Monday, October 31, 2022 0 comments

2000 Mules Review Posted on Amazon, but Later Removed

 Amazon.com actually pulled my review of 2000 Mules.

Here is how it appeared before it was taken down:







Friday, October 28, 2022 0 comments

Work in Progress


Typically, this blog shows posts in completed form.  This is a work in progress.

The video below can stand on its own for now, but soon this post will come down for a while and then soon re-emerge with much more content and background.






 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022 0 comments

Ballot Image Audits

 This is not a traditional post, but it does involve "behind the scenes" work of election administration.

There are various types of post-election audits.  Nearly every state--including North Dakota--have some type of post-election audit to demonstrate that the tabulation from the election was correct.

Here is a link to a short video that describes one method, and one I've been fond of since learning about it in 2017: 

Then, I was working at the Election Assistance Commission, not at a jurisdiction that could utilize the method you will see in the video.  The voting system in my previous jurisdiction, in Kansas, did not utilize ballot image scanners (they do now).

I'm putting this link here just as a way for readers to become familiar with another type of auditing process.

Monday, October 10, 2022 0 comments

Motels and Mules Update

 Editor's Note with the post from May.

I have since watched the movie 2000 Mules and even have a copy of the book, contraband because it was pulled by the publisher and now will be released October. 25.

I purchased my copy at the Bismarck Barnes and Noble on October 1.  It was the only copy, and they likely missed the memo to pull it from the shelves.

NPR also got a copy, and you can read the review by clicking this sentence.

Regardless, seeing the movie and reading the book, if anything, just reinforced how ridiculous the claims by True the Vote and Dinesh D'Souza are.  The book follows the movie, almost scene-by-scene, but includes a new final chapter.

Still, if anyone wants to embrace the concept in the book, summarized in that final chapter, I'm personally prepared to respectfully disagree but let them have that win.  From the book,

"Joe Biden is president because the Democrats stole the election from Trump, and they did it through organized cheating in the main urban areas of at least five key states."

If people really believe that--and I don't--take your stubborn mule-headed argument up with those urban areas. 

Why this is discussed in North Dakota, or Kansas, or nearly anywhere for that matter, simply reinforces my opinions in my May post.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022 0 comments

Oh, the Humanity!

Last week, the North Dakota State Canvass Board certified the results of the June 14 statewide election.

As a point of order, each county certified its results on June 27.  The state canvass certifies the roll-up of the 53 counties.

It’s typical to assume that November general elections are more complicated than the primaries because of the turnout and national awareness, but I think most election administrators find the primaries more exhausting—they usually are more complicated in terms of voting laws and involve more unique ballot styles.

One trending observation I’ve had, not just with North Dakota but nationwide:

In 2016, when Russian involvement was the election topic of the day, it was common to stress that elections were ran individually by more than 3,000 jurisdictions, creating a unique quilt of security.  The fact that the elections were ran separately provided a natural firewall against the ability for widespread outside interference.

That’s true, but it’s also true, for instance during my time in Kansas, that our voters in Johnson County had different experiences than those in Douglas or Sedgwick Counties.  We used different equipment and had different early voting options, for example.

In fact, a Congressional district crossed into Douglas County.  Douglas County was predominantly a Democratic county; Johnson was predominantly Republican.  We were allowed to provide early voting outside of our office (satellite locations). Douglas did not have this legislative authority.

I felt, and expressed at the time, that this legal disparity could favor a Republican candidate.  Over time, the law changed to allow more counties to have satellite advance voting.

That’s an example of a growing trend to do more to standardize the voter experience.  We aren’t McDonalds, but a polling place in, say, Cass County, should run the same as in Burleigh County—at least as much as possible.

The disparity also comes because elections represent a human business.

That’s been lost lately.  There may be no thing as a perfect election, as the election administrator cliche goes, because humans are involved.  That's not to say, however, we don't strive for perfection--zero defects was the phrase I stressed to our election workers when serving as a local election official.  Election administrators are always chasing the dream of a perfect election.

But, people make mistakes, and there were some anecdotally reported one-offs across the state in this election.  In fact, while we hear the refrain of getting rid of machines and hand-counting ballots, none of the issues reported in North Dakota involved voting machines.

That latest revelation and proof point, once again, that voting machines performed properly isn't what some activists want to hear or believe.  It leads me to believe—and hear me out, Dear Reader—that I think I’ve identified the ultimate win-win for those who want humans, rather than machines, counting votes. 

Machines have proven to have fewer mistakes than humans, yet some people steadfastly maintain they want hand-counting of ballots.

So, how about the voting equipment manufacturers create androids or robots that hand count the ballots?  Or, maybe, just turn the rollers on scanners into automated hands….

The bigger point is that calls for hand-counts, no machines, and other changes are really calls for election reform.  I’m not sure, exactly, what election reform truly means, but it has been a buzz phrase since the Help America Vote Act of 2002 was passed.

(It's hard to believe, as an interlude, that the battle cry related to elections at that time was that we needed voting machines for accuracy).

I do know the root of the need for election reform then—it was the 2000 presidential election, not decided on election night, leaving many to have reduced confidence in the election.

That confidence continues to erode.   It’s the old adage of, “Lose the game, blame the referee,” and the cycle has led to election law changes.

The feelings related to voter confidence, thanks to a myriad of social issues, social media, and federal government overreach, are real.  I submit that if there were no such thing as voter fraud—or concerns of election fraud—there would not be so many state and federal statutes related to the conduct of the elections.  

Thus, likely, the call for election reform, based on the number of  existing election laws, is a tale as old as time.  I can even hear Angela Lansbury singing the song in the background as I type, although most election administrators would appreciate a little more Beauty these days after the Beasts the elections of the last few years have represented.

Changes to election laws generally require some type of bipartisan support to get passed.  Even in statehouses where one party has overall control, factions within the party still often result in compromises and more moderate changes to the laws.

And here we are in 2022, where election reformers call themselves patriots looking out for election integrity, but they do as much, if not more, to erode voter confidence than the harm presumably caused by the issues to which they complain.  Personally, I think some of the concerns these individuals raise have validity, but back to Cliché Town, surely they know it’s easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar...

Shouldn’t we all step back and focus on the ultimate goal?  Don’t we all want predictable election processes, rooted in law?  Don’t we all have a responsibility to leave the elections process better than it was before us?  Doesn’t it seem that if there is a time for state governments to fund the necessary resources to make this happen, it’s now?

The narrative needle must move from chest-pumping election integrity phrases to meaningful election reform--true election administration modernization achieved by working together.  In my view, we could benefit from a “statute audit,” a comb through the statutes and a report to all stakeholders that shows areas of inconsistency or concern that could be addressed, thoughtfully, by the legislature to raise voter confidence.  Probably, all states could benefit from that, as well as the federal government.  That seems non-controversial.

Borrowing a phrase from a president before the 2000 presidential election, and turning it to apply here, “There's nothing wrong with election administration that can’t be fixed with what is right with election administration.”

Elections are ran by humans.  Humans pass laws.  Humans, as much as humanly possible, follow them.

It’s time to realize we have human—not machine—issues, and we must all address the human issues by being, well, human.

Friday, May 13, 2022 0 comments

Motels and Mules

This post is full of confessions.

First, I confess to not seeing the new documentary, 2000 Mules. 

I say this because I believe many people are speaking about the movie but also have not been willing to pay $19.99 to rent or $29.99 to buy the movie.  I suspect many who speak about the movie also have not actually watched the movie, although they may not be as forthright as me.

(I’ve seen one person who says this movie is “proof positive the 2020 election was stolen,” but whom I doubt has seen it, actually post a “See it Free” link, but the link doesn’t lead to anyone seeing it for free.” The trailer plays, and then the viewer is led to a paywall).

Still, we are a society on the go, so actually seeing a movie these days isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to reviewing a movie.  I’ve seen the trailer and the documentary videos about the movie. 

2000 Mules is cinematic portrayal of findings by the leaders of “True the Vote.”  I know plenty about True the Vote but my latest experiences with True the Vote have come from numerous open records requests they have made of North Dakota in the past two years.  These requests have been similar, and involved voter registration, which North Dakota does not have. 

That makes sense.  In fairness, the organization isn’t called True the Registration, or True the Voter.  Apparently, only the vote is in their truth wheelhouse.

2000 Mules reminds me of the movie 200 Motels by Frank Zappa.  I’m a Zappa fan, but like 2000 Mules, 200 Motels is an often-discussed-but-seldom-seen movie.  It’s a classic movie, but also one I have never seen.  I have the soundtrack, though.  (Zappa is long-dead but I suspect he knew as much about North Dakota voters as True the Vote).

According to Wikipedia, 200 Motels has been “dubbed a ‘surrealistic’ documentary.”

I assume the same can be said for 2000 Mules.

The premise of 2000 Mules comes down to the belief that ballot drop boxes stole the 2020 presidential election.  The dropboxes enabled ballots to be deposited and later counted, and apparently, the maker of 2000 Mules thinks counting ballots is evil.

True the Vote purchased location data tied to cellphones and created intricate backstories of how people crossed paths with dropboxes in five key swing states in the 2020 election.  This location data is combined with some security video showing people putting ballots in the dropboxes, sometimes as the dropboxes were overflowing, and ballots fell to the ground.  This juxtaposition apparently creates some sort of evil narrative.

You know how accurate location data is on your cell phone—Google tells me that I visited a water park 100 times last winter.  (That’s half of 200 Motels!)  Yet, I’ve never been to the water park.

I actually drove by it on my way to the gym down the road.  However, I’ve never been at that gym, so says Google. 

True the Vote claims that this data and images in five swing states prove that the wrong presidential candidate was elected.  Like 200 Motels, though, the storyline just shows unconnected nonsense vignettes, (so says Wikipedia of the Zappa movie).

In fact, while discussing how evil it is that these dropboxes have been fed ballots, the video supposedly raises the concern with the security of the dropboxes, essentially also suggesting that ballots could be taken from the boxes.  Again, unconnected nonsense.

The Associated Press did a good job pointing out that the movie stumbles.  Others have as well, and the very people that the movie is hoping to reach—media pundits—haven’t embraced the movie.  Beyond that, if the facts were so telling, and this was such a bombshell discovery, exactly why would that lead the creators to take several months and create a movie to make money, as opposed to exposing crimes to law enforcement?

The creators claim they did approach authorities and couldn’t get traction.  My suspicion is that no traction was gained because, at the AP says, nothing was proven.

My further suspicion is that the producers saw the money and a willing audience of pillow huggers who would applaud their actions and conclusions without really digging into facts.  It’s akin, in my view, to Bev Harris of Black Box Voting in the early 2000s. Once she had an HBO documentary, “Hacking Demoracy,” in 2006, her profile suddenly was nowhere to be found.  In fairness, she at least made her book available for free, to generate interest.  True the Vote, again, isn’t really True the Marketing.

(Bev Harris also was referenced as a grandmother.  Frank Zappa brought with him the Mothers of Invention.  Portraying yourself as a parent or grandparent is always a good marketing move when questioning elections.  The True the Vote leaders are married but whether or not they have any kids is not…..wait for it….apparent).

Fact is, dropboxes didn’t swing the election, at least the way the creators say.  The fact that communities across the country used private funds to install dropboxes didn’t make dropboxes evil.

While we are making confessions, I must confess that I am not necessarily a fan of dropboxes.  I do believe election offices should have night drops, but dropboxes have become a broad term ranging from night drops at the election office to remote ballot drop-off locations.  Somehow, dropboxes have emerged as yet another political wedge topic, where the Left feels dropboxes represent a constitutional right and the Right, well, actually read the Constitution.

As a local election official, I saw the value of having a 24-hour ballot drop off at our office.  People forget to mail ballots and bring them close to election day, and others feel more secure knowing the ballot was received.  They also don’t trust that the United States Postal Service will competently get their ballot delivered on time, and, as you can search and read in this blog, who would?

We are used to seeing several dropboxes in our everyday life.  They are blue, unattended, and at many street corners.  Older readers might reference these dropboxes by a different name--mailboxes.

Letters often are shoved into these mailboxes and then left unattended for hours before one official comes and recovers the contents, with no check and balance of another employee from another political party in attendance.

What I do like about the notion of election dropboxes is the implied confession, at least an admission, that this whole nationwide Vote At Home push is too much for the United States Postal Service to handle.  The dropboxes provide more assurance than the USPS that the ballots will actually be delivered correctly and expeditiously.  The USPS simply can’t handle the volume of mail that comes from nationwide voting.  Those who say otherwise likely could create a different organization than the creators of this video, perhaps naming themselves False the Vote.

The same people pushing voting at home pushed the dropboxes.  The same people who stress to you that vote by mail is safe and secure, and who tell you that election mail is just a tiny amount of the overall mail, also push dropboxes.  Remember those public service announcements from the USPS that said you must mail Christmas cards by December 15 to ensure they arrive by Christmas?

(One of the great things about the USPS and vote-by-mail, Dear Reader, is that, as evidenced by the question above without a typed answer, often the jokes write themselves).

But back to True the Vote’s problem with dropboxes.

I’ve tried 200 times—nay, 2000 times—but confess to not knowing their point. 

Is it that ballots were delivered?

It is that someone went and gathered ballots on behalf of voters to make sure the voters’ ballots were received?  They could have done this with stamps and a blue postal drop box. 

(And, in reality, the ballots likely would have arrived without a stamp; that’s a little piece of election mail regulations most people don’t know.  The USPS is required to deliver those ballots and charge the election office for postage).

Does True the Vote actually have proof that ballots were prepared illegally?  That seems to be the truth that needs to be sought.

In North Dakota, no one can get a ballot without an application.  The application requires proof of residency and proof of identity, and includes a signature requirement.  The ballots, once issued and returned, contain a place for the voter to sign, and these two signatures are compared.

Vote-by-mail state laws aren’t identical, but they are very similar in most states.  Some states issue mail ballots to all voters, but those are vote-by mail states on the West Coast.  Nearly all states require an application first, and signatures and other identifying information are verified North Dakota has famously been in the news lately for strictly following signature comparisons.

Maybe people who have seen the movie will be able to properly explain the conclusion we are to be left with.  For now, it appears to simply be, “Dropboxes are bad.”

If so, I suspect history will long remember 200 Motels over 2000 Mules.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 0 comments

Admin Like It's 1999

This past week, some old friends and coworkers from my pre-election days at Sprint arranged a reunion Zoom event.

It was great to greet faces I hadn’t seen for more than 20 years, talking about achievements from the 1990s. 

We were part of Sprint’s Wholesale unit, previously the Diversified Brands Group, and this group was incredibly successful.  As a team, we saw annual revenues grow from $500 million to $1.5 billion in a five-year period.

That was back when everyone had to emphasize, “That’s Billion, with a ‘B’.”  Funny, “Trillion with a ‘Truh’,” doesn’t have the same pop…

Anyway, our customers were resellers who sold under their brand names.  Our average customer billed more than $1 million monthly.  Sprint was the number three retail player with less than 10 percent market share, so these smaller players extended Sprint’s reach into underserved markets and, let’s face it, when you only have 10 percent market share, “underserved,” is a given.

I worked with some brilliant people at that time and became a branding expert.  Really.  I haven’t used “Expert” much in this blog, so please know, Dear Reader, that I didn’t type this boastfully—well, a little boastfully but just because branding seems so out-of-sync with elections.

(The last time “Expert” was used in ElectionDiary was when describing the software “PDF Expert” in http://electiondiary-briandnewby.blogspot.com/search?q=expert, when talking about the suggestion that people sign electronically with a stylus).

Branding may seem to have little to do with elections but there has been a pretty big push of branding in elections over the past year.

“The Big Lie” was branding related to possible election fraud claims by the former president.  What was especially troubling to me about this branding was how many election administrators and members of the election community tweeted this newfound branding, almost from the beginning, a year ago.

Back in my Sprint days, before the 2000 presidential election, election administrators were clearly known by their political impartiality.  My biggest letdown from my four-year career tour in Washington, D.C., was seeing that impartiality vanish among so many I once believed to be impartial.

Further, I don’t think election administrators who tweeted about the “Big Lie,” either felt, or certainly would admit, that they were being partisan.  As the former president might tweet, “Sad!

But then, we have another group who met up in South Dakota in August, and they proceeded to refer to criticisms of the suspected voter fraud (a fallout of the unfortunate claim that the election was the most secure in history) also as “The Big Lie.”

Oh, come on!

You can’t brand something the same as the previous brand!  Even Coke relaunched in the 1980s as  New Coke.

It reminds me, though, of a Los Angeles radio station with a proud billboard of “Follow the Leader,” and then, just ¼ mile later on the highway, another billboard with a competing radio station, “The Leader.”

As the kids say on Twitter, “H/T” to that.

(I’m fully aware actual kids don’t say much on Twitter.  Kids are now on Tik Tok, or even a platform that traditional media hasn't even yet noticed, but remember, this post began with an account of my career about 30 years ago, so, indeed, to me, those actually are kids on Twitter.)

But now, we have “The Big Lie,” vs. “The Big Lie,” our own modern-day “Spy vs. Spy” from Mad Magazine.

Who is making the lie?  Who is partisan?

All of them.

In times like this, I begin to hear REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin croon, “I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for…”

The purpose of this post was two-fold, to lead to some facts but first to call out how just plain awful this whole year-long discussion has been.

I first postulate that a major source of distrust in election results have come from a good thing gone bad—essentially a strength that is now overdone.

Voting by mail is this century’s version of broadband Internet (look at that Sprint tie-in…).  Users of dial-up internet in the 1990s who tried broadband encountered a major speed and user experience difference, never to go back to dial-up.

Voting by mail has become popular and will be more popular after 2020.  We’ve seen enough results in 2021 nationwide to realize that people who tried (or were forced to try) voting by mail liked it enough they aren’t going back.  This is a trend election administrators in Oregon, California, Washington, and Colorado already have witnessed.

To accommodate for postal service delivery cycles and to simply be voter-centric, states have extended the deadline for these ballots to be received, to after election day.

Accommodating voters is a great thing.  But as I’ve often said, we live in a 10 o’clock news society.  People want election results on election day, and they generally expect results announced on election night to stay the same, except for those races “Too close to call.”

I’m not challenging the reasons for this (now, anyway—I will in a future post), but as votes continue rolling like the numbers on a gasoline pump for days after the election, it’s human nature to have some distrust over what is occurring.

This would have been a great time to not turn to social media.  Instead, we had people who knew better frothing things further.  Misinformation has flown heavily since early November 2020 and it has come from all angles, including people in the election administration community.  In fact, I doubt their 2000 election administrator predecessors would have been tempted to utter or type “The Big Lie,” in any context.

(As a pause, I often thought how I would handle having to say profanity in a movie if I was an actor.  I don’t think my mother would accept, “Acting!” as an excuse.  Therefore, because I have typed “Big Lie” in this post, I don’t think I can exempt myself from the following statement.)

If you have used "The Big Lie" in association with the 2020 election, you are part of the polarization problem we are facing today.

Back to the August gathering, where “The Big Lie” is now branded to suggest results were altered in every single county in every state in the 2020 election—as the claims of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election are becoming increasingly revealed as fiction, so must these new claims.

We evaluated these claims in North Dakota, and other states have concluded the same thing.  These, too, are lies.  Maybe COVID's social distancing is to blame--perhaps political opponents expected that they wouldn't be allowed to shake hands after the election, and then these feelings of isolation boiled inward, playing hideous tricks upon their political perception.  

No.  We saw this same tussle in 2018 in Georgia and elsewhere, 2016 with the presidential election, and among national elections in, well, every even year that began with a 20.

Whew, that was a long road to get to the point!

Was it?

The point isn’t that the claims are proven to be false.  Rather, high-profile members of the election administration community lent their credible personal brands to the political branding of the election, supporting political narratives.  It was a formula tested in 2016 and proliferated in 2020.  It has contributed, more than a little, to the overall divisiveness we are experiencing in elections and as a country today.

Maybe a good branding call for all of us in 2024, 25 years since we worried about the coming of Y2K, is to “Party like it’s 1999," although by its nature, that reads partisan as well.  "Admin like it's 1999" doesn't have the same ring to it.

But 1999, pre-2000, that's a message.  At least, that's a message here.

Election administration was a billion times simpler then (with a B), and we could all use a billion times more Simple heading into 2022 and 2024.


 
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