He deleted it, but Wil Wheaton saved it for posterity.
It's time for some American Democracy 101. Every election cycle, it frustrates me to no end that most news outlets spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the latest polls without explaining the significance those polls actually have on the outcome of a presidential election that isn't truly decided by the voters. My Halloween wish this year was for someone to explain the electoral college to me, and Twin Cities journalist Frank Bures has obliged*.
This piece has actually been around since 2000, but I think it's a nice explanation of what the electoral college is, where it comes from, and why it's going to matter to you tonight.
The only votes that count in this election will be cast in mid-December by the 538 members of the electoral college. That's who you and I will vote for on November 7: electors for Bush or electors for Gore, and their votes are the currency of presidential politics. Each state gets as many electors as it has representatives and senators. In all but two states, the winning party takes all the state's electoral votes.
...At first, in several states, there was no popular presidential vote. For decades after 1787, in states like Delaware, New York, and Georgia, the legislatures chose the electors. In South Carolina, there was no popular vote for the chief executive until 1860. But today, party loyalty prevents electors from acting as the free agents envisioned by the founders. In 99% of the cases, the electoral vote is a formality.
...Electors tend to be either ordinary people—teachers, carpenters, middle managers, retirees, and lawyers' or party activists sent to the state capital for half an hour of raw power. Some, like Marc Abrams, a 1996 Oregon elector I talked to in the course of researching this article" are blasé about choosing the most powerful man on earth. They voted in a room in the Capitol basement. It took about twenty minutes, and hardly anyone noticed they were there. When I asked Abrams how it felt, he said, "It was sorta cool. "
*Of course, I also wished for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace. And for a million dollars to be placed, in my name, in a Swiss bank account.
Ohio GOP Secretary of State orders secret, last minute, unaudited software updates to voting machines
Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has asked voting machine giant ES&S to install last-minute, unverified, custom firmware updates on the state's voting machines. This is highly irregular, and the details of it are shrouded in secrecy and silence -- the few, terse statements from Husted's office on the matter have been self-contradictory and unhelpful. On Salon, Brad Friedman tries to untangle the mess, and concludes that it's impossible to say what the new software in Ohio's voting machines actually does, nor why unaudited, unapproved software should be added to voting machines in a critical swing-state at the last minute, but that it's highly suspicious and possibly illegal.
I’d like to have been able to learn much more before running anything on this at all, frankly. But the lack of time between now and Tuesday’s election — in which Ohio’s results are universally believed to be key to determining the next president of the United States — preclude that.
So, based on the information I’ve been able to glean so far, allow me to try to explain, in as simple terms as I can, what we currently know and what we don’t, and what the serious concerns are all about.
And, just to pre-respond to those supposed journalists who have shown a proclivity for reading comprehension issues, let me be clear: No, this does not mean I am charging that there is a conspiracy to rig or steal the Ohio election. While there certainly could be, if there is, I don’t know about it, nor am I charging there is any such conspiracy at this time. The secretive, seemingly extra-legal way in which Secretary of State Husted’s office is going about whatever it is they are trying to do, however, at the very last minute before the election, along with the explanations they’ve given for it to date, and concerns about similar cases in the past, in both Ohio and elsewhere, are certainly cause for any reasonable skeptic or journalist to be suspicious and investigate what could be going on. And so I am …
One thing that Friedman doesn't say is that this all wouldn't be such a problem if voting machines produced voter-verified paper audit trails of their actions. That is, after you vote, the machine could print out a paper record of your vote, move it into position in front of a plastic widow so you could verify the vote, and then move it along into a locked audit-box. Virtually every other kind of digital tabulating device does this, from EEGs to ATMs to cash-registers. The technology is trivial. And it would give us the ability to verify, after the fact, whether the votes had been correctly counted and transmitted from each machine.
Update: Friedman updates via Twitter: "The machines in question are the tabulators. The machines already have 'paper trail'."
Here's a 1957 political ad for Canada's Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner to the modern left-leaning New Democratic Party (now the official opposition). The CCF are responsible for Canada's national health care system and many other progressive reforms (all under assault by Harper's government). I like the first point: "Your vote counts just as much as a millionaire's. Be sure to use it."
The Atlantic's Andrew Cohen describes the seven-hour early voter lines at polling stations in Democratic strongholds like Miami, where Republican officials like Governor Rick Scott has reduced the number of early voting days, making it harder than ever for working people with marginal incomes to vote.
When the remaining restrictions were challenged in federal court, a George W. Bush appointee said there was no proof that the reduced hours would "impermissibly burden" minority voters. How many hours in line must a Florida voter wait before the burden upon her becomes an "impermissible" one? If Florida's election officials, and its Republican lawmakers, and its state and federal judges, all were required to stand in line for seven hours to vote those long lines would go away forever. You know it, I know it, and so do those officials.
How about Ohio, another "battleground" state governed by partisan fiat. Its election rules are administered by a secretary of state, Jon Husted, who just a few years ago was the GOP speaker of the state house. Like their counterparts in Florida, Ohio's Republican lawmakers sought to restrict wildly popular early-voting hours around the state. And again the federal courts blunted the impact of their new rules. So what has Husted done? He's focused his energy this weekend ginning up ways to justify discarding provisional ballots cast by his fellow citizens.
These are just two recent examples. There are more. But they all have a few core things in common. In each instance, elected officials are making it harder for American citizens to vote and to have their votes counted. And in each instance, the partisan restrictions are designed to impact the elderly, and the poor, and students. The Constitution gives power to the states to handle elections. But what we are seeing is one party's systemic abuse of that power to disenfranchise likely voters of another party. Don't believe me? Let's go to the videotape.
In Pennsylvania, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai was caught on tape this summer boasting about his colleagues' success: "... First pro-life legislation -- abortion facility regulations -- in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done." In Ohio, the Republican Party chairman of Franklin County, which includes Columbus, was even more blunt. Doug Preisse said, "I guess I really actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban -- read African-American -- voter turnout machine."
(Image: It's a long, long line to vote early today here in Columbus, Ohio., by finneganlatimes/Michael Finnegan )
It's been so long since Transmetropolitan ended that I sometimes forget how totally incandescent Warren Ellis is when he's talking politics. His latest Vice column, "My Last Column About the Presidential Election (Really)," was a good reminder.
My Last Column About the Presidential Election (Really)
President Obama's fairly grim, toothless, meandering and perfunctory presidency gained excellent contrast from an assemblage of GOP candidates so demented and corrupt that even to so describe them would be an insult to the many hard-working demented and corrupt politicians extant today. It was an array of desperate, shambling criminals (and Jon Huntsman, who presumably was there on a bet) that may have been unprecedented, even in the stinking cesspool of American politics, in its lunatic evil. The "winner" of the GOP race was always going to be the one who didn't shit themselves on stage. But the GOP itself couldn't win, because, of the bunch running, the best you could hope for was a candidate who didn't shit themselves on stage.
Which is exactly what the Republican party got. A man who's only coherent when he's lying. Any solid political points he might have made have been washed away in a tide of dissembling, flipflopping and outright bullshitting. Broad swathes of the party fail to summon enthusiasm for him. The Koch brothers, who could surely have amassed mighty forces to Romney's advantage, have provided only perfunctory support. And his mealymouthing about Big Government have put him on the wrong side of not only New York but also New Jersey, whose well-liked Republican governor Chris Christie has been effusive in his praise of the President even as Romney was being pelted with his own words about disbanding the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
My concern is this. The radical elements in the GOP will be able to claim that Romney was never their guy, and will take the next four years to place some genuine nutters, with serious backing, in line for the 2016 candidacy. Not the scrag-ends and barrel-scrapings they slapped on to the stage for this year's farce. The idea of the Democrats being conscious and organised enough to have a real player in place for 2016 – because there's no way in hell they can run Joe Biden -- is kind of funny.
Just in time for election season, XKCD's Randall Monroe has busted out another of his amazing, wall-sized infographics, this one depicting the swings to the left, right and center of the senate and the house, through all of US electoral history.
Stephen Colbert has raised the stakes on Donald Trump's offer to donate money to a charity of Obama's choice in exchange for his school transcripts and passport details: Colbert will divert $1M from his SuperPAC to Trump's favorite charity if Trump allows Colbert to put his balls in his (Trump's) mouth.
The New Yorker's "Voter-Fraud Myth" by Jane Mayer is a good, fair, investigative piece tracking the rise of the Republican orthodoxy that says that voter fraud is rampant, and that it favors Democrats. Mayer makes a reasoned, factual case to show that there is no substantial voter fraud problem (much-vaunted incidents like the scores of dead voters in Georgia were later revealed to not have a single verifiable instance of a dead person voting). Mayer also shows how anti-fraud measures disproportionately target young people, poor people, and visible minorities. This is a great piece to refer to when discussing the subject with friends who've been convinced that voter ID laws amount to anything other than partisan voter suppression.
Von Spakovsky offered me the names of two experts who, he said, would confirm that voter-impersonation fraud posed a significant peril: Robert Pastor, the director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management, at American University, and Larry Sabato, a political-science professor at the University of Virginia. Pastor, von Spakovsky noted, had spoken to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about being a victim of election fraud: voting in Georgia, he discovered that someone else had already voted under his name.
When I reached Pastor, he clarified what had happened to him. “I think they just mistakenly checked my name when my son voted—it was just a mistake.” He added, “I don’t think that voter-impersonation fraud is a serious problem.” Pastor believes that, compared with other democracies, America is “somewhere near the bottom in election administration,” and thinks that voter I.D.s make sense—but only if they are free and easily available to all, which, he points out, is not what Republican legislatures have proposed. Sabato, who supports the use of voter I.D.s under the same basic conditions, says of the voter-impersonation question, “One fraudulent vote is one too many, but my sense is that it’s relatively rare today.”
Hasen says that, while researching “The Voting Wars,” he “tried to find a single case” since 1980 when “an election outcome could plausibly have turned on voter-impersonation fraud.” He couldn’t find one. News21, an investigative-journalism group, has reported that voter impersonation at the polls is a “virtually non-existent” problem. After conducting an exhaustive analysis of election-crime prosecutions since 2000, it identified only seven convictions for impersonation fraud. None of those cases involved conspiracy.
Redditor Aspirin742 and his six-year-old daughter Elissa are both contenders in a hard-fought election for President of their house. The campaigning has gotten really ugly.
Last night's Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart debate, the "Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium," just crushed it. This is the best 90 minutes of video you're gonna see this month, and is unquestionably the best presidential debate of the season.
Here's the Guardian's Amanda Holpuch with a recap:
The economic discussion focused on O'Reilly and Stewart's disagreement on government spending. O'Reilly said he thinks too much money is given to "slackers" who "mooch" off the government through welfare and other subsidies, though he supports social security. Stewart took issue with O'Reilly's determinations of what things are acceptable to be subsidised by the government.
"Why is it if you take advantage of a tax break as a corporation you're a smart businessman, but if you take advantage of a tax break as a person you're a moocher?" Stewart said.
68,000 Texans will no longer have to prove that they aren't dead in order to vote in the next election. The state of Texas has settled a suit brought on behalf of 68,000 "potentially deceased" Texas voters who shared a birthdate and a partial Social Security match with a person appearing on a federal death register. These people will now be able to vote, unless Texas can prove they're dead. Another 12,000 voters will still have to prove that they're not dead before casting a ballot. More from Lowering the Bar:
Under the previous rules, voters were identified as "potentially deceased" if there was at least a "weak match" (such as a birth date plus a partial Social Security number) between their information and the federal death records the state was consulting. The weakly matched dead made up 68,000 of the 80,000 people who received a letter from voting officials telling them they would be removed from the rolls if they didn't speak up. Under the settlement, the burden shifts to officials to prove those people are really dead; the remainder ("strong matches"), who are much more likely to be dead, will still have to prove otherwise if they can.
"Today's order [approving the settlement] is another step toward improving the integrity of the election system," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who had unsuccessfully tried to defend the state's original plan. I think it's actually the same step, but 85% smaller.
A flier distributed by the Maine GOP attacks Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz for playing an orc assassin rogue in World of Warcraft, using quotes she's made about the virtual violence her imaginary fairy-tale creature gets up to in order to imply that she is unfit for office. Timothy Lee has more on Ars Technica:
"I love poisoning and stabbing! It is fun," the flyer quotes Lachowicz as saying. The candidate is apparently a regular commenter at DailyKos, a liberal blog. And the Maine GOP has mined the site looking for what it regards as damning comments. Most of Lachowicz's remarks were posted in 2009 or 2010, most likely before she began her current campaign for office.
"I can kill stuff without going to jail," she wrote in December 2009. "There are some days when this is more necessary than others." The flyer points voters to a website, called "Colleen's World," that highlights more cases where she describes virtual violence she committed in the online world.
Josh Levy from Free Press sez, "My colleague Tim Karr just released a report exposing the billions spent on political ads around the country -- and how that money is pocketed by local TV stations. Are these stations offering any local news coverage to debunk the lies in these ads? Are they exposing the deep-pocketed interests behind the groups buying ad time? The short answer is: No. The local stations we looked at in the report provided no local stories exposing the special interests behind these ads, and only one station among the 20 surveyed devoted even a few minutes to investigating whether these ads told viewers the truth."
Here are some details from our new report, Left in the Dark: Local Coverage in the Age of Big-Money Politics:
* The Super PACs vs. Justin Bieber: The hundreds of hours of local news that aired in the two weeks prior to Wisconsin's June 5 recall election included no stories on the 17 groups most actively buying time on Milwaukee's ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates. While these stations were ignoring the impact of political ads, they found time to air 53 local news segments on Justin Bieber.
* Fact-Check Fail: The ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates in Charlotte, Cleveland, Las Vegas and Milwaukee did not once fact-check the claims made in political ads placed locally by the nation's top-spending Super PACs and independent groups, even though these groups had spent tens of millions of dollars on frequently deceptive ads in those markets.
* Hush Money: Cleveland's four affiliate stations provided no coverage of the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity, despite airing the group's anti-Obama attack ads more than 500 times. Americans for Prosperity has reportedly spent more than $1.5 million to place ads on Cleveland television stations.
* News Out of Balance: Affiliate stations in Tampa aired on average more than 200 political ads a day throughout August. Yet only one station, WTSP, devoted news time to fact-checking any of the most prominent groups buying these ads. In a single segment running less than three minutes, WTSP rated an Americans for Prosperity ad as false, a finding that didn't stop the station from running the group's anti-Obama ads more than 150 times that month.
Today, a civil rights group called Advancement Project will publish a report on the new voting laws passed in 23 Republican-led states. The report (not named in Patricia Zengerle's Reuters article and not yet up on the Advancement Project site) claims that 10,000,000 Hispanic voters will be disenfranchised by the new laws, which place hurdles between voters and the ballot box, such as presenting certain types of ID. The rubric for these laws has been that "everyone" has the types of ID specified in the statutes, and the common refrain in response to critics is "Who doesn't have a [driver's license|passport|non-driver ID|etc]?" The Advancement Project's point appears to be that these specific 10 million citizens, who are otherwise legally entitled to vote, don't have the necessary papers or can't meet the qualifiers imposed by the state governments.
According to Reuters, national polls show 70 percent or more support for Obama among Hispanic voters.
The new laws include purges of people suspected of not being citizens in 16 states that unfairly target Latinos, the civil rights group Advancement Project said in the study to be formally released on Monday.
Laws in effect in one state and pending in two others require proof of citizenship for voter registration. That imposes onerous and sometimes expensive documentation requirements on voters, especially targeting naturalized American citizens, many of whom are Latino, the liberal group said.
Nine states have passed restrictive photo identification laws that impose costs in time and money for millions of Latinos who are citizens but do not yet have the required identification, it said.
Voting laws may disenfranchise 10 million Hispanic U.S. citizens: study (Thanks, Deborah!)
Internet Voter Registration Day: pledge to vote, and get your friends to pledge, and scare the piss out of SOPA-loving DC insiders
Tiffiniy from the SOPA-killing activist group Fight for the Future sez,
Remember when we worked together and beat back internet censorship and SOPA, and changed the world earlier this year? 2012 is a historic year for our basic rights on the web - the year the internet came alive and fought for free speech and freedom. Sites like Boing Boing depend on an open and free web, and so doesn't much of what you love and do on the web.
Unfortunately, Congress still only cares about the opinions of likely voters. If everyone who cares about internet freedom stays at home this election, Congress will bring back SOPA. That's why we've been working on a campaign to turn out a massive number of internet users at the polls, and we're asking people to join us tomorrow for Internet Voter Registration Day, right before a bunch of state deadlines, by pledging that you'll vote, and register if you need to: internetvotes.org.
Washington insiders thought SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA were all 'certain to pass.' How did the internet win against those bills? Because people stood up to protect free speech and the transformative power of the internet in their lives.
Let's dramatically increase the number of people egging each other on to vote, which has shown to get people to the polls. The first thing we're asking people to do is to get our friends to pledge and register to vote starting Tuesday, National Voter Registration Day (right before a bunch of state deadlines with time to send in your forms). Then we'll work together to mobilize millions of internet users to get to the polls. People can use our tools to see which of their friends are voting and registered, mobilize their audiences into voting blocks for their cause, site, or group, get important voting information, and make sure their friends go vote.
Rolling Stone reports that the band DEVO "are set to release a track later this month entitled "Don't Roof Rack Me, Bro! (Remember Seamus)." It is inspired by Mitt Romney's notorious road trip from Massachusetts to Ontario, during which he transported the family dog, Seamus, in a kennel strapped to the roof of his station wagon." More at THR. (thanks, GEF)
During the 2008 election, writer Shawn Otto lead a charge to get the presidential candidates to unambiguously and publicly explain their positions on key questions concerning science and public policy. The questions were chosen through a process that involved the general public, as well as scientists and engineers. Science Debate 2008 was intended to be a televised debate on PBS—but neither Barak Obama nor John McCain would agree to participate. Eventually, after a lot of pressure, the candidates finally answered the 14 questions ... but only in print, online. No follow-ups.
Now Science Debate is trying again, hoping to engage President Obama and Mitt Romney and get them to treat science with at least the kind of seriousness politicians give their religious beliefs. (The Republican primary, for instance, featured debates that were themed solely around the candidates' faiths.)
With the help of concerned citizens, scientists, engineers, and the nation's leading science and engineering organizations, Science Debate has put together a list of 14 questions for the 2012 presidential race.
2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?
9. The Internet. The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society. What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?
You can read the rest of the questions at ScienceDebate.org. Once you've done that—if you agree this is important—sign the petition calling for the candidates to devote a debate to science and the ways that it will affect their public policy choices. These are important issues. We need to know what the candidates think if we're going to be fully informed voters. It's time to make science part of the political discourse.
Smithsonian has a fun article on America's top second-banana—the vice presidency—a job that John Adams, the first vice-president, described as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived."
Lest you think Dan Quayle was the first VP mocked in the press, or that The Onion's superb (if fictional) coverage of Joe Biden was some uniquely inventive portrayal of what vice presidents do with their time, Tony Horwitz is here to set you straight. The truth is that the vice presidency has a very long history of mediocrity, wackiness, and lack of purpose.
The Constitution also failed to specify the powers and status of vice presidents who assumed the top office. In fact, the second job was such an afterthought that no provision was made for replacing VPs who died or departed before finishing their terms. As a result, the office has been vacant for almost 38 years in the nation’s history.
Until recently, no one much cared. When William R.D. King died in 1853, just 25 days after his swearing-in (last words: “Take the pillow from under my head”), President Pierce gave a speech addressing other matters before concluding “with a brief allusion” to the vice president’s death. Other number-twos were alive but absentee, preferring their own homes or pursuits to an inconsequential role in Washington, where most VPs lived in boardinghouses (they had no official residence until the 1970s). Thomas Jefferson regarded his vice presidency as a “tranquil and unoffending station,” and spent much of it at Monticello. George Dallas (who called his wife “Mrs. Vice”) maintained a lucrative law practice, writing of his official post: “Where is he to go? What has he to do?—no where, nothing.” Daniel Tompkins, a drunken embezzler described as a “degraded sot,” paid so little heed to his duties that Congress docked his salary.
The image above shows the outcome of the 2008 presidential elections in the American South. Counties that swung Republican are in red. Counties that swung Democratic are in blue. The result shows more than just the modern political landscape. In fact, the blue counties trace the outline of an ancient coastline, from a time when much of the South and Central-West parts of North America were inundated with shallow, tropical seas.
I love this article by Dr. M at the Deep Sea News blog, which explains the geologic history of these oceans and explains why an ancient sea would affect modern politics.
During the Cretaceous, 139-65 million years ago, shallow seas covered much of the southern United States. These tropical waters were productive–giving rise to tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons which overtime accumulated into massive chalk formations. The chalk, both alkaline and porous, lead to fertile and well-drained soils in a band, mirroring that ancient coastline and stretching across the now much drier South. This arc of rich and dark soils in Alabama has long been known as the Black Belt.
...Over time this rich soil produced an amazingly productive agricultural region, especially for cotton. In 1859 alone a harvest of over 4,000 cotton bales was not uncommon within the belt. And yet, just tens of miles north or south this harvest was rare. Of course this level of cotton production required extensive labor.
Florida governor Rick Scott has ordered a high-velocity purge of the state's voter-rolls, using secret criteria to target 180,000 Floridians and requiring them to prove their citizenship in 30 days or lose the right to vote. Democrats and activist groups claim that this violates federal laws. For 91-year-old WWII vet Bill Internicola, it's an insult. Greg Allen reports on NPR's Morning Edition:
"To me, it's like an insult," he says. "They sent me a form to fill out. And I filled out the form and I sent it back to them with a copy of my discharge paper and a copy of my tour of duty in the ETO, which is the European Theater of Operations."
Internicola's was one of more than 180,000 names Florida's secretary of state identified from motor vehicle records as possible noncitizens. Several weeks ago, the secretary's office sent county elections supervisors a first batch of some 2,600 names. County officials, who are also preparing for the state's August primary, started sending out letters to suspected noncitizens, saying they had 30 days to prove their citizenship or be removed from the voting rolls.