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Fair Fight:  Albany City Elections

I truly debated the merits of writing this article.  Over the last few years, especially since the 2016 national elections, I have watched with dismay as Americans’ faith in free and fair elections, in my opinion, declined.  It worries me a lot.  I came of age in the sixties and have voted, come hell or high water, in every election since.  I completely buy into the notion that the right to vote and have that vote counted equally is foundational to democracy.  When I graduated college and left Albany, I left to work for renowned Civil Rights activist and Congressman, John Lewis, at the Voter Education Project in Atlanta.  I worked with Congressman Lewis and the late State Representative Julian Bond throughout the 13 southern states in the 1970’s to fully implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Even then sometimes it was scary work in the deepest parts of Alabama and Mississippi.

When I read the following statement by Fair Fight’s CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo on July 29, 2019, and reflected on the 2016 presidential election, and on the Georgia statewide elections last year and other reported questions about the efficacy of elections outcomes even locally, I thought I would just raise a word of caution as we enter the important City of Albany municipal elections scheduled for November 5, 2019.  WE MUST BE ON GUARD!  Nothing is sacred anymore, not even the vote.

This is likely to be the last election in Dougherty County to use the current voting machines and software that date back to 2002.  The State of Georgia has entered into a contract with Dominion Voting Systems to provide new machines and software in time for next year’s primary as ordered by court.  The company beat out ES&S which held close ties associates of former Secretary of State and now Governor, Brian Kemp.

Fair Fight is an anti-voter suppression organization formed by Stacey Abrams after her failed efforts to become the first black or female governor of Georgia in 2018. Here is the CEO’s statement:

“Make no mistake that it was a result of the hard work of litigation, activism, and advocacy that the state has chosen Dominion over ES&S for the largest purchase of voting machines in American history.  ES&S has infiltrated Georgia government, bribed politicians, shielded itself from public records requests, and failed in state after state, and, because of our and our allies’ months long efforts to expose this corruption, the choice by the state is not as bad as it could have been.  Today’s announcement, however, does nothing to change the fact that hand-marked paper ballots are more secure than election machines.  Team Kemp cannot be trusted to protect the integrity of Georgia’s election system after his office repeatedly compromised and failed for a decade to provide necessary support and training to Georgia Counties.  Frighteningly, court hearings last week revealed that employees of Georgia vendors are currently accessing Georgians’ personal information on unsecure networks in their personal homes.  This announcement and a change of vendors mark an admission of how poorly the 2018 elections were conducted, and serious questions about how the Secretary of State intends to secure 2019 elections remain.  We continue to have questions about the RFP selection process and will continue our fight for truly free elections in which every vote is counted and every voice is heard.”

Of course, I realize that everything us humans create are subject to error and deliberate corruption, I ask you to reflect on a few facts from the past.

1. Leading up to the 2018 statewide elections, Secretary of State Kemp froze some 53,000 registrations.  98 percent of them were from 10 of the states’ most urban counties, including 5 metro counties, Bibb, Dougherty, Richmond, Chatham and Muscogee Counties.  In addition, the percentage of frozen registrations represented by African-Americans was far greater than the percentage of the general population in these counties.
2. In 2018, the Abrams campaign ended up having to sue Dougherty County elections officials to have absentee ballots counted after Hurricane Michael and a court case delayed mailing out the ballots.
3. Although many may discount polls, there has been an increasing number of cases nationally, statewide and locally where polls and in some cases, intuition indicate one outcome and the results are greatly different.
4. Then there is the case of Harry James’ efforts to get on the ballot as an independent in last year’s race for chair of the Dougherty County Commission.  Mr. James had more than 400 over the required signatures yet did not make it on to the ballot. 
5. The questions surrounding exact match in signatures on absentee ballots caused a lot of hiccups in statewide elections last year as well.  Whose signature does not change over years and who knows how many of those absentee ballots are thrown out each year.

All of this to say, be on alert.  It is your duty as a member of a free democratic society to pass it on to the next generation, something we were willing to stick our necks out for and to fight for and to always keep our eyes open. 

Vote November 5th!

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Hand Vote No

The Russians Are Back:  Actually They Never Left!

By now you’ve heard the stories about how Russia used social media bots to persuade the American people to vote or not vote in the 2016 presidential election.  It was a coordinated and sophisticated attack on a grand scale, a war that the U.S. has never faced before. A war of disinformation, gas lighting and repetitive physiological warfare with social media accounts masquerading as real people but really were just Russian bots. Millions of people have been influenced by celebrities tweeting and sharing fake information.  Even politicians did the same thing often knowing it was fake.

It struck many as odd, because Hilary R. Clinton won the popular vote and was projected by many polls to be a clear winner, but she wasn’t. Weeks and months later it came to light from the top U.S. intelligence agencies that Russians had interfered in our elections on behalf of Donald J. Trump. Still, questions remain whether  he knew or not. The facts are, Russia sowed seeds of doubt in the American people for the benefit of the Republican nominee is of grave consequence.  According to Axios, “A new study by the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) states that, 770,005 analyzed tweets in English were from known Russian troll accounts.”  This data also corresponded with poll data from FiveThirtyEight’s archive of multiple polling outlets as well.

Every 25,000 retweets of Russian accounts correlated to a 1% increase in Trump’s poll numbers one week later.  Given the frequency of tweets from Russian accounts, 25,000 retweets would average around 10 retweets per tweet.  Retweets did not have a similar effect on Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.  The study also found that 91% of first retweeters of known Russian bots were non-Russian bots, which suggests that propaganda spread into networks of real U.S. citizens.

After a huge backlash, social media giants were urged to increase security measures and eradicate all the fake accounts.  To their credit they did the best that they could but they didn’t get it all.  Now, just in time for 2020 election, the bots are beginning to ramp up their presence. Silicon Valley is set to monitor tweets and engagements dealing with the first presidential debates.   When Russians first began to try to persuade the American people with lies and fabrications, according to Menlo Park (CBS SF/CNN). “the social media companies shared with Congress that during the 2016 campaign, the Russian troll group later charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sent thousands of social media posts on debate nights. The U.S. intelligence community has warned that Russian efforts to spread disinformation through social media have continued “virtually unabated” since 2016.” 

If you noticed, after the first Democratic Debates of 2019, there was an influx of tweets about Kamala Harris’ ethnicity.  These attacks were traced backed to an account by the black MAGA (Make America Great Again) supporter, Ali Alexander. He said, “Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I’m so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It’s disgusting. These are my people not her people, freaking disgusting.”  He goes on to explain, “she is a person of color, not an African-American.”  This was retweeted, shared and liked by thousands and even shared by Donald Trump, Jr., to his millions of followers. It echoes the early 2000’s of his father, when he started the ‘ birtherism’ conspiracy theory that Obama was a secret Kenyan Muslim. The apex of birtherism lead to Obama having to show his birth certificate. 

Although this topic is not being circulated in the news media as much as it should be, there is a very real active cyber threat and it extends to the 2020 Presidential election. Always question the source of your information, always verify the information with credible sources and double-check what you’re sharing with your friends.

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