Election Meltdown: The Debrief

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: Hi and welcome to a special extra episode of the Annika’s Election Meltdown series. This is just for Slate Plus members. I’m Diane Lithwick. I write about the flaws in the law and the rule of law for Slate and for the last time, I’m Rick Hasen, election law professor at UC Irvine.

S3: Forever to be known as Amalia’s election law Sherpa. Someone asked for shirts. Forget it.

Advertisement

S2: But get introduced here. Well, we need some election meltdown swag before we start. I also actually just want to say to the slate plus members who are listening in. Thank you so, so much for ponying up a little bit of cash. It helped make this series happen. And it makes so much of the journalism that we do here at Slate happens.

S1: So thank you for that. So, Reagan, I just wanted to sort of have a chat over a cup of tea and he’s got some Theraflu going because he’s got a cold. Just about the five part series that we just wrapped up. We wanted to take stock, throw in a couple of updates of the Caerphilly and things that have happened since we spoke to you last. So maybe, Rick, why don’t we just update the people about what has happened since the live show?

Advertisement

S4: So we taped the live show about a week and a half ago. And it’s good that the new stops for no one. Let me just in kind of lightning round format, mention a few things that happened. Republicans announce that they’re going to raise and spend up to 10 million dollars to intervene in a bunch of voting rights cases that Democrats and their allies have brought, trying to make sure that systems are opened up and fair. So you more armies of lawyers girding for battle. If we can use that metaphor, we saw that Florida legislators are looking to sneak into an election bill, a provision that would allow any Florida voter to be a poll watcher anywhere in the state. So remember, we talked about Donald Trump going and telling his followers to to watch those polling places go and look. And so this might be a prelude to that kind of activity in November in Michigan. You know, one of the things we talked about the live show was the the problem that could come if there were lots of absentee ballots that were flooding into Michigan under its new rules, allowing anyone to cap to mail in an absentee ballot to try to speed up that process. And now it looks like the the state Republican legislature is going to block legislation that local clerks and the secretaries state, Jocelyn Benson, want, which would have allowed for that earlier counting, meaning, you know, that will have this delay, which creates room for doubt if there’s, you know, some kind of flipping of the vote some way through the counting process in November. We had Michael Bloomberg. He besides flooding every mailbox, inbox, social media feed in the country, also engaged in what at least some fact checkers would consider to be a a borderline deep fake with his selective editing of his poor performance in the first Democratic debate in which he participated. And of course, now coronavirus is a story that’s exploding and we’re starting to think about how that might affect elections. I was at a recent event where someone suggested that maybe Trump could shut down the election using coronavirus as an excuse. And, you know, that’s very speculative. But, you know, it’s another nightmare to throw onto the rug of despair. The new lawsuit filed in Georgia over illegal voter purges, this in DeKalb County. And a new report issued by a House oversight subcommittee finding that election officials in Kansas and Georgia who were closing polling places where it were not all that upset in e-mails that were leaked.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: There actually were quite happy with the idea that they might make it harder for some people to be able to go and vote and then just for a cherry on the top. The Maine secretary of state, Matt Dunlap, who was featured in the first of our election meltdown episodes, he is being sued for allegedly not complying with the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act to keep his voting lists clean. And if the the lawsuits being brought by Christian Adams, one of the members of the Pence Kobach Commission, one of those four horsemen of the voter suppression apocalypse that we talked about in episode one and nicely in trying to impugn Matt Dunlap, they used without attribution, of course, a nice little clip of Dunlap. Talking about his participation on the commission, how that came to be when we did the interview with him for Slate Plus members. So that’s a lot in the course of a little over a week. It’s just, you know, kind of boggles my mind as to what we’re going to face by the time we get to November.

Advertisement

S1: But but let’s just stipulate for the record that election meltdown gets results. It gets people who we interview into trouble. So that’s good. Welcome to Trump’s America, Rick. So that was quite an impressive list. You reeled off again, listeners, that stuff that has happened just since last week’s live show. Which of these are you thinking about most carefully? Which of them has anything sort of changed? Your sort of theory of the case is anything that you’ve listed off make you rethink your sort of list of which things you’re really panicked about and which you’re not?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Well, I think the Corona virus story is perhaps kind of the best illustration of the point I make in the book that we need to plan for emergencies. You know, when we started recording the series, I think I started interviews back in the fall with some of the people that appeared in the series.

Advertisement

S5: Rotavirus was not something that was mentioned. And now it’s, of course, a potential international pandemic. And it’s going to affect people’s ability to travel around. It could affect the conduct of the census. It could affect the conduct of the conventions. It could affect whether Trump can hold rallies. And it could affect voting in November. I mean, hopefully it won’t come to that. But I think that the Corona virus election story is a good illustration of one of the key points that we’ve made in this series that I made in my book is that there has to be planning on the part of election officials to deal with emergencies. And while lots of places have some of that planning, it’s it’s not complete and it’s not something that is necessarily going to be applied to a presidential election, which is different. Right. It’s a one national election. We might need Congress to act. And so I think Corona virus should again be a wakeup call that we’re not really prepared in the event of a major unexpected kind of disruption of our election. We’ve been talking about Russian hackers, but it might be instead, you know, a virus that affects millions of people.

Advertisement

S1: For listeners who want to think about this new issue of the nexus between coronavirus and the 2020 election, there’s a bunch of pieces that have been written about this. So don’t panic. Dig in. Think about it. There’s a piece in Wired piece in the L.A. Times, piece in Business Insider. Just. Educate yourselves and let’s make a plan. Don’t freak out, Rick. I think that after all this time of me pelting you with questions, you want to turn the tables and ask me a question this week.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: So I’ll tell you, I’ve been steeped in this work. You know, this is one of the main things I focus my time on. And in writing this book for the last year and a half, I’ve really been, you know, so immersed in it. And I’m wondering for you as a relative outsider, you just came to this project a few months ago. What are your takeaways? What were the biggest surprises that you found? Do you follow this stuff pretty closely? But you have your eye on so many different things in the legal world and the political world.

Advertisement

S1: You know, I think I have a sort of minor point in a major point. And I think the minor point for me is that you have to chunk this out, that you cannot think about elections as this sort of vast, sprawling morass of stuff that could go wrong. And that for me, what’s been really helpful about this series is, you know, there’s a bucket of misinformation. There’s a bucket that is hacking. You know, there’s foreign and domestic bots.

S6: And I think that really hiving this off in two very, very disaggregated, clear kind of buckets of things and then looking at it narrowly trying to figure out which of these things or systems problems, which of these things are sort of public confidence problems. I think for me has been immensely helpful because really up until now and you know, we’ve said this before in the show, but I think it’s worth reiterating, Rick, you and I have tended to have these like conversations a week or two weeks before elections where we’re sort of sloughing together, you know, broken voting machines and, you know, the vote caging and purges.

S1: And it’s useful, I think, in the extreme to chunk it out and look at it as a series of different problems with different impacts that can be handled with different solutions, but not just waiting until before the election and saying it’s all broken so that I don’t know what that noise was. That was my coronavirus noise. But that that that’s my minor point. And I think my major point is, goes to this lesson. You and I have been teetering back and forth throughout this series on, you know, the perils of naming something and talking about something in really granular detail. And, you know, what does it mean to talk about things that are broken and not confuse and panic people who are worried that things are broken? And for me, I think I’ve really come out of this realizing that an awful lot of listeners who’ve gotten back to me at least have said, good, we talked about it like we saw the menu of all the things that can go wrong. And we understand and. It’s daunting and formidable and also better to have it on the table. And so I think for me this is one of those sunlight is the best disinfectant. Lessons wear in so many contexts, you know, including coronavirus. By the way, including, you know, all sorts of issues about public confidence. Sometimes it just feels better to not drill down and really think about it. And I think for me, the huge takeaway was, let’s say it, let’s call things what they are and name them and identify the contours of them and then deal with it. But that not dealing with things as a general matter. Right. This is what Freud told us. Repression is really, really bad. So I think that’s my meta point. Thoughts?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: Well, I think those two actually go together, confronted and then deal with it not as a single problem with a single solution, but as a series of discrete problems for which there is a set of potential solutions. And as this podcast is being released, I’m convening a group of people down at my school, UC Irvine, group of leaders from law, politics, tech and media. And or we’re kind of a public conference, but that a private meeting where we’re going to try and hash out maybe something like 10 to 15 recommendations in different areas for what can be done to minimize the chances of a meltdown. We hope that by early May, this ad hoc group will release some recommendations. And these are the kind of things that people as action items can really try to pressure, whether it’s media or election minute traitors or cybersecurity experts or something else. These are the things that need to happen before November. And so trying to create a checklist of small bore things that could in some try to really bring down the risks that we’ve talked about in this series. So I’m glad that the message you got from the series is the one that I was trying to get across in the book, which is we’ve got a multi-faceted problem and it requires multifaceted solutions.

Advertisement

S1: And maybe I would just add this small footnote to what you just said, which is one of the absolute defining moments of this series for me continues to be Carol Anderson.

S6: More or less saying, you know, this may be shocking and horrifying vote suppression to you, but if you are a person of color in this country, this is just Tuesday. Like this is how voting has gone since achieving the right to vote. And in degree it may be different, but in kind it’s essentially the same. And I think something about really reminding ourselves that this was never a great system, that free and fair elections were always a little bit more illusory than we thought. But that, you know, the arc of the moral universe kind of is in our hands on this thing. And so I think, again, to realize that what feels shocking today is actually part of a very, very, very long standing problem with elections, not just in this country, but anywhere that there are elections in all we can really do as our little chunk of it, which is do better. But I think that’s a useful lesson to think about going forward. Can I ask you if you were going to recommend I guess I’ve just revealed mine. I think the last thing that Carole Anderson said to you and I in Episode 4 is the thing that I I confess I’ve listened to her maybe three times since then. But is there some one thing that someone who is only going to get a little bit of this series, if they were to listen to something that someone said, what would it be in your view?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: That’s a good question. I would agree with you that Carole Engineer View really stood out because her message was one. You’d think the punch line would be despair given the stories that she told. But instead it was I think the word I used was resiliency. It was, you know, not this defeatist kind of attitude that probably I would take in telling that story. And so, you know, if you’re looking for something uplifting, although, you know, harrowing but uplifting, I would say start there.

S7: If you want an overview of the whole series, I would say and you could only listen to what I would say to start with episode one, which dealt with that Pense callback commission and realizing that although not all the problems in our election system are self-inflicted. There are some bad people out there who are actually trying to make things worse. And it’s really important to call them out and to recognize that it’s a constant battle that we need to be fighting to ensure voting rights in the United States.

S6: And Rick, at the most, most micro level, I know we ended episode. 5 with this. But folks who are listening in here, who want to do a thing tomorrow and the next day and everyday, what are can you give us the top four or five that we called? Over the course of this series, things actions that people can do from the top. We know Carol Anderson list of wear comfortable shoes and take a photo of your voter registration on up.

S4: Right. Well, number one is register and vote. I think Andrew Gillum said in our live event, register 10 more people or a hundred more people. Right. So that’s something you can do. Become an educated voter. Don’t spread misinformation. You know, if something seems on social media like it’s too good to be true, make sure it’s actually accurate.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Rick, people are probably starting to get the first glimpses of sample ballots they’ll be using. Jeff, any thoughts on how best to interact with those?

S4: Well, let me tell you about the 2000 election, Bush versus Gore. You know, we heard about all those things about wrong with hanging chads, butterfly ballots. So we’ve got less attention was I believe was Duval County, where the sample ballot said, you know, here the list of candidates, voter cantua on every page and there were so many presidential candidates that they went over onto two pages and something like 26000 people following the instructions on the sample ballot didn’t have their votes for president counted because they followed those instructions and voted every page. So check those sample ballots and make sure that they accurately reflect what the election’s supposed to be. You’d be surprised when sometimes they do not.

S5: The main lesson that I suggested that people take away from the series was the idea that we need to require our election administrators to be transparent and to have clear rules and Plan B’s in the event of a problem. And because our elections are so decentralized that meaning that we don’t have a single national election, but instead they administer on the county or lower level around the country, that means you as an individual have more of an ability to influence this process. Make sure that your local elected administrators are using voting machines that are accurate and that can be audited, that there are clear, transparent procedures for counting the votes.

S7: You can even go and observe that. But if you don’t like what you see, there’s room for political action. And I think people need to take activism to election minute traitors, if necessary, to weed out those places where there are problems.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: And I want to be super clear, just you are not suggesting we all, like, show up at her polling places armed and ready to fight. What you’re saying is oversight, oversight, oversight and in advance of elections. Be aware of how elections work, but also after the election. Understand that you need to be watching and monitoring and that this is, you know, our our system. We can choose to be a part of it or not. Right.

S4: I’m not telling you to go to the polling place unless you’re going to vote or work as a poll worker or to assist voters. That’s right. But there is a lot to do before and after the election. And it’s again, we keep using this term. It sounds unsexy, but our democracy depends on people watching and making sure the things are done right.

S2: And that is a wrap for this episode of Amicus. And it is the final word. Maybe we don’t know on our Election Meltdown series. Thank you all so much for listening. If you’ve learned one thing, if you’ve got one new insight into the challenges of election systems, go ahead. Recommend the series to a friend, bookmark slate dot com slash who hyphen counts and you will find all of our electoral integrity related coverage here and you’ll continue to be updated between now and the election on the important work we’re doing trying to track this whole thing.

S8: I would like to think Rick Hasen, whose book Election Meltdown should be in your hot little hands right now, but who is really, I think inspired this series and brought us along for a really incredibly in-depth look at what’s good and what’s bad about the election system.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: So thank you, Rick.

S4: Well, thank you, Dalia. And and, you know, both of us, you know, we sound coherent only because of the work of Sara Burton.

S9: She edits this out. I’m going to be very, very. She always edits it now.

S8: Edited out. No editing. If you’d like to get in touch, our e-mail is Annika’s at Slate.com. You can always find us at Facebook dot com slash Amigas podcast. Today’s show was produced by Sara Brittingham, who’s not anything that’s out. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate Podcasts. June Thomas is senior managing producer of Slate, I guess. And we will be back tomorrow with a regular episode of Annika’s with a discussion of what the progressive answer to the. Federalist Society could or should look like that conversation will happen with Russ Feingold. He’s former Democratic senator from Wisconsin who is the brand new president of the American Constitution Society.

S10: Tuffy, the.