Blockchain, the ingenious database technology best known for underpinning the faddish digital currency Bitcoin, is reviving the utopian fantasies of the early internet era. In an influential manifesto from that time, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” published in 1996, the essayist and activist John Perry Barlow opposed the idea of government regulation of the internet, offering instead an anarchical vision of an online world in which a decentralized network of people existed free from all authorities and intermediaries save for their own “social contract.” Whatever else Barlow’s statement might have been, it was not prophetic. The online world today is full of authorities and intermediaries — search engines, social media platforms, cloud computing services, internet service providers — all of which exert considerable control over cyberspace and are themselves shaped by laws and regulations. It is hard to imagine a cyberlibertarian paradise emerging from that.Full Article: Is Blockchain Technology Overhyped? - The New York Times.
Opinion pieces and editorials on voting issues.
Usually when some sententious centrist talks about ending partisan polarization and just coming up with “solutions” based on “data” or “studies” or “expert consensus,” the appropriate response is to roll your eyes — the way people have been eye-rolling lately at Howard Schultz of Starbucks and his apparently substance-free vision for an independent presidential campaign. Usually where you find polarization, you also find some issue of great moment, some important conflict of interests or values, that can’t just be turned over to the smart people to solve because any “solution” would inevitably be a victory for one side and a defeat for the other. But there are occasional exceptions: Polarizing issues where you could essentially call a truce without anyone winning or losing, without it affecting the balance of power in America’s political debates and culture wars, without anything disappearing except a lot of nonsense, hysteria and panic.Full Article: Opinion | The Myths of Voter ID - The New York Times.
Editorials: As a Citizen Included on Texas’ Fake Voter Fraud List, I Call for the Resignation of Secretary of State David Whitley | Julieta Garibay/Texas Observer
I still remember the day of my citizenship exam. It was a cold Monday in November 2017, at the San Antonio office of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). I had relentlessly studied the 100 questions about the history and government of the United States that might be asked. I prayed I wouldn’t forget the answers. My heart was pounding and my stomach was in a complete knot. The USCIS agent asked: “Who is the governor of Texas?” “Abbott,” I responded. The officer sternly asked for the governor’s full name. My mind was running. A few months before, I had tweeted at Abbott when he signed SB 4 on Facebook and proudly boasted about criminalizing immigrants and making it easier for state and local police to work with the feds to detain and deport. But I could not remember his first name. I froze. The irony of my life: Would I fail my citizenship exam because I couldn’t remember the first name of the man who was hurting the immigrant community so much? The same man who is now calling into question my right to vote. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and tried to remember his Twitter handle. It came to me and I blurted, “Greg Abbott!” A few questions later, the USCIS officer said, “I am recommending you for the citizenship oath ceremony.”Full Article: As a Citizen Included on Texas’ Fake Voter Fraud List, I Call for the Resignation of Secretary of State David Whitley.
In his 2008 white paper that first proposed bitcoin, the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto concluded with: “We have proposed a system for electronic transactions without relying on trust.” He was referring to blockchain, the system behind bitcoin cryptocurrency. The circumvention of trust is a great promise, but it’s just not true. Yes, bitcoin eliminates certain trusted intermediaries that are inherent in other payment systems like credit cards. But you still have to trust bitcoin—and everything about it. Much has been written about blockchains and how they displace, reshape, or eliminate trust. But when you analyze both blockchain and trust, you quickly realize that there is much more hype than value. Blockchain solutions are often much worse than what they replace. First, a caveat. By blockchain, I mean something very specific: the data structures and protocols that make up a public blockchain. These have three essential elements. The first is a distributed (as in multiple copies) but centralized (as in there’s only one) ledger, which is a way of recording what happened and in what order. This ledger is public, meaning that anyone can read it, and immutable, meaning that no one can change what happened in the past.Full Article: There's No Good Reason to Trust Blockchain Technology | WIRED.
The crisis of democracy that has attended Donald Trump’s Presidency has visibly manifested itself in challenges to the free press, the judiciary, and the intelligence agencies, but among its more corrosive effects has been the corruption of basic mathematics. Since the 2016 election, Trump has periodically rage-tweeted about an alleged three million non-citizens whose ballots delivered the popular-vote majority to Hillary Clinton. His fulminations were a fanciful extension of the Republican Party’s concern, despite all evidence to the contrary, that American elections are riddled with voter fraud. The math does, however, support a different number—one that truthfully points to how American democracy is being undermined. Nearly two million fewer African-Americans voted in the 2016 election than did in 2012. That decline can be attributed, in part, to the fact that it was the first election since 2008 in which Barack Obama was not on the ballot and, in part, to an ambivalence toward Clinton among certain black communities. Civil-rights groups and members of the Congressional Black Caucus point to another factor as well: 2016 was the first Presidential election since the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision, which eviscerated sections of the Voting Rights Act. Suppressive tactics, some old, some new, ensued—among them, voter-roll purges; discriminatory voter-I.D. rules; fewer polling places and voting machines; and reductions in early-voting periods. After an election in which some two million Americans went missing, the Administration concluded that three million too many had shown up at the polls. (The equation here is: reality minus delusion equals three million.)Full Article: The House Takes on America’s Voting-Rights Problem | The New Yorker.
Georgia Republicans are taking actions that will undermine the state’s voting system — and in a gerrymandered state government, they might just get away with it. When U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg upheld Georgia’s current voting system in October, she criticized the state’s machines for their vulnerability to “malicious intrusion.” Her decision was limited by the fact that the midterm elections were too close for the government to completely overhaul its existing system. After, lawmakers of both parties expressed interest in a new method of voting. This presented Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger an opportunity to restore voters’ confidence in their voting systems by investing in paper ballots, but his response has been lackluster.Full Article: Georgia: To Prevent Election Meddling, Use Paper Ballots | The Emory Wheel.
Editorials: Georgia Needs Paper Ballots, Not More Touch-Screen Voting Machines | Regina Smith/Flagpole Magazine
Not all Georgians know what has happened since 2018, when the entire nation learned about our old voting-system vulnerabilities. The news from Atlanta is that Gov. Brian Kemp and his replacement as secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, have requested $150 million from the legislature to purchase a new system for Georgia’s 7 million registered voters. Why are both pushing hard for an expensive touch-screen, ballot-marking device (BMD) system that cybersecurity experts say will not prevent hacking and malicious election mischief? Both are aware that a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed a majority of Georgians prefer a hand-marked paper ballot system costing an estimated $50 million. All voters in the state should be aware of two pieces of this voting machine puzzle. An aware electorate can better inform Georgia legislators what is expected of them insofar as a new system is concerned.Full Article: Comment: Georgia Needs Paper Ballots, Not More Touch-Screen Voting Machines | Flagpole Magazine | Athens, GA News, Music, Arts, Restaurants.
Editorials: Time and time again, hyped claims of rampant illegal voting turn out to be untrue | Philip Bump/The Washington Post
It took just over a day for an announcement from the office of the Texas secretary of state hinting that thousands of noncitizens might have voted to make it into President Trump’s Twitter feed. “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote,” Trump wrote, apparently lifting the data from an episode of “Fox & Friends.” “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!” A bit later, he retweeted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who hyped the same numbers with an all-caps intro: “VOTER FRAUD ALERT.” Paxton’s presentation of the argument was at least nuanced in a way that Trump’s wasn’t. He pointed out that the 95,000 noncitizens had been identified as such by the Department of Public Safety. In fact, as the world quickly learned, it was even less firm than that. The name matches were weak (as the notice to counties indicated in an all-caps warning of its own), and in short order the state and individual counties started clearing names from the list as people’s statuses were confirmed. As our fact-checkers noted, it’s also more than possible that people on the list obtained citizenship since the time they first presented documentation to the state about their status. In 2016, more than 110,000 people in Texas were granted citizenship. Over the decade from 2007 to 2016, nearly a million people became citizens in the state.Full Article: Time and time again, hyped claims of rampant illegal voting turn out to be untrue - The Washington Post.
Editorials: Where the hunt for voter fraud is worse than the crime itself | Karen Tumulty/The Washington Post
A massive scheme to commit voter fraud is going on right now in Texas. What makes it all the more cynical and twisted is that it is being perpetrated in the name of preventing voter fraud. And top officials in the state are complicit. It started on Jan. 25, with an alarmist, misleading advisory sent to county registrars, the officials who oversee voter rolls in the Lone Star State. Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, who until December had been deputy chief of staff to Gov. Greg Abbott (R), claimed in a news release that Department of Public Safety records showed nearly 100,000 registered voters had not been citizens when they applied for their driver’s licenses. More than half of them — 58,000 — had voted in at least one election. The advisory acknowledged these were “WEAK matches” (the advisory’s capitalization, not mine). But the secretary of state said local officials should demand that all of those named produce evidence of citizenship. If they failed to respond or provide documents within 30 days, those voters could be purged from the rolls. Whitley also noted that knowingly voting in an election when a person is not eligible is a second-degree felony in Texas. From there, predictably, the echo chamber took over.Full Article: Where the hunt for voter fraud is worse than the crime itself - The Washington Post.
Editorials: Pennsylvania needs paper ballots to secure our elections | Charlie Dent/Philadelphia Inquirer
Pennsylvania’s elections — like many other states’ — are vulnerable to cyber attack, leaving our democracy in a precarious state. As a former Pennsylvania legislator and member of Congress representing the Keystone State, I know how important free, fair, and secure elections are to governing. A lack of public trust in the vote imperils our great American experiment in popular sovereignty. Despite these serious threats to our election architecture, there are known solutions that we can, and must, implement. The report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security provides this blueprint to secure our elections.Full Article: Pennsylvania needs paper ballots to secure our elections | Opinion.
Editorials: Texas Republicans are lying about fraud to justify a racist voter purge | Mark Joseph Stern/Slate
On Jan. 25, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted a “VOTER FRAUD ALERT” that quickly rocketed around the internet. Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, Paxton asserted, had discovered that approximately “95,000 individuals identified” as non-citizens are registered to vote in the state, “58,000 of whom have voted” in Texas elections. Whitley promptly urged counties to begin purging these 95,000 people from their voter rolls, demanding proof of citizenship within 30 days or canceling their registrations. Donald Trump joined the action, tweeting on Jan. 27 that Whitley’s numbers “are just the tip of iceberg.” Voter fraud, Trump wrote, “is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!”Full Article: Texas Republicans are lying about fraud to justify a racist voter purge..
Editorials: Mitch McConnell just made it much easier for Democrats to accuse Republicans of voter suppression | Eugene Scott/The Washington Post
Democrats are going all in on voting rights ahead of the 2020 election. This week, House Democrats introduced a bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday. Experts say that would increase voter turnout, especially among minority voters and low-income people who aren’t able to take off work to vote. It’s a popular idea. Business and civic leaders have been offering a similar proposal for years, and Congress considered bills to make it so in 2001, 2002 and 2005. Election Day is a holiday in France, Australia and Mexico. But it’s unpopular with one key demographic: Republicans. The GOP has supported efforts to restrict voting access in the country and is opposed to the Democrats’ idea.Full Article: Mitch McConnell just made it much easier for Democrats to accuse Republicans of voter suppression - The Washington Post.
For those of you keeping track of the “As Texas goes, so goes the nation” notion, I have either very good or very bad news. The state that gave you two recent mediocre-to-crummy Republican presidents (who are starting to look downright Lincolnesque compared to you-know-who), gerrymandering in the guise of redistricting (thanks a lot, Tom DeLay) and a profound if misguided antipathy to government in general is now surging ahead in a new field: voter suppression. As someone who loves Texas with a triple shot of ambivalence, I take no pleasure in spreading this news. But if it is your goal to keep people of color from the polls — some Republican leaders come to mind — it’s time once again to look to Texas for guidance. Our state officials in their infinite wisdom last week announced that they hoped to excise 95,000 people from voter rolls because they didn’t seem to be citizens. Our secretary of state, David Whitley, insisted that, with the help of the Department of Public Safety, he had been able to compile a list of those supposedly illegally registered. It was even suggested that 58,000 of those folks had actually already voted, a felony in these parts. This finding was heralded in a tweet by our attorney general, Ken Paxton, as an all-caps “Voter Fraud Alert.” Paxton, you may or may not know, is himself under indictment for securities fraud.Full Article: Opinion | The Voter Suppression State - The New York Times.
Editorials: Virginia is finally moving forward on bipartisan redistricting. It’s about time. | The Washington Post
Virginia has been trending Democratic. A Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in nearly a decade. But Republicans continue to control the state legislature thanks to what federal judges have concluded is a racially gerrymandered electoral map drafted by GOP lawmakers in 2011. Little wonder, then, that the party’s grandees in Richmond are reeling at what looks like a federal court’s imminent decision to impose a map that seems likely not only to flip both houses of the General Assembly to Democratic control in this fall’s elections but also to unseat several of the legislature’s top Republicans. The map, chosen by the court from configurations drafted by a professor in California, would shift six incumbent Republicans to newly drawn, and Democratic-leaning, districts. Among the probable casualties would be the current GOP House speaker, Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights).Full Article: Virginia is finally moving forward on bipartisan redistricting. It’s about time. - The Washington Post.
Editorials: Voter suppression carries slavery’s three-fifths clause into the present | Imani Perry/The Guardian
Two decades ago, while a law student, I took a class titled The Federalist Papers. Our small group sat in a small seminar room off of the library, a collection of nerds – most, I gathered, aspiring to be judges or academics rather than following the tide of corporate practice. I was one of two women, and the only Black student in the room: an experience of oddity I had grown used to. As I recall, we spent the most time poring over Federalist 51, the paper that outlines the fundamentals of what we now term Madisonian democracy. But the part I personally sat with, long after the class was over, was Federalist 54, mostly likely also authored by Madison. Like many African Americans, I had come of age hearing about how the three-fifths clause – which proposed that three out of every five slaves be counted to determine a state’s population – was a mark of how we Black people were not deemed fully human when the constitution was first ratified. Here, fully elaborated, was an earnest, though tortured, justification for the enshrinement of indecency. That classic essay remains key to understanding race in the United States.Full Article: Voter suppression carries slavery's three-fifths clause into the present | Opinion | The Guardian.
Editorials: A call for action: Now is the time to secure Pennsylvania’s elections | David Hickton and Paul McNulty/Penn Live
Pennsylvania’s democracy is at a critical juncture. Weaknesses in the security of our elections present a threat both to our electoral outcomes and to public faith and trust in government of, by, and for the people. We have been fortunate thus far to avoid such an assault on our democracy. Recognizing the gravity of what is at stake, The Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security (which we co-chair) endeavored to research and analyze the security of the Commonwealth’s election architecture. The commission’s just-released report, which documents those efforts and offers actionable and achievable solutions, provides a blueprint for how Pennsylvania’s leaders can do what is needed to protect our elections.Full Article: A call for action: Now is the time to secure Pennsylvania’s elections | Opinion | pennlive.com.
Could a general election be looming? It might seem unlikely. Last time Theresa May dissolved parliament, she had a 24-point lead and higher personal ratings than Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair in their pomp. Labour had suffered one of its worst postwar defeats just two years earlier. And yet the Conservatives lost their majority. This time round, Labour are ahead in several polls. Jeremy Corbyn’s team, though tired after their journey from the political wilderness to the epicentre of the greatest political upheaval since the war, will begin an election with far more experience than last time. As senior Conservative officials have pointed out to the Sun, 40 Tory seats are held by a margin of less than 5%, with Labour in second place in 35 of them. How would voters view the fourth national vote in five years (the fifth for Scottish voters)? Brenda from Bristol would be considerably more irate this time. Would Tory MPs really let May take their party into an election, just weeks after 117 of them voted against her leadership? Are they not uniquely fearful of a Corbyn government, which they rightly judge to be a totally different prospect to a “normal” Labour administration? And yet. May’s Brexit deal has suffered the biggest defeat in the history of British democracy.Full Article: Think another general election is unlikely? Think again | Owen Jones | Opinion | The Guardian.
The 2020 presidential contest has already begun, with several Democratic candidates declaring their intention to challenge Donald Trump for the Oval Office and more on the way. Unlike in 2016, we now know what kinds of chaos America’s adversaries are capable of sowing, especially during campaign season. That means it’s time to contend with the threat of foreign intervention in our elections and in our democracy more broadly—before it’s too late. Many Americans have decried Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election and continuing interference since as unlawful and unacceptable. The two of us have participated in efforts to develop strategies to counter this threat, especially as others, such as China, begin to learn from it. In doing so, we have frequently faced a question from skeptics: how these Russian operations, in America and globally, differ from what the United States has done when it has involved itself in foreign elections and democracy promotion abroad. It’s a fair question, but as former senior national security policymakers we’re convinced they are different in key ways. And we’ll explain what those are, in service of a larger objective: to articulate the norms to which all civilized nations should subscribe when it comes to respecting free and fair democratic processes in other countries.Full Article: How to Prevent the Next Election Disaster - POLITICO Magazine.
Editorials: Philadelphia’s high-stakes voting machine decision deserves more scrutiny | Philadelphia Inquirer
By this November, Philadelphia’s big electronic voting machines will be just a memory, if Governor Wolf and the Department of State have their way. They have given the City Commissioners a directive to put a paper ballot voting system in place, preferably in time for use in 2019. That’s very good news. Because the old machines don’t record votes on paper, voters can’t tell if their votes were cast correctly, and the results can’t be recounted or checked for errors. But citizens’ groups such as Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, Citizens for Better Elections, and the League of Women Voters have become justifiably concerned that the process to choose a new system is taking place with too little public involvement or oversight. The city set a deadline of February 13 — less than a month from now — to choose a voting system from one of several vendors. Although this is a consequential and costly decision, the Commissioners invited the public to only two hearings, announced with little fanfare and only three days’ notice. What we learned at those hearings was not encouraging.Full Article: High-stakes voting machine decision deserves more scrutiny | Opinion.
Editorials: The Voting Rights Act is in tatters. Let’s honor King’s legacy by saving it. | David Gans/The Washington Post
Amid all the paeans to the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that will be published today, it’s vital to note that at this moment perhaps his most important legacy — his struggle to ensure the full realization of voting rights for all Americans — is under greater threat than at any time since his death. King, who would have turned 90 this year, was a tireless advocate for freedom, equality and democracy. He urged the nation to revitalize the amendments added to the Constitution after the Civil War — what he called the “full pledge of freedom” — to ensure equal citizenship for all. Even as a teenager, he spoke eloquently for the “13 million black sons and daughters of our forefathers” who “continue the fight for the translation of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments from writing on the printed page to an actuality.” At the center of King’s campaign for freedom was ending racial discrimination in voting. Over the course of his life, he demanded, time and again, “give us the ballot.” The right to vote was a core fundamental right: “To deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer.”Full Article: The Voting Rights Act is in tatters. Let’s honor King’s legacy by saving it. - The Washington Post.