The partisan control of voting technology has been a longstanding concern of Prof. Robert Fitrakis, Ph.D. and J.D., who testified on the widely contested 2000 election, which was marked by voter suppression of people of color, and on his involvement as a lawyer in contesting the 2004 elections, in which the computer architecture of election night was in the hands of far-right-wing partisan companies and election officials.
"The most dangerous thing in our democracy right now is the fact that partisan, for-profit corporations using secret proprietary software provide the voting hardware and the software to register us to vote, count our votes and report election results," Fitrakis said. "I want to know why these private companies who are not using open-source software are counting our votes, registering our votes and then doing the central tabulation."
To save democracy, it's important to both take to the streets and take to the Hill.
This week, to begin addressing some of these problems, Johnson will introduce the Verifying Optimal Tools for Elections Act of 2016 (VOTE Act). The bill calls for state-controlled, open-source programming of all voting technology, and provides more than $125 million in Help America Vote Act grants to assist states in replacing voting machines. The bill would also allocate $50 million in grants for training poll workers, adopting new voting technologies and safeguards, and, crucially, removing control of voting machine source code software from private vendors.
There are also clear legislative strategies for meeting the broader challenge of voter suppression. Congress can act now to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 1659 and H.R. 2867), which has more than 150 co-sponsors in the House and bipartisan support in the Senate. The legislation would restore the Voting Rights Act and help to end the voter access crises.
Johnson from Ben-Zion Ptashnik on Vimeo.
This battle for democracy comes to a head this year as 32 states have promulgated new laws in response to the fabricated issue of "voter fraud." Sixteen of these states will see their plans go into effect for the first time in the crucial 2016 elections.
"We must emphatically ask the politicians that brought us these new Jim Crow laws to show us the fraud," stated Joel Segal, legislative director of the National Election Defense Coalition and a former staff member for Representative Conyers. He cited a Washington Post report showing that a comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation found only 31 credible incidents of so-called "voter fraud" out of 1 billion ballots cast in the United States.
Barbara R. Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, and former executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, put the current wave of voter suppression laws in the historical context of the poll tax and other attempts to disenfranchise voters of color.
The keynote presenter, Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, and leader of the Moral Mondays protest movement, described the avalanche of voter suppression laws unleashed in North Carolina immediately after the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Barber also helped lead the Democracy Awakening protests that took place outside Congress on April 18, and saw civil rights organizations, unions, social justice groups and environmentalists all standing together to demand the restoration of voting rights and election campaign finance safeguards.
This "inside-outside strategy" embodied in twin actions -- focusing on official congressional actions and grassroots direct action -- is the strategy that Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists employed to transform the political landscape a generation ago. To save democracy, it's important to both take to the streets and take to the Hill.
The briefing sparked movement in the halls of Congress: Rep. G. K. Butterfield announced that voter suppression would now be a top priority of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Many members of Congress articulated the need to translate widespread outrage about election manipulation into an actionable voting rights agenda that protects the coming general election, and all future elections. It is clear that accomplishing that goal will require a political grassroots movement similar to the suffrage and civil rights movements that expanded the vote franchise in the last century.
Conyers noted with pleasure that the crowd at the hearing was marked by racial diversity, which he said would be needed to support a broad-based movement to restore democracy to US elections.
Congressional staff and organizers are planning a series of field hearings and town hall meetings across the nation aimed at giving voice to citizens who were not allowed to vote in the 2016 presidential primaries, and pushing for repeal of voter suppression laws. The first field hearings will be held in Michigan, Texas, Alabama and North Carolina. Further congressional hearings will be scheduled this summer and fall.
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