The voting machine wars

Voting machines have been breached by Trump loyalists in at least three states.

In all these cases, they gained physical access to the machines and/or obtained confidential software and data.

The consequences: “Sensitive voting system passwords posted online. Copies of confidential voting software available for download. Ballot-counting machines inspected by people not supposed to have access.” (Read story here.)

  1. In Michigan, GOP operatives cajoled 5 voting machines from county clerks using false pretenses, one of which ended up for sale on eBay. A criminal investigation  of 9 individuals, including a county sheriff who hobnobs with rightwing armed militias, is now underway (see details here).
  2. In Colorado, a GOP county clerk faces criminal charges for handing over confidential voting machine data to election deniers. The county had to scrap the voting machines, and a judge banned her from the elections office (see details and further links here).
  3. In Georgia, notorious Trump lawyer Sidney Powell allegedly hired a squad of technicians who, with cooperation of a rural county’s election officials, obtained “forensic images of an election management system server, a precinct tabulator, compact flash cards and thumb drives used to program tabulators and touchscreen voting machines, a computer used to check in voters and a laptop computer supplied by Dominion [and] scanned images of paper ballots from the January 2021 U.S. Senate runoff election” (see story here). That breach is part of a larger probe by Atlanta’s D.A. into election interference in Georgia.

What’s the point of all this? What did Trumpers hope to gain?  Every one of these incursions was illegal, they’ve all resulted in criminal charges or appear likely to, and people may go to jail over this.

First, I think it demonstrates the general lawlessness that Republicans, and the MAGA mob in particular, have descended into. They no longer respect our laws and now are about pure power grab.

Second, their voting machine offensive, like any coherent military campaign, has specific objectives:

  1. A few delusional Trumpers are still trying to decertify the 2020 election and “reinstate” Trump in the White House.
  2. Many others, while recognizing that’s impossible, are still trying to prove the 2020 election was “stolen,” even if only to satisfy themselves it was.
  3. This is part of ongoing and coordinated GOP efforts to undermine their voters’ confidence in elections to justify ever more stringent restrictions on voting, and possibly to prepare the way for GOP-controlled state legislatures to overturn election results.

Huffington Post (at first link above) suggested there’s also a concern that rogue election workers could use the stolen information to either help GOP candidates or “introduce system problems that would sow further distrust in the election results.” However, that’s speculative; there are no known examples of this,

Another hypothetical concern is that information obtained from the breaches could be used to create a realistic-looking video of “wrongdoing that never happened” to undermine confidence in elections, presumably to make it easier to challenge results.

And not mentioned by Huffington Post — this is my own thought — it’s also possible they’re breaching voting systems just to demonstrate it can be done, with the aim of destroying public confidence in voting machines. In several states, Republicans are pushing to replace voting machines with paper ballots and hand-counting — a slow and expensive method of tallying votes that experts say is more error-prone. Why? A Texas county GOP chair explained, “I trust people, I don’t trust electronics.” (Then why do they “audit” hand recounts?) See, e.g., story here.

The GOP’s targeting of voting equipment, and vilifying of election equipment suppliers, is part of a larger assault on democracy. Our election processes are secure, and very accurate, but a smattering of small mistakes occur, which provides fertile soil for growing conspiracy theories and sowing distrust of elections. For example, procedural errors by local election officials led to initially wrong counts in Antrim County, Michigan, and Mesa County, Colorado, which Republican election deniers seized upon as “proof” of widespread errors (see story here). What they don’t mention is the election system spotted those errors and corrected them. In other words, it worked the way it’s supposed to.

For years, Republicans systematically worked to make elections less democratic. That’s because they’re an unpopular party who can’t win on issues. But rather than broaden their appeal to voters by becoming more mainstream, they’ve attacked the principle of majority rule by attempting to game the election process. It’s easy to see why; they’ve won the presidential popular vote only once since 1992 (in 2004; see details here).

And that’s despite all their efforts to discourage voting, especially by black people. They focused their early efforts on gerrymandering and voter suppression; now, they’re attacking the election process itself, and zeroing in on voting machines is a natural place to start.

There’s another element to all this, which can’t be separated from it. The GOP attack on elections isn’t about protecting a minority faction (themselves) from “tyranny of the majority.” If it were, Republicans would be satisfied with having a veto power over taxes, regulations, spending, and other government actions they dislike. But what they want goes far beyond insulating themselves from government interference. They want to give orders, and tell others how to live. Why else would they intrude in strangers’ lives in private matters like gay marriage, gendering-affirming health care, and even what books are available in public libraries?

The increasing lawlessness of their means, defiance of norms, and threats of violence by Republicans reflect that the methods they’ve used so far have fallen short of putting them in power and achieving their goals, so they’re resorting to more drastic tactics. This also explains Trump’s strong appeal to Republican functionaries and grassroots followers; they rally around him, not despite his lying and lawbreaking, but because of it; he’s exactly what they want, someone willing to do whatever it takes to impose their will on our society.

This is the Genghis Khan approach to governing, which is based on pure power principles, of the sort that have ruled over much of human history. And when the history of our times is written in the future, those historians will focus on whether our democratic institutions and the rule of law were powerful enough to stop this tendency in our own society.

That’s why these investigations, indictments, and prosecutions are so important and need to move forward. They’re our bulwark against the anarchy and mob rule being sown by a no longer recognizable Republican Party which Hillary Clinton presciently called a “vast rightwing conspiracy,” for which she was wrongfully mocked.

This is about more than defending truth, protecting our right to vote and upholding election outcomes, and reigning in lawless behavior. Each rogue official removed, voting machine breach prosecuted, and complicit attorney disbarred, defends our democracy and the right of the majority of us to choose our destiny rather than have one imposed on us.

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