An Open Letter to Tom Steyer

Democracy Counts

August 15, 2018

Mr. Tom Steyer

NextGen America

111 Sutter Street

San Francisco, CA 94104

Dear Mr. Steyer:

As Michael Roman, Special Assistant to President trump put it, “If an election is worth winning, then there is someone willing to steal it.”[1]

As you know, our elections are rife with error, vulnerable to fraud, and plagued by voter suppression under color of law, and these factors may have put trump over the top in the states that gave him the Electoral College. They could give it to him again. And they may be flipping other elections as well.

We have developed a citizen-led way to expose and correct future errors and theft.

Before I explain, let me introduce myself. My name is Daniel Wolf and I am the founder and CEO of Democracy Counts!, Inc., a nonprofit tech startup in San Diego that has developed the software and processes to conduct same-day election audits. I have a law degree from Harvard Law School, where I wrote the world’s first country-specific election observation manual (for Nicaragua), and continued my work on elections and democratization in Political Science at U.C. San Diego and wrote several well-regarded analyses of its elections. I have started two other tech companies, run a public company, was the founding director of the TransBorder Institute at the University of San Diego, and received Fulbright and Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Fellowships.

Now to explain.

Democracy Counts has developed a citizen-run audit system that produces reliable comparison data in real time so that, if the official results differ significantly, injured parties can seek injunctions and investigative orders as early as the day after the election. More, it quantifies the effects of voter suppression so as to provide standing and evidence for lawsuits against partisan voter I.D. laws and other forms of suppression.

Had our audit system been used in 2000 in Florida it would have provided grounds for legal action against the Secretary of State’s stripping of tens of thousands of voters from the rolls. If used in 2004 in Ohio it would have provided independent evidence as to whether the official results that narrowly gave Bush the Electoral College were legitimate – or if the election polls that gave Kerry a wide margin of victory were telling the truth. Had it been used in 2016, Michigan’s ancient Scantrons, Pennsylvania’s numerous paperless electronic voting machines, and Wisconsin’s voter suppression might have been enjoined and investigated.

We have been working in obscurity for almost three years to develop these audit tools and processes. We conducted a pilot in San Diego, Los Angeles and Berkeley in California’s 2016 primary, using an early version of our app and a Fulcrum app for backup. With no prior publicity, voter education or signage, over 90 percent of voters participated in the exit-vote function. We are confident of our ability to implement the system.

Because control of the House of Representatives is in play, and the ability of the Republican Party to protect the President from the Mueller probe is at risk (according to Devin Nunes[2]), the stakes this November could hardly be higher. Consequently, the incentives for local party machines to put their thumbs on the scales are stronger than ever before. Those that try must be exposed and thwarted if we are, first, to protect the integrity of our representative form of government and, second, to restore faith in it.

It is urgent that we begin to hold our electoral systems strictly accountable.

Errors (and probably fraud) flourish in our elections because there is little independent oversight, no negative consequences for the party or candidate who wins illegitimately, and practically no risk of discovery and punishment for the people who actually cause or permit errors or engage in criminal misconduct. Democracy Counts’ real-time citizen audits, however, will change this picture, by forcing law enforcement investigations, expose illegitimate winners to reversal, and perpetrators to prosecution. The increase in risk of exposure and punishment from near-zero to anything significant is will encourage accuracy and deter fraud in all but the most high-stakes and resource-rich elections.

This level of effectiveness will not remain the province of one party. Our audit system can and eventually will be used by Republicans to audit elections run by Democrats, especially in places like Chicago and Albany. That is only right and fair: In a democracy all political parties should compete on a level playing field. In the longer term it will actually be good for the Democratic Party because it will force ossified Democratic machines to compete on the basis of ideas and popularity rather than patronage and control.

Once we have it dialed in for the US we will make the system available as a SaaS to anyone, in the US or abroad, who wants to hold their local systems accountable. We have already received expressions of interest from several countries and from USAID, which assists countries in setting up free and fair elections.

What is to be done?

With adequate support we can audit at least one major race this November 6. A significant audit would demonstrate the audit’s utility to challengers, parties, and civil society (especially if it exposes an attempted theft of a Senate seat) and give us the experience and public support necessary to audit and safeguard all of the battleground states in 2020.

The Senate races in Missouri and Florida are good candidates for audits because motive, means, and opportunity for fraud are plentiful: The races are very close, the rolls and voting machines are known to be vulnerable, the election apparata are in the hands of pro-trump Republicans, Russian hackers reportedly have already been active, and above all, the races are highly consequential for control of the US Senate. This translates to a heightened probability of foul play.

Conducting a state-wide audit with this remaining lead time is a big, tall, and difficult task but with adequate resources we can do it. The logistical and operational challenges are similar to that of a statewide political campaign.

The plan and the resources required

Our plan for these last weeks is to conduct a social media campaign to raise awareness, raise more funds, recruit and train citizen auditors, configure the software, engage civic organizations in joint voter education campaigns, and set up data analysis and legal teams.

Our budget worksheets suggest marginal costs on the order of $1.5 million per state, the majority of this being driven by the extent of the audit and the auditor stipends. Successful recruitment of large numbers of volunteers would reduce audit costs, but we must assume that stipends will be required to assure adequate recruitment in the scarce time remaining. About $150,000 of the total budget for each state would be used to assist civil society organizations to conduct voter education. $1 million should be adequate for our backend setup, organizational overhead, continuing development and early planning for 2020.

Sociopolitical support is desirable: It will enhance our credibility, lead to more informed and favorable coverage in mainstream and social media, and enhance our standing in court should we expose errors or tampering. Furthermore, though our system does not require the cooperation of officials, their acquiescence, or at least non-interference, based on respect for our shared interests in transparency and verifiability, would reduce controversy and friction on election day and ease the tasks of auditor recruitment and voter education.

How you can help

We request that you commit a substantial sum – at least $1 million – to start this train rolling, that you throw your support behind it publicly, and that you facilitate introductions to other influencers and backers. This will impart political credibility and allow us to quickly demonstrate our operational credibility. Nearly 100 percent of people we explain the system to get excited, and our existing crowdfunding appeal[3], with minimal publicity, is already priming the pump. We are optimistic that with our credibility established it will be relatively easy to raise the additional funds required to cover the difference between your contribution and the need.

A final note

Benjamin Franklin famously quipped that the Framers had created “a republic, if you can keep it”. If we cannot make sure that it is the voters who choose our leaders then we will not be able to keep it. Whether it’s Russian hackers playing with voter registration lists, insiders flipping votes, or simply obsolete and error-prone equipment tabulating incorrectly, unchallenged voting system manipulation will produce larger unrepresentative legislative majorities, in turn allowing more gerrymandered districts, greater incumbency advantage, ever-stricter voter suppression laws and practices, and increasingly partisan election workers wielding increasingly manipulated election machinery, ad infinitum. The end result could be permanent right-wing control of our government, such that over time our judiciary will grow more partisan and less apt to maintain the rule of law.

Under present conditions it is only too easy to engineer illegitimate victories. And once a “winner” is announced, truth makes no difference because, barring overwhelming evidence of massive fraud, courts will not remove a certified winner. NextGen America might get millions of young people to the polls, but if the referee can choose the winner with impunity they will be betrayed.

Our vote counting systems therefore must be held to account before the results are certified. We must prevent errors, whether negligent or intentional, from putting into office candidates who did not genuinely win their elections. Theft of office is tantamount to theft of our democracy.

I would be pleased to discuss our system and its implementation. If you will share your assistant’s contact information with me I will follow up.

Respectfully yours,

Daniel H. Wolf

Founder and CEO

Democracy Counts!, Inc.

San Diego, California, USA

Email: d.wolf@democracycounts.org

Mobile: 619.270.6434

 

[1] In Nancy Cook, “The mysterious oppo researcher working in the White House lawyer’s office”, Politico, February 11, 2018, accessed 04/04/2018 at https://www.politico.com/story/2018/02/11/trump-oppo-researcher-roman-403138

[2] “Audio of Devin Nunes at private fundraiser”, The Rachel Maddow Show, Aug. 8, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1061&v=ALHH8zPXkuk

[3] https://www.gofundme.com/democracy-counts-exit-audit/

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