How 2020 Battered Election Officials

Also, why hunting seditionists is more fun than mastering sourdough bread, how QAnon is destroying families and a rural Oklahoma planetarian owner who fights flat-earthers.

Earlier this week, the California Voter Foundation released a new report, “Documenting and Addressing Harassment of Election Officials,” written by Grace Gordon. The cover of the report comes with a trigger warning, noting that “the content described in this report is violent and may be disturbing.” Wednesday, CVF put on a webinar about the report with Gordon joined by Matt Masterson of Stanford, Tiana Epps-Johnson of The Center for Tech and Civic Life, and Amber McReynolds of the National Vote at Home Institute discussing its import. Here are a few topline conclusions:

  • For all the attention given to election security leading up to the 2020 election, the actual security of election officials was not a priority. Even when local officials reported serious death threats from people believing disinformation spread from The Former Guy on down, the response of local law enforcement was lackluster. Only now, as hundreds of January 6th insurrectionists are getting indicted, are we discovering that many of these people were also involved in harassing local election officials before they went to Washington to try to stop the election.

  • More than 75% of local election officials are women, and a great deal of the threats against them are gendered. In the same way that women in other fields in front-line positions that require interaction with the public have borne the brunt of rightwing harassment—health care workers, teachers and flight attendants have all experienced high levels of abuse in the past year—rage and resentment of authority is most frequently given open expression against women.

  • Election administration experts are worried that there may be a mass exodus of election officials from the field as a result of the past year. (In California, 15% of election professionals have retired since 2000.)

  • While the $350 million in private funding that flowed from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan through the Center for Tech and Civic Life to about 2,500 local election authorities last fall did a lot to shore up the infrastructure of secure election administration, paying for things like letter opening machines, ADA-improvements like chairs and ramps, and in some cases hazard pay for staff, this is “not a sustainable or normative way to fund the elections, it was a band aid,” as Epps-Johnson commented. “Elections require predictable sustained funding.”

What is clear is that election administration in America is still in a very tenuous place. Social media companies need to take more steps to tamp down election misinformation spread on their platforms. More funding is needed to provide security details to election office and to provide mental health resources for officials affected by harassment. More tracking of the threats against election officials and other public workers is needed to better coordinate responses. We’re still only beginning to understand how badly the basic infrastructure of democracy has been battered by the past year.

Semi-related: If you are inclined to try cross-partisan conversation as the path to healing America’s polarization, then the “National Week of Conversation” is for you. It starts this Saturday with America Talks, an opportunity to meet someone from across the political divide one-on-one by video. Participating organizations in the week include FixUS, the Common Ground Committee, Resetting the Table, the National Institute for Civil Discourse, the Better Arguments Project, the National Conference on Citizenship, the Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, Millions of Conversations, Business for America, Service Year Alliance, Crossing Party Lines, Search for Common Ground, Living Room Conversations, Braver Angels and Unify America. It’s all powered by the #ListenFirst Coalition. Let it not be said that these groups aren’t paying attention to good branding. Here’s their full list of events.

Back on the dark side: Amateur sedition hunters have turned the effort to identify January 6 rioters into a giant online scavenger hunt, David Yaffe-Bellany reports for Bloomberg. He writes, “In the days after the riot, the FBI saw a 750% increase in daily calls and electronic tips to its main hotline. The bureau still receives twice the normal volume of alerts. Such tips have proved helpful in “dozens of cases,” says Samantha Shero, an FBI spokeswoman. ‘The public has provided tremendous assistance to this investigation, and we are asking for continued help to identify other individuals.’” One tipster said his interest stemmed from a combination of curiosity and pandemic-induced boredom. (“I’d mastered sourdough bread.”) Here’s a crowdsourced collection of videos from the Capitol riot. Here’s a gallery of individual “persons of interest.”

Living with Q is a new short animated documentary made by Coda that tells the story of three families from Utah, Colorado and Ohio that have been torn apart when one family member fell under the sway of QAnon. One is a “typical middle-class gay couple” where one man went from being a diehard Bernie Sanders supporter to full blown conspiracist. Another is the story of a woman whose father’s family is Jewish discovering her husband subscribing to anti-Semitic podcasts.

On a happier note, @OkieSpaceQueen is my new hero. As she explains on this Twitter thread, she owns a portable planetarium and she takes it to rural areas in Oklahoma to show people the universe. Her strategy for dealing with flat-earth believers is inspiring and, as she describes it, effective about 80% of the time.

Organizing News

“Workers, wages and weed” are the signature issues of a new Texas group that plans to focus on year-round issue organizing, founded by two former congressional candidates, Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel. As Patrick Svitek reports for The Texas Tribune, Ground Game Texas is a response to years of frustration with the scattershot approach of national Democratic efforts in the state. ““[The DCCC] doesn’t really invest in this sort of infrastructure building that Mike and I did in our campaigns,” Oliver told Svitek. “That strategy is so different between the DC strategy and the Texas strategy. ... The DC strategy doesn’t really work here in Texas, so we want to do year-round organizing.” Siegel also criticized the party’s decision to shut down its in-person canvassing operation last year in the face of the pandemic.

Odds and Ends

-Ideo is a world-renowned global design consultancy with more than $100 million in annual revenue known for popularizing “human-centered design,” but according to this long Medium post by George Aye, a seven year veteran of the firm, it has also been a highly toxic place for people of color. In addition to documenting a problematic internal culture, Aye also points out ways that “human-centered design” has been used for, shall we say, nefarious purposes, claiming that the founders of Juul, the e-cigarette start-up that has hooked a new generation on tobacco, were advised at Stanford by David Kelley, one of IDEO’s original cofounders. He also reports that Sandy Speicher, the leader of Design for Learning, a boutique IDEO project that one company alumnus described as “a vanity project for the kids of [Saudi Prince] Mohammed bin Salman’s friends and family,” is now IDEO’s chief executive. (Mark Hurst’s 2019 essay on “Juul and the corruption of design thinking” is a must-read.)

-With the help of thousands of volunteers, Amnesty International is building Decode Surveillance NYC, a detailed map showing the prevalence of public and private cameras that can be used with facial recognition software to track people across the city. The project is 75% completed and volunteers can join in from anywhere in the world.

-“Once, software was a part of the car. Now, software determines the value of a car,” Manfred Broy, emeritus professor of informatics at Munich’s Technical University tells Robert Charette of IEEE Spectrum, framing a fascinating article on “How Software is Eating the Car.” New cars typically have more than 100 electronic control units executing more than 100 milion lines of code dedicated to ensuring operational quality, reliability, safety and security; Ford’s F-150 is running more than 150 million lines of code. Not only is a greater share of a car’s cost attributable to all the electronics it is running, more vehicle recalls are happening to fix software-based defects—half of all recalls in 2019. Repairs are getting more complicated, too, Charette writes. “Even minor damage, say a cracked windshield that used to cost $210 to $220 has climbed to as much as $1,650 if the vehicle is equipped with a windshield-mounted camera for automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning systems, a 2018 AAA study shows.”

-End times:

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