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AUDIO & TRANSCRIPT: Brad Friedman's Interview with Tova Andrea Wang, July 26, 2007

Brad Friedman's Interview with Tova Andrea Wang
From the The Peter B. Collins Show, as Guest Hosted by Brad Friedman
July 26, 2007

Audio of interview (appx 1 hour)...

Rough transcription by Emily Levy...

[song: "American Woman (Stay Away From Me)"]

BRAD FRIEDMAN: That's a message from the United States Election Assistance Commission for Tova Andrea Wang, our next guest here, speaking out, I believe, for the first time, certainly on live broadcast radio since she has been ungagged by the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, for whom she was commissioned to write a report on voter fraud. A report that, well, the Republicans amongst that Elections Assistance Commission apparently didn't care for. Tova Andrea Wang is a Democracy Fellow at The Century Foundation and a nationally-known expert on election reform, Executive Director of The Century Foundation's post-2004 Election Reform Working Group, author of several election reform reports, and her commentary on the subject has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Journal, Associated Press, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (oh, St. Louis, huh?), Minneapolis Star-Tribune and all, campaigns and elections in all manner of other places. She has been gagged and not allowed to speak about the way the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission took her report on voter ID, when they didn't like the findings, they buried it. Then, when people complained about it they altered it and finally released it but without letting her know it was being altered. Changed all kinds of things to say exactly what Tova Wang didn't believe in in the first place and then they gagged her. For non-disclosure reasons she was not allowed to speak. It took months before she was finally given the dispensation to do so. She joins us for the first time tonight to speak about exactly what this EAC bunch did.

Tova Wang, welcome to the Peter B. Collins Show.

TOVA ANDREA WANG: Thanks so much. And just to clarify, the report that we did, and I did it with a co-author who was a very specifically chosen Republican, was actually a report on voter fraud and voter intimidation. And the voter ID report actually was a whole separate report that they sat on …

BF: Oh, did I say voter ID? OK.

TAW: We can talk about that tomorrow night [that's another] show, but …

BF: You're right, and we will. And you're absolutely right. Well, the two things do sort of go together. I'm sure we'll talk about that in a minute. But right, the voter fraud and intimidation report. And your co-author there on this report was Job Seberov. Am I saying his name right?

TAW: Serebrov.

BF: Serebrov. I always get it wrong. And he is a Republican, correct?

TAW: He is, and in fact was very active in the Republican party and part of the Republican ballot security teams in Arkansas. So clearly he and I didn't always see completely eye-to-eye on everything. But we actually were able to work very well together as time went on, and jointly came out with this draft report for the Commission which apparently they didn't take a linking to.

BF: Yeah, I can't imagine why. Well, what were the findings here in general that, well, what did you find and then we'll find what they didn't like about it?

TAW: Yeah, I mean just to make it a real short summary because there, it was a very detailed report and went on for pages and pages, I mean we found after interviewing dozens of experts in the field and elections administrators and academics, going through just years and years of articles off of Nexis and then doing followup articles and reading all of the existing literature on this topic and going over cases, we found that the incidence of fraud at the polling place in terms of voter impersonation was very rare, and that allegations of it were pretty overstated. In fact, of the two dozen interviews that we did do with experts and elections officials across the ideological spectrum, only one person argued to us that voter fraud at the polls was the major problem we confronted in our voting process and was sort of this epidemic.

BF: Only one person of all of the experts and everything you went to, only a single person was willing to make that claim to you?

TAW: Yes, and you, Brad, in particular will love who it was. It was Jason Torchinsky …

BF: [chuckle]

TAW: … from the American Center for Voting Rights. In addition we said the voter intimidation was still a major problem including things like challengers at the polls which you've been talking a little bit about, direct intimidation, especially say in Native American communities we discovered, this sort of thing. We found that there were a number of [inaudible] problems of course that led to fraud and intimidation, and we also found that people were not too happy with the Department of Justice and how they were handling the issues of voter fraud and voter intimidation, and that we might do well to take a look at how the Department of Justice is handling these cases and whether the laws need to be changed or the Department of Justice re-examine their priorities and so on.

BF: [chuckle] Like, like the Department of Justice is going to even listen to that. I mean they have been making prosecution of voter fraud the top, that's what this whole U.S. Attorney purge was about. They don't care about what the facts really are. They're pushing voter fraud come hell or high water and it seems like they wanted a report from U.S. Elections Assistance Commission that would essentially give them the political wherewithal the political, more political propaganda to put out there to say that voter fraud is a massive epidemic, we've got to do something about it. Is that the sense that you got? Were you ever given marching orders along those lines from the EAC?

TAW: No, no. In fact, the interesting thing to me about all of this in a lot of ways is that during the entire process during which we were working on this report, we worked very closely with the staff of the Election Assistance Commission. And the commissioners of the Commission also were constantly informed about exactly what we were doing, the kinds of findings we were coming out with, the research we were doing, and nobody had any problem with it, actually, that was expressed to us, except on a few details that we worked out.

BF: Right.

TAW: But in general no one objected to it. No one said we were doing stuff that we weren't supposed to be doing or going beyond the scope of our contract, which they're claiming now. And then we submitted our report in July 2006 and were literally actively barred from the EAC staff from ever having anything to do with it again.

BF: And so …

TAW: They refused to let us see what they were doing to it. They refused to let us work with them on any concerns that they had or revisions they wanted to make. We were completely shut out.

BF: After you had put in your draft report, right?

TAW: Exactly. And then without really even telling me, in December of 2006, conveniently after the election, they came out with their report, which they were entitled to do legally, they could do whatever they wanted, they owned the research, and I signed a contract to that effect, but what they came out with and they used our names was really not at all resembling what we had given to them in July. So that was quite troubling.

BF: And yet your names stayed on the report, as the authors, at that point.

TAW: The cover page of the report does not say our names, but it says in the first page or two of the report that this is all based on the work done by myself and Job. So I was very troubled, but as you referred to, I wasn't allowed because of my contract to say anything about it to anybody.

BF: Well, you can talk about it now. And we're going to take a quick break here and come back with much more from Tova Andrea Wang on this incredible voter fraud report and the EAC's burying of it and the gag order that she received Not allowed to talk about it. Much more ahead, and your calls, here on the Peter B. Collins Show. Stay with us.

[commercial break]

We're speaking with Tova Andrea Wang in her first live broadcast interview since being released from her non-disclosure contract after the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, the EAC, gamed her report, buried it, then altered it, gamed it and then kept her from speaking about it. And Tova, earlier I actually confused it with the Voter ID report and I think it's, we need to make people understand why this is important and why the folks, these various GOP operatives out there, you mentioned the American Center for Voting Rights, one of the top snake oil salesmen when it comes to selling this notion of an epidemic of voter fraud. The reason they're doing it is so that they can then encourage the idea of voter ID, more restrictive voter ID, photo ID laws at the polling place. Is that a correct assessment?

TAW: Yeah. I mean, that's how my sense of it is, apart from even just doing the EAC report, having worked on this continuously and vigorously since the 2000 election on this issue …

BF: Sure.

TAW: That is my sense. That everywhere you go where there these very restrictive voter ID laws are passed is completely along partisan lines, almost exactly on partisan lines. And very racially divided. And I just, I don't think it's an accident. I think that, unfortunately, the Republican party knows that the people who are less likely to have the kind of voter ID that they're demanding in order to be able to exercise the right to vote, the people who are less likely to have it are people who are thought of at least as tending Democratic: minorities, poor people, people who move around a lot, students, older people, and …

BF: People who tend to vote any particular way, Tova?

TAW: I'm saying, they tend to vote Democratic.

BF: Yep.

TAW: Yeah, so it's just, it's a little hard to believe that that's not at least part of the motive. Although there may be, some of them believe that this polling place voter fraud really is this sort of stealth, under-the-radar huge problem, but you know, it's just there's zero evidence that that's the case.

BF: Well, you know, you raise a good question: are these real believers? You mentioned of all the experts you talked to only Jason Torchinsky of the, pardon me, reprehensible phony GOP front group American Center for Voting Rights, only he was willing to come out and say, 'Oh no, voter fraud is much, much worse.' Does he believe it? Do the people that you talked to that actually buy into [that], do they believe it or do they know what they're doing is running a scam here, Tova?

TAW: You know, I really hate to ascribe motives. I mean I just sort of let people's actions speak for themselves. I will note one other interesting aspect of that, though, is that Thor Hearne, the head of the American Center for Voting Rights, was on our bipartisan working group. The EAC, in order to make doubly, triply sure that this was not tainted by any kind of partisanship, in addition to having bipartisan authors of the report, insisted very strongly that we have a bipartisan and strongly bipartisan--meaning people who are very strong on either side--working group to advise us on the direction of our research. And we had a lengthy meeting with this group in May of 2006 and, as I say, Thor Hearne was a member of that working group, as requested by Job S________, and the transcript is available now publicly. And you'll see that he really didn't raise any objections to anything that we were saying.

BF: Thor Hearne did not?

TAW: Everything we were saying was pretty much what ended up in our draft report.

BF: So Thor Hearne did not raise any objections when you guys were discussing this report.

TAW: That's right. He only later raised objections in the news media when the status report that became controversial came out in USA Today in October. But at the time there was only one person on the working group who really had any serious concerns about anything we were doing, and that was Secretary of State Todd Rokita of Indiana …

BF: Indiana, right.

TAW: … the state with probably the most restrictive voter ID law, who I later found out not only emailed the EAC trying to object to my participation in this project, the participation of a Republican notwithstanding, but actually did not believe that the EAC had the statutory authority to even conduct the project, which is a little odd because it's actually required to do so …

BF: Yeah.

TAW: … under the Help America Vote Act that created the agency.

BF: Create these reports. So Rokita, actually, what did he say to object to you?

TAW: Oh, I mean, and he wasn't the only one. I mean, Hans von Spakovsky, who some of your listeners may have heard about …

BF: [chuckle] Yes.

TAW: … who was at the Department of Justice at the time, in the Voting Section, who is now a recess appointee to the Federal Election Commission and is in the process of having his confirmation conf --- his nomination confirmed --- now by the Senate …

BF: Or not. Right?

TAW: …also wrote a very lengthy email complaining about my being involved in this project, saying that I was obviously partisan and had written all sorts of things that were objectionable and it was discredit to the EAC to have me working on this.

BF: OK, well, let me figure this out then. Since you mentioned Hans von Spakovsky, Tova Wang, and just to give the quickest of examples here, the original report that you guys submitted to the EAC said, and the EAC, by the way, is four presidential appointees. Theoretically two from the Republicans, two from the Democrats, but the original report that you put in said, "There is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling-place fraud." Now, when the final version came out, of the report, after they had altered it, it said, "There is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud."

TAW: Right. Yeah. I mean that's …

BF: Completely changed the meaning.

TAW: … [one of the] key grafs that everyone's been picking up on for obvious reasons.

BF: OK, so if they weren't complaining about it, Tova, to you when you were keeping the EAC up-to-date on what was going on, if there was no real complaints other than Jason Torchinsky, who was the only guy from ACVR who disagreed, what happened between the time you put in this report thinking all was well, did you not?

TAW: I did. I mean, I didn't know because they wouldn't talk to me about it. There are emails now in the public domain that demonstrate that I was constantly, from August through December, trying to get in touch with all sorts of people at the EAC to try and find out a) what was going on with the report, because obviously, I mean it was obvious to me that it was gonna become a political problem for them more than anybody if they sat on it too long and didn't act on it, and b) what they were doing with it, if they were actually working on it. And basically they refused to work with me and refused to let me see anything that they were doing. And yeah, I mean I was, I was sort of completely hamstrung.

BF: I have argued, and I believe our reporting at BRADBLOG.com has backed up this case, that the EAC itself is impossibly compromised at this point. Certainly when it was being run by Paul DiGregorio, who was the chair while you were working on it, for the bulk of the time you were working on this report, ah …

TAW: You know what, Brad?

BF: Yeah.

TAW: I actually want to disagree with that …

BF: OK.

TAW: … a little bit.

BF: Sure.

TAW: I actually think we need an institution like the EAC. The problem is the way they're being run right now.

BF: Mm-hmm.

TAW: And I actually, I think that, you and I have talked about this, I think, I mean I don't know what went on with this and I don't know who was responsible for it, but I really believe we need an institution that can be a place where, a clearinghouse for honest research …

BF: Mm-hmm.

TAW: … a place where states can get guidance on how they should best conduct their elections. We need an entity that does give out advice on how to improve our voting system. It's just not working the way they're doing it now. They need greater transparency, they …

BF: That's right.

TAW: …can't be stifling the findings of reports that they hire experts to gather.

BF: Well, that's what I'm talking, look …

TAW: Yeah, I mean [inaudible phrase]

BF: I'm not saying the EAC as a concept is no good. I'm saying that this group has become compromised. They're secretive, they don't release information, and frankly I've done a lot of reporting on them, Tova, they don't tell the truth!

TAW: I mean honestly my biggest hope is that out of all of this will come an institution that is reformed and is stronger after all of this has gone on.

BF: Well, how do you explain that they would not allow you to speak for so many months. How many months are we talking about now, between the time you released the report and the time …

TAW: The whole time I was working on the report, too.

BF: OK.

TAW: So almost two years.

BF: Well, fair enough, though. You're working on it, they want to keep it quiet until …

TAW: Right.

BF: … your report comes out.

TAW: Right.

BF: Once it's comes out, what was the reason they gave you for shutting up for the past six months, they wouldn't let you speak about it?

TAW: Well, I mean, and they're right in a sense. I signed a contract that has a confidentiality provision in it that says that they own the research and I cannot speak about it. And perhaps I was naive in signing this contract. I never imagined in a million years that this would all go down the way it did. And immediately after they did release the report I requested that I be able to speak about it. And I ended up, actually very fortunately, getting a pro bono attorney. Let me give kind of a shout-out to him, James Joseph from Arnold & Porter, was instrumental in working with me and writing letters to the EAC and getting them finally to release the documents. And of course there was tremendous pressure coming from Congress as well …

BF: Mm-hmm.

TAW: … to release all the documents regarding this and for them to let me speak out. Their position now, basically, is 'Well, we've released all these documents so everything's out there so you can talk,' pretty much. But …

BF: Yeah, but it took them, Tova, and you're much kinder than me. It took them how many months between the time they released their report, December '06, right?

TAW: Right. So it's six months. And first of all, after our initial letter to them they took two full months to even acknowledge that first letter requesting that I be ungagged. And then sent us back like a one or two paragraph letter which apparently took them two months to write. So that was the first thing.

BF: And I want to shout out to …

TAW: They came up with different reasons for why I couldn't speak. I mean …

BF: What?

TAW: …the final one was kind of funny because they said the reason that I had been prohibited from speaking is that I was a federal employee and as a federal employee I had, you know, I couldn't make public disclosures about the work. Which is really funny because I don't remember getting anything from a 1099 form from them. And in fact they've acknowledged that. So to say I was a federal employee is weird.

BF: Weird, indeed. Let's take a quick call here. Give us a call if you'd like. 888-5-PeterB, to speak with Tova Wang. John in Germantown, Wisconsin. Welcome to the PBC Show. Question for Tova?

John: Well, it sounds like she answered my question. I was going to ask if, I guess, when did you sign the non-disclosure agreement, was after you agreed to work for 'em. And then did you realize its scope and nature? And it sounds like the answer to the second part is, "No."

BF: [chuckle]

TAW: At the time, you know, it seemed to me and I guess I'm in a way a little bit embarrassed now because I went to law school, I've never practiced but I am an attorney, you know I assumed that it was sort of a very normal kind of clause, and it really kind of was, that said that this is sort of a kind of work-for-hire where the research belonged to them. And I didn't have a problem with that. It never dawned on me that they would come out with something that I have, you know, be so troubled by that this would end up in this kind of a conflict. So that's kind of the best answer I can give.

BF: So you knew you were not going to be able to speak about the report once it came out? Or did you presume that once the study came out you would …

TAW: No, I knew I couldn't …

BF: … get to talk about it?

TAW: … because we had had conversations during the report, because as I've mentioned, I'm someone who works on this issue, as well as many other voting rights issues.

BF: Right.

TAW: That's my job. At the Century Foundation. And so I speak to the press a lot. And during the election in particular I was being asked questions by any number of media and I went to them saying, "Can I talk about this? Can I talk to them?" And they told me I couldn't, even before they put out their version of the report. So I knew that. And, like I said, I was able to get a terrific pro bono attorney and that was very useful and then members of Congress stepped in.

BF: But it took months and it was only really after Rosemary Rodriguez joined the EAC that she began to speak up and make some noise on your behalf as one of the new commissioners, and even then the rest of the Commission, seems like they took months before they responded.

TAW: Yeah, I mean that's true. And again, I don't know what went on beyond closed doors. I also have to acknowledge that a number of members of Congress were also quite upset about all of this, Zoe Lofgren and Maurice Hinchey and a number of others also were making demands. Senator Feinstein and Durbin on the Senate side. So they definitely were under a lot of pressure and you know, fortunately now they've changed their position on it.

BF: Alright, we're going to be back with our few remaining minutes with Tova Andrea Wang, speaking out for the first time about the voter I, voter fraud report that the EAC gamed. You're listening to Brad Friedman on the Peter B. Collins Show.

[commercial break]

BF: Tova Andrea Wang is our guest here for the last few minutes of the Peter B. Collins show, Democracy Fellow at the Century Foundation, author of the gamed voter fraud report. It wasn't gamed when she turned it in but by the time the EAC, U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, turned it out it was gamed, indeed. One of the other anomalies that were reported by the Times, the difference between her original report said, "There was evidence of some continued outright intimidation and suppression of voters by local officials, especially in American Indian communities." The final report, however, says that voter intimidation is "also a topic of some debate, because there is little agreement concerning what constitutes actual voter intimidation." If they were gonna make their own report, Tova Wang, why wouldn't they just write what they wanted to in the first place, and do you know who it was who changed the text of your report to what they eventually got here?

TAW: Well, to the first part of your question, I have very long now wondered if they were just going to write their own report why they hired us and why they paid us, using taxpayer dollars, honestly. My understanding from the emails that were released is that it seems that the primary person who was responsible for the drafting of the EAC's report was Julie Thompson-Hodgkins, the general counsel at the EAC who is a Republican, although she's not a political appointee, but she is a Republican.

BF: Well, she was working, or somebody was working for somebody. Because you turned this in and things were supposed to be fine. What did you think when you saw this report when it came out? What was your feeling when they finally released it this way?

TAW: Again, I'm probably, actually, in fairness, I actually had the feeling, obviously, that something was going on when they refused to talk to me for six months.

BF: OK, but here's another example. Original report said, "False registration forms have not resulted in polling-place fraud." Then their version of your report and says, "Registration drives by non-governmental groups are a source of fraud."

TAW: Yeah, that, that …

BF: I mean they …

TAW: … actually really annoyed me. I mean, I was pretty horrified back in December. And it's funny because it really took the U.S. Attorneys scandal for people to start paying attention to what has gone on with the EAC. Because at the time, you know, a few groups like People for the American Way and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights …

BF: Mm-hmm.

TAW: … and you were onto this, but it didn't get a lot of attention. And I couldn't say anything. And so …

BF: Uh!

TAW: … it was uncomfortable.

BF: I can only imagine how frustrating. Let's sneak in a quick call here. Bob Bancroft, actually, from Voters Unite! Got a question for Tova Wang? And welcome to the PBC Show, Bob.

Bob: Thank you, Brad. And thank you, Tova, for taking some time to talk to all of us about this. It's just so illuminating. And I think it's really appreciated.

TAW: Thank you.

Bob: My question was, do you know what the original genesis or impetus for the report was? Was this one of the thing that HAVA tasked EAC to do, or was there …?

TAW: Yeah, exactly. It's in the HAVA legislation that they're supposed to study this issue. Which brings me to another point, actually, which is what it says in HAVA is that the Election Assistance Commission is to study and do a report on voter fraud and voter intimidation. Well, before you even read the report that the EAC released in December you could see that something was amiss because it was no longer called the "Report on Voter Fraud and Voter Intimidation" …

BF: That's right.

TAW: …in fact it was now called, "Election Crimes." Which tremendously narrows, greatly narrows the scope of what you're going to be looking at. It completely excludes the possibility of looking at acts that have the effect of being a fraud or intimidating or suppressing voters that either come under civil litigation or are not as of now part of the criminal code, or not quite now acts under the criminal code but maybe should be.

BF: When I, yeah.

TAW: So right off the bat they had taken off the table things like challenges to minority voters. Things like groups putting what appear to be armed guards in front of the polling places. Deceptive practices. The phony flyers going out to people.

BF: I think they knew that voter fraud in and of itself as a phrase had already become so discredited as a GOP scam that they decided to conflate them all into one big pot of election crimes.

TAW: I think it actually, it allowed them to so narrow the scope of what they were going to look at that they didn't have to deal with all these voter intimidation problems that currently, at least, are not being adequately dealt with by the law. They don't want to look at that. They want to look at things that are already under the criminal code. For example, in order to charge someone criminally for voter intimidation there has to be some kind of physical or financial coercion. And it was my proposition that maybe we wanted to look at broadening the scope of that so that you could criminally prosecute people for doing other things that did not involve physical or economic coercion. But you can cut that out if that no longer, if you're only looking at what is currently under the criminal code.

BF: Well, Tova Andrea Wang, thank you for joining us here. Actually, give me 15 seconds just on, this is a scam, as far as I'm concerned, as far as the republicans go. Is this a scam to keep people from voting, as far as you see, across the GOP, in general?

TAW: Well, I mean, getting away from the report because, again, I don't know, I don't have a smoking gun that tells me exactly what went on there, but looking at all of the evidence as a whole over the last several years and the pushing of the voter ID, I think it is quite evident just looking at the facts that they have been pushing this notion of polling-place fraud and using it to enact stringent voter ID laws and others that would restrict third party registrations and so on in order to exclude certain categories of voters. I think that's clear.

BF: And just to be clear, those categories are Democrats. [chuckle] OK.

TAW: They do tend to be.

BF: Yes, they do. Tova Andrea Wang, thank you so much for speaking up, for joining us, for doing all you've been doing on this topic and for the courage to fight back against these guys. I really appreciate it, Tova.

TAW: Thank you. Thank you.

BF: Tova Andrea Wang from The Century Foundation. You can read much more over there at TheCentury, oh, we don't have The Century Foundation, TCF.org. Check out her work over there. We'll have, we've got a lot, search BRAD BLOG for Tova Wang, we've got a lot of thoughts, including guest blogs from Tova. All right, we've got to get out of here.



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