.Â In Pennsylvania, about 45,000 were purged.
The problem for Fitrakis:Â While he eventually plans to file suit against Crosscheck purges, in the meantime, itâ€™s not clear he can challenge someone whose lost their vote because of a false accusation of double voting.Â And those who found their names missing and didnâ€™t demand a provisional ballotâ€”thereâ€™s no hope at all of recovering their vote.
Is Jill Stein going to get rich?
Fitrakis laughs at this one.Â â€œThe FEC [Federal Elections Commission] has very strict rules on recounts. The donations for the recount are sequestered in a specially designated account and all spending is restricted to the recount.â€
The big problem is that the cost is somewhat out of Steinâ€™s control.Â Each state will bill the campaign for the â€œpro-rated salaries and benefitsâ€ of its county and state officials working on the recount.
To add to the cost and just plain drive the Green team crazy, the Wisconsin Election Board announced on Monday that each separate county elections clerk will decide if theyâ€™ll even let the Green volunteers directly view the ballots.Â Fitrakis and partners will have to get a court order to get into each county.Â How does one recount ballots without seeing them?Â (Hmm, is the Wisconsin board, stooges appointed by the GOP Governor, fearful that the viewing the ballots will expose the game?)
Hillary joins the fray
What will the Clinton camp add to the recount? â€œLawyers,â€ said Fitrakis, though heâ€™s yet to see them.Â The Clinton campaign is apparently helping find one voter in each Pennsylvania county, as one is required in each jurisdiction to file for a recount of that state.
And what about that hack job?
While Fitrakis is not looking for Russkies in the computer code, he says, â€œWeâ€™re more concerned with the private companies that control the keys to the kingdomâ€”to match whatâ€™s on paper to the official count.â€Â The â€œkeysâ€ are the little machines, memory cards and other electronic gewgaws that are used to suck the data from the voting machineâ€”which are carried off to another state for tabulation by a private contractor.Â Will these tabulations at each step match what the volunteers find in the on-the-ground recount?
One problem is that the tabulation software is â€œproprietary.â€Â A private company owns the code to the countâ€”and the privateers will fight fiercely, with GOP help, to keep the ballot counting code their commercial secret.
Push and Pray Pennsylvania
In the end, the single biggest impediment to a full and fair recount is that 70 percent of Pennsylvania voters used what are called, â€œPush and Prayâ€ voting machinesâ€”Direct Recording Electronic touch-screens.Â Push the screen next to your choice and pray it gets recorded. Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has yet to require some form of VVPAT (â€œvee-patâ€) or voter-verified paper audit trail that creates an ATM-style receipt.
Therefore, the Keystone State recount will have to rely on hopes of access to the code, statistical comparisons to counties that used paper ballotsâ€”and prayer.
Maybe it IS the Russians
The possibility that a Putin pal hacked the machines was championed by University of Michigan computer sciences professor J. Alex Halderman who proposed, â€œThe attackers would probe election offices well in advance in order to find ways to break into their computersâ€¦and spread malware into voting machines.â€
I imagine some squat, middle-pay-scale civil servant in chinos and a pocket protector who works in the Michigan Secretary of Stateâ€™s office approached, one late overtime night, by some FSB agent in high heels and a slinky dress split halfway up her thigh. The svelte spy would lean against the bureaucrat provocatively and whisper, â€œMy handsome dahling, would you mind sticking this little thumb drive into that big old computer of yours?â€
Professor Halderman, if you want to help the recount, put down the James Bond novels and pick up some Opti-Scan ballots.Â Weâ€™ve got a lot of bubbles to read.Â End
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Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, now out as major motionÂ non-fiction movie.
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