But first: Deadly and costly disasters, natural and otherwise, top the news headlines on today's program. Among them: the catastrophic Amtrak train derailment on a brand-new line near Seattle, the second straight week for still-raging apocalyptic wildfires in Southern California, and the continuing disaster in Puerto Rico where, three months after Hurricane Maria came ashore, one-third of the island is still without power and the Governor has finally conceded that the official death toll of 64 may be off…by as much as 1,000!
All tolled, hundreds of billions will be needed to rebuild from those deadly disasters, and yet Republicans in Congress are still hoping to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut, largely for wealthy Americans, before Christmas. Their scheme took a troubling turn over the weekend, as a new provision was added to the legislation during reconciliation of the House- and Senate-passed versions late last week. The new provision, it was revealed by David Sirota at International Business Times, would give special tax breaks to owners of large real estate holding LLC's like President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and, most curiously, Sen. Bob Corker who, on Friday, mysteriously reversed his previous opposition to the bill after the new provision was tacked on, in what many are now calling the #CorkerKickBack.
Then, we're joined by journalist, documentarian and election integrity advocate LULU FRIESDAT to discuss the remarkable turn of events recently revealed in response to multiple public records requests she has made over the past year in hopes of reviewing hand-marked paper ballots from the Democratic primary election last year between Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and her Bernie Sanders-endorsed challenger Tim Canova.
Just weeks after being forced to step down as chair of the DNC amidst the release of stolen emails from party officials, Wasserman-Schultz soundly defeated Canova in the first primary she'd faced in her six terms as a member of Congress. But, unexplained vote count numbers — such as hundreds of more voted ballots than voters signed in to the poll books in the 23rd Congressional District race in Broward County, FL — led to Friesdat's attempt to examine the paper ballots by hand, in hopes of determining if they were tallied correctly by the county's computer tabulators during the August 2016 Democratic primary. Eventually Canova himself filed a lawsuit against the county's Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, after Friesdat says she was continually denied access to the materials.
In November of this year, well over a year after Snipes certified the contest, both were finally invited to inspect the Broward County ballots only to learn upon arrival that all of them had actually been destroyed by the county in the middle of the lawsuit. Only digital images of what were purportedly the original ballots were available for examination, according to Snipes, in what appears to be, according to Politico's survey of election experts, a clear and stunning violation of federal election law requiring all such materials be retained for 22 months after an election.
Friesdat tells me that neither her nor Canova had any idea the ballots were destroyed before showing up to review them. "If you're looking at digital scans, and you don't have the original ballots to turn to, at that point you have no way of verifying that ballots haven't been switched out, that ballots haven't been added, that ballots haven't been taken away — you don't have any verification that those are the original ballots."
Oddly enough, she explains, "in the very first public records request in November (of 2016), I requested all of the digital ballot scans for the election, and I was told that they didn't have them, that they didn't exist. And then it turned out that they did exist. So the county was duplicitous in regard to that information."
As to what's really going on here, Friesdat demures from speculation, but says, based only on what is already known on the public record, that "according to Politico, seven legal experts that they consulted all agreed that the ballots being destroyed was illegal."
It is of a piece, she observes, with the recent revelations in Racine County, WI, in November of this year, when multi-partisan election transparency advocates were finally allowed to review some of the computer-scanned paper ballots from the 2016 Presidential election. After months of similar public records request, they were allowed to view original paper ballots, only to find that, in the precincts they examined, anywhere from 2 to 6% of perfectly valid Presidential votes had been ignored by the computer tabulators entirely. That, in an election where Trump is said to have pulled off his shocking statewide victory by less than 1%.
"What's going on here is actually just a representative sample of the problems that we have with our elections, and which you have been reporting on for over a decade," Friesdat says. "We're heading into the 2018 primaries. We at least now have a growing understanding and awareness that, in many cases, our election results may or may not be accurate, and that the protocols we are using in order to get those results are not secure." She offers many other troubling observations on all of this during our conversation today.
Finally, four US Senators — two of whom had previously called for Sen. Al Franken to resign amidst allegations of inappropriate conduct — are now, according to a new report today, said to be hoping that he might reconsider his previously-announced plans to resign "in the coming weeks", before the Senate Ethics Committee has even investigated the charges against him.
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