Power through Skillful Action: a Voter-Verified Paper Trail for Citizens of Every State, no exceptions – Take Two

In Ayurveda, the larger focus is to work skillfully with current conditions, no matter what is presented. In Yoga, there is the powerful sutra, “Pain that has not yet come is avoidable (in Sanskrit, Heyam Dukham Anagatam).” Yet in a capitalist society like this one, there is a strong tendency to try to gather power or coherence simply with stuff, things. Wisdom invites us to look for alternatives. One can find power through skillful action.

A stellar example of bringing forward power through skillful action is Gandhi. Gandhi essentially said to the British, “We are not going to buy your way of thinking.” (or salt, or cloth, or government, or control…)

An equally stellar example of power through skillful action closer to home, is Harriet Tubman, recently immortalized in the film, “Harriet”. Born into slavery in 1825 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Harriet Tubman had no interest in buying into the slaveholders’ way of thinking. She made her famous escape to freedom in 1849, then came back to rescue dozens of family members and friends as a “conductor” in the Underground Railroad, all the way to Canada. (To see the trailer for “Harriet” with Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo, click here.) 

Why do I bring up Harriet Tubman now? 

She lived in hard times. Throughout her life she faced often extremely difficult conditions. Reading her biography last week (an excellent one from Catherine Clinton) it struck me:  Harriet just did what she had to do. She did what she had to do repeatedly, relentlessly. No matter what the obstacles, she chose freedom, honesty, love, equality. This is power through skillful action. At this point in my history as a North American, I need Harriet Tubman’s inspiration and reminder, “Keep going.” She did not wait for others’ to behave decently; she held with her own course and aligned with those, black, white, whatever color, who held shared values. As many of us are doing today, albeit much less dramatically.

A Bodhisattva of the 19thCentury

In another time and place, Harriet Tubman would have been called a bodhisattva, an Indian and Tibetan Buddhist term for someone who dedicates their life to the well-being of others. While she is best known for rescuing her family and friends as a young adult, throughout her life Harriet showed up on behalf of others. As a scout, spy and nurse during the Civil War, she was part of freeing over 750 African-Americans. During that bloody war, she was in charge of supervising the nursing of thousands of black Union soldiers. (Clara Barton oversaw the nursing the white soldiers).   

Harriet was relentless in watching over the needs of her people. Once she retired from active combat, she opened her home in Auburn, New York to strangers needing shelter, for decades. Her dream to open a separate home for aging and indigent African Americans, the Harriet Tubman Home, came to fruition in the early 1900’s. Harriet herself was nursed there in the last years of her life, 1911 – 1913.

While she is famous as an abolitionist, she was also among the earliest women in the suffrage battle as an advocate for women’s rights. She counted Susan B. Anthony among her admirers and friends.  Harriet saw that to have a full voice in society, one needed a vote. Today again this voice is in jeopardy.

Our country is large, with many moving parts.

In the last blog on transparent paper trails the interconnection of democracy, climate change, and health was explored. Racial justice is another crucial part of this picture. In order to be able to protect every citizen within the ecosystems we live, we need to be able to vote. Yet in order to do so, we need to be certain that our votes actually register.

Let’s get specific. As of today, 16 million Americans, 12% of the electorate, live in eight states (or more) with no voter-verified paper trail. These 16 million people, including aunts, uncles, brothers, and friends of those of us in luckier states, will have no paper record whatsoever of how they vote in the upcoming 2020 national elections.  If snags in the voting process arise in these states (as it is so easy to imagine now) there is no recourse. There is nothing to recount, no record to review, no way to audit the vote.

For these reasons, the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence last year specifically recommended a voter-verified paper trail be in place. The committee concluded that such a paper trail in an important security feature. I would add, it’s an important support to democracy.

There are at least 8 states with inadequate voter-verified paper trails 

Which eight states for sure do not adequately protect their voters? Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas.

There are states that are hustling to replace all paperless voting machines by 2020. The appalling 12% of current vulnerable voters is actually down from 2016, when 20% of voters nationally faced a paperless trail in 14 states.

In short

If one wants to impact the results of a national election, one need only control the outcome of a handful of states without an adequate voter-verified paper trail.

Secretaries of state are responsible for conducting elections and secure election returns. The National Association of Secretaries of State met in DC this month to discuss election preparedness for 2020. A strong focus was election security, yet states are not in agreement about the way to transition to a paper trail, or how fast.

How does a state transition from a paperless to a voter-verified paper trail?

Here’s two specific stories. In Virginia in early September of 2017, the 3-member State Board of Elections concluded that the touch-screen voting machines in play state-wide were inadequate to reliably record the upcoming governor’s race that November. They were spurred on by the Def Con hackathon conference held in Las Vegas that summer. There, Virginia had just been made a public example of how easy it is to hack results. Stunned, the 3 election commissioners voted unanimously to decertify Direct Recording Electronic voting machines (DREs) in their state, the source of their inadequate paper trail. This was a radical move. They responded quickly, gathering power with skillful action. In this case, they left it up to the localities to pick up the tab for new machines! A solution that would be unlikely to fly in a less affluent state.

On the other end of the spectrum, Indiana has taken to the paper trail far more slowly. Two years ago Secretary of State Connie Lawson said she was “skeptical” about returning to paper ballots. As of late last year, 58 out of 92 Indiana counties continued to use machines at the polls that are not sufficiently secure, without a paper trail. Indiana did pass legislation to implement a paper trail – to be in place by 2030.

The nonprofit Indiana Vote by Mail begged to differ. Along with local Indiana voters, they’ve taken the state to federal court in an attempt to get a voter-verified paper trail in place for the 2020 elections.

Paper trails reduce costs

Indiana Vote by Mail proposes a simple method that has worked well in other states, including Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and Utah. Every registered voter is mailed a paper ballot. They can vote and mail it back, or deliver the sealed ballot on election day to their polling place.  In Colorado, costs were reduced 40% with the new paper method between 2008 and 2014.

Flashing backward in history to 1865

Colorado was a different place two centuries ago. The southern Cheyenne, Lakota, and Arapahoe peoples were fighting to protect their homelands in what was called by whites the Colorado War. Colorado would not become a state until 1876. 

Continuing this flashback to 1865

Harriet Tubman was returning home as a war hero from Virginia to Auburn, NY, holding a Union military pass to travel. Passing through New Jersey, “she was roughed up…The conductor decided that Harriet’s papers must have been forged or illegally appropriated, finding it incredible that a black woman could carry a soldier’s pass. She was asked to leave her seat.”

“Tubman politely refused. When she failed to move, the conductor called in assistance. Her stubborn resistance took four men altogether to eject her from her seat. (Ed: While tiny, just five feet tall, Harriet was very strong.) She was dumped unceremoniously into the baggage car for the rest of her trip, let out of her imprisonment only when she reached her destination.” Harriet took months to recover from the injuries. The shame in our history is strong.

Flashing back to the present

We’re facing a time of great charge and potentiality. In response to these times, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary report notes that, “… a small number of districts in key states can have a significant impact in a national election.” 

In Ayurveda, one couples wisdom with skillful action for most effective results. In yoga one looks at the larger picture and our place in it. Empowering oneself through skillful action can have more potent results than the stuff we own or don’t own. IOne can manifest power through skillful action. Skillful action is an especially functional choice for those of us with limited means. Since 69% of Americans at this time have less than $1,000 in savings, this includes a lot of us. To be humble and effective is a time-honored way to manifest wisdom. Heading into 2020, I invite you to vote – and to help others get a voter-verified paper trail in their states.

Image thanks to Felipe Blasco from Pixabay

Amadea Morningstar, MA, RPE, RYT is  expert in Ayurveda and Polarity Therapy health care. She meets you where you are, and is available with respect, bringing over 40 professional years of experience, academic training and hands-on knowledge to her sessions, teaching, and books. Sessions with Amadea include Western nutrition, Ayurvedic nutrition and herbalism, Polarity Therapy bodywork, Marma therapy, Integral yoga, and nature-based approaches. 

Amadea has a new Ayurveda book out with photographer Renee Lynn , Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda, in print and e-book form. To learn more, click here.