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Bangladesh Braces For Key Graft Verdict, as Elections Loom

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Bangladesh Braces For Key Graft Verdict, as Elections Loom

A corruption case involving former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia has put Bangladesh on edge, with many fearing the outcome could result in widespread violence.

A special anti-corruption court will deliver a verdict on Zia’s case on February 8. This is an election year for Bangladesh and she heads the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Zia is accused of embezzling Tk 2.1 crore (US$250,000) from foreign donations intended for a charity named after her late husband, Zia ur Rahman. The case was filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Bangladesh when an army-backed caretaker government was in charge in 2008. Popularly known as the ‘Zia Orphanage Trust Case,’ it is one of 36 cases filed against Begum Zia.

Her arch rival, the incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has made it clear that legal proceedings will continue and that the former premier will be penalized if found guilty. The BNP leadership says the ruling Awami League government is strong-arming the judiciary and using state machinery to pursue a political vendetta.

Anticipating blockades and protests, the government has already detained senior BNP leaders Gayeshwar Chandra Roy and Onindo Islam Omit. The BNP claims they were detained without arrest warrants. Cases have been filed against 900 BNP activists over alleged attacks on the police. Meanwhile, several other BNP leaders and activists have gone into hiding, party insiders told Asia Times.

In court, Zia has alleged the ruling party is manipulating the case for political gains. “The judiciary is in total panic. That’s why many say there is no environment or scope of getting fair justice in the country now,” she said.

The BNP suspects that the verdict in the case has been timed to coincide with an election year to ensure the opposition sits it out. The last general elections, in 2014, were also a walkover for the Awami League – because opposition parties boycotted it. If Zia is convicted for corruption, she could face up to seven years in jail; if she is convicted under the country’s penal code, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. The constitution of Bangladesh mandates that a convicted person who spends more than two years in prison cannot take part in a national parliamentary election.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told Asia Times that there is no pressure on the judiciary from the government. “It is the BNP which has been dragging the case for the last nine-and-a-half years.” Alam said the delays had been caused by Zia’s lawyers filing several petitions. “The High Court dismissed the petitions and eventually cleared the way for the lower court to continue the trial proceedings,” he said.

The BNP’s Senior Joint Secretary General, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, said the Zia Orphanage case had been filed with forged documents and false information. “This was done only to harass our chairperson (Zia),” he said. “The people of Bangladesh will not accept that. If the verdict is influenced, the BNP will deal with it politically. The next course of action will be taken after the announcement of the verdict.”

Political violence, legal quagmire

Violent confrontations in Bangladesh peaked during the last parliamentary elections four years ago. The main opposition parties boycotted those elections because the incumbent government refused to make way for a neutral caretaker government. The caretaker arrangement, intended to ensure fairness, had been in force since elections in 1991 but had been done away with by the ruling Awami League in 2010. The BNP alleges this was done to rig the vote.

The boycott resulted in one of the lowest turnouts in history. Naturally, Awami League supporters cast their votes and the party won nearly 80% of parliamentary seats.

Support from India helped the Awami League government gain legitimacy in the international community. The US was initially skeptical but gave its blessing to Sheikh Hasina’s premiership after the US ambassador flew to Delhi for meetings with the Indian government.

In Bangladesh itself, months of political violence before and after the election left hundreds dead and injured. The BNP and its main ally, the Jamaat-E-Islami, were accused of killing security forces and scores of citizens who flouted their blockades.

“They are out of the power for over a decade and the Awami League has only gotten stronger as a party. The BNP will not stand against the Awami League on the street”

The government reacted to the disruption aggressively. A joint force comprised of the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) and the police is alleged to have carried out extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.

According to the BNP’s research, 78,323 cases have been filed against 783,238 BNP leaders and activists. The party claims 520 people were killed and 747 abducted by law enforcers. Around 157 persons are still missing.

Of the cases filed against Khaleda Zia, charge sheets have been submitted in 17. Twelve of those cases were filed during the tenure of army-backed caretaker government in power between 2006 and 2008. The rest were filed under the Awami League government, which has been in power since 2009.

After filing petitions and skipping some 143 hearings over the last six years, Zia appeared in court on October 19, following a three-month sojourn overseas, and obtained bail. According to her lawyer, BNP standing committee member Moudud Ahmed, the cases were filed in several locations across Bangladesh in order to harass her. “The government wants to stifle the BNP so that it can get a free pass in the upcoming election,” he told Asia Times.

BNP contingency plan

The BNP has yet to state its plans if Zia is convicted on February 8. “The verdict hasn’t been pronounced yet. We will devise our political strategy after the verdict,” Ahmed said.

Zia held an emergency meeting on January 27. When asked about what had been discussed, a senior BNP leader who requested anonymity told Asia Times that leaders and activists across the country had been put on alert. If the verdict goes against the party chief, the BNP will hold demonstrations across Bangladesh. As a long-term strategy, however, the party is considering mounting a stronger legal defense and building public support for Zia.

Political analyst and commentator Afsan Chowdhury believes the BNP will not be able to stage an effective protest if Zia is convicted. “They are out of the power for over a decade and the Awami League has only gotten stronger as a party. The BNP will not stand against [the AL] on the street,” he said.


Photo Credit : Former Bangladeshi prime minister Khaleda Zia arrives at a court in Dhaka on August 10, 2016. Photo: NurPhoto via AFP / Meh
edi Hasan

 

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A Third of 2022 Midterm Voters May Use Mailed Out-Ballots

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A Third of 2022 Midterm Voters May Use Mailed Out-Ballots
Election workers perform a recount of ballots from the recent Pennsylvania primary election at the Allegheny County Election Division warehouse on the Northside of Pittsburgh, June 1, 2022. Unlike in many other countries, elections in the U.S. are highly decentralized, complex and feature a long list of races on the ballot, from president or Congress all the way down to local ballot measures or town council seats. Rules also vary greatly by state. Some give local election offices several weeks before Election Day to process mailed ballots, which includes steps that may include checking signatures or ID information. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Growing numbers of voters will mark their ballots at home, latest data finds.

Despite both a torrent of lawsuits attacking every aspect of voting with mailed-out ballots in the 2020 presidential election as well as post-election efforts in GOP-led states to pass laws limiting their use, a record-setting 42 million or more Americans are likely to vote using mailed-out ballots in the 2022 general election—a 40 percent increase from the last midterm election in 2018.

One of the largest contributing factors to the expected increase in mailed-out ballot voting in the 2022 elections is that a few states, led by California, will mail every voter a ballot after temporarily expanding that voting option during the 2020 presidential election in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But another notable cause of the increase is that several battleground states that expanded access to mailed-out ballots in 2020 will also see growing slices of their electorate vote this way in 2022, according to election analysts and campaign data brokers tracking voters this fall.

Those battleground states include Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where the volume of requests by voters for mailed-out ballots is significantly greater than during the last midterm election in 2018.

As of October 13, Florida had 1.3 million more requests for mailed-out ballots for the 2022 election than in all of 2018, according to the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI), a nonprofit that promotes this manner of voting and has been tracking its likely use. Michigan had 775,000 more requests in 2022 compared to 2018, Pennsylvania had 1.1 million more, and Wisconsin had 300,000 more.

Nevada, whose U.S. Senate contest is among a handful of races that could decide that body’s majority, also will be mailing every voter a ballot this fall.

“I think it is just people getting comfortable with mailed-out ballots because of the pandemic,” said Gerry Langeler, NVAHI research director.

On the other hand, a few GOP-led states that Donald Trump won in 2020—and where he and his allies attacked this means of voting in court and in the media—are seeing the number of requests for mailed-out ballots in 2022 remain similar or decrease as compared to 2018, according to data collected by NVAHI and Catalist, a campaign data broker serving Democratic candidates.

As of October 13, “26 days from Election Day,” Catalist reported that Arizona and Ohio had comparable numbers of requests for mailed-out ballots to four years ago. The number of requests for mailed-out ballots in Iowa and North Carolina, with competitive U.S. Senate races, had dropped significantly compared to 2018. (Some of this shortfall may be delays in reporting to state officials and brokers, Langeler said.)

Thirty-Five Percent of Midterm Voters?

Broadly speaking, voters have three options to cast ballots: in person before Election Day, in person on Election Day, and using a mailed-out ballot before or on Election Day. Each option has different requirements for the voter before they have a ballot in their hands. (With mailed-out ballots, some states will send every voter a ballot, other states send voters an application before they are sent a mailed-out ballot, and other states require voters to apply on their own and meet specific qualifications.) In general, GOP-led states have more rigorous protocols, although there are some exceptions. Utah mails all registered voters a ballot, for example, which is the same as California and Vermont.

In the 2020 presidential election, a record-setting 65.6 million people voted with mailed-out ballots. Another 35.8 million people voted in person before Election Day, according to the U.S. Elections Project, led by University of Florida professor of political science Michael P. McDonald, one of the nation’s foremost voter turnout experts.

Historically, turnout in midterm elections has been a third or more lower than in presidential elections. But even with an overall lower turnout, the most recent data shows a shift toward mailed-out ballots. Compared to the 2018 midterm elections, when 42.2 million ballots were mailed out and 30.4 million voters used them—resulting in a 71 percent turnout—nearly 54 million ballots have been sent out by mid-October 2022, more than three weeks before 2022’s Election Day.

“As of October 14, 2022, NVAHI estimates that about 18 million more ballots will be mailed out in 2022, compared to 2018—60 million versus 42 million—and that if historic return rates apply, at least 12 million more ballots will be returned (42 million versus 30 million),” a memo from NVAHI said, basing its prediction on 2018’s 71 percent return rate. “If the 2022 turnout rate matches 2018, that will equate to about 118 million votes cast, so mailed-out ballots will account for 35 percent.”

As of October 21, Langeler said that 57.4 million ballots had been requested or mailed out.

“Many states where the voter must request a mailed-out ballot are not yet reporting their volume of requests,” an October 21 update from NVAHI noted. “So, the 2022 numbers will continue to grow over the next few weeks as more voters apply for mailed-out ballots.”

The growing embrace of voting from home is more remarkable because no other means of voting was attacked as vigorously by Trump-supporting Republicans in 2020, according to a detailed report by the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project published in July 2021. It noted that every step of the process in this manner of voting was “the subject of over 260 pre-election lawsuits challenging how the procedures and rules of mail voting apply in the pandemic—an unprecedented volume of litigation on the topic.”

That litigation amplified attacks on mailed-out ballots by top Trump administration officials, such as his Attorney General Bill Barr. In 2022, the former attorney general told the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol that Trump’s stolen election claims had been investigated by the FBI and were “bullshit.” But in late July 2020, then-Attorney General Barr told the House Judiciary Committee that it was “common sense” that foreign countries could corrupt U.S. election results by forging large quantities of mailed-out ballots.

That assertion, like virtually all of Trump’s voter fraud claims, was false, noted Michael P. McDonald in his new book, From Pandemic to Insurrection: Voting in the 2020 US Presidential Election. “It would be incredibly difficult for a foreign government to counterfeit mail ballots such that unwitting election officials counted them,” he wrote.

“A greater threat to mail ballot integrity is that some voters will attempt to cast a mail ballot, only to discover election officials rejected it,” McDonald continued, noting that upwards of 600,000 mailed-out ballots were rejected for a variety of technicalities (from improperly labeling and signing the ballot return envelope to signatures that didn’t match a voter’s registration form). “The minutiae of casting a mail ballot are many… please carefully follow all instructions!

Still, the projected increase in mailed-out ballot use in the 2022 midterm elections will not be uniform nationally, but varies state-by-state and is dependent on each state’s laws.

In 2021, 14 states, mostly led by GOP majorities, rolled back or complicated some aspect of accessing a mailed-out ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. (Those states were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.) In 2022, the Brennan Center reported that restrictive laws were passed in five states that will be in effect for the midterms. (Those states were Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.)

However, in this same period, a greater number of states passed laws expanding access to mailed-out ballots—including California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Vermont, which adopted laws to institute all-mail voting, previously offered only in Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

According to the Brennan Center, 16 states expanded or eased some aspect of accessing a mailed-out ballot in 2021. (Those states were California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia.) In 2022, the Brennan Center reported, six states passed laws expanding access that will be in effect for the 2022 midterms. (Those states were Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.)

While a handful of states passed laws that the Brennan Center characterized as “restrictive” and “expansive”—a sign that using mailed-out ballots in those states is highly regulated—the likely impact on the 2022 midterm elections is that a third or more of the nation’s voters will cast their votes via mailed-out ballots.

The development in the method of voter participation in which 42 million or more Americans are likely to vote from home is a paradigm shift among the electorate.

Independent Media Institute_____________________

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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Election Deniers and Defenders Poised for Next Phase in Voting Wars

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Election Deniers and Defenders Poised for Next Phase in Voting Wars
Former President Donald Trump holds a copy of The Washington Post as he speaks in the East Room of the White House one day after the Senate acquitted him of two articles of impeachment, February 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Unprecedented efforts by pro-Trump Republicans and election officials are targeting 2022’s general election.

There is little doubt that pro-Trump Republicans are going to challenge voters and contest results that they do not like in 2022’s general election. And should they lose those challenges and contests, they are not likely to accept the results.

The warning signs are everywhere.

There are recruitment drives to challenge voters and voter registrations. There are instructions to disrupt the process and counting of votes. There are assertions not to trust any vote-counting computer. Some general election candidates are already claiming that the results will be rigged unless they win.

Election officials and their defenders are anticipating these actions. They have written and shared guides on how to deal with subversive poll workers and unruly party observers. Election officials have been urged to build relationships with the press before crises hit, and tell stories about “friends and neighbors” who run the process to build trust. They are being reminded to bolster cybersecurity, be calm and professional, and use posters and handouts that explain the process.

But as the November 8, 2022, Election Day nears, it appears that the people most likely to be attacking and defending the process are, in many respects, talking past each other. What the critics are seeking—a level of simplicity and transparency in the vote-counting protocols and rules—is not what is being teed up and offered to the public in defense of the voting to come.

“In a lot of these close races, the margins are not going to be close enough for a recount, but close enough that the election deniers will be able to attack the results,” said Chris Sautter, an election lawyer who has specialized in post-election challenges and recounts since the 1980s. “The margin that triggers recounts is much smaller than the margin that will trigger attacks.”

Stepping back, a key question that has hovered over the investigations by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol remains: How much can the electoral system be stressed before it breaks, whether from disruptions, disinformation, partisan interference, or something else that is unexpected but swirls out of control later this fall?

“We will soon find out if American democracy is robust enough,” concluded the New Yorker’s Sue Halpern, in an October 4 report that detailed how “Republican-led legislatures and right-wing activists alike are making things more difficult for election officials.”

The Coming Attacks

There have been no signs in recent months that pro-Trump Republicans have tempered their belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Instead, there are ample signs that their mindset is becoming more belligerent.

In early August, after the FBI raided the ex-president’s home in Mar-a-Lago to retrieve secret documents that should not have left the White House, there was an uptick in social media posts threatening a coming “civil war.” On August 29, Trump again cited baseless 2020 conspiracies and demanded a new election.

Trump loyalists and copycat candidates have built on these sentiments.

Matt Braynard, an ex-Trump campaign staffer whose claims that voter fraud tilted the 2020 election have been debunked by media fact checkers, nonetheless announced plans on October 5 to “challenge votes” in nine battleground states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin—and is recruiting volunteers.

Days before, at an October 1 forum in Arizona, Shawn Smith, a retired Air Force Colonel, member of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and president of Cause of America, another election-denying group, told the audience that no voting system computer is reliable. “The people telling you they are secure are either ignorant or lying,” he said, before naming 10 of the nation’s top election regulators, election administration experts, and voting industry spokespeople. These experts are some of the same people now advising local election officials on how to respond to threats this fall.

Jim Hoft, the founder and editor of the Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump website that has championed Trump’s false stolen election claims and sees the January 6 insurrectionists as heroes, has gone further. On October 3, his site published an “action list… to save our elections from fraud,” whose instructions include urging party observers inside election offices to “escalate,” “disrupt,” or “require a temporary shut-down of the faulty area” if they see anything suspicious. The action list also recommended that postal workers should be followed, “incident reports” should be prepared, and lawyers should “[f]ile lawsuits demanding oversight.”

“Patriots must register as poll workers, observers, and get involved,” Hoft wrote. “But we must do more.”

Meanwhile, candidates who have embraced Trump and his “big lie,” such as Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake in her August primary or New Hampshire GOP U.S. Senate nominee Don Bolduc on October 10, said the vote count was rigged in 2020 and was likely to be rigged again this fall.

“And as long as we have this type of fraud and irregularities that are susceptible to our system across this country, we are going to be in big trouble,” Bolduc told a radio interviewer. “So, it’s less about whether we focus on 2020[‘s] stolen election and [more about] how we focus on how we’re going to win in 2022 and [that we] don’t let it happen.”

Arming Election Defenders

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen organizations—from federal agencies tasked with cybersecurity, to nonprofits specializing in voting rights and running elections, to professional organizations of election administrators, to consulting firms staffed by former election officials—have been preparing and sharing guides, tools, and taking other steps to defend the process and the 2022 general election’s results.

“Thanks to the folks at… [the Alliance for Securing Democracy,] Brennan Center, Bipartisan Policy Center, Bridging Divides Initiative, Center for Election Innovation & Research, Center for Tech and Civic Life, CISA [U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency], The Elections Group, National Association for Media Literacy Education, and National Association of State Election Directors for all the work they’ve done for elections officials and for providing the resources here,” wrote Mindy Moretti, editor of Electionline.org, a news and information hub for election officials, in an October 6 weekly column that listed and linked to more than 40 publications, guides, and other resources.

The topics covered include audits, communications, cybersecurity, election management, election security at polls and operations centers, legal advice, mis/disinformation, insider threats by election workers, poll worker security gaps, de-escalation techniques, nonconfrontational training strategies, standards of conduct for election workers, testing voting systems, voting by mail, and more.

The “De-Escalation Guidance for Poll Workers,” from Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative, for example, emphasizes planning, training, and monitoring one’s responses.

“Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws and guidance on polling place disruptions and unauthorized militia,” it said in its section on planning. “Remember the goal is not to win an argument but to calm verbal disruptions and prevent physical disruptions,” it advised as part of its training guidance. “While de-escalating don’t: order, threaten, attempt to argue disinformation, or be defensive.”

“As trite as it sounds, you need to take control of the ‘narrative’ before it takes control of you,” wrote Pam Fessler, a former National Public Radio reporter who covered elections for two decades there, in “Telling Our Story: An Elections Communications Guide,” written for the Elections Group, a consulting firm run by former election officials.

“Of all the stories you have to tell, the most important one is this: ‘Our elections are safe and secure, and run by Americans you can trust,'” Fessler’s communications guide said. “It’s about feelings and belief, more than numbers and facts. Those who question the legitimacy of elections refer to what they believe are ‘facts’ about voting discrepancies, but their appeal is largely emotional: ‘People are trying to steal our elections; we need to take our country back.'”

“You can counter by appealing to these same emotions—patriotism, desire for freedom and civic pride,” it continued. “You might even find common ground. Many of those who question the voting process believe they too are defending democracy and that if they don’t, they risk losing control of their lives.”

Ships in the Night?

Arguably, the country has not seen as wide an array of proactive measures among election officials to anticipate and counter potential disruptions and propaganda. In 2020’s general election, the focus concerned implementing new protocols that surrounded mailed-out ballots and safer in-person voting—as COVID-19 vaccines were not yet available—and cybersecurity to protect voter and ballot data.

However, what is not emphasized in these tools is what some pro-Trump Republicans say that they have been specifically seeking, which is easily understood evidence that results are accurate. That desire is behind their movement’s push for states to stop using vote-counting computers and to count all ballots by hand.

Pro-Trump legislators in six states (Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia) introduced bills in 2022 to ban these computers. A handful of rural towns and counties have put forth measures to require hand counts and a few have passed, including in Nye County, Nevada, a swing state. Candidates such as Arizona’s gubernatorial nominee Lake and GOP secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem have sued to require hand counts. (They lost in court in September rulings but have appealed.)

Beyond studies that have also shown that electronic vote-count systems are more accurate than hand counts (which are error-prone due to their repetitive nature and can take days to complete), the current timelines in many states between Election Day and when the official results must be certified do not accommodate hand counts—especially in states where millions of ballots are cast.

Moreover, the margins in state law that trigger recounts (which come after the results are certified) are generally 1 percent or less. That volume is much smaller than the volume of votes that pro-Trump Republicans have claimed were suspect in 2020—even though they never offered any proof that was accepted by a court.

Thus, while election officials and their defenders might be preparing to convince reasonable Americans that the voting and counting is accurate and legitimate, it appears that pro-Trump Republicans who did not accept 2020’s results will not find much to be reassured by—since their movement’s self-appointed IT experts continue to say that election system computers cannot be trusted.

These factors and seemingly irreconcilable views are poised to collide after November 8. This is why growing numbers of pundits are starting to ask aloud if the system will hold under the coming stress test from election deniers.

“Until we are able to return to the point where the losing side accepts the vote count as valid, we’re going to be trapped in a world of election wars,” said Sautter. “Of course, transparency, public oversight, and public access are paramount to restoring faith in our elections so that we can get to that point.”

Independent Media Institute____________________

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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Debunking the Latest 2020 Conspiracy Theory from a Leading Trump Election Denier

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Debunking the Latest 2020 Conspiracy Theory from a Leading Trump Election Denier
He’s Destroyed Conservatism’: The Republican Case Against Trump’s GOP. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

One of the most conspiracy-minded “con artists” who sought to elevate and enrich himself by posing as a technical expert during the Arizona Senate GOP’s flawed review of the 2020 presidential election is returning to Maricopa County on October 1, where he is pushing a new – and easily-debunked – conspiracy theory about how 2020 votes were forged.

“I’m just going to explain a few things here that I think you need to look at. But there’s many – there’s much more work we have to do,” said Jovan Pulitzer, in a video posted online this week (and then taken down) that was recorded by AUDIT Elections USA, an Arizona-based advocacy group seeking more transparent vote counts. “I’m doing this because we can’t move on.”

Pulitzer, who rented a theater in Tempe where he will speak and host other election deniers, is alleging that a handful of accessible voting stations that assist voters with disabilities were used to hijack votes for Joe Biden. These computers have a touchscreen to register votes and a printer that produces a filled-out ballot card. A separate scanner then counts the votes.

“It is well-known that these voting machines have features built into them under the auspices of protection or equal access for people with disabilities that can be used nefariously,” he said. “I call this hiding in plain sight. They’ve always had the ability to modify the vote.”

Pulitzer is claiming that Maricopa County’s accessible voting stations hijacked Trump votes by using an on-board library of images to fill in the ovals next to Biden’s name.

“We have to look at, on all these ballots, 188,056,260 ovals – yes, 188,056,260 ovals – and you have to look at them all individually,” he said.

“This is made-up nonsense,” said John Brakey, AUDIT Elections USA executive director. “He’s talking about machines there that don’t even exist. He doesn’t even realize that 91 percent of the county’s [presidential] ballots were mailed out and came back in a signed envelope.”

Election officials in Maricopa County, where 1.2 million people voted for president, quickly pointed to evidence that showed why Pulitzer’s claims are yet another false narrative.

Maricopa County’s voting stations for voters with disabilities, called ballot-marking devices, do not print out ballots with any filled-in ovals. They print out human-readable text of the voter’s selections and a QR code (a dot matrix) of those choices that is read by a scanner. Thus, the claim about deliberately misprinted ballot ovals has no basis in reality. Pulitzer’s narrative, ignorantly or deceptively, relies on a voting system that Maricopa County does not use.

Further, the volume of presidential votes cast on Maricopa County’s ballot-marking stations is nowhere near Biden’s 10,457-vote statewide margin over Trump. As the county noted in a post-election report, only 454 people used the accessible voting stations in the presidential election. There’s no way that Pulitzer’s alleged forgeries would have affected the outcome.

Moreover, the ballots printed by the marking device computers are smaller (8.5 inches by 11 inches) than the traditional ballot cards (8.5 inches by 19 inches) issued to all other voters at voting sites. Here, again, the factual evidence is easy to account for, and does not support any claim that accessible voting devices could have altered the election’s results.

Maricopa County is the second most populous election jurisdiction in America. Only Los Angeles County has more voters. Its election department is highly professional, as seen by the data that it compiles and issues. In early 2022, it issued one of the country’s most comprehensive and technical refutations of every stolen election allegation posed after Trump’s loss.

That report was overseen by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who voted for Trump but felt compelled to defend the county’s election administration after the Arizona Senate Republicans sanctioned an “audit” led by Cyber Ninjas, a pro-Trump IT firm.

Pulitzer had a unique and influential role in that error-plagued audit – which failed in multiple attempts to account for every ballot cast (a starting-line inventory control step) but concluded that Biden had won (without evidence that could be replicated).

Most of the sophisticated equipment that filled the floor of Phoenix’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum – the tables of overhead cameras and microscopes – was prompted by Pulitzer, who told others that he was looking for signs of forgeries, including bamboo fibers in paper ballots that he said would prove that 40,000 ballots had been forged in Asia and smuggled, somehow unseen and undetected, into Maricopa County’s voting operations.

When the Cyber Ninjas and other IT contractors sanctioned by the Senate Republicans issued their findings in September 2021, the state legislators did not include Pulitzer’s forgery theory or analysis on its webpage. Nor did they invite him to present his findings in any forum.

“Jovan Hutton Pulitzer is a con artist who is a master of hoaxes and frauds,” Brakey wrote in an email during the audit where he was an observer. “[The] following are links to various sources that discredit him entirely. Please note that his so-called Wikipedia page is a FAKE page made up by him with the URL of his website, NOT the [real] Wikipedia URL. Pulitzer changed his name from Jeffrey Jovan Philyaw. He also goes by J. Hutton Pulitzer. He did invent CueCat, which PC World called ‘one of the 25 worst inventions of all time.'”

Pulitzer’s latest claims may be easily debunked before his upcoming event in Tempe, but it shows how determined 2020 election deniers remain as 2022’s general election approaches.

Independent Media Institute____________________

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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Key Senate Committee Passes Bill to Prevent Trump-Like Electoral College Coups

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Key Senate Committee Passes Bill to Prevent Trump-Like Electoral College Coups
Former President Donald Trump holds a copy of The Washington Post as he speaks in the East Room of the White House one day after the Senate acquitted him of two articles of impeachment, February 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. Getty Images/Drew Angerer

An 1887 law would be reformed to prevent radicals in state government and Congress from subverting the popular vote for president.

Efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law whose quirks and ambiguities became a roadmap for Donald Trump and his allies to try to subvert congressional certification of 2020’s Electoral College vote, moved a step closer in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.

The Senate Rules Committee, in a bipartisan 14-to-1 vote, approved a bill that clarified state and congressional procedures for the final stages of certifying presidential election results. The bill explicitly seeks to prevent the abuses that led to the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

“I’m pleased that we are where we are today,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who voted to send to the full Senate. “Assuming that we make no changes here today, or, at most, technical changes, I’ll be proud to vote for it and to help advance it.”

The Electoral Count Act (ECA) was passed after one of the 19th century’s most disputed elections. Like 2020’s presidential election, that contest also saw states sending competing Electoral College slates to Congress and violence at the Capitol. The ECA, which took years to write, is notorious for garbled and dense passages that Trump’s most aggressive supporters sought to exploit to subvert Joe Biden’s victory in November 2020.

The remedy, The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act or S.4573, seeks to blunt the cornerstones of Trump’s attempted coup.

“The Electoral Count Act was largely overlooked for over 130 years, but it was at the center of a plan to overturn the 2020 election and the will of the American people, that, as we all know who work here, culminated in a violent mob desecrating the Capitol,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and the Rules Committee chair. “They did this by making false claims that this law allowed the vice president to refuse to accept Electoral College votes that were lawfully cast, by recruiting state legislators to declare a failed election and appoint their own [presidential] electors, and by exploiting the fact that the law allows one single senator and one single representative to object to a state’s Electoral College votes and use baseless claims to delay the count in Congress.”

The bill is the result of a bipartisan group of 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans working for months to create a narrowly focused bill that prevents abuse by either party if their candidate loses. Klobuchar and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, the Rule Committee’s ranking minority member, highlighted four primary areas in the legislation.

“The bill explicitly rejects, once and for all, the false claims that the vice president has authority to accept or reject Electoral [College] votes. It makes it clear that the vice president role during the joint session is ceremonial,” Klobuchar said. “Second, it raises the threshold to challenge the electoral votes [of any state] during the joint session of Congress to guard against baseless claims. Right now, just two people out of the 535 members can object and slow down and gum up the counting. This bill would raise the threshold to one-fifth of Congress.”

“It replaces the undefined and controversial ‘failed election’ clause [in the 1887 law] and ensures that states can’t overturn the results of an election,” Blunt said, referring to state legislatures overriding their state’s popular vote for president. “It provides for an expedited federal court process to ensure states issue [presidential Electoral College] certifications after the [popular vote results of the election] has been certified in their state.”

The only Rules Committee member to object to the bill and vote against it was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, who claimed that it was a federal power grab.

McConnell, however, called the bill “common sense” and said that it – not a recently House-passed ECA reform bill – was the “only bipartisan compromise… [that can] become law.”

“It’s common sense… that the vice president obviously has no personal discretion or power over the presidential vote,” McConnell said. “It is common sense to protect state’s primacy in appointing their electors, but also strengthen requirements that states publicize their rules before the elections and stick to them. It’s common sense to make technical fixes to other related laws like the Presidential Transition Act. And its common sense that our colleagues leave chaos-generating bad ideas on the cutting-room floor.”

Several voting rights organizations praised the Committee’s action. But they also noted that it was the only pro-democracy legislation that stood a chance of emerging from Congress after the 2020 presidential election, which they said was insufficient.

“Fixing the Electoral Count Act is critical, but it is not enough. It eliminates some avenues for election sabotage, but many others remain,” said Wendy R. Weiser, vice president of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.

On the other hand, Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization opposing more authoritarian government, noted the reform was supported by many Republican senators.

“The bipartisan vote to advance the Electoral Count Reform Act (ECRA) underscores the momentum and cross-ideological consensus… [to] strengthen presidential elections in the future,” said Genevieve Nadeau, Protect Democracy counsel. “We now call on Congress to finish the job and pass the strongest ECA reform possible by the end of the year.”

Independent Media Institute___________________

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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Trump Allies Challenging Georgia Voters To Suppress Midterm Turnout

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Trump Allies Challenging Georgia Voters To Suppress Midterm Turnout
He’s Destroyed Conservatism’: The Republican Case Against Trump’s GOP. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

On August 29, eight cartons of notarized paperwork challenging 25,000 voter registrations were delivered by pro-Donald Trump “election integrity” activists to Gwinnett County’s election offices in suburban Atlanta. They were accompanied by additional paperwork claiming that 15,000 absentee ballots had been illegally mailed to voters before the county’s 2020 presidential election.

Two days later, the activists held a briefing on the filings. It was led by Garland Favorito, a soft-spoken retired IT professional who has been agitating in Georgia election circles for 20 years and heads the non-profit, VoterGA. Favorito began by citing six lawsuits the group has filed against state and county officials – claiming counterfeit ballots, untrustworthy or illegal voting systems, and corrupt 2022 primary results. Then he turned to Gwinnett County.

“We are delivering today 37,500 affidavits challenging voter rolls and handling of the 2020 election,” said Favorito. “As a reminder, the presidential spread for the entire state of Georgia was 11,000 and change, not quite 12,000 [votes]. And we have 20,000 [allegedly improper voter registrations] just in Gwinnett alone. This number will increase as our analysis is ongoing.”

The Gwinnett challenges are not unique. In Georgia’s Democratic epicenters, Trump backers have been filing voter roll challenges since last winter targeting upwards of 65,000 voters. The state’s post-2020 election “reform” bill, S.B. 202, authored by its GOP-led legislature, allows an unlimited number of challenges.

While most of the claims put forth by Voter GA are easily refuted, the challenges individually targeting voters could have an impact in suppressing some number of votes this fall, where polls find some statewide contests are very close.

“This is brazen voter intimidation with the express intent of suppressing minority votes,” said Ray McClendon, NAACP Atlanta political action chair. “The NAACP is working to inform voters of their legal remedies in order to protect their voting rights. We will not be bullied by these underhanded tactics.”

Bogus Attack on Absentee Voting

The voter challenges concern three areas, said Zach Manifold, Gwinnett County election supervisor, who patiently explained why most of VoterGA’s claims were mistaken and overblown. For example, the assertion that 15,000 voters were improperly sent an absentee ballot in 2020 was flat-out wrong, he said, and formally should not even be called a voter challenge.

“They’re not really voter challenges because they’re related to the 2020 election,” Manifold said. “Voter challenges are challenging [individual registered] voters going forward for an upcoming election, or to remove them from the rolls.”

The linchpin in this allegation hinges on whether that a voter’s application for an absentee ballot was filed more than 180 days before the election.

“[They contend] our office should not have processed these applications because they were received more than 180 days before the election, which was the law at the time,” Manifold said.

The county elections staff investigated, he said, and found that the allegations were wrong, and, crucially, that VoterGA had overlooked a simple and obvious explanation.

“It appears that all of those, at least everything we have looked at – the few hundred that we sampled – were all valid [absentee ballot applications],” said Manifold. “They’re what we call rollover voters. You can apply for a ballot earlier in the year, before a different election, and roll it over [the absentee ballot request] throughout the whole cycle.”

The absentee ballot application on the county’s website offers this option. On page two, at item 12, a voter can check a box that says, “I opt-in to receive an absentee ballot for the rest of the election cycle.” In other words, these voters apparently had opted in. The voters and the county did nothing improper.

Neither Favorito nor Sheryl Sellaway, the media contact listed on VoterGA’s press release about the Gwinnett challenges returned phone calls seeking comment.

Voter Suppression Scenario

A similar dynamic is at play with the 25,000 individual challenges to registered voters on the county’s rolls. But, unlike the false claim of illegal absentee voting in Gwinnett County in 2020, which perpetuates Trump’s false stolen election myth, these forward-facing registration challenges could suppress an unknown number of votes from being counted in 2022’s November 8 election.

Such voter suppression is possible because under Georgia law the challenges could force some number of infrequent, but registered, voters to go through extra hoops before their ballots would be counted. Should any of the challenged voters try to vote this fall in Gwinnett County, they would be given a conditional ballot. That ballot would not be counted unless that voter presented additional ID at a hearing after Election Day. Historically, most voters skip these hearings.

(This process is similar to what happens to voters who are not listed in precinct poll books. They are given a provisional ballot, which is set aside and not counted until the voter shows up at a county office or an election board hearing with ID, which, historically most of these voters do not do.)

Manifold said that this cadre of VoterGa’s voter roll challenges were threading a needle that narrowly followed state law and avoided a 1993 federal law that bars larger-scale voter purges within 90 days of a federal election.

“Somebody could challenge somebody under [Georgia law section] 230 and put them into a challenge status all the way up to Election Day,” he explained. “What happens is that voter would vote a challenge ballot. It’s similar to a provisional ballot. And those ballots are adjudicated at the same meeting [after Election Day] where we do provisional ballots.”

“That puts the onus on the voter,” Manifold said. “The voter actually has to come to a hearing and say, ‘This is me.’ ‘I live here.’ ‘And you should count my ballot.'”

How many voters could find themselves in this situation is hard to predict, he said. About 22,000 of the voter registration challenges concern people who are infrequent voters or have not voted recently. VoterGA’s press release said it had used “a variety of public records to determine accuracy of the [voter registration] entries.” The release did not specify what public databases were used, but most of the affidavits cited the Postal Service’s change of address database. That database was not designed for vetting voter registration information.

Ironically, it appears that VoterGA’s efforts to winnow Gwinnett County’s voters rolls pales next to the county’s (and state’s) efforts to update these records.

Gwinnett County, which has 650,000 registered voters, has procedures dictated by state and federal law to contact infrequent voters before removing them from the rolls. Infrequent voters, people who may have moved or died are tracked via several government databases, Manifold said. In the past 12 months, the county has sent five notices by mail to alert these voters of their pending removal – and telling them what steps they must take to become active voters, meaning they would get a regular ballot in the next election. Normally, any infrequent voter who shows up would reactivate their registration status.

However, under VoterGA’s challenges – which name individual voters – those registrants would be shunted aside and given a conditional ballot. The county has assigned a team of workers to review these 22,000 voter registration challenges, Manifold said. So far, it has found that most of these individuals already are on the county’s radar, he said. But several thousand potential voters may not be.

“Almost 90 percent of the challenges that we have seen here are people that were already picked up in our conformation process,” Manifold said.

Manifold also said the current election cycle was the first one where Georgia was participating in an interstate registration data-sharing consortium, which helps to update its voter rolls and identify eligible but unregistered voters. Georgia also is among the states that automatically register voters as they get a drivers’ license.

Georgia’s automatic registration system, which is run by another state agency whose primary business has nothing to do with elections, has led to some number of data-entry typos (misspellings, incorrect addresses) in the voter rolls, Manifold said. These errors appeared to be the reason for the third category of registration challenges from VoterGA, where 2,700 registration files were found with missing address information or could not be tied to a physical street address.

“We do want to get that information updated,” Manifold said. “There is some sort of data mismatch somewhere in the system, and that means that voters are not getting whatever we’re sending out.”

But VoterGA is not coming in and working with county officials to alert them to deficiencies in voter registration data that, if corrected, could lead to more voters casting ballots. They are making sloppy and easily refuted allegations about 2020 absentee voters that seek to perpetuate false narratives about that election. And they are filing voter challenges that could suppress and nullify the ballots cast by an unknown number of infrequent but legal voters later this fall.

“What this really is all about is to frustrate minority voters into staying home on Election Day,” said the NAACP’s McClendon. “Such efforts will only motivate those who believe in democracy to fight even harder to ensure all voters’ voices are heard.”

Independent Media Institute_____________________

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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What Do Americans Care About? Not a Cold War With Russia and China

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What Do Americans Care About? Not a Cold War With Russia and China
Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China in a show of solidarity against threats of Western sanctions. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

The Biden administration will soon release its National Security Strategy, which is being revised in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The document will no doubt trigger a renewed debate about how the United States should gear up for a new Cold War against Russia and China. But before we plunge into a global great-power competition, it’s worth recalling President Biden’s promise to create a “foreign policy for the middle class” and take a look at what most concerns Americans.

Congress is about to add tens of billions of dollars to the military budget. Unrepentant hawks scorn this as inadequate, urging a 50 percent increase, or an additional $400 billion or more a year. Aid to Ukraine totals more than $40 billion this year, and counting. A new buildup is underway in the Pacific. Biden summons Americans to the global battle between democracy and autocracy, implying that U.S. security depends on spreading democracy—and, implicitly, regime change—worldwide.

Americans, it is safe to say, have different—one might suggest more practical—concerns, as revealed in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Asked about the most urgent issue facing the country today, 27 percent of respondents—the highest number—ranked inflation as No. 1, while only 2 percent ranked Ukraine at the top. In a range of Economist-YouGov polls over the past month, the top foreign-policy concerns included immigration and climate change.

The foreign policy “blob” may be gearing up for a global Cold War, but Americans are focused on security at home. According to a survey by the nonpartisan Eurasia Group Foundation, nearly half of Americans think the United States should decrease its involvement in other countries’ affairs; only 21.6 percent would increase it. Nearly 45 percent would decrease U.S. troop deployments abroad; only 32.2 percent would increase them.

Polls, of course, are merely snapshots—and war fever can transform opinion. However, a 2021 report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reported many of the same priorities. Far more Americans (81 percent) said they were concerned about threats from within the country than from outside the country (19 percent). Among foreign policy goals, more than 75 percent of respondents ranked protecting American workers’ jobs and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, respectively, as very important. Ranked lowest were “helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations” (18 percent) and “protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression” (32 percent).

What would a sensible strategy for the middle class look like? A recent paper from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft—”Managed Competition: A U.S. Grand Strategy for a Multipolar World“—offers a good start. The author is George Beebe, a former head of the CIA’s Russia analysis unit who is currently director of grand strategy at the institute.

Beebe argues that over the past three decades, “yawning gaps” have emerged not only between “America’s ambitions in the world and its capacity for achieving those goals,” but also between a “Washington foreign policy elite too focused on promoting U.S. primacy” and “ordinary Americans yearning for greater stability and prosperity at home.”

He echoes the priorities of most Americans, arguing that “the chief strategic challenge Washington faces today is not to win a decisive battle between freedom and tyranny but to gain a breathing spell abroad that will allow the country to focus on desperately needed internal recovery.”

He then outlines the core of a strategy for this time: a “managed competition” with Russia and China. Recognizing that our economic health is intertwined with China’s, and that Russia’s nuclear arsenal demands prudence, he would “avoid promoting regime change” or otherwise “undermining political and economic stability in Russia and China.” Instead, in a managed competition, our rivals would be countered not only by American power and alliances, but also by rebuilding “agreed rules of the game,” beginning presumably with efforts to revive nuclear arms agreements and create cyber agreements to limit these growing security challenges.

For this to occur, he notes elsewhere, there must be an agreed end to the war in Ukraine. Beebe concedes that Vladimir Putin’s attack required a strong American-led response. But as when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Beebe would distinguish between repelling Putin’s aggression and efforts to foster regime change in Moscow or to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit.

In the current euphoria over Russian reversals in Ukraine, this caution is likely to fall upon deaf ears. But a foreign policy for the middle class must find a way to curb our adventures abroad so that we can rebuild our democracy and strength at home. A Cold War against Russia and China might empower the foreign policy elite, enrich the military-industrial-congressional complex and excite our bellicose media, but it ignores the American people’s common sense.

 Globetrotter______________________

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editorial director and publisher of the Nation and is president of the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord (ACURA). She writes a weekly column at the Washington Post and is a frequent commentator on U.S. and international politics for Democracy Now, PBS, ABC, MSNBC and CNN. Find her on Twitter @KatrinaNation.

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