2012 - %3, November

Romney-Loving Voting Machine "Recalibrated" and Back Online

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 2:14 PM EST

An electronic voting machine in Perry County, Pennsylvania, that changed a President Obama vote to one for Mitt Romney is now back online, after officials received a complaint and recalibrated the machine, Mother Jones has confirmed.

A viral YouTube video posted mid-morning Tuesday by user "centralpavoter" shows someone repeatedly trying to vote for President Obama on a digital touchscreen, and the screen locking in a vote for Mitt Romney instead. The user posted a link to the video on Reddit, writing: "I asked the voters on either side of me if they had any problems and they reported they did not. I then called over a volunteer to have a look at it. She him hawed for a bit then calmly said 'It's nothing to worry about, everything will be OK.' and went back to what she was doing. I then recorded this video."

The user wrote that he had no problem voting for candidate Jill Stein.

MSNBC's Zachary Roth reported that a Pennsylvania electronic voting machine was taken out of service after the video went up, but Mathew Keeler, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, says the machine is back online again—though he couldn't confirm whether that rejiggered terminal was the same machine featured in the video.

"There was a single complaint, so they recalibrated the machine, did a test run, and put it back online. We've had no complaints since then," Keeler says. While he couldn't say for certain that this was the machine that "centralpavoter" attempted to use, he added that "we believe they are probably connected."

Check out the video here:

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In Which I Share My Voting Experience

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 2:13 PM EST

It appears to be something of a tradition for political bloggers to report on the state of their local polling station, so here's my dispatch from the front lines of my white, upper-middle-class neighborhood:

The weather was nice. I have a job that allows me to vote anytime I want, so I headed out at 10:58 am, which is conveniently during the midmorning lull. My polling place is about 200 yards from my house and I got there at 11:01 am. There was no line. It took two minutes to check in. Nobody asked for ID because California doesn't require it. The machine worked fine. It printed an audit trail that correctly captured my vote. I returned home at 11:09 am.

And that was that. Aside from the 200-yard thing, which obviously isn't possible universally, this is how voting should go for everyone.

Tom Engelhardt on Moyers: Supersized Politics in the 2012 Election

Tue Nov. 6, 2012 1:23 PM EST

On Bill Moyer's PBS show, Tom Engelhardt discusses our "supersized" American election: longer, more expensive, and full of more hot air. Even as every second our candidates' actions are scrutinized on TV, Twitter, and beyond, the election has been stunningly devoid of substance.

Tom Engelhardt is the founder of TomDispatch.com and author of The End of Victory Culture and co-author, with Nick Turse, of Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare.

Paranoid Right-Wing Email of the Day (Maybe)

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 1:02 PM EST
President Barack Obama (D) laughs after reading the latest insane conspiracy email about him.

Wondering how the far-right might handle an Obama victory on election night? Here's a clue, in the form of a fundraising pitch from something called the American Conservative PAC. It features "busloads" of Somalis and Facebook postings from North Carolinians, so you know it's legit:

From Ohio to Nevada (and who knows where else), voting machines are selecting "Obama" when early voters cast their vote for Romney -- and it happens repeatedly when voters catch the error before submitting their ballot and try again only to wind up with Obama, again.
A North Carolina Democrat bragged on Facebook about voting four times already and planning to vote a fifth time tomorrow.

Early voting Somalis -- with their TRANSLATORS -- are arriving at polling stations by the busloads courtesy of Obama supporters. (Now, we don't know about you, but we don't know any U.S. CITIZENS that do not either speak or read English well-enough to vote...)
In Florida, conservative voters are receiving bogus letters falsely informing them that he or she will be unable to vote in this election due to miscellaneous (and non-existent) voter registration issues.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, the Obama-bots even have the help of an international body condemning our states trying to stand up to the infiltration of our polling booths!

Of course, giving a PAC money on election day wouldn't really accomplish very much. And American Conservative PAC hasn't really raised very much money—according to FEC filings, it has raised just $8,100 this cycle. But these conspiracies have gained traction on the far right. The Somali voter concern—notwithstanding that Somali-Americans are obviously allowed to vote—was parroted most notably by prominent anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, who notably helped jumpstart the career of Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). The Facebook post in question was a joke, but that hasn't prevented the man who posted it from receiving death threats. People are terrible.

The New Black Panthers Give Fox News an Early Christmas Gift

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 1:01 PM EST

Dave Weigel wonders if the New Black Panther Party will give Fox News an early Christmas present by showing up again this year at polling places in Philadelphia. The answer turns out to be yes:

The Panthers are so stupid that they deployed to the same site they hit in 2008: The 4th district of Philadelphia's 14th ward. Very few of the people who hyperventilate about this story have been to the polling place and check out its vote. I have. The precinct, located in a retirement home, gave 596 votes to Barack Obama in 2008. It gave 13 votes to John McCain. Four years earlier, it had given 24 votes to George W. Bush. It's a heavily black, Democratic area, which is why — four years after the first Fox freakout — no one has ever emerged to say he or she wanted to vote but was suppressed by the Panthers. And hell, in 2008, the Panthers had nightsticks. There's one guy now, armed with nothing.

Let's be serious about this. One month ago, a court struck down part of Pennsylvania's voter ID law. Voters in the state do not have to show ID, though poll workers may ask for it. Since then, the state has continued to run ads that tell voters to come to polls with ID — "SHOW IT" in large print, "if you have it in small print." It's likely that legitimate voters who lack multiple forms of ID have seen this, and assumed it'll be tougher to vote today.

But it's boring to talk about a bogus campaign to complicate the vote in the entire state. It's exciting to show a scary-looking black dude on TV, and imply to the Fox News viewer that another scary trooper — maybe a UN worker! — is laying in wait at his polling place.

It's all part of the Republican war on voters who might not vote for Republicans. You can read about it here.

The 2012 Campaign May Have Been Small, But the Election Itself Will Be Very Big Indeed

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 12:27 PM EST

In Politico, John Harris and Jonathan Martin complain that although both sides tried to pretend the 2012 election was an apocalyptic choice between competing worldviews, in the end it turned out to be "small":

These two opposites in fact are closely connected. Yes, there are specific people to blame, and no better place to start than the top: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were co-conspirators in driving what they both claimed was the most important election of our lifetimes into cul-de-sacs of trivia and evasion. But it is clear that both men found themselves caught in a vortex of large forces that converged to make the election small.

The arguments were small....The playing field was small....Most of all, the leading actors were small — either content with their diminished stature or powerless to change it. Obama, who four years ago encouraged people to view him as an epic figure, riding a wave of history, this time encouraged people to view him in life-size terms, as a mortal figure who had done the best he could amid setbacks and disappointments.

There's a lot to this, but I think Harris and Martin miss the real reason for it: for all the sound and fury, there's a remarkable amount of consensus over big policies in America. The welfare state that Democrats have built over the past 80 years—Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, subsidized public education, welfare, and the minimum wage—is pretty much here to stay, with neither side able to change it except on the margins. Ditto for the regulatory state: OSHA, workers comp, environmental regulations, consumer-protection laws, and, most recently, Dodd-Frank. Social attitudes continue to loosen up slowly in some areas (gay rights, religiosity) and remain stable in others (guns, abortion). Most of the heavy lifting on civil rights—the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, gender discrimination laws, the Violence Against Women Act, and ADA—was finished years ago, with little left on the national agenda aside from things like the precise boundaries of affirmative action. Conservatives have won some battles too. We've reached a rough consensus on taxes, arguing now only about whether the marginal rate on top earners should change by four percentage points, and as Benjamin Wittes argues persuasively today, for better or worse we've reached a rough consensus on national security issues too. Extinguishing the private sector labor movement was a big deal for Republicans over the past few decades, but that job is mostly finished.  

I'm not trying to downplay how important small changes can be, especially as they build up over time. Trench warfare may not be glamorous, but it makes a difference. And in some ways, the very lack of detail in the 2012 campaign has been refreshing: it made the campaign into a pure debate over broader views of the role of government without getting too caught up in all the niggling details.

But here's something else interesting: I'd say there are at least two very concrete areas where today's election really will make a big difference. And yet, neither candidate spent much time talking about them. The first is abortion, where Supreme Court nominees over the next four years have at least the potential of overturning Roe v. Wade. But while the "war on women" has been a Democratic talking point all year, it's never really become a major campaign topic.

And the second? Obamacare. This is the capstone of the Democratic welfare state, the final big-ticket program that's eluded liberals for nearly a century. In Joe Biden's memorable words, it's a big fucking deal. If Romney were elected along with a Republican Senate, he'd almost certainly be able to badly cripple Obamacare, even if he couldn't quite repeal it outright. If Obama wins and keeps the Senate in Democratic hands, it will become institutionalized. And like Social Security and other similar programs that started out small, it will grow over time until, eventually, America really does have universal healthcare.

But as with abortion, it simply hasn't been a big campaign issue. Romney issues pro forma applause lines about repealing Obamacare on Day 1, but that's about all. And Obama barely mentions it at all. For my money, this is by far the biggest issue of the campaign, and it's been nearly invisible.

So in a way, the 2012 campaign hasn't been small. Both sides may have made a strategic decision to fight on other grounds, but Obamacare, all by itself, is about as big as things get these days. Even if an elephant in the room is invisible, it's still an elephant.

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Polling Woes Emerge in Key States; Watchdogs Report "Thousands" of Calls

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 12:16 PM EST
Volunteers man a voter-protection hotline.

People all over the country are having trouble exercising their right to vote, the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights said Tuesday morning.

"We are seeing a manifestation of a new Jim Crow in America...I don't think that's an overstatement," said Wade Henderson, who runs the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (a different group from the Lawyer's Committee). "You are seeing lines longer than those in Baghdad or Kabul."

To combat poll problems, the Lawyer's Committee has teamed with half a dozen other civil rights and voting rights groups to operate an election protection hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Dozens of volunteers with legal backgrounds are taking calls from voters encountering obstacles to casting a ballot. The Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights says it fielded thousands of calls Tuesday morning from voters who were turned away from the polls because they lacked photo ID, voters facing polling places with inadequate staff and equipment, and voters whose polling stations opening late.

Despite these ominous reports, Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Brennan Center for Justice struck an optimistic note. "The system is working for the vast majority of Americans," she said.

Voting problems are particularly acute in some key states, according to the Lawyer's Committee's Barbara Arnwine. In Pennsylvania, she said, voters are showing up to polling stations and seeing signs that say photo ID is required to vote, when state law says it's only necessary for first-time voters. Some voters, Arnwine said, are being turned away by poll workers who mistakenly believe that all voters need government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.

"This is the fault of the Pennsylvania state government, we lay it at their foot that voters are having problems in that state," Arnwine said at a press conference held Tuesday morning. "The state of Pennsylvania ought to be ashamed." Pennsylvania passed a voter ID law, but the court blocked it from being enforced for this election. The judge ruled that poll workers could ask for ID, but voters will still be allowed to cast regular—rather than provisional—ballots even if they can't provide one. A judge in Pennsylvania ordered Republicans outside a polling place in Allegheny to stop demanding ID from voters outside the polls.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state facing problems. The Lawyer's Committee has received calls from Ohio saying that voting machines in Dayton, Toledo, and Cleveland are non-functional. Some voters in Ohio complained of regular ballots being placed in provisional ballot boxes—provisional ballots are less likely to be counted. At one polling station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Arnwine said, 300 voters were standing in line to vote because only one voting machine was working, while other polling stations were critically understaffed. The voting situation in New Jersey, which is still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, Arnwine said, was a "catastrophe." 

Linda McMahon Pulls Out Dirty Tricks on Election Day

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 12:14 PM EST

Trailing in the polls going into election day, Connecticut GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon is trying something new: Pretending she's a Democrat. The Connecticut Mirror reports that McMahon, the former World Wrestling Federation executive, has dressed supporters hanging out at the polls today in "I Support Obama and McMahon" t-shirts designed to resemble those worn by Democrat-backing Services Employees International Union organizers:

"It clearly is a rip off of our shirts," said Paul Filson, the political director of SEIU, which represents many minority health care workers. "It definitely is confusing."

The shirts are part of an effort by McMahon to blunt the urban vote Murphy needs in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, where her workers also have left literature urging a vote for Obama and McMahon.

Here's a photo of said literature, which identifies McMahon not as a Republican, but as the nominee of the Independent party. It may be too late to make a difference. The New York Times' Nate Silver gives Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy a 95.5 percent chance of winning the seat being vacated by retiring Independent Joe Lieberman.

This wouldn't be the first time a blue-state Republican has mimicked a Democrat. In 2006, then-Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele depicted himself as a Democrat at campaign events and in sample ballots handed out in Prince George's county.

If McMahon really does support Obama, she should call her bank. According to FEC filings, she and her husband have given $150,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super-PAC.

Update: Here's the a McMahon "sample ballot," via Murphy communications director Ben Marter:

@ChrisMarter/Twitter@BenMarter/Twitter

Senate Challenger Josh Mandel: Washington "Created" The Financial Crisis

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 11:21 AM EST
Josh Mandel.

Is Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel of Ohio a bailout truther?

Mandel went on a Cleveland radio station Tuesday morning and suggested that the financial meltdown of 2008 was created by Washington politicians—not predatory mortgage lenders, lax regulators, incompetent ratings agencies, too-clever-by-half bankers, or delusional homeowners—seemingly as a way to pass the bank bailout.

Mandel's interviewer with station WMMS remarks that the US "would be in real financial ruin if some of those banks were allowed to collapse." But Mandel doesn't buy it. He fires back: "This is what happens in Washington: These politicians, they create a crisis and then they come in and try to take credit for solving the crisis. And it's exactly what's wrong with Washington."

Here's the clip of Mandel's remarks, provided by Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown's campaign, with a transcript to follow:

Transcript:

Host: Those banks, I mean, we would be in real financial ruin if some of those banks were allowed to collapse. You know, the credit markets were frozen. We were in a huge disaster. Now, I don't like it. I don't think anyone likes it. But to say that it was—look, we're still here. We still have money in the bank. People can go in and get their checkings [sic] and get a check and use their debit card and that kinda stuff. That was a real possibility—that that may not happen if we didn't do some of those things.

Mandel: You know, I think there were a lot of scare tactics used to pressure congressmen and senators to support [the financial bailout]. And this is what happens in Washington: These politicians, they create a crisis and then they come in and try to take credit for solving the crisis. And it's exactly what's wrong with Washington.

The Story Behind Red States and Blue States

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 10:38 AM EST

Why are Republican states colored red and Democratic states colored blue? Answer: because Democratic states were colored blue in 2000, and the long recount that year seared the electoral map into everyone's memory. After that, the association became permanent. 

Fine. But why were Democrats blue in all the 2000 maps? After all, red is traditionally the color of lefty parties around the world, and before 2000 elections network maps had usually colored Democratic states red. Several years ago, one of my commenters provided the answer:

Since the advent of color TV, there has been a formula to avoid charges of giving any party an advantage by painting it a "better" color. Here is the formula: the color of the incumbent party alternates every 4 years.

I've never gotten ironclad confirmation of this rule, but it seems to be correct. The table on the right shows how this formula has applied since 1976, and it explains why Democrats had usually been colored red prior to the 2000 election: it's a coincidence. In the six elections prior to 2000 every Democrat but one (Dukakis in 1988) had been coded red, but that was just because of how the cycle of incumbency happened to work out during that period. If the formula had continued, the incumbent Republicans would have been blue in 2008, but by then it was too late. The color of the parties had entered American folklore and become permanent.

HOLD ON!: In the Smithsonian, Jodi Enda dives in deeper and calls my story a "myth." Map colors weren't monolithic among the networks, and she finds no evidence of any kind of rule for how the colors switched. Rather, in the early years of color mapping on TV they "changed back and forth from election to election and network to network in what appears, in hindsight, to be a flight of whimsy."