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Balance of powers in our Federal Elections

Balance of powers in our Federal Elections

Dave Derosier

In a recent article I talked about the balance of powers built into our Federal Government by the Constitution. The “balance” part is called States’ Rights. The way in which we elect people to represent us also contains similar balance mechanisms.

At the Federal Level, there are three branches of government:  the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial. The Legislative creates the laws (Congress), the Executive administers and enforces the laws (President and Vice President), while the Judicial handles disputes about the laws.

Please keep in mind that this is all within the concept of “States’ Rights” because the Constitution specifically lays out only what the Feds can do, and then says that everything else belongs to the individual states to handle.

In the Legislative Branch, we know that there is a balance between the two “Houses” of Congress – Senate and House of Representatives. In order for legislation to be passed, both Houses must be in agreement, otherwise no law.

Another balance item is that before it actually becomes a law, the President has the right to veto legislation. Even then, another balance item – Congress gets an opportunity to override the veto.

There are exactly two Senators for every state, no more, no less. And they are each elected to a six-year term.

The number of Representatives per state, on the other hand, is based on the population. To add even more balance, this number can change every ten years when/if the national census indicates significant changes in populations by state. Overall, the maximum for all the states combined is set at 435.

Presently, California is the largest state by population and elects 53 Representatives, Texas is number two with 36 seats, while seven states have only one Representative.

Balancing powers in federal elections When it comes to elections for the Executive Branch, the balance made by the US Constitution is that each state gets the same number of votes as it has members in Congress (Representatives plus Senators).  These votes by state are what makes up the “Electoral College”.

This means that each state gets exactly the same say in electing a president as they do for enacting federal laws. But there is a little twist in that balance when it comes to the Electoral College.

The federal government does set the number of votes, but it’s entirely up to the states themselves how those votes are apportioned amongst the candidates themselves. For example, there are two states, Maine and Nebraska, that award each of their electoral votes to the individual Representative and Senator district winners. All the other states have a winner-takes-all rule for electoral votes.

So, California, with 55 electoral votes, gets more than 18 times as many votes as Wyoming, but has almost 61 times as much population. That’s a bit of balancing on the David vs Goliath scale. Texas, which has 48 times more people than Wyoming, gets 38 votes. Notice that with a bigger state, the weighted value of votes can also be higher. Another balancing consideration.

Census-defined rural areas made up 97 percent of the country’s land as of 2010. However, 80 percent of the population lived in the 3% called urban areas. That statistic alone should point towards the need for balance.

For my local readers, Orange County Texas is mostly rural, yet 65% of the people live in incorporated cities – urban areas. If you live in the cities you cannot use fireworks. If you live in the unincorporated areas, you may use fireworks. Suppose the cities were able to call the shots on everyone, how do you think the 35% that live in the rural areas would feel? How would little New Hampshire, whose state motto is “Live Free or Die”, feel if big California, whose motto is “Eureka”, got to call the shots up in the White Mountains?

And one last thing on Federal Elections. The Federal Government does not set the rules for elections within the states, other than for issues such as discrimination. Each state sets its own rules for elections within the state, regardless of whether the office is at the federal level, state, regional, or local levels. The actual rules come under States Rights.

And then of course, there are political parties, and not just Republicans and Democrats, lots of others too. They each have some sort of Primary Election for someone to represent the party in the General Elections. Each party sets its own rules, for their own state. As an example, for Presidential Elections, Iowa is known for its caucus system while New Hampshire is known for its primary voting.

Lots of things built into our political systems to guarantee balances. Most of them are based on balancing out the differences between a David and a Goliath. They are there for goodness.

Don’t let anyone try and talk you into thinking they are bad. If someone tries to do that, most likely it’s because they consider themselves as being on the Goliath side…and they lost.

 

 

  1. David Derosier consults with small business on planning and marketing issues, and provides web design and hosting services through OhainWEB.com, an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau that is rated A+ by BBB. He can be reached at JDAVID@Strategy-Planning.info
Balance of powers in our Federal Government

Balance of powers in our Federal Government

Dave Derosier

Did you know that the United States is actually a Federal Republic? I’m sure most people have heard these words, and I’m also sure that most people don’t really know what they mean.

Let’s start with “Republic”. In a Republic, the power is held by the people and administered through their elected representatives; in addition, the top leader is elected rather than a monarch.

 Ok. Republic is rather straight forward, how about “Federal”? We often talk about the Federal Government when we are referring to our national government. That’s because our country is made up of different geographic areas, each of which have rights of their own.

 Everyone knows there are 50 states and one federal district (District of Columbia). There are also five major self-governing territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and US Virgin Islands) and several island possessions.

 For Federal Elections we will be looking just at the 50 states and DC. Going back to colonial days, the 13 colonies united to become a federal republic so that they could present a single face to the world, while retaining their individual autonomy within the new country. That’s where the term “States Rights” comes from.

 Our constitution was written to specifically define the powers delegated to the federal government by the states. All other powers, those not delegated to the feds, are reserved for the individual states. This also holds true for other federal republics, such as Switzerland and Australia. On the other hand, our neighbor to the north, Canada, has a constitution that delegates powers to the states (provinces) and reserves all the rest of the powers to the national government.

 So, a small state, like New Hampshire, regulates its people in the way that it feels is right. And New York, a large neighboring state, does it their own way. The whole idea is that, except for things that really need the unity (like military and international diplomacy) the big guys cannot bully the small guys. 

 At the federal level, the US Congress is our Legislative Branch and has two houses. In the Senate, every state gets 2 senators – that means every state gets the same weight when voting. However, in the other branch, the House of Representatives, each state is allocated seats based on their population, with a minimum of one vote in every state. California has the most representatives with 53, Texas is second with 36. Iowa has 4, while New Hampshire has 2.

 The House has a total of 435 reps. Every ten years, the apportioning of reps to each state is adjusted based on the national census. Some states may get more reps while others less, depending on how their populations have changed.

 The Senate on the other hand, stays fixed at 2 per state. If we add another state, we add 2 more senators.

 The House selects its own leadership, usually based on which political party has the most reps. The Senate does not get to choose; the leader of the Senate is the Vice President. Since there will always be an even number of Senate seats, the Vice President is allowed to vote to break a tie.

One more thing, to further the balance of power in the Federal Government, the #2 guy in the Executive Branch (vice president) is the first in line to succeed the President if needed. If the VP cannot do it, the leader of the House of Representatives is next in line.

 The Legislative Branch creates the laws and the Executive Branch administers the laws.

 There is also a third branch of our government, which is the Judiciary Branch. Their role is to provide a balance between Executive and Legislative, and to decide which side is right when there is disagreement.

 We have a federal government to do things that reflect the country as a whole. It is balanced by each of the states governing themselves for everything else. We have a constitution that provides for a balance in representation for the states at the federal level with two houses – one with proportionate representation and one with equal representation for each state. We even have a third branch of the federal government for balance when the two other branches are in disagreement.

 Next time we’ll look at the balances in the electoral process that continue these basic concepts when it comes to electing people to office in the federal government.

David Derosier consults with small business on planning and marketing issues, and provides web design and hosting services through OhainWEB.com, an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau that is rated A+ by BBB. He can be reached at JDAVID@Strategy-Planning.info

 This article was first published in The Orange Leader on January 15th 2020.

Divide and Conquer

Divide and Conquer

Dave Derosier

 The term “Divide and Conquer” has been around for thousands of years, often attributed to Julius Caesar in the first century BC. Russia uses that same strategy today, in the 21st century.

DISINFORMATION

Russia’s goal is to prey on and capitalize on existing philosophical divisions within populations, such as USA, and increase an overall mistrust and paranoia against democratic institutions. In the process, justice systems are portrayed as corrupt, inept, and hypocritical using disinformation.

 Actually, the word “disinformation” has been derived from the Russian term “dezinformatsiya” which was first used by Josef Stalin in 1923 as the name of a KGB black propaganda department. This disinformation strategy is a commonly known fact within the worlds of national security and cyber security.

 Another word for it in common use today is “fake news”. The purpose is to drive even deeper the wedges that divide different factions within a population. This could be conservative vs liberal, Christian vs Muslim, good vs bad, religious vs secular, right-to-life vs woman’s choice; it goes on and on. The end goal, just as with Julius Caesar is to Divide and Conquer.

 DISTRIBUTION

Methods used by Russia to distribute disinformation have included its Kremlin-controlled mouthpieces, Sputnik News and television outlet Russia Today (RT). The 2016 annual report of the Swedish Security Service, in reference to disinformation, stated: “We mean everything from Internet trolls to propaganda and misinformation spread by media companies like RT and Sputnik.”

 Now, in the 21st century, Russia uses social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to spread disinformation. Facebook believes that as many as 126 million users have seen content from Russian disinformation campaigns on its platform.

Twitter has said that it had found 36,000 Russian bots spreading tweets related to the 2016 American election. One only has to look at the Mueller Report for more details on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections.

 Elsewhere, Russia has used and continues to use social media to destabilize former soviet states such as Ukraine and other western nations such as France and Spain.

 Russian disinformation campaigns constitute information warfare and seek to plant seeds of doubt and distrust; to confuse, distract, polarize and demoralize.

Existing Philosophical Divisions

A report released by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in October 2019 offers a most comprehensive look at the efforts of the now-infamous Russian propaganda factory known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

The IRA made over 61,500 Facebook posts, 116,000 Instagram posts, and 10.4 million tweets, all aimed at sowing discord and inflaming tensions among Americans, says the report.

More than any other group, the IRA aggressively targeted black Americans on every social media platform before and after the 2016 election. More than 95 percent of the content the IRA uploaded to YouTube focused on “racial issues and police brutality,” the report notes, and five of the top 10 IRA accounts on Instagram targeted “African-American issues and audiences.”

Russia’s attempt to exert influence over our 2016 election was but one part of a “broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign” designed to divide America by inflaming cultural, political, and social tensions. The influence operations began long before 2016 and remain active today, the report says.

It’s not just the Russians

As Commander-in-Chief of American military, President Trump approved an American airstrike that killed top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. Trump proclaimed the pre-emptive strike as being defensive against an enemy that was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.

Critics of the President argue that it could lead America to a war with Iran. Although they are entitled to their opinions, when they start publicly attacking the Commander-in-Chief and accuse him of illegally making decisions that, by law, he is responsible for, they are planting seeds of doubt and distrust, to confuse, distract, polarize and demoralize the voters solely because an election is coming up.

Russian Operatives

In other words, these critics are doing exactly what the Russians would gladly pay them to do. If the Mueller Investigation were still going on, they could be accused of being Russian operatives, just as many other Americans were. They are aiding and abetting the Russian strategy of Divide and Conquer.

When are these supposedly smart politicians in Washington going to learn that they too are being manipulated into doing exactly what our enemies want them to do?

Sowing the seeds of hatred and racism are not going to help this country. We do not need more divisiveness. We need our community to work together in spite of our differences. We especially need our elected leaders to work together in spite of their differences…and stop acting like Russian operatives.

If they can’t, they should be replaced – regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on.

 

David Derosier consults with small business on planning and marketing issues, and provides web design and hosting services through OhainWEB.com, an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau that is rated A+ by BBB. He can be reached at JDAVID@Strategy-Planning.info

 

This article was first published in The Orange Leader on January 8th 2020.

Elections and Cybersecurity

Elections and Cybersecurity

In my last column I talked about propaganda and election influencing in the USA by foreign governments, as well as the US doing it to others. My basic take was, so what; if others want to meddle, they always will. Just be sure to lock the barn door before the horse (data) escapes. We need to stop complaining and be prepared for when they try.

99% of votes in the USA are either cast or counted by computers.

We have invested in computerized elections because they reduce miscounts, help voters with disabilities, improve access to voting for rural voters, and speed up delivery of results. That’s goodness.

Unfortunately, we have NOT invested in strong security for our computerized elections. The average state election cybersecurity grade in a recent report was only a C-. The average grade for states with toss-up Senate races in 2018 is an F!

 Without question, our computerized election system is vulnerable to cyber threats!

 Let’s take a look at four areas of our computerized elections:

  1. Campaigns, overall risk: severe

Cyber-attacks on campaigns have been used for selective release of private documents in which adversaries release potentially compromising data on candidates and campaigns. These attacks have undermined the credibility of candidates, exacerbated social, economic, and political divisions among the US Electorate, and fueled fears of corruption and abuse by government officials.

So far in 2018, cyber-attacks by Russians have allegedly targeted multiple Congressional campaigns, including Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, as reported in TheDailyBeast.com.

Cybersecurity practices for political campaigns remain inconsistent, although efforts by Homeland Security and the FBI to provide cybersecurity training have had some effect. Extremely tight budgets, mostly-volunteer staffs, poor cybersecurity awareness, and the issue of distributed, ad-hoc systems by campaigns have made improving campaign security difficult in spite of significant publicity around attacks on campaigns and campaign officials, particularly for local and state elections.

  1. Voter registration and election management systems, overall risk: serious

Attacks on voter registration systems and e-poll books could be used to steal data on American voters, or affect Americans’ ability to exercise their right to vote if their voter registration is manipulated. Blocking certain voters from the polls could even alter the results of an election.

Voter registration systems in at least 21 states were targeted by Russian hackers in the 2016 election, although there is no evidence that voter rolls were actually changed.

Voter registration systems remain vulnerable to cyber-attacks, but progress is being made on basic cybersecurity standards and training, and Homeland Security is coordinating information sharing and incident response exercises with state election officials.

  1. VOTING SYSTEMS, overall risk: serious

Cyber-attacks on voting systems could be used to disrupt the voting process, or even to directly manipulate votes, perhaps the most widely-feared form of election manipulation.

There has been no evidence of foreign tampering with US voting systems in 2018, but known vulnerabilities have been demonstrated in many of the most widely used voting systems in the USA.

Vulnerabilities in voting machines and vote counting systems have received a lot of attention since 2016, but most voting systems are not connected to the Internet, and getting physical access to such a large number of machines would be challenging, particularly for a foreign adversary. Furthermore, most states have plans to replace aging voting systems and implement a paper audit trail for all votes.

  1. ELECTION NIGHT REPORTING, overall risk: serious

While attacks on election night reporting systems cannot affect the actual outcome of the election, if reported vote tallies are manipulated it could call the real results into question even if they are ultimately verified.

No evidence has emerged of foreign tampering with election night reporting systems, but exploitable vulnerabilities in official election websites, traditional and social media platforms could be exploited by foreign actors.

Secure election night reporting has received comparatively little attention and resources relative to voter registration and voting systems, and known vulnerabilities in official election night reporting websites, traditional and social media platforms remain unaddressed.

Without question, our computerized election system is vulnerable to cyber threats, and foreign adversaries want to exploit our vulnerabilities. 

Areas with the greatest risks are 1) Influence operations, 2) cyber espionage against campaigns/ candidates, and 3) attacks on voting systems. Influence and espionage are much bigger threats than sabotage.

What countries pose the greatest overall cyber threats to US Elections? Russia (81%), China (10%) Iran (2%).

The good news:

Progress is being made. Today, Basic Best Practices for cybersecurity are currently in place for information sharing (50 states), access control (46 states), and regular vulnerability analysis and intrusion detection (43 states). 9 states are using voting machines more than 10 years old; 33 states perform post-election audits, and (to me at least) most important – 36 states have a paper-trail audit for all voters.

By 2020, 46 states will either have or be in the process of implementing a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail. (Look up VVPAT with an Internet Search Engine.)

More is needed.

A paper audit trail is a key first step in establishing resilience if computerized election systems are compromised.

Current funds are helping to implement basic security practices, but the full cost of robust security systems is much higher. Many states and counties have developed plans to upgrade or replace vulnerable systems but lack funding to implement them.

Attacks on campaigns and election night reporting systems cannot directly disrupt of change the outcome of an election, but they can undermine the credibility of American democracy, and comparatively little money or effort is being put into securing these systems.

Campaigns and election officials should leverage every available opportunity to partner with the government and with cyber security professional s and pro bono initiatives to continuously improve security on our election systems.

Hopefully we made it through the 2018 elections without any major glitches turning up. Let’s hope we’ll be much more ready two years from now.

[Most of the information contained here was distilled from papers published by the Technology Program of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington DC.]

David Derosier consults with small business on planning and marketing issues, and provides web design and hosting services through OhainWEB.com, an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau that is rated A+ by BBB. He can be reached at JDAVID@Strategy-Planning.info.

Will the Russians again meddle in the upcoming American elections?

Will the Russians again meddle in the upcoming American elections?

Propaganda and election influencing by USA.

Did you know that the United States created Radio Free Europe as an overt propaganda effort during the Cold War, partially funded by CIA? Did you know that Radio Free Europe continues to this day with headquarters in Prague, a corporate office in Washington, D.C., and 17 local bureaus in countries throughout their broadcast region, broadcasting in 25 languages to 23 countries including Armenia, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. (www.RFERL.org).

The U.S. has meddled in presidential elections in other countries as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to a database amassed by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University (www.dovhlevin.com/).

From Radio Free Europe to influencing elections, USA has a well-documented history of meddling in other countries’ affairs.

KremlinThink the Russians are going to try and interfere again?

I’m sure they will.

And why shouldn’t they? Especially when we do the same thing all the time.

So, if YOU think the Russians are going to try and interfere again, is that a problem?

What is the problem?

In an earlier article I wrote that problems cannot be solved…until they are broken down into issues to define the problem.

In this case, the problem is not that the Russians want to meddle in American elections; the problem is that apparently we do not have adequate counter-measures to stop them.

There is no question that we have equal or better offensive capabilities than our adversaries. We need to put more effort into having better defensive capabilities – cyber defenses in the Digital Environment. And, we should stop complaining about others, like Russia, doing what we’re doing. Just be quiet and don’t let it happen.

The Digital Environment

The Digital Environment is exploding exponentially in terms of its breadth and capabilities, and will continue to do so (I touched upon this in my article on “Changing Technology “).

Our lives are becoming increasingly dependent on the health and security of the Digital Environment.

Automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet-of-Things (IoT), and many other advances bring tremendous opportunities…and also tremendous challenges to the Digital Environment.

Today the push is to protect privacy in the Digital Environment. That’s all well and good. However, we need to do a lot more in optimizing the security of the Digital Environment for Americans, not just privacy.

When governments collaborate with criminal hackers, such as mentioned above, it allows the governments to distance themselves from the direct perpetrators. This makes it more and more difficult to pinpoint the blame…and to point the finger at them.

We need to lock the barn door before the horse leaves, not point fingers afterwards.

On other topics…

  • REMEMBER – KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. GET OUT AND VOTE…for or against the Bond Issue and for candidates.
  • Congratulations to my friend and former mayor, Essie Bellfield, for being recognized once again for her contributions to Orange. Salem UMC is naming an education building after Ms. Bellfield, a longtime member of the congregation.
  • My next article will address strategies being discussed and put into place at the national level in the Digital Environment to add more security for Americans and our allies.

 

David Derosier consults with small business on planning and marketing issues, and provides web design and hosting services through OhainWEB.com, an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau that is rated A+ by BBB. He can be reached at JDAVID@Strategy-Planning.info.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power

Dave DerosierMy last post departed a little from the usual technology topics, although it did stay with the principal theme of trust.

I wrote about the grades that were earned by West Orange-Cove CISD (WOCCISD) from the State of Texas. Just like the schools give out grades based on student performance, the State gives out grades based on school performance. Ten out of 11 subjects got “F” grades.

The purpose of the article was to shed light on how the WOCCISD schools are doing. Not enough people know that the schools themselves get grades from the State, even fewer know how bad the grades really are. An awful lot of comments on social media were like, “I knew there were problems but I didn’t know it was that bad”; others were in denial, making excuses for the poor performance; others took the words personally and were offended that their kids were being labeled as bad learners.

Now they know, and knowledge is power.

The article was successful in that people started talking about subjects that were not so public a few weeks ago. Dialogue is spreading – both pro and con. That was the intent of shedding some light on the subject matter.

With new knowledge, hopefully more people will go to WOCCISD meetings and participate. Ask questions, share your opinions. If light can be shed on all these failing grades then the public stakeholders – parents and taxpayers – can choose whether or not to accept it or demand change.

The power is in the people.

For at least the last 10 years WOCCISD schools have been on the State’s “List of Worst Schools in Texas”. It could go back further but I stopped downloading the documents at 2006.

We can’t blame hurricanes for more than a decade of poor performance, nor can we put full blame on the current administration that has only been at the helm since 2015.

Kudos to the Orange Leader for providing a public forum in which this and other critical community issues can be brought to light and debated by the public. Also to Facebook and other social media for the forums in which a lot of that debate occurs today.

Is WOCCISD alone?

Not really. Beaumont ISD had problems and the state stepped in and took over.

Last May, ten people were killed and 13 wounded in a shooting spree at Santa Fe High School, south of Houston. Like WOCCISD, Santa Fe ISD was not technically rated by TEA for the 2017-18 school year after applying for an exemption due to Hurricane Harvey, if they had been rated, they would have received an “F.”

A Houston paper reported that family members of Santa Fe victims admonished the school board last week for the district’s poor academic performance on the Texas Education Agency’s Accountability Rating System.

“ ’What this tells me is Santa Fe is not providing an environment conducive to education; it’s providing just the opposite,’ said Steve Perkins, whose wife, Ann, a substitute teacher, was killed in the Santa Fe High School shooting. Many of those at the meeting wore T-shirts emblazoned with the letter ‘F’, for the failures reported by TEA grades for the district.”

Santa Fe failed four out of the eleven subjects mentioned in my last article. Compare that to ten out of 11 failures for WOCCISD and yet parents are not attending school board meetings and not speaking up which they have a right to.

Who cares?

According to minutes, in the last year only one outside person has taken the opportunity to present their opinion at a school board meeting, that person was Larry Spears, the Mayor of Orange.

Any presentations to the board are supposed to be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. However, it is not always an easy thing to find because, on average since the beginning of 2017, it took 5 months (147 days) before the minutes were presented to the board and approved. For example, the minutes of the November 17th 2017 meeting were on the agenda for the September 24th 2018 board meeting – nine months after the meeting happened.

You, the parents and taxpayers, have the right to speak out at the Board meetings. Go and exercise your rights. As citizens, you also have the right to vote in WOCCISD elections. Go and exercise your rights.

Knowledge is PowerYou also have the right to remain silent…and accept the status quo.

How will YOU vote for the $25 million bond issue? Where are YOUR priorities? What’s important to you as a parent, and/or a taxpayer? Early voting starts in just a few weeks on October 22nd.

Knowledge is power – exercise your rights.

David Derosier consults with small business on planning and marketing issues, and provides web design and hosting services through OhainWEB.com, an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau that is rated A+ by BBB. He can be reached at JDAVID@Strategy-Planning.info

Originally published in the Orange Leader on Wednesday September 26th 2018.