Tag Archives: Ohio

Field Testing Voter Purges and “Drops”

Columbus        As the Voter Purge Project moves forward, we are now analyzing the voter files on more than a dozen states on our way to double that number in coming weeks, many of them include the hotly contested “battleground” states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina.  The VPP is processing these lists with our database team in order to assure that any voter suppression efforts are prevented from purging legitimate voters or purging voters in a discriminating way based on race, ethnicity, income or any other reason.  Early results have been encouraging with some important results in terms of voters saved and purges forestalled, but the project continues to wrestle with huge questions and concerns.

One of the most puzzling is determining the difference between purges for death or address changes as opposed to unexplained “drops” or voter disappearances.  Another is of course whether in states like Ohio and Georgia where a piece of mail can trigger a purge if there has not been a recent voting history, the purge is legitimate.

I spent time with former ACORN organizers in person and on the phone while in Columbus trying to puzzle out a field test that would combine our database analysis and questions with on-the-ground door knocking to determine either the answers or the legitimacy of these actions by the government.  In Columbus, we decided to look at four zip codes dotted in the heart of our historic low-and-moderate income, African-American constituency in Ohio.  We analyze the Ohio voter file on a weekly basis when it is posted on the Secretary of State’s website, so we can tell who the “disappeared” are in almost real time.

The plan would be to pull the names that are deleted in these zip codes from week to week and then to deploy organizers on the ground to visit the last known address of the voter that was in our database before they were either purged or dropped.  By keeping rigorous records of whether or not the actions were valid or not, we estimate that we would be able to determine the accuracy of the government’s actions and calculate a percentage of validity in the list.  In Ohio and other states where on-line registration is possible, we might be able to re-register them on the spot or work out a verification system with the authorities so that they were put back on the list.  If this works, we would do identical field tests in Atlanta, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The notion for this kind of field test occurred to me as I visited Barbara Clark, a former ACORN organizer in the childcare center where she was working part-time.  She and some other former ACORN members from time to time were involved in circulating petitions for various initiatives in Columbus and were often paid by the signature.  She was complaining about the problems her team would have in collecting their money when the signature verifiers would claim that signature were invalid when the people signing had sworn to them that they were registered.  In thinking with her about a way to use our voter list access to keep her team from being ripped off, it seemed like there might be a way to reverse engineer her negative experience and find a way to “clean” the list in the street and build a firewall and prevention program around these purges and voter disappearances preemptively.

Organizing is all about listening, and you have to be in the streets to really hear and understand the issues and get your arms around them. Welcome to my world!

The Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, about 35 miles from Cleveland. Photo: Dustin Franz for The Wall Street Journal

Faking the Voter Strategies

New Orleans      Democracy is under assault everywhere it seems, and, no, I’m not just taking about the White House.

Russia is busy interfering with elections in, are you ready for this, Madagascar.  How did this out of the way island become a focus of geopolitics?

India, the self-styled, “world’s largest democracy,” is using Israeli surveillance techniques, which the company had sworn it would stop doing, to spy on its own citizens.

Trolls from the right and the white were stirring up stuff in Kentucky alleging voter fraud and ballot box thefts even before the election ended with the incumbent Republican on the losing side by 5000 votes, and they were doing it solely to create division.

Ok, maybe this does sound like the go to White House repertoire, but that’s not my point.  My point is that all of what we once called “dirty tricks” are now simply standard operating procedure for election conduct.

In Columbus, Ohio, I heard excruciating details of the mischief that met the anti-nuke teams who were trying to put a referendum on the ballot to decrease nuclear energy in that state and force alternatives.  A lot of what they talked about was intimidation of their petitioners by so-called “blockers” who would try to stand in their way and confuse potential signers  Actually, that’s pretty standard in a lot of well-financed campaigns.  Certainly on ACORN initiative campaigns we saw it frequently.  On the other hand, my ears perked up when I heard them talking about the opposition having created a fake petition in order to get people to sign, thinking they were signing the real deal.  Their petition was printed horizontally, rather than vertically, which was about the only “tell.”  The utility funded opposition paid $8 per signature on the fake petition and claimed 800,000 in the press in favor of nukes.  Crazy stuff!  It reminds me of course of the Entergy play in New Orleans where they paid actors to sit in the city council hearings, wave signs, and testify in support of a plant they wanted to build.

Talking to a progressive organizer in Columbus whose candidates were frozen out of the sample Democratic Party ballot, I heard about how they were forced to make their sample ballot look almost identical to the Democratic one in order to get people to take a look on election day.  What choice did they have?

The harvest of all of this fakery is that voters, wherever they may be, between social media, trolls, whack websites, and just plain tricks no longer can sift out the facts or the truth, so they dig into the positions they held against the assault of any differing information.  Ok, I guess we are talking about Trump tactics again.

But, you get the point.  This is democracy under fire!