Teaming Up with King James: A Letter to LeBron James Regarding Voting Rights and Election (In)Security in the 2020 Election
July 16, 2020
Dear Mr. James:
We are advocates for the protection of U.S. elections from all forms of anti-democratic interference and fraud, whether by the suppression of voters or by the manipulation of votes that have been cast.
We are excited to hear about your new organization, More Than A Vote. We welcome you to this fight and applaud your new initiative to protect the voting rights of voters of color from attacks born of institutional racism and a fierce, cynical, win-by-any-means electoral politics. We have developed a plan and a strategy that will exactly complement what you are doing. It’s the second half of the election-security equation that too often is overlooked. Please read on.
Our nation is at a tipping point. At last, a critical mass of Americans agree that #BlackLivesMatter and that systemic injustice and gross inequality must end. As people who have studied election security — some of us for the better part of two decades — we believe that the greatest threat to this hard-won progress is a 2020 Election that is neither free nor fair, but vulnerable to two scourges: voter suppression and manipulation of the vote count.
Election security is the linchpin: every issue we care about — whether it’s racial justice or universal healthcare or climate change — depends upon election outcomes, which in turn depend upon who gets to vote and how those votes are counted.
Unfortunately, voter suppression and vote count manipulation have long been treated as if they were separate matters, not tightly intertwined. Separate groups, separate agendas, separate arguments: either/or, not both/and. But the reality is that these two heavy thumbs on the electoral scales grow on the same ugly hand. It’s about winning elections against and despite the public will — stopping millions of would-be voters from casting votes and “mistabulating” millions more that have been successfully cast. Mistabulating is such a threat because tabulating occurs in the proprietary pitch-dark of cyberspace, where 80 percent of the votes are counted unobservably on equipment designed and programmed by just two private corporations.
Vote count manipulation is as consequential as it is invisible; there is a reason the Senate Majority Leader has blocked every election security bill that comes to his desk.
We have a name for this one-two punch — we call it Strip and Flip (and we can add Fool to cover the disinformation campaigns — Russian bots, Facebook, Twitter). Stripping enough voters (suppression) makes it possible for the Flip (manipulation) to alter winners while passing the smell test: this is how elections, and our democracy, are stolen. Forces cynical and ruthless enough to lay a Flagrant 2 on voters on their way to the polls aren’t going to stop there. They’ll keep at it after the votes have been cast — think of it as goaltending on a mass scale. A vote is a vote — wherever it is blocked, or deleted, or added, or switched. As one example of this, major equipment vendor ES&S has contracts in Georgia and Tennessee, where voting machines are reportedly losing votes from predominantly Black neighborhoods, as reported by WhoWhatWhy, The Root, and Bloomberg.
The 2020 Election, for various reasons, will pose extraordinary challenges to ensuring that would-be voters can cast their votes. And there will also be extraordinary challenges to ensuring and verifying the count of the votes that are cast. Plugging just one of these holes in the vote bucket won’t be enough if the other is left gaping.
Unfortunately again, collective national it-can’t-happen-here denial has resulted in far less attention being paid to the counting process and its corruption than to voter suppression. We anticipate that you will therefore encounter mostly individuals and organizations whose focus and expertise are on turnout and suppression issues. We are prepared to complement that expertise and attention, so that you can bring your full powers to bear on plugging both holes — securing a free and fair election in November and responding, if necessary, to one that is not.
Of course it would be great if voting-rights victories and a turnout tsunami in 2020 overwhelmed any rig, produced a landslide, and put momentarily to rest all such concerns about votecount manipulation and how to respond to either evidence of a stolen election or the losing party’s groundless refusal to accept defeat. But that is not a scenario we can count on.
Nor, in the longer run, is it an acceptable substitute for a genuinely free and fair election process, one in which the casting of votes is not impeded and the counting can be observed and therefore trusted by everyone, winners and losers alike. If we may venture a second hoops analogy, it is possible to sink shots and even win games where the hoop at one end is three inches smaller in diameter than that at the other, but not many teams would agree to play on such a court, nor would equally matched teams (like our two major parties over time) wind up with equal records if one was always shooting at the smaller hoop. Election security is both a short- and a long-term crisis.
We are aware that it will be hard to tackle every form of suppression and rigging before November. We’re fighting now to protect E2020 and to at least mitigate the many restrictions on voting and many new security issues that have arisen with a pandemic election. Voices in the mainstream media (e.g., The Atlantic) have warned us about the prospect of a stolen election, or even the possibility that Trump and his collaborators will refuse to accept anything less than overwhelming defeat and leave office (e.g., Lawrence Douglas’s book Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020). But little if anything has been put forward in the way of plans to respond to such situations.
We’d better not be caught flat-footed, as we so often have been in previous elections (as documented in CODE RED: Computerized Elections and The War on American Democracy). This one is for all the marbles. We need a plan for the next 180 days — a plan and a movement that’s ready to go should we wake up November 4, 2020 to evidence that an electoral coup of one kind or another is in progress.
Mr. James, we are mainly volunteers waging what has been a long and often lonely procedural war to save our democracy. Many battles, many frustrations have led to this fraught moment. We ask for your help and leadership in organizing so every vote can be counted, and in planning and executing a coordinated citizens’ post-election response if the 2020 election is nonetheless corrupted by voter suppression and vote manipulation. We have an enormous store of experience and expertise in election security. We have developed several promising strategies and look forward to presenting them to you and discussing them with you at the earliest opportunity. Contacts are included below. We look forward to speaking with you soon.
With our gratitude and respect,
Jonathan Simon, Executive Director of Election Defense Alliance (2006–16); author of CODE RED: Computerized Elections and The War on American Democracy; CodeRed2020.com, @JonathanSimon14, VerifiedVote2004@aol.com
Jessica Gimeno, Healthcare Activist and Professional Speaker, @JessicaGimeno, jessicagimeno.com
Bennie Smith, Election Commissioner, Shelby County, TN; @benniejsmith
John Brakey, AUDITUSA, auditelectionsusa.org
Emily Levy, Founder and Director, Scrutineers LLC; http://scrutineers.org; @ScrutineersUS
Sally Castleman, National Chair of Election Defense Alliance (2006–16)
Jennifer Cohn, attorney, election-security advocate, writer; @jennycohn1
Jan BenDor, Founding Member and State Coordinator, Michigan Election Reform Alliance (MERA)
Dorothy Fadiman, Filmmaker, STEALING AMERICA: Vote by Vote
David Earnhardt, Filmmaker, UNCOUNTED: The New Math of American Elections
Russell Michaels, producer and director, HBO’s KILL CHAIN: The Cyber War on America’s Elections
Virginia Martin, Commissioner of Elections, Columbia County, NY (2008–2020)
Miranda Wilgus, Healthcare Reform Advocate
Katherine Phipps, Voting-Rights Advocate
Peter Morley, Patient Advocate, @morethanmySLE, morethanmysle.com
For additional background, please refer to these selected links from mainstream media sources that have reported on U.S. voting machines and election (in)security:
- HBO: John Oliver’s 19-min “Last Week Tonight” segment on voting machines
- The New York Times: “The Only Safe Election is a Low-Tech Election”
- The New York Times: “The Crisis of Election Security”
- New York Review of Books: “Voting Machines: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”
- The Washington Post: “The Cybersecurity 202”
- Salon: “New Hybrid Voting Machines with ‘Permission To Cheat’”
- NBC News: “Online and Vulnerable: Voting Machines Hooked Up to the Internet”
- The New Yorker: “How Voting-Machine Errors Reflect a Wider Crisis for American Democracy”
- The Orlando Sentinel: Florida and Russia in the 2016 Election
- HBO Documentary: Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections
- Jennifer Cohn: Interview of Bennie Smith, Shelby County, TN Elections Commissioner; Interview of Don Siegelman, former Alabama Governor
- WhoWhatWhy: “Touchscreen Voting Machines and The Vanishing Black Votes” by Jennifer Cohn