There's No Way Ruth Johnson Should Turn over Private Voter Information to Trump Commission

Voting is a sacred act and for many people, it remains a private one. That will change under President Trump's Election Integrity Commission.

The commission chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence is charged with investigating voter fraud. The problem is that this is not a widespread problem, no matter what Trump tweets. The Washington Post found four cases in the entire country for 2016. That's out of 135 million ballots cast. And in Michigan, a state audit found no evidence of voter fraud in Detroit.

The commission has been flying under the radar. But this week, the group sent a letter to all 50 secretaries of state.

Everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — should be alarmed by the information this commission is demanding. The Chicago Tribune's headline sums it up well: "Trump's voter fraud commission wants voting history, party ID and address of every voter."

But it gets even worse when you read the fine print:

The chair of Donald Trump's Election Integrity Commission has penned a letter to all 50 states requesting their full voter role data, including the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, last four Social Security number digits and voting history back to 2006 of potentially every voter in the state.

And here's the kicker: Kobach said that "any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public."

So when you went to the polls, did you expect that your name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, voting history and part of your Social Security number would be released for public consumption?

California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut have already rejected the commission's intrusive request.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson should quickly follow suit to protect voters' privacy and not contribute to this waste of taxpayer dollars.

Michigan's SOS races tend to be quiet affairs, especially as nominees are picked at party conventions. But an issue like voter privacy could become explosive in next year's open race.

Why Are the Media Ignoring Stories about the Millions Impacted by Trumpcare?

If you haven’t heard Jordan Acker’s story, it won’t take long.

In just 16 tweets last weekend, the Huntington Woods dad and attorney revealed how a bad drug reaction shut down his liver. Thankfully, he recovered, but it left him a pre-existing condition. And under Trumpcare, he and millions of others with pre-existing conditions will be paying more for health insurance — and many won’t be able to afford it at all.

Here are the first tweets, but read the whole thing:

Acker told me that something amazing happened after he shared his story on Twitter. He heard from roughly 10,000 people, from across the country and across the globe, about their health care issues. Acker thought that was pretty unusual (it is) and tried to see if any media would be interested in the story.

They weren’t.

I can’t tell you why. As a journalist, I know that this is a pretty compelling premise for a human interest story (and it has a social media angle that you can sell to gray-haired management as a way to rope in the hip youngs).

I suppose if I were still a daily journalist covering politics and health care (as I was for many years), I would be a little overwhelmed by all the stories to tell about people impacted by Trumpcare, even right here in Michigan.

There are so many people who will be harmed by Trumpcare that it’s hard to get your head around it. There are the 23 million who will lose insurance under the last version scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (the Senate version is still under review).

But the Senate plan goes even further and decimates Medicaid, which serves 75 million people. It’s not just the expansion under Obamacare, mind you — Trumpcare goes after the program itself. Many people know that slashing Medicaid hurts low-income people. But Medicaid provides a range of services, including those for disabled people and nursing home care for seniors. That’s why you saw people in wheelchairs protesting the bill outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — where they were unceremoniously thrown out.

And there are millions upon millions more who will see their health costs soar — as Trumpcare will raise deductibles, eliminate mandated services (maternity, mental health, substance abuse care, etc.) and put caps on your coverage so insurance companies don’t have to pay anymore if your care costs too much.

If you’re starting to see a pattern that nothing Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail is in there, you are correct. If this is sounding like the bad old days before Obamacare when people went bankrupt for getting cancer, that’s also correct. But on top of that, Republicans want to kill Medicaid, which means that we’re not just going back to 2010. We’re going back to 1965 — only with skyrocketing health care costs to boot.

But to be honest, I’m not seeing a lot of these stories being told. To be sure, some are. Amy Lynn Smith has done a beautiful job chronicling people’s health care stories for years right here. Sarah Kliff has done the same for Vox and Jonathan Cohn has for Huffington Post. But cable news, local TV affiliates and newspapers — which can’t seem to get enough of stories about Trump supporters who still love the president no matter what — are largely ignoring the personal stories of tens of millions of people who will be hurt by Trumpcare.

I expect that this will change if Trumpcare becomes law and more journalists see their grandmothers tossed out of nursing homes, their best friend who can’t get opioid addiction treatment or their newly retired uncle unable to afford insurance.

But that’s no excuse for failing to cover the impact of massive legislation before it’s passed. And when you’re talking about a bill that affects tens of millions of people, I can almost guarantee that your audience would watch, read and react to these stories — which is exactly what outlets should want.

Barb Byrum Talks Michigan Elections and Hacking Concerns

In the midst of the bombardment of news about the U.S. Senate’s secret health care bill, the Michigan Legislature whacking teachers (again) and President Trump lashing out about the FBI’s Russia investigation, it’s easy to overlook some revelations about Russia’s attempt to hack our electoral systems last year.

First, there was the Intercept’s blockbuster story about a top-secret NSA report detailing Russian hacking efforts. Bloomberg News followed up with a report that the hacking attempts were more widespread than previously thought, with 39 states targeted.

Long before these reports, Michigan was a focus of electoral integrity concerns, as our presidential contest was only decided by roughly 10,000 votes. The short-lived presidential recount shed light on problems with the process, especially in Detroit, home to more than 80 broken voting machines. After vote totals in a majority of precincts couldn’t be balanced, the state Bureau of Elections also conducted an audit. Despite stubborn conspiracy theories on the right about rampant voter fraud — which is rather curious, since Trump won the state — the audit found that “an abundance of human errors” by precinct workers was primarily to blame.

This month, the Washington Post had two experts run the numbers and assured us that the vote counts in Michigan and Wisconsin (another key state Trump won) weren’t hacked.

But there are still myriad concerns about possible breaches to voting systems going forward. Is Michigan prepared? I talked to someone with plenty of experience running elections here, two-term Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who was also a former state representative from 2007 to 2012 and the ranking Democrat on the House Redistricting and Elections Committee. She has been awarded the national title of Certified Elections/Registration Administrator (CERA) serves on the Security Task Force with other national members for Election Center.

Byrum says she believes Michigan elections are “safe and secure as a result of the many safeguards that municipal and county clerks utilize, including the isolation of election networks, the paper ballot trail, and the ability to conduct post-election audits and recounts.” She stressed that the audits are vital.

The clerk also shared her experience in the 2016 general election. She said the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office prompted radio-to-radio communication, implemented through the Michigan State Police, the week before the election.

“I worked closely with the Bureau of Elections and Ingham County’s emergency manager to take all necessary precautions to be able to communicate in case there was any interruption in communication,” Byrum said. “Thankfully, internet and phone services remained intact during the process of the election.”

Byrum noted one change going forward. She said the Secretary of State’s office plans to facilitate the forwarding of emails from voters based outside of the United States to county and municipal clerks through a free email service. She said she has concerns and is raising them with the Bureau of Elections.

“Given the nature of recent hacking attempts, both successful and not, I am alarmed by the recent announcement from the Bureau of Elections. … I worry that encryption will not be sufficient,” Byrum said.

Republicans Launch the ‘Fredo Defense’ of Trump

"The president’s new at this. He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.” — U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (D-Wisc.), at a Thursday press conference held during former FBI Director James Comey's Capitol Hill testimony

For years, we've been accustomed to Republicans chest-beating about their strength. The perception of this has been one of the party's greatest assets, as many of their policy proposals, like cutting taxes for the rich and ripping health care away from 23 million Americans, poll terribly.

There was Ronald Reagan telling Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down that wall" and end communism in the late 1980s. There was George W. Bush strutting across an aircraft carrier to (prematurely) celebrate victory in the Iraq war in 2003. There was John McCain declaring he'd put the "Country First" during the '08 election, which everyone believed because he'd survived the Hanoi Hilton.

In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned as the ultimate alpha male. "I alone can fix it," he promised with his trademark braggadocio, while disparaging his rivals for failing to compete with his virility (remember his digs at "Little Marco" Rubio and calling Jeb Bush "low energy"?) During a March 2016 campaign rally, Trump made a big point of stressing he was 6'3'', not 6'2." And at the GOP debate in Detroit, Trump bragged about the size of his hands in such an awkward soliloquy that CNN cast subtlety aside and ran this headline: "Donald Trump defends size of his penis."

Now the president finds himself engulfed in a growing scandal over his campaign's ties to Russia, which is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, and a possible coverup. He admitted in a TV interview that the "Russia thing" was on his mind as he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey.

Comey was on Capitol Hill Thursday to testify and it was riveting. The former director said that Trump told “lies, plain and simple,” about he and the FBI as part of a coverup for his firing. He revealed the president had said he "hoped" he would drop his investigation, which Comey "took as direction." Comey also said there was "no doubt" that the Russians were behind the Democratic National Committee hacking last year, which sowed party divisions between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters that Republicans exploited.

So it's somewhat breathtaking that as the walls close in on Trump and his allies, Republicans are launching a "Fredo defense." Like the slow brother in "The Godfather," the president just doesn't really know what he's doing (although, fittingly, Fredo insisted until the day he was whacked that he was really the smart one).

This is not an exaggeration, as you can see by the quote from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) above. He's really arguing that Trump is "new at this" and therefore what he did was OK. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former proud Never Trumper, tried out a version of the Fredo defense before the hearing: “I don't think [Trump] colluded with the Russians because he doesn't collude with his own staff." Look for this to become a popular talking point from the same folks that excoriated former President Barack Obama as "Obambi."

In case you're looking for a laugh through your tears, Democratic activist Kaivan Shroff sums the whole thing up nicely.

Go Ahead and Celebrate the Massive Failure of Trumpcare

There’s been some finger-wagging that liberals shouldn’t be cheering the Republicans’ huge defeat on Trumpcare.

As everyone knows, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) didn’t actually put the bill up to a vote because it was doomed by defections from moderate Republicans and Freedom Caucus members alike. And President Trump didn’t know the bill well enough to whip votes, Politico Magazine embarrassingly reports.

Yes, there are many other fights ahead on the debt ceiling, tax policy, Russian interference in our election, etc. And I don’t think Trump and Ryan are giving up the ghost of killing Obamacare, no matter what they say.

So if Democrats want to take the opportunity to craft some fixes for the Affordable Care Act, I think that’s great.

But for the time being, it’s OK to celebrate that a bad policy died. Because that means:

  • 24 million people get to keep their health insurance.
  • People won’t see massive insurance rate increases.
  • People with pre-existing conditions won’t be priced out of care.
  • Essential health benefits, like prenatal and post-natal care, are still protected.
  • Seniors won’t be targeted for rate increases.
  • The more than 650,000 people who gained insurance through the Medicaid expansion in Michigan are safe.
  • Small business owners and the self-employed can get better rates on policies through competition afforded by the health care exchange.

And there’s a whole lot more. So go ahead and revel in the fact that Republicans failed to do what they’ve promised for seven long years. Go ahead and celebrate that people’s lives will be better without Trumpcare. After all, there haven’t been a lot of reasons to smile since November 8.

Wake Up and Smell the Freedom Not to Have Health Coverage

The U.S. House Republicans' super-secret Obamacare replacement is out and it's all about freedom.

Yes, if you're one of the 20 million Americans who gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, you may soon enjoy the freedom of no longer being covered. We don't know how many people will be covered, but even Republicans acknowledge that it will be a lower number than the ACA.

As President Donald Trump finally noticed last month, health policy is kinda complicated. So it will be awhile before we know all the details of the GOP plan. But one key element to reducing coverage is that they'd end the federal funding in 2020 for states who expand Medicaid. Currently, 31 states, including Michigan, have expanded Medicaid to cover 10 million people.

That could definitely put Michigan's program in jeopardy. Gov. Rick Snyder had to fight tooth and nail with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature just to get the expansion in the first place. The Legislature has only gotten more conservative since then and Snyder is term-limited next year. It's easy to imagine a Gov. Bill Schuette, who fought Obamacare all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, joining together with GOP lawmakers to scrap Michigan's Medicaid expansion.

There are 640,000 Michiganders who now have health coverage due to the expansion — more than 6 percent of the state's population. Yanking away health insurance from them would be unnecessarily cruel. And it's not even smart economic policy. The expansion will have a $432 million impact this year, according to a University of Michigan study commissioned by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund. And that's created 30,000 jobs. Given the fact that Trump goes around irresponsibly taking credit for companies keeping a couple hundred jobs in the United States, you'd think that losing 30,000 jobs in just Michigan alone might give him pause.

There are many other ways that people could lose their health insurance under the GOP plan. Insurance subsidies for low-income people would be replaced with age-based subsidies, which would likely reduce benefits and the number of people who are insured. The New York Times reports that people with preexisting conditions "would face new uncertainties in a more deregulated insurance market." And the plan cuts off funding to Planned Parenthood.

But at least people who didn't want to buy health insurance will escape paying that freedom-sucking penalty, right? Well, yes ... but if you let your insurance coverage lap because you've changed jobs, didn't want to pay for it, etc., the GOP plan allows insurance companies to sock you with a 30 percent premium increase. That's probably going to be a much bigger hit to your wallet.

The Republican concept of freedom always seems to come with a lot of not-so fine print.

If there's one thing Americans love, it's when politicians meddle and make things worse. And they really love having things taken away from them. So this new GOP plan should really go over well.

The First Amendment is under attack in Michigan

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

We all know President-Elect Donald Trump is not a big fan of the First Amendment. During the campaign, the Republican complained it has "too much protection" for free speech. He's routinely targeted journalists at rallies and on Twitter as an intimidation tactic.

After winning the election, Trump's first tweet took aim at people protesting against him, which he whined was "unfair." A few weeks later, he went even further, tweeting the threat that those who exercise their 1A right to burn the American flag could be jailed or stripped of their citizenship.

But while Trump dominates news coverage by unloading outrageous tweets and unveiling cabinet picks with reality show-style flair, the Michigan Legislature has fired a shot against the First Amendment.

Those of us in the Mitten State are used to Republicans who control state government ramming through unpopular right-wing legislation during the lame duck session. Unions are a frequent scapegoat, as we saw with the 2012 Right to Work law

This time around, the House has narrowly passed bills that would jack up fines on unions for "illegal" picketers (from $1,000 to $10,000 a day) and make it easier to hire replacement workers (i.e. scabs).

Using labor for political target practice is bad enough. At a time when Michigan's median income still clocks in $5,000 below what it was in 2007, it's amazing that lawmakers keep going after unions trying to win and protect fair wages. But the bills will also likely silence peaceful protests. My read of the legislation (as well as that of several lawyers) is that it's written so broadly that it could run afoul of the First Amendment.

Now that may not deter the Republican-controlled Legislature from sending this package to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. And the governor, who's a lawyer, has a history of signing bills that experts warned were unconstitutional.

But it would really be something for a significant First Amendment challenge to originate in Michigan. And it's likely a sign of things to come in the Trump era.

Michigan Republicans want to crack down on voting rights, but where's the evidence of fraud?

Let's just dispense with the euphemisms. Republicans are poised to ram through bills that will make it harder to vote in Michigan

Here's where we are. Michigan already had a voter ID law, but this new legislation toughens up the process. Currently, if you don't have your ID when you vote, you sign an affidavit and cast a provisional ballot. Your vote is counted in the tally.

But this proposed law would set aside your vote. And it requires you to go back to your local clerk's office and produce your ID within 10 days –– or your vote doesn't count at all.

Laws are traditionally proposed in response to a problem. In this case, you would expect that problem to be a rash of voter fraud cases in Michigan. After all, the bills were introduced after the Nov. 8 election, just in time for the frenzied Lame Duck session in the run-up to the holidays (when voters conveniently aren't paying attention).

You would be wrong.  

I have yet to see any documented cases of voter fraud in Michigan in the 2016 election. The Washington Post has only found four cases in the entire country. To put this in perspective, 135 million ballots were cast in this election.

That's why Republican former Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and I both agreed in a Michigan Radio interview on Friday that these voter ID bills aren't necessary.

“There’s very little documentation of voter fraud in Michigan,” Sikkema said. “Some legislator ... or some party activist dreamed this up and said, well, Michigan ought to do this, other states do it, but in my opinion, they’re not necessary.”

Surprise! Rick Snyder makes nice with Donald Trump

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column entreating Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to stand up to Donald Trump, given his status as a businessman-turned-Rust Belt governor who preaches the virtues of civility.

While Democrats and liberal activists can be expected to do the heavy lifting when it comes to opposing the authoritarian elements of Trump's presidency, it's vital to have as many conservative and Republican voices as possible join in. For starters, this supersedes ideology. And historically, bipartisan movements are taken more seriously by the public and the media.

Here's part of my argument:

You may not have liked what President Hillary Clinton may have wrought in terms of taxes and regulation, but I believe you stay up at night wondering what President Trump will do with the nuclear codes.
Warning signs abound. The president-elect’s chief White House adviser is Steve Bannon, who runs the white nationalist website, Breitbart.com (which is primed to become some sort of state-run media a la Pravda). Trump refuses to set up a blind trust for his far-reaching business interests, instead saying he’ll turn them over to his children (who may have access to state secrets). And he’s playing footsie with Vladimir Putin on the national stage already.
None of these are partisan issues. These are all red flags about how our republic will function.

I got some pushback from readers for my alleged naiveté, mostly coming from those unfamiliar with my frequent criticism of Snyder over the Flint water crisis, Right to Work, child poverty, LGBT rights and much more. And no, I didn't believe my column would have any impact, as I indicated in the column itself:

Of course, I’m not the right person to ask this of you. It should be the Detroit News’ Nolan Finley or better yet, a Republican colleague. I’ve been one of your fiercest critics over Right to Work and the Flint Water crisis. I’m probably about as popular in your inner circle as I was with that of your predecessor, Jennifer Granholm.

And even if you were to vocally oppose Trump, I wouldn’t stop holding your feet to the fire over your policies in Michigan. Neither will my colleagues. It doesn’t work that way. So this is all probably sounding like a terrific proposition for you.

I doubt the governor reads me or cares what I think. But it was worth a shot. And sometimes it's important to put things on the record.

So last week, Snyder did exactly what you'd expect, declaring that he looks "forward to building a relationship" with Trump. That's quite the change from his October take, when he called Trump's "grab 'em by the pussy" remarks "revolting and disgusting." Time heals all wounds, I guess. 

The governor even went so far as to defend Trump in a tweet Monday against the Green Party's attempt to get a recount in Michigan. 

So Rick Snyder is who he's always been: A Republican who feigns moderation, but has repeatedly proven to be unwilling or unable to stand up to the extremist elements of his party.

I'm not surprised. I just remain very, very disappointed. 

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

When Post-Election Bullying Hits Home

For the last week, I've been trying to process the election, both as a political analyst who got a lot wrong, and a human being who believes this was a potentially disastrous outcome. Donald Trump's move to install the owner of a white nationalist website as one of his chief advisers does not assuage the dread.

But much of my time has been consumed by something closer to home. My 14-year-old daughter, Angela, has made news of her own. Two days after the election, she brought a homemade sign to Okemos High School that said, "We Will Fight for America." She crossed out the words, "We Failed America," which is something she had heard a lot and doesn't believe is true. As a member of the school Political Club and Prism (LGBTQ students), she's no stranger to speaking her mind.

However, when Angela walked through the halls with the sign, a group of older boys surrounded her and started screaming, "Lock her up!" One got up on a bench and loomed over her. Like all of us, Angela had heard that phrase before in watching Donald Trump rallies. And while I found it unacceptable for Trump supporters to scream that about Democratic presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton, I was especially saddened to see teenagers take that cue to bully another student.

The school district has handled this and other incidents swiftly and with sensitivity. This is just one of dozens of school incidents in the news. Not all schools have responded like Okemos administrators did. The video of kids harassing Latino students in the Royal Oak school cafeteria with "Build a wall!" is particularly hard to watch. 

My daughter made the call that our family could post about her incident on social media. Since then, several reporters have interviewed me. You may have seen some stories. I am a journalist by trade. I much prefer being on the other side where I'm asking questions. But the reason why we've talked publicly about this incident is simple. Angela will be OK. She's strong. She isn't going to back down from her beliefs. She has support. But a lot of kids are scared to speak up. She's heard from several of them since she was shouted down in the halls. So if Angela speaking up helps other kids, it's worth it.

It's been an odd experience. Angela and I have had to deal with anonymous trolls (although as a columnist, that's nothing new for me). Some of my conservative friends have been visibly uncomfortable, which breaks my heart. It sometimes seems like the divide is so vast it can't be breached, even when children are involved. And some people who don't even know us have tried to exploit the incident for their own pet cause or agenda.

I've accepted all of that and so has my daughter. That's just the way the world works in the age of social media. What keeps us going is the lovely letters and messages from those who have been bullied. They appreciate Angela taking a stand. As a parent, I couldn't be prouder of her.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.