It never made it to its third meeting, but the friction — and the lawsuits — live on.

Story courtesy of ProPublica.org

The controversy that swirled around the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity far exceeded its output. The commission made no decisions, issued no reports, and consequently had no impact on election laws. The group’s existence was brief: Its creation was announced in March. It had its first meeting in July, its second in September, and as of yesterday, it is no more.

On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump unexpectedly dissolved what was commonly referred to as the voting-fraud commission, saying it had been hampered by lawsuits and that the Department of Homeland Security will pick up the commission’s mission of sniffing out voting misbehavior. Here’s a quick history of the short-lived panel:

Even though no evidence has ever been proffered that millions of people voted illegally in the last presidential election...

Nov. 27, 2016: Trump made such claimsstarting days after he was elected, claiming on Twitter that he’d have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

He continued to make similar claims and then...

May 11, 2017: Trump signed an executive order announcing the formation of the commission. The order indicated that it would investigate, among other things, issues “that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”

Even before it held its first meeting, the commission sparked intense controversy...

June 28, 2017: Kris Kobach, the co-chair of the commission, sent out a letter to every state (in many cases, to the wrong office) requesting publicly available voter rolls. The letter caused confusion, as it requested information that isn’t public in any state — including Social Security numbers and military status of voters. Immediately, election experts saw red flags. You can’t find voter fraud in publicly available voter files, they said. There is not enough information, and the matches are too messy to draw any conclusions.

When it did meet...

July 19, 2017: Trump opened the first meeting, assuring the public the commission would be unbiased and fair. But by that point, several states had already refused to provide the requested data and lawsuits were under way.

So Kobach sent a second letter to states...

July 27, 2017: He pledged data would “be kept confidential and secure throughout the duration of the commission’s existence,” and he promised not to release “personally identifiable information from voter registration records.”

Then the commission met again...

Sept. 12, 2017: This time, in New Hampshire. Democratic Commissioner and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner hosted. The commission heard testimony on alleged voter fraud from one of its own commissioners, Hans von Spakovsky, and listened to John Lott (best known as the author of the book “More Guns, Less Crime”), who advocated that voting authorities run background checks like those employed when buying a firearm.

But about that letter...

Sept. 30, 2017: A court filing by the Department of Justice showed emails between Kobach and two long-time voter fraud activists — J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky — drafting the controversial letter that requested troves of state data. Adams and von Spakovsky weren’t on the commission at the time, but would join later. Sitting members of the commission charged that they’d been denied the ability to see the letter before it was sent to states, even as two people who weren’t yet on the commission helped write it.

And then came the arrest for child porn...

Oct. 14, 2017: The Washington Post broke the news that a researcher for the commission, Ronald Williams II, had been arrested in Maryland after authorities say they found child pornography on his cell phone. (Williams has pleaded not guilty.) Williams had previously worked closely with Commissioner J. Christian Adams when they were both at the Justice Department. The commission declined to answer press queries about how Williams came to work for the commission, and commissioners Matt Dunlap and Alan King told ProPublica they had no idea he was on staff.

And questions arose about whether the commission could keep voters’ data safe...

Oct. 23, 2017: ProPublica raised questions about serious data security problems at Crosscheck, the program — created and run by Kobach — that he was championing as a tool to be used by the commission to sniff out fraud.

Dunlap decided to sue the commission he sat on...

Nov. 9, 2017: Dunlap filed suit in federal court, alleging that the commission had intentionally excluded him from deliberations and had violated federal transparency laws. By this point, it was one of several suits the commission faced.

The judge decided Dunlap had a point...

Dec. 23, 2017: The judge ruled in Dunlap’s favor, finding that Dunlap had been unlawfully denied access to materials that he needed to participate in the commission’s work, and that the commission must turn over those documents. The judge also ruled that Dunlap should have been allowed to consult on the letter Kobach drafted with von Spakovsky and Adams, and that he should have been allowed input into the agenda for the commission’s second meeting.

Business as usual, it seems; Kobach says the commission should meet again in January...

Dec. 30, 2017: Kobach told a local news outlet the commission would likely meet in January. This was news to Dunlap and King, who told ProPublica they hadn’t heard a thing about the commission ever meeting again.

And it turns out the commission won’t meet again.

Jan. 3, 2018: Shortly after the start of the new year, Trump canned it. Meanwhile, sources within the administration distanced the White House from the commission, telling CNN it was a “shit show” and telling Politico it was all Steve Bannon’s idea anyway. Kobach took to the airwaves, saying the commission’s work will continue through the Department of Homeland Security. But experts think those efforts could face many of the same problems that plagued the commission.

 

Click on the image to hear today's top news stories.



 

Big Sky Connection

 

Click on the image to listen to the audio.

MEA-MFT and the Montana Public Employees Union members say their merger will create a more united labor front at the Montana capitol. (Mark Holloway/Flickr)

Eric Tegethoff

January 5, 2018

HELENA, Mont. - Montana's two largest public-employee unions are moving closer to joining forces. On January 20, members of MEA-MFT and the Montana Public Employees Association will gather in Helena's Great Northern Hotel to ratify a proposed constitution and create the Montana Federation of Public Employees.

The newly formed union will represent a great variety of public employees including teachers, state and county employees, health-care personnel and more.

Amanda Curtis, a math teacher in Butte and MEA-MFT state officer, says the merger is a win for Montana communities and the middle class.

"We'll be looking at an organization that has about 24,000 members, which means that there basically won't be a family in Montana that either doesn't have a union member in it or is closely related to (or) knows someone who's a union member," she says.

MEA-MFT formed in 2000 when the Montana Education Association and the Montana Federation of Teachers merged. The history of MEA goes back to 1882 - seven years before Montana statehood - when frontier teachers decided to organize.

Quint Nyman is the executive director of the MPEA. He says the current merger is an opportunity for the two unions to have a more united front and a better seat at the negotiating table. That's especially important as Montana grapples with its budget and national issues such as the tax bill recently passed in Congress.

He says MPEA union members are excited about joining with MEA-MFT and the strength it will provide to their members.

"And then, from the folks I know who are MEA-MFT members, they see the same thing coming from ours," he says.

Curtis says this is the perfect time for a larger union because public employees are under attack from all directions. Most concerning is the case Janus versus AFSCME, which the Supreme Court will hear in February. She says if the Court sides with Janus, it will hurt public-employee unions nationwide.

"We're working really hard to have member-to-member conversations with everyone across the state who's eligible for a union membership, and make sure that they're aware of what the union provides and fully invested in the labor movement going forward," Curtis explains.



 

 

Click on the image to listen to today's top stories.

 



 

JANUARY 4, 2018

(StatePoint) After the hectic holidays, it’s no surprise that many people commit to getting better organized in the New Year.

There are plenty of reasons why people obsess over organization and resolve to master it year after year. Household items become easier to find. Rooms all of a sudden seem bigger and more welcoming. Each walk past a tidy linen closet -- where there was once an avalanche waiting to spill forward -- comes with a small sense of accomplishment.

Whether you’re after smarter storage or looking to cut clutter, successful resolutions begin with a thoughtful approach.

Think Small

While it’s fun to dream about a large-scale routine reset, smaller sustainable actions are key to lasting change. Take it one room or even one drawer at a time to keep momentum positive and to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Doing so also allows you to focus, leading to more creative solutions for taking advantage of under-utilized areas. For example, you may find using over-the door organizers a great way to free up space in home offices and craft rooms.

Say “No” to Clutter

Everyone has items they keep around for no real reason that aren’t particularly meaningful and don’t serve a purpose. Being able to objectively identify these items makes everything easier.

Paring down possessions doesn’t have to be painful. That cardinal shaped cookie jar that you’ve always been on the fence about? It would make an incredibly thoughtful “just because” gift for an ornithology-obsessed aunt. Often, less can literally be more: Consignment shops and eBay make it easy to turn four or five pieces of furniture you “kind of like” into one piece you absolutely love.

Store Décor Wisely

Everyone loves holiday decorating. Taking down decorations afterward... not so much. It’s difficult to preserve items in a haphazard collection of cardboard boxes, plastic bags and mismatched bins, all crammed into the corner of a garage or basement. Stepping up storage containers can make a big difference. For a wide selection of storage solutions specifically designed for holiday décor, check out Improvements, which offers everything from ornament and gift wrap organizers to wreath and garland storage bags.

Keep a Place for Everything

Nobody likes wasting time gathering or searching. Make storage more convenient and efficient by streamlining. Items frequently used together should be kept together, from coffee supplies to vehicle maintenance tools.

Make a Plan

Create a schedule so nothing is overlooked. Knowing which project is next gives you time to prepare and purchase any storage items you might need. When scheduling, designate specific rooms and spaces for certain seasons. For example, the first warm days of spring are made for cleaning out the shed or garage.

More organizational inspiration can be found by visiting improvementscatalog.com.

Successful resolutions are essentially new habits that become part of a lifestyle. Deliberately choosing to incorporate small acts of organization on a daily basis will pay off tremendously throughout the year.