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The Three Horsemen of Election Apocalypse.

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

Influential nonprofit partners with ERIC developers and Microsoft to form the Election Technology Initiative

Image adapted from Woodmere Art Museum

lithograph by Robert Riggs’ The Three Horseman


By Kristine Christlieb, MFE writer | August 15, 2021


The Council of State Governments (CSG) is announcing an official partnership with The Turnout to form the Election Technology Initiative (ETI), tasked with improving election security, transparency, confidence, accessibility, and participation. But questions are surfacing due to its private, third-party, and partisan connections.


Under the auspices of CSG and its Elections policy division, the ETI, along with The Turnout, will be the new custodians of Microsoft’s ElectionGuard, a comprehensive, open-source software program designed to provide “voting system vendors and election administrators the capability to perform end-to-end verifiable elections and post-election audits.”


Microsoft is turning over ElectionGuard software and its future development to CSG’s Election Technology Initiative and The Turnout, a privately-held company.


CSG is a powerful nonprofit organization, one of the “Big Seven,” serving state and local governments. CSG’s policy research often leads to legislative initiatives that spread from state-to-state.


Election System Reliable But…in Need of Greater Confidence


In his July 26 announcement, David Adkins, CSG’s executive director/CEO called election officials “heroes of our democracy” and claimed they carry out free and fair elections with “professionalism and integrity.”


The Turnout goes even farther, echoing in a blog post the much-repeated claim the 2020 elections were “the best administered and most secure in United States history.”


Despite official praise for the current system, Adkins says the collaboration with The Turnout and Microsoft will “enhance voter confidence in elections.”


Not Always So Election Confident


In Microsoft’s July 28 press announcement about the partnership, Senior Director of the corporation’s Democracy Forward Initiative, explained how the global software giant came to become involved in managing elections.


“Following attacks on U.S. electoral infrastructure by Russia…Microsoft announced [in 2019] our intention to…enable end-to-end verification of elections, open results to third-party organizations for secure validation, and allow individual voters to confirm their votes were correctly counted.”


The Cast of Characters


The Turnout will be providing the ETI with technical expertise. In CSG’s announcement, The Turnout’s president, Jared Marcotte, said ElectionGuard’s chief software developer, RC Carter, would be moving from Microsoft to The Turnout.


Marcotte founded The Turnout in 2015 after a two-year stint as “Officer of Election Technology” at Pew Charitable Trusts’ now defunct [as of 2018] Elections Initiative. According to his bio, he “worked across all projects in the [Election Initiative] portfolio.”


Marcotte’s election technology expertise came from his work as Senior Engineer at the New Organizing Institute [also now defunct], a group Influence Watch describes as “a left-progressive group that trained digital organizers and campaigners for the Democratic Party and other liberal causes.”


Marcotte’s boss at Pew was David Becker, Director of Election Initiatives since 2008. Becker left Pew in 2016 to found his own non-profit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) whose stated mission was to clean-up voter registration rolls. But ERIC has recently come under intense criticism for having partisan tendencies, and nine of its member states have withdrawn their membership (Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia).

Marcotte’s association with Becker is noteworthy primarily because of Becker’s long and storied partisan history, ably detailed by Influence Watch.


While working as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice, an ethics complaint was made against Becker. Brad Scholzman, acting head of the Civil Rights Division at the time, called Becker “a hard-core leftist” who “couldn’t stand conservatives.”


Before Pew hired him to direct its Election Initiative, Becker was a lobbyist for the left-wing nonprofit People for the American Way, founded by Hollywood television producer Norman Lear (All in the Family) to “oppose the conservative principles espoused by Christian conservative televangelists.”


Marcotte’s company may have similar partisan leanings that impact the future development of ElectionGuard. In an article on the company blog, Marcotte expressed gratitude for support from The Democracy Fund, a radical nonprofit founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar “to improve the democratic process in the United State.” Omidyar gave $100,000 to the NeverTrump PAC.


The partnership between the Council for State Governments and The Turnout to manage and develop Microsoft’s ElectionGuard into a comprehensive, election management system has a number of troubling aspects that are likely to ring alarm bells with constitutional conservatives seeking to ensure the integrity and nonpartisan nature of the nation’s elections.


Kristine Christlieb is a member of the Michigan Fair Elections Communications Committee and publisher of Trust But Verify (on Substack).

 

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