As Georgia’s top elections official runs for governor, a federal judge said the state has stalled too long in the face of “a mounting tide of evidence of the inadequacy and security risks” of its voting system.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, is in the midst of a closely watched race against Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former state House minority leader who’s trying to become the country’s first black, female governor. He has repeatedly insisted that Georgia’s current voting system is secure.
Voting integrity advocates sued last year, arguing that the touchscreen voting machines Georgia has used since 2002 are vulnerable to hacking and provide no way to confirm that votes have been recorded correctly because there’s no paper trail. They sought an immediate change to paper ballots for the midterm elections while the case is pending.
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg declined to grant that request Monday, saying that although voting integrity advocates have demonstrated “the threat of real harms to their constitutional interests,” she worried about the “massive scrambling” required for a last-minute change to paper ballots. Early voting starts Oct. 15 for the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Kemp said in an emailed statement that his office will continue to prepare for “a secure, orderly election in November” and will move forward “to responsibly upgrade Georgia’s secure — but aging — voting system.”
“As I have said many times over, our state needs a verifiable paper trail, but we cannot make such a dramatic change this election cycle,” he said.
Abrams, who was campaigning Tuesday with former President Jimmy Carter, did not specifically reference the judge’s ruling in an emailed statement.
“As the founder of a nonprofit dedicated to registering voters and as the former House Democratic Leader, I know Georgians are hungry for leaders who will make sure every voice can count at the polls,” Abrams said. She promised that as governor, she would “continue to ensure our elections are safe, secure, and accessible.”
Georgia is among five states, along with more than 300 counties in eight other states, that exclusively use touchscreen voting machines that provide no paper record, according to Verified Voting, a nonprofit group focused on ensuring the accuracy of elections.
Elections experts said the judge’s criticism is unlikely to influence voters’ decisions in the gubernatorial race. Democrats will likely use it in mailers or television ads, perhaps even adopting some of the judge’s language, but most voters have already made up their minds, said Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz.
“It certainly doesn’t help Brian Kemp,” he said, but added, “I don’t think it’s going to have a big effect one way or the other.”
Kemp campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney didn’t respond to an email Tuesday seeking comment on what the ruling says about the two-term secretary of state’s leadership abilities at a time when he’s seeking a higher leadership position.
Totenberg chastised the state, saying it had been slow to respond to “serious vulnerabilities of its voting system,” as well as software and hardware issues that have long been evident, and said “further delay is not tolerable …”
The judge noted a general consensus among cybersecurity experts and federal officials about the insecurity of electronic voting machines with no paper record. She pointed to a Sept. 6 report from the National Academy of Sciences that says all elections should be conducted with “human-readable paper ballots” by 2020, with every effort made to use them in this year’s general election.
“Advanced persistent threats in this data-driven world and ordinary hacking are unfortunately here to stay,” she wrote, adding that state elections officials “will fail to address that reality if they demean as paranoia the research-based findings of national cybersecurity engineers and experts in the field of elections.”
Kemp, who rejected federal offers of assistance with election system security in 2016, established a commission earlier this year to look into a change. Last month he called for proposals to implement a system with voter-verifiable paper records in time for the 2020 presidential election.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the state filed a notice Tuesday that they intend to appeal Totenberg’s denial of their request to dismiss the case entirely.
Coalition for Good Governance executive director Marilyn Marks and attorney David Cross, who represents a small group of voters, said that even though the judge declined their paper ballots request they were encouraged by the tone of her ruling. Both said they’re reviewing the decision to decide whether to appeal.
Totenberg also said the state did not seriously address the impact of a breach of a state election server in its arguments.
Security experts last year disclosed a gaping hole that exposed personal data for 6.7 million Georgia voters, as well as passwords used by county officials to access election-staging files. That hole still wasn’t fixed six months after it was first reported to election authorities.
Kemp’s office blamed the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University that managed the system. Ultimately, officials there reported to his office.
KAMPALA, Uganda (RNS) – On a recent Sunday morning, hundreds of worshippers gathered at Jehovah Pentecostal Church in Kisenyi, a slum on the outskirts of Kampala, to pray against their government’s intensifying crackdown against opposition politicians, journalists and supporters.
Pastor David Mukasa condemned, in particular, the brutal treatment of Ugandan lawmaker and popular Afropop singer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, who had been detained by the government and allegedly tortured before seeking medical help in the United States last week.
“I’m very deeply concerned about the brutal torture inflicted on the people of Uganda including (Bobi Wine),” he said. “This shows how our leaders are merciless and inhuman(e). We need God to save our country from such leadership.”
But Mukasa could have added religious leaders to the list of those caught up in the crackdown. Uganda’s government is trying to prevent faith groups from becoming another voice in the country to speak out against President Yoweri Museveni’s human rights violations.
Last month, Museveni’s aides warned religious leaders not to interfere with government matters.
“They should leave the matters to the police, the army and other security organs,” said Persis Namuganza, state minister for lands. “If religious leaders have started investigating how tension rose on the eve of the by-election, then what will police, the army and other security organs commissioned for crime investigation do?”
Earlier this year, after religious leaders criticized the constitutional amendment that allows Museveni, 73, to rule for life, Museveni warned religious leaders.
“The religious leaders have been provoking us and me in particular. It should stop,” he said in February while commissioning a new chapel in western Uganda. “Instead of working for the independence of Africa, they are always in cahoots with foreigners – encouraging the latter to meddle in our affairs. I don’t want people to lecture me about what to do for Uganda.”
Worshippers attend a Pentecostal church service in Eastern Uganda, near the border with Kenya, on July 21, 2018. RNS photo by Doreen Ajiambo
Last month, while campaigning for a parliamentary by-election, Wine was allegedly detained and tortured by armed forces on grounds of illegal possession of firearms. Observers said he was targeted because of his harsh criticism of Museveni.
“They pulled my manhood and squeezed my testicles while punching me with objects I didn’t see,” Wine said in a statement from the United States. “They wrapped me in a thick piece of cloth and bundled me into a vehicle and they did to me unspeakable things in that vehicle.”
Rights groups have long accused Uganda’s leaders of detaining opposition figures without legal justification, intimidation of the country’s media, beatings and other forms of torture by security personnel to help Museveni consolidate his power. Before ascending to power in 1986, Museveni had led a bloody civil war for six years that left thousands dead.
Faith leaders who criticize the president face threats of intimidation and violence.
“We are afraid to speak our minds or protest. If you speak bad things about the government then you are arrested. If you protest you are shot dead by police. Only God can save Uganda. We need to keep on praying,” said Richard Mayega, a student at Makerere University in Kampala.
The Uganda Joint Christian Council has called for the establishment of an independent panel of inquiry by Parliament to investigate the recent violence and other cases where citizens have been arrested and tortured without trial.
“The truth regarding what sparked off the violence on the eve of the by-election can only be established by an independent panel of inquiry established by the Parliament of Uganda or through a judicial process presided over by the ordinary courts of law,” the Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Constantine Mbonabingi, executive secretary of the Uganda Joint Christian Council, told the press.
The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda also condemned the violence and urged Museveni to respect the law of the country and tolerate those with different political orientations.
“We should all remember that violence begets violence and it is ultimately a lose-lose situation for all parties,” the group said last week. “The government should ensure that the members of Parliament, their supporters and other persons arrested during the by-election are treated with dignity in accordance with their rights and that they access justice through open courts of law.”
Mukasa also said Museveni was acting dishonestly. “We love our country, but the president should follow the law,” he said. “We don’t want to see our people being killed by our own security officers and detained without trial. We don’t want more blood to be shed.”
Asale Chandler holds a picture of her son, Yalani Chinyamurindi, who was murdered at age 19. Now, Chandler is a running for the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. (Alex Leeds Matthews/California Healthline)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More than three years have passed since Asale Chandler’s teenage son was murdered in San Francisco. But Chandler said it feels as though it has been only three days.
The anguish doesn’t get better, said Chandler, a 55-year-old community activist from San Francisco at a recent rally. “It gets worse.”
Chandler’s 19-year-old son, Yalani Chinyamurindi, was one of four young black men who were shot and killed in January 2015 while sitting in a Honda Civic in the city’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. One man has been arrested in connection with the shooting.
Chandler prayed, protested and communed with other mothers — and brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles — who have lost their loved ones to violence.
The “Mothers Fight Back!” rally came amid ongoing unrest over the police shootings of unarmed black men, including Stephon Clark, who was killed in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento in March. His death sparked large-scale protests that blocked traffic and disrupted Sacramento Kings basketball games.
But attendees of the rally noted they were speaking out against violence of all kinds, not just police brutality. They said they took to the Capitol steps to grab the attention of lawmakers and journalists.
A poster commemorating Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento Police in March, sits on the Capitol’s steps during the Mothers Fight Back! rally. (Alex Leeds Matthews/California Healthline)
A few, like Chandler, are running for public office. Others participated to support their loved ones and join in solidarity with other mothers.
“You do want to connect to a mother or a father who’s been through it,” Chandler said. She hasn’t found solace through therapy or medication, but said being around other mothers whose lives were also transformed by violence is “the true medicine.”
The rally was passionate, but it wasn’t as pugnacious as its name might suggest. The moms came bearing snacks, handcrafted posters and children’s books. They sang and said prayers.
Participants said they are facing a dire mental health crisis fueled by violence, trauma and uncertainty.
“It’s traumatic for all of us. … We’re scared to death. We don’t know what to do, we don’t know how to act,” said Leia Schenk, 40, a social services worker in Sacramento, who is close with Sahleem Tindle’s family. Tindle was shot and killed by BART police near the West Oakland BART station in January.
Asale Chandler’s son was murdered more than three years ago in San Francisco. At a recent rally, the community activist participated in a Hebrew “mother’s prayer” at the Mothers Fight Back! rally at the Capitol. (Alex Leeds Matthews/California Healthline)
Schenk said she struggles with the emotional fallout from the violence and fears for her children, particularly her two black sons. “It’s a helluva way to live,” she said.
Black children die from gun-related homicides at a rate nearly 10 times higher than that of white children, according to a 2017 study in the American Academy of Pediatrics. Another study published a few weeks ago showed that black men are at risk of being killed by police at a rate about triple that of white men.
The statistical differences are important, said Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation, which awards grants to reduce health disparities.
However, the numbers don’t reveal the mental and physical pain that afflicts victims and their communities contending with violence, said Hewitt, who did not attend the rally.
“You are constantly on high alert, and you are constantly in a state of mourning,” said Cat Brooks, an Oakland mayoral candidate and a co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project.
Brooks, who has a 12-year-old daughter, attended the gathering to address the struggle many black parents encounter trying to protect their children from violence.
“Because there is no rhyme or reason to our people getting killed, that means there’s no one to tactically figure out how to avoid it,” said Brooks, 41. “We teach our children everything we can about how to stay alive.”
A poster commemorating Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police in March, sits on the Capitol’s steps during the Mothers Fight Back! rally.
That trauma, fear and uncertainty has measurable effects on health.
Community cohesion can help people heal from acts of violence, but violence can also erode that sense of togetherness, said Flo Cofer, director of state policy for Public Health Advocates, a nonprofit organization that works to address health disparities.
Many of the communities most affected by violence also face other physical and social challenges like poverty, hunger and educational obstacles, she said.
“That’s part of the reason why the violence is so devastating. This is happening in a place where trauma is the air they breathe,” Cofer said in a phone interview.
At the rally, the low-key gathering of approximately 50 people consisted mainly of women and children. Moms parked strollers under a tent while their former occupants munched on crackers or toddled on the Capitol steps.
As one little girl, dressed in flowery overalls and shimmery sandals, danced to the “Circle of Life” song, adults and older children, dressed in white, surrounded her, clapping to the beat.
When the mothers gathered for a Hebrew “mother’s prayer,” Chandler stood near the front with her arms stretched above her head.
She is running for the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco to address the violence in her Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. “I’ve seen nothing but yellow tape, and it messed me up so badly,” she said.
Yolanda Banks Reed led the prayer.
Banks Reed’s son was the young man who was killed nearly seven months ago near the BART station. She said she knows the mental toll will be lifelong.
“It’s a life sentence for a mother,” she said. “A mother should not lose her children.”
From the late-nineteenth century to the present, the most popular stories of Appalachia have been simplistic tales of white mountaineers. Those stories have infused everything from culture to politics and media. Despite importantcounter–examples, these stories continue to be the starting place for most Americans’ understanding of Appalachia — one that erases a complex history of race, racism and Black resistance. Placing Black people in Appalachia’s history is not simply a matter of recognizing diversity. Rather, it forces a different angle, a truer way of seeing the region and its relationship to the South and the United States.
If Black people have been difficult to see in Appalachian history, Black women have been virtually invisible. They can be hard to find in institutional archives that, until the 1970s, did not preserve the history of Black Appalachians with any consistency. And they have been marginalized in a region defined historically by its relationship to whiteness and embodied by white men.
Mary Rice Farris, a Black woman who lived her whole life in Madison County, Kentucky, where the knobby hills meet the bluegrass, worked much of her life to demand that Black Appalachia be seen and heard. Her story, preserved in oral history interviews and other documents at the Berea College Special Collections and Archives, reveals the intersections between African American, Appalachian and women’s history, and how one Black woman from Appalachia fought for Black civil rights and economic justice.
Slavery and Emancipation in Appalachia
In 1914, Mary White, a Black midwife, caught Mary Rice Farris at her birth. Mary White was a former slave who built an illustrious career after Emancipation. Calling her generation the “second after slavery,” Farris narrated her historically Black community’s history through the story of Mary White.
White was born in 1835 to the enslaved couple Metilda Elder and Mitchell Walker. The man who owned the family sold infant Mary White to slave owner Wash Mopkin.
When White was 11 years old, Mopkin sold her for $14 to Durke White, who placed her in a cabin behind his house before “he took her to the big house as his mistress,” according to Farris.
Farris used the coded language of her day — “took her … as his mistress” — that made clear the reality of the stealing Black women’s bodies. This white man bought a girl named Mary and raped her. She bore two children, raised them and kept Durke’s house. Historian Shannon Eaves has called this confluence of reproductive, domestic and emotional labor “sexual servitude.”
Durke died at the hands of “night riders,” the term given to vigilante groups. Farris guessed that they disliked how he carried on with a Black woman. White ended up in another slave cabin on the estate of Robert Cochran. He soon “took her as his mistress” and “after slavery, kept her on as his mistress,” according to Farris.
In 1880, White headed her own household and raised her eight children. At some point in the late nineteenth century, Robert died, leaving his estate to Mary White and her children.
At that point White fashioned a new identity, one staked on freedom. She chose her own profession, adopted a little rat terrier she named Ruth (her “constant companion”), and placed a white picket fence around her house.
White entered a nursing program at Berea College, where in 1855 the abolitionist John G. Fee had organized an interracial community and opened the doors of the college to Black and white students. Carter G. Woodson is among the most celebrated alumnus. “An intellectual pioneer in Appalachian studies,” as Cynthia Greenlee recently argued, Woodson, who hailed from West Virginia, would go on to attend the University of Chicago and Harvard.
White also had an illustrious career. She graduated and became a midwife in the region. According to Farris, “Most all of the Black and many of the white babies in and around southern Madison County and around Berea were delivered by Mary White.”
Embodying a story of resistance and resilience, White delivered babies and cared for families up until the day before her death in 1924, when Farris was ten years old.
The Second Generation Since Slavery
Mary Farris. Photo courtesy of the family.
White’s story was evidence of what Black women could do and achieve despite a state of deprivation, as Farris called slavery. Growing up during the nadir, when white southerners restricted Black civil rights and terrorized Black communities, Farris would face a different kind of deprivation.
As a child Farris grew up near Berea College’s campus and knew that community leaders like Mary White had been educated there. She desired what it had to offer. But in 1904 Governor J. C. W. Beckham had signed the Day Law, “An Act to Prohibit White and Colored Persons from Attending the Same School.” She would attend the Lincoln Institute, an all-Black boarding school created in the aftermath of the Day Law.
Farris remembered, “I walked through (Berea) as a little girl, barefooted and dusty, and sold blackberries and bought me some cheese and crackers and sat on that campus and watched those girls, hopping and skipping, and looked at those buildings and wished and prayed that I might be able to prepare myself for a better life. But I wasn’t able to because I couldn’t go there because of the Day Law.”
Neither could her own children. And her husband, Moss, could not get a job there, even though he was as qualified, often times more, than the poor white people who were hired.
Farris married the farmer Moss G. Farris and had four children with him. She helped her husband in the tobacco fields and, when her family needed more income, worked as a hotel maid, a packager at a munitions factory and as a cosmetics saleswoman.
Farris emerged as a leader in the First Baptist Church of Berea, where she served in a variety of capacities and became a well-known speaker throughout Kentucky and Ohio. She joined and was elected vice president of Church Women United of Madison County, an inclusive Christian women’s movement that worked to improve the lives of women and children.
Understanding the importance of political power in the quest for full civil rights, Farris rose in the ranks of the Republican Party of Madison County and became the area coordinator, running the local polling booth. She became so well known in Madison County that white politicians began courting her for endorsements. Her granddaughter, Ms. Cheryl Farris, recalls watching her grandmother go head-to-head with politicians at her dining room table. “She could talk to anyone,” she said.
By the late 1960s, she sought full-time work that brought together her interests in politics and improving her community.
The Struggle for Civil and Human Rights
“All my life done political and community work,” Farris wrote in a 1967 application for a job in a War on Poverty program. “The people have been deprived of what they should have received, and I would like to see that something is done for them.” Like many middle-aged Black women across the country, she saw federal resources as a right of citizenship, a way to enact freedom.
War on Poverty programs relied on networks that women like Farris had been building for years. Farris used the too-often scant resources to expand programs in her community: cultural and social programs for African American youth, information sessions on welfare for poor people and events for senior citizens. She helped to organize a library of 2500 books for local kids to use. She took one group of youth for a tour at Berea College, where African American students were finally admitted, and she took others to Frankfort, the capital of the state, for protest marches.
In February 1968, Farris took her political skills to a new arena when she went to the heart of Appalachia to confront Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Congressman Carl D. Perkins.
Vortex was the first stop on Kennedy’s eight-stop tour of eastern Kentucky. On the verge of announcing his presidential campaign, Kennedy was there to document the effectiveness of President Johnson’s War on Poverty programs and whether citizens had “enough to eat.”
Farris arrived at a one-room schoolhouse in Vortex. Inside, almost solely white people crowded the building. They were there to testify about their lives, to tell an Appalachian story before powerful white men who seemed to care.
Farris was prepared to tell a story of Appalachia, too. A story of Black Appalachia — and Black America — at an event that recreated the story of Appalachian whiteness, a cornerstone myth of white America.
Congressman Carl D. Perkins, who represented the eastern Kentucky district, joined Kennedy. Both men gushed about how much they loved and admired the people of Appalachia, and when they said “people,” they meant “white.” They are the “best people in the world,” Perkins exclaimed, before identifying himself as one of them. “We love our country.”
Five other people besides Farris testified that day — two white men, three white women, all of them identified by the conveners as Mr. and Mrs. except for Farris, despite her decades-long marriage.
Farris testified last, and her words packed a punch. “I am Mary Rice Farris, representative of a delegation of Madison County,” she began.
Perkins’ embrace of white Appalachia wasn’t simply semantics but had real consequences in policy decisions. The War on Poverty programs in Appalachia flowed mainly to white people in Appalachia, despite the fact that Black people were disproportionately poor and, of the impoverished population, were the poorest. Farris noted this when she pointed out that white communities throughout Appalachia had begun to get food stamps, which allowed people access to a wider range of foods, while Black communities continued to have access only to commodities food programs, in which foodstuff was rotting or full of worms.
Farris then articulated the connection between racism, injustice and poverty:
(Why are we) spending $70 million dollars a day in Vietnam, plus loss of life, when (there) are millions of people in our area hungry, without homes and decent housing, or without clothing. And we would also like to know why the Negro is having to fight for a decent place in society as a rightful citizen? Why we, as American Negroes, are having to fight and speak out for a right to take decent responsibility in this great nation?
Her line of questions raised the hackles of Perkins, who refused to address her by name, instead referring to her as “this lady here.”
Kennedy and Perkins stalled and blurted out hollow statements.
Farris asserted, “I want an answer.” While they could not answer, that wasn’t the point; her statement underscored that the crises of the moment would demand an answer. And by her presence, she insisted on telling a story of Black Appalachia.
With Eyes Open to the Future
Farris continued community work when she returned home. In 1969, she attended the White House Conference on Food and Nutrition, and she supervised the emergency food and medical services of the Kentucky River Foothills Development Council in the late ’60s.
She also joined the board of the prominent reform organization Council of the Southern Mountains. For most of its history, it had ignored the needs of Black Appalachians. Farris was part of a group of leaders who led efforts to make the council more inclusive, including establishing a Black Appalachian Commission that, in the words of one of its members, Jack Guillebeaux, “was the first recognition of the fact that the plight of black people is an integral part of the definition of Appalachia and its problems.”
Farris wrote of the new Council, “It has condemned second-class citizenship and deepened its fellowship with all the people. I have confidence and hope that the Council now has a new opportunity to serve Appalachia in the coming years with eyes open to the future.”
Farris’s reference to the “future” was no coincidence. The common perception of Appalachia as a white enclave and a place of nostalgia had erased the complex histories of Black men and women and had led to a false history of Appalachia. She understood how incomplete histories cut off paths to the future. Lacking a true history, policymakers and activists would continue to ignore the experiences of Black Appalachians. The council’s transformation signaled the possibility for new understandings of the region and a new frontier in the struggle for democracy.
We remain far from Mary Farris’s future. Stories like hers continue to be erased every time Appalachia is cast as a region of poor whites. Bringing her story to light, and others like it, is necessary in order to fully reckon with our history and to imagine paths toward a more just future in Appalachia
In 2016 the Richmond-Madison County branch of the NAACP recognized Mary Rice Farris for her commitment to civil rights, nearly forty years after her death. Her legacy continues, and her words — spoken in 1973 as the backlash to the Civil Rights Movement gathered steam — still carry power today: “Because we still have people … who would like very much to put us back. Of course, that will never happen. We’ll never stand for that.”
Jessica Wilkerson is an assistant professor of history and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi. She is currently completing her first book, To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice (forthcoming, University of Illinois Press).