Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity - Federal Election Commission Paralyzed

Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity
Federal Election Commission Paralyzed


The State of Georgia pretty much set the standard for voter suppression in 2018 when the state’s supervisor of elections, Secretary of State Brian Kemp closed hundreds of polling places, a disproportionate number of them located where the majority of voters were African-American.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s decision was just peachy for the state’s Republican candidate for governor – the self-same Brian Kemp – who won office by narrowly defeating the Democratic candidate Stacy Abrams, an African-American with overwhelming support among African-American voters.

Where is Gen. Sherman when you really need him?

As America approaches the 2020 election cycle, Georgia seems set again on topping the heap when it comes to wasting taxpayers’ money on frighteningly vulnerable voting machines.  Georgia’s new ballot machinery will be based on an operating system so old it will, in its maker’s words, reach its “end of life” on Jan. 14, 2020, almost 10 months before Election Day.

What that description of Windows 7 means is that Microsoft will no longer provide regular technical support and “patches” to fix software vulnerabilities of the kind which hackers can exploit. Challenged about this abandonment of ballot security, Microsoft amended its position, promising Windows 7 security updates through 2023, but only for states that pay additional fees.

The Windows 7 voting systems, including the brand new one Georgians are buying, come from a company called Election Systems & Software, America’s number one seller of voting systems.  Experts say there is a newer operating system, Windows 10, which would provide much better voting security, but Election Systems & Software says, it’s already too late to put Windows 10 into its Georgia product, even though Windows 10 has been on the market since 2015.

In the neighboring state of Tennessee, lawyers representing voters in Shelby County sued to force the county and the state to force Election Systems & Software to upgrade its crappy, well, they just called it “obsolete,” election system. The suit also questioned the security of memory cards, computers, and modems used by the county because all of them are considered very vulnerable to online manipulation.

The plaintiffs suggested Shelby County adopt an optical scan system that uses hand-marked paper ballots, the kind no hacker can defile.

Unfortunately for them, their case was tried before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas – they call him Tommy – Parker, who had nothing to say about the value of paper ballots or the inadequacies of the Windows 7-based system that will create the ballots, program the voting machines, tally the votes and report the counts in Shelby County.

No, Judge Parker was focused on two other questions: What standing do voters have to challenge how public officials are mishandling elections and what harm is done to voters if things go wrong?

No was his answer to both questions. In his legal opinion, voters have no standing to make such a case and will suffer no damage from a hacked election.

Judge Parker was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump.

It is true that it is both a Constitutional principal and historic tradition that elections in the United States are handled by the states and their counties, except, of course for the 2000 presidential election when a Republican-dominated Supreme Court stopped a recount by the state of Florida to award the presidency to George W. Bush.

But the federal government does have a branch devoted to helping states with the election process: The Federal Election Commission.  Unfortunately, at the moment, the Federal Election Commission has gone, as one electoral watchdog says, “from dysfunctional to nonfunctional;” from doing their job badly to not doing it at all.


Dave Levinthal joined the Center for Public Integrity in 2013 and leads its federal politics reporting team, with a focus on political influence, government ethics, campaign money and lobbying. Under Dave’s direction, Public Integrity’s recent political coverage has earned two Edward R. Murrow Awards and two National Headliner Awards among other honors. Dave’s writing regularly appears in publications such as The AtlanticTIMEDaily Beast and Politico Magazine. He frequently appears as a political analyst on CNNFox NewsMSNBC and NPR and is an on-air contributor for CBC News and WBEN-AM 930. He previously reported on politics and government for Politico (2011-2013), OpenSecrets.org (2009-2011), the Dallas Morning News (2002-2009) and the Eagle-Tribune (2000-2002). A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Dave graduated with degrees in journalism and political philosophy from Syracuse University, where he edited the Daily Orange.









Subscribe to insider notes from Dave Marash along with previews and cartoons of upcoming podcasts. You’ll be richer, taller, and if you don’t eat, thinner.


Here & There is kept afloat by wonderful sponsors and curious listeners like you. Your support is appreciated!