The state that couldn’t count straight


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In this Nov. 16, 2018 photo, Mark Toepfer, a 58-year-old from Pinellas Park, reflects on the state's election while at the beach in St. Petersburg, Fla.  Toepfer wondered why the state has so many problems counting ballots this year. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

In this Nov. 16, 2018 photo, Mark Toepfer, a 58-year-old from Pinellas Park, reflects on the state's election while at the beach in St. Petersburg, Fla. Toepfer wondered why the state has so many problems counting ballots this year. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)


Employees run ballots through a machine before resuming a recount at the Palm Beach County Supervisor Of Elections office, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla. A federal judge slammed Florida on Thursday for repeatedly failing to anticipate election problems, and said the state law on recounts appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided the presidency in 2000. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2000, file photo, Broward County, Fla., canvassing board member Judge Robert Rosenberg uses a magnifying glass to examine a disputed ballot at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Rosenberg was front and center 18 years ago in Florida’s infamous recount in the presidential contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Rosenberg, perhaps best remembered for eyeing ballots through a large looking glass, said in an Associated Press interview that he was brought in to lead the 2000 recount in Broward County and was determined to get it right. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)


Recount adds to Florida’s reputation for bungling elections

By TAMARA LUSH

Associated Press

Saturday, November 17

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Mark Toepfer came to this spit of sand on the Tampa Bay shore to soak up the sun, drink a beer and maybe do a little fishing — not to talk about elections.

But talk he did when asked for his thoughts on whether Florida, as a judge recently put it, is “the laughingstock of the world” when it comes to voting.

“We’re the only state that has problems year after year,” the shirtless 58-year-old said, shaking his head. “Why is it like this? Is it the people in charge? Are our machines not like other states’ machines? Fraud? Incompetence? It’s hard to say.”

With races for U.S. Senate and governor still undecided, the state’s latest recount only adds to its reputation for bungling elections. To much of the world, vote-counting confusion is as authentically Florida as jam-packed theme parks, alligators on golf courses and the ubiquity of Pitbull (the Miami rapper, not the dog).

Florida’s history of election woes dates back to 2000, when it took more than five weeks for the state to declare George W. Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, thus giving Bush the presidency. Back then, punch-card ballots were punch lines. Photos of election workers using magnifying glasses to search for hanging chads and pregnant chads symbolized the painstaking process.

There are no chads this year, but there are plenty of cracks about flashbacks to the Bush-Gore contest. And, just as in 2000, the Republican candidates in the contested races have declared themselves winners and asked for the recount to stop.

Add to this a litany of other voting problems: Palm Beach County’s machines went on the fritz during the recount due to age and overwork. The electricity went out in Hillsborough County during a machine recount and resulted in an 846-vote deficit. Broward County missed the state deadline to turn in recount results by two minutes.

Those glitches led U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to ask why state officials have repeatedly failed to anticipate problems in elections.

“We have been the laughingstock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” he said. Walker is presiding over one of several election-related lawsuits that have been filed since Nov. 6.

On Friday, election workers in all 67 counties began recounting by hand about 93,000 ballots that were not recorded by voting machines.

The entire spectacle drew late-night TV jokes. Ally Hoard, Broward county native and writer on “Late Night With Seth Myers,” was merciless in a video clip.

“How will Florida handle this recount? Not great,” she said. “Florida is a mess. The people are confused and the system is corrupt.”

But some others, like 74-year-old Dunedin resident Mary Sanders, said the “laughingstock” comment, and all the jokes, are unwarranted.

“I don’t think that now that I live here,” the New Jersey transplant said. “I guess I’m becoming more pro-Florida.”

Sanders, a volunteer with the League of Women Voters, spent Thursday in a windowless room at the Pinellas County election supervisor’s office with dozens of other observers, watching officials scrutinize ballots. She said the world doesn’t see the normal side of Florida during times such as this.

“Here in Pinellas County at least, it’s been a very well-run election,” she said. Indeed, the recount there has been run like clockwork, with election officials giving tours of the ballot warehouse and handing reporters detailed agendas of daily activity.

Paul George, a Miami historian, isn’t so certain about Florida’s reputation, or as charitable as Sanders.

“We’re a joke,” he said.

George thinks part of the problem is that, to some degree, people come to Florida to start over. The traditions and habits they had elsewhere aren’t the same in the Sunshine State.

“It’s different here,” he said. “If you’re back home in, say, Ohio, you know the people at the precinct.”

And the state has many new citizens, he said, along with confusing ballot designs. Or perhaps, he mused, election drama is something intrinsic to Florida.

“Are you aware of what happened in 1876?” he asks, with mirth in his voice.

That’s when the U.S. had a hotly contested presidential election. The winner wasn’t certain until March 2, 1877. Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the Electoral College. Allegations of fraud abounded.

Votes from three states were disputed. Which state had problems?

“MORE TROUBLE IN FLORIDA,” read an Associated Press headline from Jan. 6, 1877.

10 days of post-governor race drama ends with Abrams’ speech

By BILL BARROW and KATE BRUMBACK

Associated Press

Saturday, November 17

ATLANTA (AP) — Democrat Stacey Abrams ended 10 days of post-election drama in Georgia’s closely watched and even more closely contested race for governor Friday, acknowledging Republican Brian Kemp as the victor while defiantly refusing to concede to the man she blamed for “gross mismanagement” of a bitterly fought election.

The speech Abrams delivered at her campaign headquarters Friday evening marked the close of the 44-year-old attorney and former lawmaker’s unsuccessful attempt to make history as America’s first black woman governor. Since Election Day her campaign fought on, insisting efforts to suppress turnout had left thousands of ballots uncounted that otherwise could erode Kemp’s lead and force a runoff election.

Kemp, the 55-year-old businessman who oversaw the election as Georgia’s secretary of state, will keep the governor’s office in GOP hands as the state’s third Republican governor since Reconstruction. He responded to Abrams ending her campaign by calling for unity and praising his opponent’s “passion, hard work, and commitment to public service.”

The kind words came just days after Kemp’s campaign spokesman derided Abrams’ efforts to have contested ballots counted as a “disgrace to democracy.”

Abrams made no such retreat from her criticisms of Kemp, saying she refused “to say nice things and accept my fate.” Instead, she announced plans to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the way Georgia’s elections are run. She accused Kemp of using the secretary of state’s office to aggressively purge the rolls of inactive voters, enforce an “exact match” policy for checking voters’ identities that left thousands of registrations in limbo, and enact other measures to tile the outcome in his favor.

“Let’s be clear: This is not a speech of concession,” Abrams said. “Because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.”

The race grabbed the attention of the nation, with Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey campaigning for Abrams in the final days and President Donald Trump holding a rally for Kemp.

Unofficial returns showed Kemp ahead by roughly 60,000 votes out of nearly 4 million cast on Nov. 6. Kemp declared himself governor-elect the next day and stepped down as Georgia’s secretary of state, though thousands of absentee and provisional ballots remained uncounted.

Abrams, meanwhile, sent volunteers across the state in search of voters whose ballots were rejected. She filed suit in federal court to force county elections boards to count absentee ballots with incorrect birthdates. Her campaign even planned for possible litigation to challenge the election’s certified outcome.

Abrams didn’t take that route. She said she had concluded “the law currently allows no further viable remedy.” Instead, she said she would fight to restore integrity to Georgia’s election system in a new initiative called Fair Fight Georgia.

“In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions,” Abrams said, though she gave no details.

Kemp tried to move past the contentious campaign even if his opponent wasn’t willing.

“The election is over, and hardworking Georgians are ready to move forward,” he said. “We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia’s bright and promising future.”

Kemp had been secretary of state since 2010. He was backed by and had embraced Trump as he tried to maintain GOP dominance in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the governor’s mansion since 1998.

Trump praised the Democrat in lauding Kemp’s victory, tweeting: “Congratulations to Brian Kemp on becoming the new Governor of Georgia. Stacey Abrams fought brilliantly and hard — she will have a terrific political future! Brian was unrelenting and will become a great Governor for the truly Wonderful People of Georgia!”

Kemp stormed to the GOP nomination with ads featuring everything from the candidate cranking a chain saw and jokingly pointing a gun toward a teen male suitor of his daughter, to Kemp’s offer to “round up criminal illegals” himself in his pickup truck. He’s promised a tax cut and teacher pay raises and pledged to continue Georgia’s refusal to expand Medicaid insurance under President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul.

Abrams’ campaign sparked huge energy across the state and she became a national Democratic star. Election turnout among both sides’ energized bases nearly equaled that of the 2016 presidential vote.

Aides close to Abrams said that since the election she had been wrestling with competing priorities: She wanted to advance her assertions that Georgia’s elections process — which Kemp managed as secretary of state — makes it too hard for some citizens to vote. But she also recognized that a protracted legal fight would harm that cause and potentially her political future.

Kemp’s victory is an important marker for Republicans ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Kemp’s narrow margin already suggests that Georgia, a state Trump won by 5 percentage points in 2016, could be a genuine battleground in two years. Trump bet big on Kemp, endorsing him ahead of Kemp’s Republican primary runoff and campaigning for him the weekend prior to the Nov. 6 election. Now, Trump will be able to return with an incumbent governor as he seeks a second term.

Abrams’ political future is less certain. She made believers of old-guard Democrats in Georgia who didn’t think a black woman could compete in a general election, and she emerged as the party’s clear leader. But the party also has plenty of other ambitious politicians who will want to take advantage of the path that Abrams’ has charted. The next big shot for Democrats is a 2020 Senate race, with Republican Sen. David Perdue making his first re-election attempt.

Associated Press writer Russ Bynum also contributed from Atlanta.

Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP and Brumback at https://twitter.com/katebrumback.

FUNDING SOCIAL SECURITY

by Bob Morrison

It’s time for honest consideration of the problems facing Social Security but first, the good news. The Social Security Trust Fund, from which benefits are paid, has a balance of $2.9 trillion. The money that was deducted from our paychecks and the matching contributions from our employers built that balance. Our money is invested in US Treasury Certificates and it will be paid back when it is needed. It is about 13% of our total national debt.

Here’s the bad news. We’re going to begin spending down the trust fund in the near future (this year or 2019) to pay benefits. The trust fund was built by large numbers of “baby boomers” who were working and now that they’re retiring Social Security it will be paying out more than current workers are paying in. We’ve known for decades that this time would come but the circular firing squad that we call a congress hasn’t acted.

If nothing is done, the Trust Fund will be empty by about 2034 so only current FICA Tax revenue would be available for benefits. That would require a benefit cut of about 21%. All of the solutions proposed so far require some combination of increased FICA tax, delayed retirement or reduced benefits. There will be “winners” and “losers” and only the Congress has the authority to decide who they will be.

Increasing the normal retirement age for full benefits doesn’t help as much as you might think. It’s already set to rise to 67. If it’s raised to 70, there will be an increase in valid applications for Social Security disability benefits; and payment of those benefits will offset some of the savings. It’s true that Americans are living longer and drawing benefits for more years than when Social Security was introduced but the proportion who are capable of working declines with every year of age increase.

Another possibility is to raise the FICA tax on both employees and employers. It is currently 12.4% (half paid by employer and half by employee) on wages up to $128,700. There is no Social Security tax or increased benefit for those with higher incomes. Raising that tax is a terrible idea because the entire 12.4% comes from money that employers have available for wages and benefits to middle and low income employees. Those wages are not keeping up with the cost of living and a FICA tax increase will make that problem worse.

Right now income inequality and wealth inequality are the worst they’ve been in our national history. America’s hourly workers are doing their part but they’re not getting paid for it. Since 1973, the inflation adjusted productivity of American workers is up by 77% but their wages are up by only 12%. They are in no position to absorb a tax increase and many of their employers, who would bear the other half of a FICA increase, are in a similar position. Nearly all of our economic gains since 1973 have been captured by the wealthiest 1% of Americans. (Yes, those are the same ones who just received the largest tax cut in American History.)

We need a way to preserve Social Security without harming our low and middle income workers and their families. One possibility is a “flat tax” of 1 or 2 percent applying only to income in excess of the $128,700 cap on the FICA tax. The new tax should apply to all income: wages, interest and every kind of investment income. That would be sufficient to fund Social Security far into the future without raising the FICA tax or increasing the normal retirement age; and it would be a tiny step toward fixing laws that unfairly tax wages at higher rates than investment income.

It is the hourly workers of our nation who have produced the extreme wealth enjoyed by the top 1%. This is not a plan to penalize the wealthy. It is merely a way to assure a decent and safe retirement for the people who produced their wealth. It’s the same kind of thinking that got us through the early 20th century, the last time when income and wealth shifted from the middle class to the few.

I hope someone comes up with a better idea, but this is one that will work. Making the necessary choices is going to be difficult for any congress and any President but the time for action is upon us. Doing nothing is no longer an option. Nor is it an option to allow Social Security to fail.

Bob Morrison | November 17, 2018

A Revolution of Democracy: An Essay of the Man from the North

by Rivera Sun

[Editor’s note: The Man from the North is a fictional character from Rivera Sun’s first series of novels. She has him offering essays beyond her novels.]

What do we do when we finally understand that the elections really are stolen? Or rigged? Or thrust out of our reach by the manipulations of rich and powerful people? Corrupted by corporations? How long does it take before we call the bluff? Another disappointing election cycle? Two? Three? How much more gerrymandering, corporate buying of elections, voter disenfranchisement, and outright fraud can we stand? When will we take seriously the necessity of change?

This is not a democracy of, for, and by the people. And, at the rate we’re going, it never will be.

We cannot, as many claim, vote our way into power when no aspect of the two party duopoly represents anything other than elite interests. The system is designed to empower rich people and their massive corporations, no one else. Over the years, it has been modified to allow different faces to represent it, but the agenda has stayed much the same.

We must see the system in all its cruelty and injustice. We must be brave enough to surrender our false hopes and wistful ideals about it. From 1787 onward, this government has been designed to serve the privileged, to reinforce such privilege, and to protect the “property” of the wealthy class, including at one point, women and African-Americans.

It’s high time for that to change.

We, the people, were never asked, back in 1787, what sort of government we’d like. Only a scant handful of people from a mere six percent of the populace (white, propertied males) were invited to actively participate in crafting the Constitution. The rest of us have struggled for freedom and power ever since.

Perhaps it’s time to have that much-belated conversation about the kind of government we’d prefer to participate within. (Undoubtedly, a pay-to-play elections process requiring millions and billions of dollars is not high on the average, broke, Americans’ list of ideas.) We, the people, are long overdue for a deep, revolutionary discussion about what sort of decision-making structures we want to see in our world. And, it’s time for a serious nationwide movement for democracy, with all the breadth and depth of possibility the phrase entails.

Democracy is not merely a form of government. It must be a way of life, a set of ethics and an ethos of a culture. For functional democracy to arise, it must be a widespread practice in our work, schools, homes, businesses, markets, religious institutions, and social clubs. We must strive to understand the spirit of the word, not merely the form of the word as embodied by the process of voting every few years for a representative.

We must dare to dream in the complex intricacies of what we don’t know about democracy. We must study democracy like a foreign language, learning processes like sentence structures, practicing our articulation, searching for the words to describe what me mean when we cry for democracy. We must examine the immense richness of humanity’s many experiments in shared decision-making and become familiar with the successes, failures, and potential pitfalls.

We must also break free of the conditioning of disempowerment and dare to imagine what decision we might make – for good or for ill – if we, together, designed our society, politics, economics, and culture. Democracy in any format requires a revolutionary re-envisioning of our way of life. A nation of brow-beaten workers, automatons, consumers, or bosses will never succeed in functional democracy. A real democracy requires a broad spectrum of humanity to show up with all our varied talents, skills, and perspectives: dreamers, artists, engineers, mothers and fathers, scientists, doctors, lovers, students, and more. In short, it takes us all to discover what will work for us all.

It will take love; and the foundation of love, respect. Democracy, as is so-often said, is more than two cats and a mouse deciding what’s for dinner. Indeed, it is. We must explore that “more” and illuminate what is required. We need to make vast changes in how we create media, entertainment, education, and public discourse to find the practices that better serve to foster understanding and conflict resolution. We need to increase the types of cultural experiences that move us toward loving and caring for our fellow citizens, rather than hating and fearing them. Real democracy requires levels of knowledge, compassion, and respect that we, as a nation, have never practiced before. Here, then lies the groundwork of our democratic revolution: we must build the respect among ourselves by which a real democracy can hear and meet its peoples’ needs.

For we are talking about a revolution. To sustain and avoid the pathological destructive desire for vengeance, the revolution must be nonviolent in nature, but its scope is a massive upheaval, not just in politics, but in society and culture as well. Make no mistake: our culture is far from democratic. Even the overhaul of the injustices that burden the current political apparatus would require revolutionary changes. An effort that seeks not just minor adjustments, but a profound re-envisioning in the ways we make every decision in our lives is nothing short of a revolution. It should be treated and understood as such. We should prepare ourselves for the reality of demanding such change. We must gird ourselves for the struggle if we ever wish to see government of, by, and for the people, all of us, together.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and the sequel, The Roots of Resistance, and a nationally known movement trainer in strategic nonviolence. The essays were originally published on Dandelion Salad, and are reposted with permission.

In this Nov. 16, 2018 photo, Mark Toepfer, a 58-year-old from Pinellas Park, reflects on the state’s election while at the beach in St. Petersburg, Fla. Toepfer wondered why the state has so many problems counting ballots this year. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/11/web1_121796794-110b67afa6be4e1e9c32a4486c33b2ef.jpgIn this Nov. 16, 2018 photo, Mark Toepfer, a 58-year-old from Pinellas Park, reflects on the state’s election while at the beach in St. Petersburg, Fla. Toepfer wondered why the state has so many problems counting ballots this year. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

Employees run ballots through a machine before resuming a recount at the Palm Beach County Supervisor Of Elections office, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla. A federal judge slammed Florida on Thursday for repeatedly failing to anticipate election problems, and said the state law on recounts appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided the presidency in 2000. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/11/web1_121796794-e4470e764aa24d5091ec053c5d170a1a.jpgEmployees run ballots through a machine before resuming a recount at the Palm Beach County Supervisor Of Elections office, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla. A federal judge slammed Florida on Thursday for repeatedly failing to anticipate election problems, and said the state law on recounts appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided the presidency in 2000. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

FILE – In this Nov. 24, 2000, file photo, Broward County, Fla., canvassing board member Judge Robert Rosenberg uses a magnifying glass to examine a disputed ballot at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Rosenberg was front and center 18 years ago in Florida’s infamous recount in the presidential contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Rosenberg, perhaps best remembered for eyeing ballots through a large looking glass, said in an Associated Press interview that he was brought in to lead the 2000 recount in Broward County and was determined to get it right. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/11/web1_121796794-d4a9e3fe1cc4440ea65b260720100aea.jpgFILE – In this Nov. 24, 2000, file photo, Broward County, Fla., canvassing board member Judge Robert Rosenberg uses a magnifying glass to examine a disputed ballot at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Rosenberg was front and center 18 years ago in Florida’s infamous recount in the presidential contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Rosenberg, perhaps best remembered for eyeing ballots through a large looking glass, said in an Associated Press interview that he was brought in to lead the 2000 recount in Broward County and was determined to get it right. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)
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