FEAR OF RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE KILLS THE PLAN
Blame it on the Russians. The Democratic National Committee last week conditionally approved the Alaska Democratic Party’s plan for its new privately run, partisan primary on April 4, 2020.
The caucus-by-voting exercise, which is being called a “primary,” will only include mail-in voting and in-person voting.
The DNC said “no” to the Alaska Democrats’ ambitious plan of rolling out electronic voting via smartphone in what is essentially a privately run voting operation, not overseen by usual checks and balances of a nonpartisan government-run election.
This refusal to allow Alaska Democrats to use smartphone voting in their primary comes in spite of the fact that last December, the DNC told states that were conducting “primaries” or caucuses to include electronic voting.
The electronic voting, as proposed by the Alaska Democrats, was a grant-funded venture with the smart phone company Voatz.
Voatz is an early-stage venture started by entrepreneur Nimit Sawhney of Boston, Mass.
The venture with Voatz and the grant by Tusk Philanthropies is now virtually dead, due to the DNC’s national committee’s concerns about cybersecurity, authenticity of voting, and general integrity of the process, It’s back to paper ballots for the Democrats.
The Democrats’ change to ballots rather than caucuses is occurring not just because it wants to use electronic voting, but because during the last Democratic Caucus, the Alaska Democratic Party was embarrassed by revelations that came through Wikileaks that the party conspired in favor of Hillary Clinton, and against Bernie Sanders, during its state nominating convention.
Democrats hosted some soul-searching meetings after that election season, when Bernie Sanders supporters — the majority of Alaska Democrats — had expressed disillusionment with a process.
The party issued its initial plan for revamping the nominating process in March of 2019.
Democrats are enacting something similar to what Republicans conduct with their “Presidential Preference Poll.”
DNC BLAMES TRUMP, RUSSIANS FOR LACK OF SECURITY
The DNC Rules committee meeting, which took place on Oct. 16, was so contentious that the decision on Alaska Democrats was postponed until Oct. 18. Usually the committee’s vote is unanimous, but this decision wasn’t.
Ultimately, the Democrats blamed Donald Trump for their inability to roll out the Voatz system in partisan-run elections. In a letter to the rules committee in August, the DNC’s chief security officer Bob Lord wrote, concerning the similar proposals made by Iowa and Nevada Democrats:
“We base our recommendation in significant part on the current cybersecurity climate and our evaluation of the active threats to the integrity of the U.S. election — including the recent U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee reporton Russian interference against our election infrastructure. As we saw in 2016 and 2018, there are a number of sophisticated potential adversaries — and the Trump administration and Republican leadership have failed to dedicate significant resources, or even speak out against those who seek to interfere in our election.”
Some members of the Rules committee said that Alaska Democrats were an ideal cohort for a test pilot of the technology, since Alaska Democrats comprise a fairly small population of about 70,000. Others were worried about the Russians.
Alaska Democratic Party Chairwoman Casey Steinau told the committee that the voting option would help Democrats in remote locations, including Alaska Natives, participate in the 2020 nominating process.
The Tusk Foundation has since written to Steinau and informed her the offer of the grant to the party was withdrawn.
“Based on our previous experience conducting mobile voting pilots in West Virginia, Denver, Utah and Oregon, we have learned that we need enthusiasm and the full commitment from all our partners and elected officials,” the foundation wrote.
One of the ways the Voatz system verifies authenticity is for voters to take a selfie, and send it in with their vote on a special app that they would download on their smartphone. Their smartphone’s digital identity would be tied to their other digital devices to better ensure one vote per person.
But there is no paper record to back up a vote.
“It utterly failed to produce any confidence in the accuracy or relevance even of the data we were being shown — clearly all images,” said Harvie Branscomb, a Colorado election integrity activist who believes in hand-marked ballots for security. He reviewed the Voatz technology and panned it as inadequate for security, refusing to even audit the system it was so lacking.
Instead, Democrats will scale back and offer 40 in-person voting sites — one per House district, and the Alaska Democratic Party will ask the Democratic National Committee for financial help in rolling out its program.
Republicans have cancelled their Presidential Preference Poll this time since their nominee is in the White House.