Tag Archives: Voter Purge Project

Ohio Battles to Protect the Vote

Columbus        Twenty-five people made their way into the Vanderelli Room in Columbus.  The art, performance, and all-around community space in the Franklinton neighborhood of the city near downtown had been offered to TrustVote and the Columbus Free Press as the venue for a matinee meeting entitled “Protect Your Vote.”  The overstuffed diner-style benches that bordered the seating space were the popular first choice of the crowd, pushing later comers into the doughnut hole left in front of the stage.

Meeting Preparation

The crowd knew what they were doing, even if they didn’t know the room.  These were veterans of decades of voting rights wars in Ohio fought at the state and county level certainly, but peppered with battle scars from election commission meetings and in the precincts themselves.  Sometimes the stories revolved around ballot access whether with the Green Party or in the Democratic lists with John Kerry in the state or even the 2004 debacle with Bush.  Lawyers, old League of Women Voters veterans, election security experts, poll watchers, door knockers, and others were there to pull their chairs closer to see what the 2020 fight might involve.  This wasn’t about Trump.  This was about how to get the voters through the barriers presented by the politicians, and then how to actually get the votes counted.  This was tech talk with the old school.

Steve Tingley-Hock and I were invited to talk about our partnership between his database expertise and management with the Ohio Voter Project that had combined with ACORN and Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center to create the Voter Purge Project.  I gave the big picture on the range of our work, the links to our website, and the problems with accessing lists and bringing the states to heel with the data and fieldwork.  Steve told the story of his successful efforts in Ohio to restore 40,000 voters by removing them from the purge list.  We took a dozen questions and collected interest and volunteers.

Bob Fitrakis Speaking & Steven Tingley-Houk Getting Ready

Bob Fitrakis, an attorney, detailed what needed to be done to protect voting access and Suzanne Patzer, the organizer pulling the pieces together, recruited volunteers to help, while getting all the trains to run on time and to the right station.  There was extensive discussion of the Ohio voting machines and the type of records they produced, or didn’t produce, the technical details were described, and the level of privatization of the entire system was derided. John Brakey of AUDIT-USA, a Tuscon, Arizona-based voting rights and transparency advocate and investigator, came to the meeting via Zoom, which after some trial and error, worked better than many of the voting machines he was describing along with his concern about whether or not the machines competently protected and saved ballot images of a voter’s preference.  This was all heady stuff, and the crowd was enthralled.

This was a serious business crowd.  We also heard how Ohio absentee ballots could be manufactured to swing an election with a fake signature and the last four digits of a social security number.  We heard about 10,000 absentee ballots that may have never been counted in Lake County, the moral being, don’t vote that way up there or maybe absentee anywhere.  A security whiz told us how in the Ohio system if you could hack into the machine in any precinct, you could control the whole election.

In Ohio, preparing for an election is akin to getting ready for Armageddon.  They’ve been there, and they are spreading the word.

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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!

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