Bristle Software Voting Tips

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Table of Contents:

  1. Register online to vote
    1. There's no downside to registering
  2. Vote early
  3. Vote by mail (including absentee ballots)
  4. When to vote
  5. Where to vote
  6. Who can vote
  7. What candidates and questions to vote for
  8. How to vote in person
    1. Vote by "provisional ballot" in PA
  9. Why bother voting?
  10. Why bother voting in primary elections?
    1. Independents CAN vote in primaries
    2. Referendums can be decided in primaries
    3. Primaries are real elections
    4. Local candidates are important
  11. Why bother voting in the PA primary election on May 18, 2021?
    1. Refendums
    2. Special elections
    3. Judges
    4. Slimy tricks
  12. My opinion: Why I vote against Trump
  13. Fill out your US Census form
  14. WARNING: Fill out the REAL US Census form
  15. Donate to campaigns
  16. How to talk about politics
  17. Volunteer
  18. Attend rallies
  19. Gerrymandering
  20. Types of voting systems
    1. Plurality Voting -- aka "First Past The Post" (FPTP) Voting
    2. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) -- aka "Instant-Runoff Voting" (IRV), "Alternative Voting" (AV), "Preferential Voting"
    3. Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP) Voting
    4. Single Transferable Vote
  21. CARES Act -- 3/27/2020 $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus Bill
  22. My 3 biggest complaints about Trump
  23. H-2B visa seasonal workers
  24. 2020 "State of the Union" address
  25. 2020 CNN Democratic Candidate New Hampshire Town Halls
  26. Cheap or Free ObamaCare Health Insurance
  27. Why I call Trump #SadLittleDonny

Details of Tips:

  1. Register online to vote

    Original Version: 9/18/2018
    Last Updated: 5/11/2021

    Register to vote!  Time is running out!

    Not yet registered?  Moved to a new address?  Changed your name?  Changed your party?  Not sure?

    It's VERY easy to register, or make any of these changes.  And very easy to check, if you're not sure.  It's important -- any of these changes can cause you a problem on election day.

    College student, home now for the Coronavirus lockdown?  Make sure you're registered at home.  Otherwise, you have to go back to school to vote. 

    In PA and most other states, you can use a simple on-line form.  Takes only a minute or two.  Easy peasy!

    Any other good links I should add?


    1. There's no downside to registering

      Original Version: 5/3/2021
      Last Updated: 5/17/2021

      One common excuse I hear for not registering to vote is:

      "If I register to vote, I'll get called for JURY DUTY."

      This in FALSE!

      I've been registered to vote for over 40 years, and I've NEVER BEEN CALLED FOR JURY DUTY.  I've lived in 3 different states, and been registered to vote in each of them.  Don't believe the lie about jury duty or any other downside of registering.  It's an effective way to get people like you to not vote, so others can decide things however they want, even if you strongly disagree.


  2. Vote early

    Original Version: 5/23/2020
    Last Updated: 10/5/2020

    Can't get to the polls on election day?  Already decided who you're voting for?  Almost all states allow you to vote early.

    Some allow it in person.  May be as simple as going early to your regular polling place, or to a local election office, and filling out a ballot as usual.

    Some allow it by US mail.  See: Vote by mail

    Some states allow as much as 50 days early.  Others only 5 or even 3 days in advance.


    Other US states:


  3. Vote by mail (including absentee ballots)

    Original Version: 10/21/2018
    Archived Version: 10/6/2020  
    Last Updated: 5/11/2021

    Can't get to the polls on election day?  Don't want to risk Coronavirus at a crowded polling place?  Tired of waiting in line to vote after a long day at work? 

    Vote by mail!  It's quick and easy.  Fill out your ballot at home and mail it in. 

    Apply for your ballot now!  Don't even bother to read the rest of this detailed article, unless you have questions or concerns.

    This is a critical election.  Make sure your voice is heard.  Apply for your mail-in ballot today and vote safely from home.  Also, make sure all your friends realize how easy it is to vote from home.  Especially those who couldn't get to the polls, or just didn't bother to vote in the past.


    1. Apply for your ballot ASAP!  It only takes about 60 seconds.
    2. The deadline to apply is typically 7-14 days before the election.
    3. The deadline to submit is typically 0-7 days before the election.
    4. PA:
      • Apply by 5pm Tuesday 5/11/2021
        (but realistically, that's too late -- the ballot may not get to you and back to the election office before 5/18 -- apply TODAY instead).
      • Submit by 8pm Tuesday 5/18/2021
        Note: It must ARRIVE at the election office by the deadline.  Being postmarked by the due date is NOT good enough.
    5. Other US states:
      • Deadlines to apply for and submit ballot vary (see below)
    6. Close to the deadline?  Fill it out and send it back as soon as you get it.  Don't put it aside for later!  Better yet, take it to a physical drop-off location.
    7. Missed the deadline?  You may still be able to vote early in person.  Not as convenient as mail-in, but still an option in many states (now including PA).  See:

    What if?

    1. What if my application gets lost?
      What if your application for a ballot gets lost or delayed?  No problem!  You'll know right away.  I got:
      • An email within a couple minutes saying my application had been received.  Telling me what to expect next.  With an application number to track it.  And a phone number to call if I had questions.
      • A 2nd email a few weeks before the election saying my ballot was being mailed to me.  Should arrrive within 7 days.  Same phone number.

    2. What if my ballot gets lost?
      What if the ballot they mail you gets lost or delayed?  Or your completed ballot gets lost or delayed after you mail it?  How will you know if it was counted?  No problem!  You'll know right away.  I got:
      • A 3rd email saying my ballot had been received and recorded.

    3. You can still vote in person
      What if you don't receive your ballot?  Or the tracking site shows your completed ballot hasn't arrived?  Or had some problem so it couldn't be counted?  Or you fear it's too late, so you don't even mail it?  No problem! 
      You can still vote at your regular polling place as usual.  Tell them about the problem with your mail-in ballot.  They'll let you vote by "provisional ballot", and will make sure your mail-in ballot isn't counted.  If you haven't already mailed in your ballot, you can give it to them to "spoil" (discard), and just vote normally.


    Different states do it differently. In 2020, all states allowed some form of no-excuse mail-in voting, absentee voting, or at least early in-person voting.  Some states automatically mail ballot applications to all registered voters.  Others require you to request an application, or fill it out on the web, to get a mail-in ballot sent to you.

    In all cases, you must fill out the paper ballot that is sent to you, seal it in a privacy envelope, and put that in an outer envelope that you must sign and date.  Then mail it to the local election office to be counted.  Or drop it there in person, or at a designated dropbox. 

    No US state has paperless fully-electronic voting on the Web or via a phone app.  For election security reasons, they all require you to either mail in a paper ballot, or vote in person.  Many have additional restrictions like:

    This all helps prevent fraud, by ensuring witnesses who could later testify in court, or at least a paper trail to be audited later.

    Details for each state:

    Follow the mail-in voting instructions very carefully.  For example in PA, failing to do any of the following can cause your ballot to be discarded:

    Who can vote?

    Typically, any voter is eligible for a mail-in ballot.

    For states that require a valid absentee excuse, these are often valid:

    1. Working outside of your voting precinct.  No need to rush home in traffic, or cut your work day short.
    2. Away at college, but registered at home
    3. Traveling for business or pleasure (yes, vacation counts)
    4. Volunteering at the polls, or involved in a "Get Out The Vote" activity, in another voting precinct
    5. Ill, injured, elderly or disabled and can't get to the polls (may require doctor's name and contact info)
    6. A US citizen living outside the US
    7. In the military, stationed away from home
    8. Jury duty
    9. In jail


    On the PA application:

    1. Must be a registered voter
    2. Must have a valid PA Driver's License or PennDOT ID number
      • Otherwise, it shows you how to download a paper application and mail it to your County Board of Elections
      • Or go to your county elections office in person to apply
    3. Military and Overseas Voters must use the federal form instead
    4. To get a regular no-excuses-needed mail-in ballot, instead of a must-have-a-good-reason "absentee" mail-in ballot, answer NO to all 3 questions:
      1. Are you a military or overseas civilian absentee voter?
      2. Are you applying for a ballot because you will be absent from your municipality for the upcoming election?
      3. Are you applying for a ballot for the upcoming election because you have an illness or physical disability?
    5. Other questions:
      • Name
      • Date of birth
      • PA Driver's License or PennDOT ID number
      • Last 4 digits of Social Security number
      • Street address where you're registered, and what year you moved there
      • Optional "election district" (leave it blank -- they know from your address)
      • Optional phone
      • Optional email (useful for receiving confirmation that you applied, updates about the ballot being mailed to you, etc.)
      • Yes or no: I would like to receive mail-in ballots for the remainder of this year, and receive an annual application for mail-in ballots each year


    Mail-in ballot:

    Absentee ballot:


    See: Why bother to vote?

    Who to vote for?

    See: What candidates are on my ballot?

    Any other tips or links I should add?


  4. When to vote

    Original Version: 11/5/2018
    Archived Version: 10/6/2020  
    Last Updated: 5/11/2021

    Primary election day is Tuesday May 18, 2021, in many states including PA

    The easiest way is to vote by mail.  But if you missed the deadline to apply for your ballot, go to the polls physically on election day.  Either way, be sure to cast your vote!!!

    Here's the PA schedule for 2021:

    Primary Election in PA
    Mon 5/3/2021
    5pm in person
    Midnight online
    Register to vote Really 4:30 or so [1]
    Tue 5/11/2021 5pm Apply for mail-in ballot Really a week or so before that [2]
    Tue 5/18/2021 8pm Return mail-in ballot RECEIVED by then [3]
    Tue 5/18/2021 7am-8pm Primary Election Day Get IN LINE by then [4]
    General Election in PA
    Mon 10/18/2021
    5pm in person
    Midnight online
    Register to vote Really 4:30 or so [1]
    Tue 10/26/2021 5pm

    Apply for mail-in ballot

    Really a week or so before that [2]
    Tue 11/2/2021 8pm Return mail-in ballot RECEIVED by then [3]
    11/2/2021 7am-8pm General Election Day Get IN LINE by then [4]

    [1] For in-person deadlines of 5pm, be there by 4:30 or so.  The staff needs time to process your paperwork before they quit for the day at 5pm.

    [2] Apply for your mail-in ballot early.  The deadline's only a week before the ballot is due back to them.  It may take 2 weeks or more to be mailed to you, get filled out, and mailed back to them.  No need to wait.  Do it at leaast a week or 2 early.  I applied for mine 3 months in advance.

    [3] Mailed in ballots must be RECEIVED by the deadline.  Postmarks may not count.

    [4] If you're in line by 8pm, you're allowed to vote.  Even if there's a long line of people waiting.  Even if a problem with the voting machines causes a delay.

    The most crowded times are typically before work (6-8am), lunchtime (11am-1pm), and especially after work (5-8pm).  If you go mid-morning or mid-afternoon, you can be done in 5-10 minutes.

    Schedule a reminder for the time you intend to vote.  On your phone or computer.  Or on your "smart speaker" (Alexa/Echo, Google Now/Home, Siri/HomePod), etc. 

    If you're too late mailing your ballot, and it may not arrive on time, drop it at the election office or a designated dropbox before the 8pm deadline.  Or take it, along with both the inner and outer envelopes, to your regular polling place.  They will "spoil" (discard) it and have you cast a "provisional ballot" instead.


  5. Where to vote

    Original Version: 11/5/2018
    Archived Version: 10/6/2020  
    Last Updated: 5/11/2021

    The easiest way is to vote by mail.  But if you prefer to vote in person, you can go to the polls physically on election day.  Or if there's no time left to mail the ballot back or get it to a dropbox, you can go to the polls to have the mail-in ballot "spoiled" (discarded) and cast a "provisional ballot" instead.  Either way, be sure to cast your vote!!!

    Enter your home address here to find your polling place:

    If you've moved recently and not yet updated your voter registration, go to the polling place for your old address.

    If you're a college student living at school but still registered at your parents' house, you have to vote where you're registered.


  6. Who can vote

    Original Version: 11/5/2018
    Archived Version: 10/6/2020  
    Last Updated: 5/17/2021

    Run out quickly to vote by yourself.  Or better yet, ask your friends and colleagues if they've voted yet, and ask them to run out with you.  Round up the whole team!  Maybe even ask your employer to give you all some time off so that everyone can vote.
    (During the Coronavirus lockdown, maybe email them a reminder instead.)


  7. What candidates and questions to vote for

    Original Version: 11/5/2018
    Archived Version: 10/6/2020  
    Last Updated: 5/17/2021

    1. Find out exactly what candidates and questions will be on your ballot by seeing a complete copy of your personalized ballot.  Also lots of info about each candidate, issues, policies, actions, who's endorsed them, etc.  No need to login, or enter your email or any other personal info.  Just your street address so it can generate the right personalized ballot.  May be missing some details like referendum questions, party delegates, etc., but should have all candidates for all offices.  Most offer options to record your choices, and let you print the sample ballot to take to the polls with you, or email it to yourself.
    2. Go to the polls with your notes or sample ballot, and fill in your choices in the real ballot.  See "How?" below.

    3. Share your choices with your friends via email or social media, if you like.


  8. How to vote in person

    Original Version: 11/5/2018
    Archived Version: 10/6/2020  
    Last Updated: 5/17/2021

    The easiest way is to vote by mail.  But if you prefer to vote in person, you can go to the polls physically on election day.  Either way, be sure to cast your vote!!!

    1. During Coronavirus lockdown: Wash your hands to avoid the risk of infecting anyone at the polls.

    2. Go to your polling place (see Where to vote above), bringing with you:
      1. During Coronavirus lockdown:
        • Your own dark blue or black pen, if you don't want to use a shared one
        • Your own mask, if you don't want to use the disposable one that PA and likely most states will provide.
          In PA, and likely most states, you WILL be required to wear one, and to stay 6 feet apart from other people.
      2. Official photo ID, if necessary
          In PA, it's only necessary if you're a first time voter or first time in that precinct.  If you don't have a driver's license or other PA- or federally-issued ID, you can use a passport, student photo ID, or employee photo ID.  Or even another document with your address on it, like a voter registration confirmation letter or firearm permit.  Or a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check.
      3. An assistant or interpreter, if you need one.  They can go into the voting booth with you and help you to vote, as long as they're not your employer or your union rep.

    3. Vote:
      1. Get your ballot from the election official, who may require that you sign your name.  Or get assigned a voting machine to use for paperless voting.
      2. Ask any questions you may have about how to use the voting equipment.
      3. Take your ballot into the private voting booth and mark your choices on the ballot.  Or enter your choices on the voting machine.
      4. Give your paper ballot, if any, to the election official or insert it directly into the vote counting machine, as directed.

    4. If any problems:
      1. If the election official says you're not registered, ask for help.  There may be volunteers handy, to help you find out if you're at the wrong polling place, or somehow missing from the system.  Then either go to the correct other polling place, or ask for a "provisional ballot"  Such a ballot will be held aside until it's determined (perhaps days later) that you're registered after all, at which time it will be counted.
        In PA, you can check whether and where you're registered to vote at:
      2. If you forgot your ID, ask for a "provisional ballot".
      3. Do NOT leave the polling place without voting, except to go to a correct other polling place.

    5. During Coronavirus lockdown: Go home and wash your hands again to avoid the risk of having been infected by anyone at the polls.


  9. Why bother voting?

    Original Version: 11/5/2018
    Archived Version: 10/6/2020  
    Last Updated: 5/17/2021

    Voting is your most powerful way to influence our government, telling it how you want things to be.

    Are you:

    1. Unhappy with the way things are?
      Vote to change them!

    2. Feeling outnumbered?
      Even in an overwhelmingly red or blue state, your vote matters, if only to send a signal.  Winners of elections still look at factors that reduced their margin of victory and try to move in that direction for broader appeal.

    3. Discouraged by the lack of choice?
      If neither of the 2 major parties match your values, vote for the lesser of 2 evils, until we get a reasonable mechanism to give 3rd parties a chance.  Like "Single Transferable Vote" (a.k.a. "Ranked Choice Voting").  They've been using it in Maine since 2018.  Maybe in Utah, New York and other states soon
      Until then, this is not the time to "protest" by not voting.  Or to vote for a 3rd party that has no chance of winning.  This election is too critical to throw your vote away.  If you do, you have only yourself to blame when things get worse.
      When someone lights your clothes on fire, don't ask whether the lagoon is fresh or salt water.  Just jump in to put out the fire!

    4. Feeling unqualified to vote?
      Look around you.  Who's really more qualified than you to vote?  The people you see living, working, driving around you?  What makes them so smart?  Have faith in yourself and your judgment about people and issues.  Research your candidates and their positions on the issues, and vote!

    5. Afraid to commit?
      Feel too uncertain to vote?  Not sure of the issues and whether you understand or believe the stances professed by the candidates?  Don't want to support someone or something, and feel stupid when it goes wrong?  Yeah, I'm not much of a "joiner" either.  I would generally prefer to have not tried something if it was doomed to failure, so I wouldn't feel so stupid and ineffectual.  But not this time!  This time I'm pretty sure things couldn't be getting worse any faster.  It's time for a change -- any change!

    Here's a 5-minute 2018 video of Barack Obama arguing against all of the excuses people give for not bothering to vote:

    More info:


  10. Why bother voting in primary elections?

    Original Version: 5/17/2021
    Last Updated: 5/18/2021

    Here are some common excuses that people use for not voting in primary elections.  Especially off-year primary elections like 2022, 2026, etc., when no President is being elected.  And most especially in odd-numbered years like 2021, 2023, 2025, etc., when even the House of Reps and the Senate are not being elected.

    The excuses are all INVALID because the claims are all FALSE!

    1. "Only Republicans and Democrats can vote in a primary, NOT INDEPENDENTS."

      NOT TRUE!

      In some states (not including PA), independents CAN vote in primaries.  And in some states (not PA), members of other parties can vote in a party's primary.

      Also, in all states, there are REFERENDUM QUESTIONS in many primary elections.  Independents CAN vote on such questions, without being registered with any political party.  And sometimes they're VERY IMPORTANT questions, proposing major changes to how voting is done, what powers the legislature has vs. the governor, etc.

      Questions that will dramatically influence the balance of power in many states for ALL FUTURE ELECTIONS.  The questions will be decided for good in the "primary" election.  They will NOT be on the ballot again in November.

      In PA on 5/18/2021, there are 4 such questions, 3 of which are proposed amendments to the state constitution.  See details here.

      Be sure to vote in EVERY election, even in primaries.  Otherwise, these critical decisions will be made without you, possibly by people that you strongly disagree with.

      Even worse, the people you disagree with may have intentionally chosen to put the questions on a primary ballot, not a regular ballot.  Specifically because they expect a low turnout of people like you.  So they only need to rally a small handful of their own voters to decide the question as they like.  Don't be suckered into abstaining!

    2. "It's ONLY a primary election, not a REAL election."

      NOT TRUE!

      In some areas including several parts of PA, there ARE people being elected FOR REAL.  Not just a primary.  There are some "special elections" to fill offices where someone died or resigned.  These people will NOT be on the ballot in November.  They're being elected for real NOW.

      In PA on 5/18/2021, there are several such candidates in various parts of the state.  See details here.

    3. "It's ONLY local candidates, not anyone important."

      NOT TRUE!

      Even though they're "only" local, some of the people on the ballot are VERY IMPORTANT.  State governors, senators and reps.  Judges on state supreme courts, appellate courts, etc.  Obviously, they affect things in the state.

      But they can also dramatically affect things at a national level.  They decide the rules for conducting national elections in their state.  And whether to certify Electoral College votes for the President. 

      The "local" state judges rule on civil lawsuits brought by or against national officials up to and including the President.  For example, most (all?) of Trump's lawsuits to try to overturn the 2020 Presidential election were decided in state courts.  And all the lawsuits brought against Trump for defamation of character, sexual harrassment and other civil complaints are being decided in state courts.

      More importantly, when a President is accused of breaking a state law, like raping someone, threatening to murder someone's kids, extortion, witness tampering, financial fraud, etc., those criminal cases are decided in state courts.  Trump may be spending a lot of time in state courts for the next few years, trying to avoid going to jail. 

      In PA on 5/18/2021, there are several such judges on the ballot.  See details here.


  11. Why bother voting in the PA primary election in May 18, 2021

    Original Version: 5/17/2021
    Last Updated: 5/19/2021

    Reasons for voting in ALL primary elections are given here.  In the PA primary on May 18, 2021, the 4 most important reasons are:

    1. Referendums
    2. Special elections
    3. Judges
    4. Slimy tricks


    1. Referendums

      Read through the general arguments above.  Then consider that there are 4 such referendum questions on the ballot in the PA primary election in May 18, 2021.  And that they're intentionally being decided during a primary election that's expected to be low turnout and easily swayed by a small number of determined voters.  And that they appeaer on the BACK side of the ballot where many voters won't notice them.

      (Note: Since I wrote the above, I've done more research and concluded that these fears were overblown.  The 3 proposed constitutional amendments are not being hidden from public view.  They are being added to the ballot as fast as the PA constitution allows.  It's defined by law to be a multi-year process.  See "Why Now?" below.)

      All registered voters, including independents, are allowed to vote on these questions.  Be sure you do, or other people will decide them for you.

      Summary of the 4 PA referendum questions:

      (Thanks to Tracey Welson-Rossman and PA Governor Tom Wolf for the graphics!)

      Details of the 4 PA referendum questions:

      Why now?

      My suspicions about the timing of these ballot questions may have been overblown.  I was worried that they were being snuck through, dishonorably, on the back side of the ballot, during a primary election that was expected to be low turnout and easily swayed by a small number of determined voters.

      I've since done more research and concluded that there are valid reasons for the timing.  The 3 proposed constitutional amendments were not being hidden from public view.  They were being added to the ballot as fast as the PA constitution allows.  It's defined by law to be a multi-year process. 

      The Republicans rushed questions 1 and 2 onto the ballot as fast as possible, in response to Wolf's COVID restrictions.  The Democrats were unable to block those questions, but added question 3 to the same bill, so it would appear on the same ballot. 

      But the PA constitution requires a bill to be passed 2 years in a row before it can add referendum questions to a ballot. 

      Here's a step-by-step explanation:

      1. In March 2020, PA Governor Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency in order to enforce COVID restrictions for 90 days.  He extended the state of emergency in June, as it was about to expire.  Across the state, thousands of people were hospitalized, hundreds were dying each day, testing was still not being done widely, and no cure was in sight.

      2. In June 2020, the Republican legislature immediately passed a law to terminate Wolf's COVID emergency declaration, and sent it to Wolf to sign.  Wolf refused to sign and threatened to veto.  It went to court.

      3. In July 2020, the PA Supreme Court agreed with Wolf, and he formally vetoed the new law.  The Republican legislature was unable to get a 2/3rds vote to override the veto.

      4. The court had said there were only 3 things the legislature could do w/o Wolf's signature:
        1. End a session of the legislature
        2. Manage internal affairs of the legislature
        3. Put a constitutional amendment on the ballot

      5. So the Republican legislature immediately proposed Senate Bill 1166 to add questions about 2 constitutional amendments to the ballot.

      6. Democratic senator Vincent Hughes took the opportunity to add question 3 to the bill.  The Republicans agreed because they couldn't be seen as openly opposing equal rights, and it would make it easier to pass their bill.

      7. SB 1166 was passed by the PA House and PA Senate, by mostly Republican votes.  Question 3 came along for the ride.

      8. The PA constitution requires such a bill to be passed in 2 consecutive years before the questions can be put on the ballot.  So the Republicans had to wait till 2021.

      9. The bill was passed again, by almost entirely Republican votes, in early 2021.  Question 3 came along for the ride again.

      10. The 3 questions were immediately put in the ballot of the next election.

      This was not someone trying to sneak the questions through unnoticed on the back side of the ballot during a low-turnout off-year primary election.  It was the Republicans rushing as fast as they possibly could to limit Wolf's power.  And a Democrat managing to slip in something good along the way.

    2. Special Elections

      As described here, in some parts of PA, people are being elected FOR REAL, not just winning a primary to get placed on the ballot in November.  There are some "special elections" to fill offices where someone died or resigned.  These people will NOT be on the ballot in November.  They're being elected for real NOW.

      Here's a list:

      For more info, see:

    3. Judges

      As described here, local candidates are important.

      In the PA primary election in May 18, 2021, there are no candidates for governor, and in most districts, no candidates for state senator or rep.  But there ARE candidates for judges on the PA Supreme Court, PA Superior Court, PA Commonwealth Court, etc. 

      These are the judges that made the final decisions in 2020 about the rules for national elections in PA.  Whether mail-in voting was to be allowed, what the deadline would be for receiving them, whether dropoff boxes would be allowed, etc.  Some of these judges ruled IN FAVOR of Trump in the only one of more than 60 lawsuits he filed to try to overturn the 2020 election that he claimed was stolen.  If the PA Supreme Court hadn't reversed that decision, Trump might have managed to win all of the Electoral College votes from PA.

      Some of these judges are up for re-election in the 5/18/2021 primary.  If they win the primary, they may win again in November.  This election is IMPORTANT.

      Want to know EXACTLY what your ballot will look like?  You can find a sample ballot online.  Here are the exact images of ballots for all precincts in Chester County PA:

      Looking for recommendations on individuals to vote for?  Here are some from WilmaDems:

    4. Beware slimy tricks

      Beware of candidates that "cross-file".  Not all candidates on the Democratic primary ballot are Democrats.  And not all on the Republican ballot are Republicans.  Some are members of the opposite party, trying to trick you into voting for them so the candidate in your party never even gets to the general election.

      For example, on the Democratic ballot in this election, PJ Redmond and Lou Mincarelli are NOT Democrats and NOT endorsed by the Democratic Party, despite what the campaign literature they mailed you may have said.

      Aside from cross-filing, there are lots of other slimy tricks these days.  For example voter suppression tricks to reduce the number of people who vote in "undesirable" precincts:

      1. Claiming that vote-by-mail is insecure and subject to fraud, and then trying to make it illegal, so that people are not sure their mailed votes will be counted
      2. Sabotaging the US Postal Service so that mailed ballots arrive late
      3. Making mail-in voting more complicated to justify discarding mail-in votes
      4. Robo-calls that warn of expected violence at polling places
      5. Rallies by people carrying guns near polling places
      6. Reducing the number of polling locations and dropoff boxes in "undesirable" precincts
      7. Shortening dropoff hours to prevent people with 9-5 jobs or multiple jobs from voting
      8. Require more ID cards, since poor people may not have a driver's license
      9. Anything to make it harder for poor people to vote, and to make lines as long as possible at the pollng places in "undesirable" precincts
      10. Make it illegal to give water to people waiting in those long lines on a hot day
      11. Put out fake dropboxes in undesirable precincts, to collect and discard ballots
      12. etc.

      There are also lots of slimy tricks to make votes in undesirable areas count less, even if they ARE cast:

      1. Gerrymandering the voting districts to so that a party with the minority of votes can still win an election
      2. Cutting the time and funding for the US census that's only done every 10 years, to reduce the number of people counted in "undesirable" states, so they lose House seats and Electoral College votes 
      3. Sending out fake census forms to trick people into not filling out the real one
      4. etc.

      These tricks have been very effective.  Please make an effort to get out and vote, despite all of them.  Make sure your voice is heard!


  12. My opinion: Why I vote against Trump

    Original Version: 11/5/2018
    Archived Version: 10/6/2020  
    Last Updated: 5/17/2021

    Personally, my goal since 2016 has been to get rid of Trump.  And every politician who supports him.  I think Trump is entirely dishonorable, unable to focus, and easily manipulated and that makes him very dangerous.

    I don't necessarily want the Democrats in power, but they couldn't possibly be worse than Trump, McConnell, Graham, Kavanaugh, Grassley, Cruz, Collins, McSally and all of his other enablers.  When someone sets me on fire, I don't ask if the lake is fresh water or brackish.  I just jump in to put out the fire.

    I'm hoping with this election, we can finally:

    1. Stop the harm to the US that Trump has been doing:
      • Save and improve ObamaCare
      • Stop wasting money on a useless border wall (see my upcoming tip)
      • Rebuild the reputation of the US as an honorable and admirable world leader that other nations can respect and rally around
      • Stop sticking our heads in the sand as we ignore climate change and hope for the best while dumping a disaster on our children that we were too lazy to face up to
      • Deal with the Coronavirus pandemic intelligently.  Make the right tradeoffs between the health and the finances of the American people.  Unlike Trump, who's made all decisions based on how they affected his polls.
      • etc.

    2. Get a fresh start:
      • Elect lots of new senators and reps so we can truly begin to "drain the swamp" that Trump has made so much worse
      • I'm very encouraged by the number of new idealistic young men and women of all races and nationalities who are stepping up to serve their country in elected office.

    3. Reveal the deep corruption in the Trump administration:
      • Root it out, with independent investigations
      • Expose it to the light, with fair and legal trials
      • Eradicate it, by jailing all of the guilty parties
      • Wouldn't it be nice to have a real President?  One who puts the interests of the country before those of himself and his cronies?

    4. Heal the nation
      • Begin to eliminate the racism, separatism and hatred that Trump has so strongly promoted
      • Return to being a charitable, empathetic, compassionate people who live by the golden rule of "Do unto others..."
      • Stop hunting down weak unfortunate people, imprisoning them, and exiling them back to countries where they will be killed
      • Stop encouraging discrimination and bigotry based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.
      • We need to unify this country into something we can all be proud of again.  Not continue with the "me first" elitist embarrassment that we've become as we gave ourselves permission to do things that would cause our parents and grandparents to shrink in horror and shame

    5. Put in safeguards
      • Put mechanisms in place to make sure we never again sink so low
      • Enact bills to protect voting rights
      • Reform campaign finance laws
      • Redraw the electoral districts in a straightforward non-partisan way
      • impose term limits
      • etc.

    OK.  Back off my soapbox.  Any other tips or links I should add?


  13. Fill out your US Census form

    Original Version: 3/20/2020
    Last Updated: 9/22/2020

    Be sure to fill out your US Census form before Sep 30, 2020, at:

    Already did it in February?  See WARNING: Fill out the REAL US Census form.

    Back in March, you should have received an official paper mail reminder from the US Census Bureau.  It tells you to go to the website, and gives you a 12-char "Census ID" of numbers and capital letters.

    If not, you can still go to the site and do it without a Census ID.

    It's quick and easy

    It's important
    The counts of people in different regions are used to decide:

    The deadline is Sep 30, 2020.

    Do it right now and get it off your to-do list:

    Could have been done faster than reading this email!  :-)


  14. WARNING: Fill out the REAL US Census form

    Original Version: 3/20/2020
    Last Updated: 3/25/2020

    WARNING:  Beware of using the wrong census form and not being counted.

    Last month (February 2020), the Republican National Party mailed out millions of "census-like" forms to known Democratic households.  Don't believe it?  See any of these sources:

    How convincing is the fake?

    They even took the opportunity to solicit money, with an option that says: "I am enclosing $15 to help pay for the cost of processing my Census Document."  But the money really goes to Trump's campaign.

    Don't be fooled.  There are 3 reasons for such a mailing:

    1. Trick you into sending money to Trump's campaign
    2. Trick you into using the fake form and not bothering with the real form
    3. Confuse you into not bothering with either form

    What happens if enough people in heavily Democratic areas are fooled into not filling out the real census form?  The numbers get skewed in favor of Republican states, regions, and cities.  So Republicans get more:

    Tricking you into not filling out the census is like tricking you into not voting.  For details, see It's important.

    Don't be fooled.  Fill out your real US Census form today at:

    The deadline is April 1, 2020, but no, this is not an April Fool's Day joke.


  15. Donate to campaigns

    Original Version: 10/20/2018
    Last Updated: 11/4/2018

    I generally like to stay out of other people's business, so I've always ignored elections in other parts of the country, figuring those people should decide what's right for themselves, and I shouldn't get too involved.

    But this time, things have gone too far.  Huge amounts of money are being spent on TV and Web ads to influence voters.  And too much of it is being spent to support politicians that I would hate to see elected.  Especially since they support a president that I find dishonorable and an agenda that I find despicable.  Suddenly, it DOES matter to me who gets elected to the US Senate in faraway Texas.  So, my wife and I decided how much we could afford to donate to help with the "Blue Wave".

    Then, I spent days researching which races around the country would benefit most from our money.  We ended up splitting our $2,000 among 30 different candidates that were all in tight races.  Lots of of our info came from sites that I've now added to my voting links page:

    For example:


  16. How to talk about politics

    Original Version: 10/17/2018
    Last Updated: 10/17/2018

    Wondering why you disagree so strongly with some of your seemingly intelligent friends about politics?  Why do they not see the light when you show them the facts?

    Here's a good book I found recently.  I bought a pile of copies (only $12 each) and have been handing them out to friends.  I suggest you buy a copy, and read the intro and the 1st chapter.  I think you'll be hooked.

    It's the first sensible explanation I've found of how seemingly intelligent people can disagree so much with me on such seemingly obvious issues.  How can they actually support Trump, for example?  Are they really all malicious, selfish, racist people?  All of them?  Or foolish people who are easily conned?  Or what?

    No.  In many cases, it's because they're locked into a frame of reference that's very different from the one I'm locked into.

    When I toss out a fact that doesn't fit their frame, they disregard it as untrue or some sort of outlier.  And I do the same with facts they toss at me, when they don't fit my frame.

    That doesn't make the 2 sets of facts equally true, but it does explain the bias that makes some facts hard to accept.

    The book does a great job of laying out 2 different frames and how they affect our values, opinions, and ability to accept facts.  According to the book, some people have more of a "strict father" mindset and others have more of a "nurturant parent" mindset, but lots of people have a mix of both.

    The "strict father" types believe that the world is a harsh place with much to be feared.  Kids are born bad and have to be taught to be good.  Fathers must take a strong stance to defend their children from the evil world.  And must punish them when they misbehave.  Also, pursuing your own self-interest tends to lead to the best result for all, with the weak and undisciplined naturally falling by the wayside while the strong and self-reliant prosper.  Even though I lean mostly the other way, I'll admit that some of that does ring true with me.  Especially when I meet people who feel entitled to get free handouts and never want to make any effort of their own.

    The "nurturant parent" types believe that the world is a good place and can be improved.  Kids are born good and should be encouraged to be even better.  Parents must provide a healthy, safe, supportive environment in which their kids can grow to their fullest potential.  Also, protecting the interests of all, in a fair way, tends to lead to the best result for all.  This rings far more true for me.  It fits much better with the Golden Rule that we all learned as kids: "Do unto others..."

    The result is that "strict father" types tend to believe it's wrong to help others too much.  Better to let them wither away as they deserve for being weak.  So they make the "moral choice" to "do the right thing" by voting against social programs that help "bad people" (those in need).  And they vote for programs that reward the "good" (rich successful people and corporations).

    And the "nurturant parent" types tend to believe it's wrong to NOT help others in need, whenever you're able to.  So they make the "moral choice" to "do the right thing" by voting for social programs that help "unfortunate people" (those in need through no fault of their own).  And they vote against programs that reward the "fortunate" (rich successful people and corporations, who should be more able and therefore more expected to carry the load).

    Until you recognize the "frame" that you or someone is trapped in, there are limits to how much you can change your mind or theirs with mere facts.  Instead, you have to change their frame, and gradually convince them that their idea of "doing the right thing" is actually mean, petty, harmful, self-serving, and generally dishonorable.  And you can't do that by yelling at them.  Only by setting a good example, using the right terminology, and constantly reinforcing your message.

    The effect is so strong that "good" people on both sides will generally vote according to their "values", even when it's not in their personal best interest.  For example, poor minorities may still vote for a cruel, petty, racist candidate if they believe in the values that he claims to support: "strength against our common enemies", "rewarding the successful for succeeding", etc.

    They're not necessarily being stupid, failing to understand that they and their families may lose their Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, health insurance, job training, student loans, safety regulations, and other "socialist" support programs.  They may actually be doing what they think is "right", being "patriotic Americans", fighting "big government" and "the Communist menace", etc.

    And rich comfortable mid- to upper-class people may vote for higher taxes, more social programs, etc.  Again, they're not simply being stupid, failing to realize they they will end up paying higher taxes for social programs that they will probably never collect on personally.  They too are doing what they think is "right"!

    Interesting concept. It was a real eye opener for me. 

    That's why it's so hard to change the mind of people on the other side. They have a fundamentally different set of values, and may truly believe what they are saying.  If you do argue with them, watch for them to give up and propose that you just "agree to disagree". 

    That's a sign that you're getting through to them.  They're starting to listen to the words coming out of their mouths and realizing that they don't like what they're hearing.  It sets up a sort of "cognitive dissonance" in their brain, and they get uncomfortable and want to end the conversation.

    Good luck!


  17. Volunteer

    Original Version: 10/23/2018
    Last Updated: 10/20/2020 (Note: Watch for frequent updates to this tip.  Be sure to refresh your browser for the latest.)

    Want to have a bigger effect on the election?

    Don't just vote.  Don't just write a check.  Volunteer your time!  A day, an hour, 15 minutes, whatever time you can spare.  Go door to door, work in a team room, or just sit alone at home.   It's fun and easy!

    1. Get Out The Vote (GOTV):
      Encourage other people to register and vote:

      • Canvass door-to-door
      • Make phone calls
      • Send texts
      • Send emails to people you know
      • Post to social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
      • Use the VoteWithMe app to identify people you know who are registered but don't always remember to vote
      • Hand out voter registration forms and campaign literature in public places and at public events
      • Put out yard signs, in front of your own house, and in public places
      • Hang "door hanger" literature on door knobs of houses
      • Talk to your friends about the issues, the candidates, etc., and make sure they're registered and planning to vote.  Especially those who've never voted before, just turned 18, or recently moved to a new address.

      Here's a great site to sign up for any of these activities.  Can filter by location, date, type of activity, remote (from home) vs in-person activities, etc:

    2. Work at the polls:
      Work as an official paid "poll worker", or volunteer as a "poll observer", "poll greeter", etc.  Sign up for a few hours on Election Day or for the entire day.  In a typical year, many of these are senior citizens, but due to Coronavirus concerns, many of them are reluctant to risk exposure this year, so more are needed.
      Options include:

      • Paid "poll worker" ("election official")
        Sit behind the desk in the polling place, signing in voters, handing out ballots, helping with any issues, etc.  Strictly non-partisan.  Cannot wear or say anything about a specific party or candidate.

      • Volunteer "poll watcher" ("inside poll observer")
        Sit at a table inside the polling place, silently observing the voting process, watching for any voters who are not being permitted to vote.  If they're at the wrong polling place, help them find the right one.  If they're being denied for other reasons, work with the Judge of Elections to resolve the issue, getting them a regular ballot or a "provisional ballot".  Watch for any form of voter suppression or bias.  If necessary, call the hot-line phone number to get help from the legal staff about specific issues, or to have an investigator sent to the polling place. 
        Typically aligned with a specific political party.  Each party is granted 1 or 2 "certificates" that allow their poll watchers to be inside the polling place.  But cannot wear anything about a specific party or candidate, or do any sort of campaigning.
        In Chester County PA, contact Liz Swain:
        Other US:

      • Volunteer "poll greeter" ("outside poll observer")
        Sit at a table OUTSIDE the polling place, typically 10 feet or more away as required by local laws, handing out literature and displaying signs, banners, etc. for specific candidates or a specific party.  Answer voter questions about candidates, issues, etc.  Watch for any voter supression or intimidation.  Make sure all voters arriving and waiting in line feel comfortable and safe.  Check with voters coming out of the polls to make sure they were permitted to vote as they chose.  Help anyone who looks bewildered or frustrated and might have given up and gone home without voting.  If necessary, call the hot-line phone number to get help from the legal staff about specific issues, or to have an investigator sent to the polling place. 
        In Chester County PA, contact Liz Swain:
        Other US:

      • Non-partisan "Election Protection" volunteer
        Same as "poll greeter above" above, but non-partisan.  Sit outside, 10 feet away, watch for voter supression or intimidation, etc., with a hot-line to call if necessary.  But do NOT promote or discuss any specific party, candidate, or issue, other than the right of each citizen to vote.
    3. Observe the vote count:
      Volunteer to observe the vote counting at the official country or state location on and after Election Day.  Each party may have observers present to ensure that all ballots are properly counted.  This is likely to be an around-the-clock effort in 4 hours shifts or so, starting at 7am Election Day (earlier in states where early counting is legally allowed) and continuing for perhaps several days.  Expect there to be rules about decorum and social distancing, and perhaps restrictions on cell phone use.
      In Chester County PA, contact David Mandelbaum:
      Other US:

    4. Work at a county or state election office
      Temporary volunteer/paid positions helping local counties and states to handle all the work involved in managing an election in times of Coronavirus and increased mail-in voting.

      • Answer phones
      • Data entry
      • Process mail-in ballot applications and returned ballots
      • Assist people who want to vote early in person
      • General customer service
      • Count votes after the election

      In Delaware County PA, contact Stacy Heisey-Terrell:
      Other US:

    5. More info:

      You can also Google the names of your favorite candidates and find activities specifically in support of their campaign.  Or just local candidates in general.  Or in support of your favorite causes.  For example:

    All of this is much easier and more fun than you might expect.  My wife and I have never been politically active, but this time we are "all in"!  She's canvassing, I'm emailing and posting, we're both handing out registration forms and campaign literature, we've got signs in the front yard, we're working at the polls, etc.

    Canvassing is easy. Especially GOTV ("Get Out The Vote") canvassing, where you're knocking on doors only of people who agree with you politically.  The time for convincing is past.  Now you're preaching to the choir, and just reminding them to make the effort to actually get to the polls.  The organizers will give you scripts, talking points, training, etc.  And you can be paired with someone more experienced if you like.

    Here's a 2018 page about canvassing, described by people like us who'd never done it before, and were a little nervous:

    And for those who know Brita, or know me but haven't yet met her, here's her segment of the 2018 video interview:

    Any questions? Feel free to email me.  Any other tips or links to add?  Let me know!


  18. Attend rallies

    Original Version: 6/17/2020
    Last Updated: 6/17/2020

    Want to be heard heard, beyond just voting?

    Attend a peaceful, well-organized rally in support of whatever cause you believe in.  It's a great way to get the attention of politicians, just by standing there quietly for an hour or two.  They pay LOTS of attention to how many people bother to show up at each rally.

    Rallies are peaceful and safe

    Despite what you see on TV, almost all rallies are very calm and peaceful.  I've attended about a half dozen in the past 4 years.  In the local towns of Malvern and West Chester with dozens or hundreds of people.  In the city of Philadelphia with thousands.  And in Washington DC with tens or hundreds of thousands. 

    All were very well organized.  Peaceful protesters giving speeches, carrying signs, chanting and marching along a pre-arranged route, where the police had already put up sawhorses and other barricades to redirect traffic.  Lots of portable toilets, free bottled water, fruit and other snacks.  I'm not much of a chanter, so I just carry my sign, and walk or stand quietly.

    Ignore TV's focus on violence

    TV likes to play up all the extremes to try to get more viewers.  So the evening news has always focused on fires, shootings, rapes, muggings, robberies, kidnappings, home invasions, and other rare but "exciting" events.  Spends very little time on the much more common but "boring" good news.

    Similarly, they've played up the occasional violence, vandalism, looting, tear gas, pepper spray, beatings and rubber bullets at the recent George Floyd "Black Lives Matter" rallies.  But none of that is typical.  Almost all rallies are much more calm, peaceful, and disciplined.  No bad behavior by police or protesters.

    Bring your kids

    Bring your kids to see democracy in action.  Teach them to stand up and be counted.  Form great memories for a lifetime.  All the rallies I've attended had lots of kids, babies in strollers or backpacks, moms, dads, whole families.  Recently, due to the Coronavirus, everyone wears a facemask and tries not to get too close.  No hand shakes or other physical contact among strangers. 

    If you see anything you don't approve of, or that makes you uncomfortable, just walk away and go home for family game night instead.

    My recent experience

    My wife and I attended 2 recent George Floyd "Black Lives Matter" rallies.  In Philly with 4,000 people.  And in Malvern with a couple hundred people.

    Both were very peaceful, but very powerful.  The police and protesters were very well behaved.  Lots of press and politicians, so maybe there'll be some good effect.

    The goal of both rallies was to "defund the police", which means to reallocate some of the police budget towards other social services, like education, libraries, parks, recreation, health, and community relations. 

    Spend more money making people's lives better, encouraging and inspiring them to be productive members of society.  Spend less locking them up after they become discouraged, hopeless and desperate.  Spend less on weapons, shields and body armor for police.  More on developing better relationships with the community they serve. 

    With no violence, vandalism, or looting at either rally, I think that message was heard.


    The Philly rally had lots of press.  News helicopters buzzing above the tall city buildings, filming the streets overflowing with protesters.  Lots of reporters wandering through the crowd.  My wife and I were interviewed by an AP reporter and her cameraman.  Here's a 2-minute video clip from Philly's channel 6 ABC WPVI:

    We gathered at Broad (15th) and Callowhill, in front of the old Philly Inquirer building, which is planned to become a future police headquarters.  Lots of speeches, explaining the goals of the "defund the police" movement, and citing specific examples of how things could be done better.  Then we marched down Broad to City Hall, east on Market to 3rd street and west on Race for more speeches (outside the home of Mayor Kenney?).  Total event was about 3 hours.

    It was a VERY peaceful rally.  Lots of speeches, marching, signs, cameras, chanting things like:

    I carried the same sign that I've carried to a half dozen rallies in DC, Philly and local towns over the past 4 years:

    My wife made one that says:

    Organizers were wandering the crowd giving out water, fruit, hand sanitizer, masks (but everyone already had their own masks).  Also carrying trash bags for people to discard water bottles, banana peels, apple cores.  And gathering up any litter along the way.  Left the streets cleaner than before the rally.

    The crowd was mostly young white people, maybe 25% black or other minority.  Few elderly, though we got support from many of them as we marched past their houses.

    No violence, vandalism, looting.  No interaction w/police who hung out behind barricades at street corners, building entrances, etc.  Police wore helmets everywhere, and face shields when lined up to protect city hall, Philly Municipal Services Building, Liberty Bell, etc.  Lots of senior police in white uniforms, not just the low-level patrol officers.  Lots of black police and white police.

    The police closed all the streets used by the march in advance.  No change of route, unexpected blocking of traffic, etc.

    My wife brought along voter registration forms and gave them out to anyone not already registered.

    A good experience.  I'm glad we went!


    The rally was at the gazebo in the park in the middle of Malvern.  We started with a silent protest of everyone lying quietly on the lawn for 8 minutes and 46 seconds (8:46), the amount of time that the Minneapolis cop knelt on George Floyd's neck.  Then a march past the stores on King Street, and looping back to the park.

    Then lots of speeches by local politicians and Black Lives Matter advocates, plus some music.  2 hours total, but some families hung out in the park for a while afterwards, sitting on folding chairs and picnic blankets, watching their kids doing cartwheels, enjoying the light breeze through the trees.

    As with Philly, it was all very peaceful, with no interaction between police and protesters.  Malvern has only 5 full-time police, plus a few part-timers.  They worked with the protest organizers, and brought in dozens of extra police from nearby towns.  For crowd control and to detour traffic for 20 minutes as we marched the streets of the pre-planned route.  Also had an ambulance parked nearby, but it wasn't needed.

    My wife and I carried the same signs as at the Philly rally.  Also gave out "Hate Has No Home Here" lawn signs.  I've had one in front of my house for 4 years.  Want one?  I have a few spares lying around.  I'll give you one if you want to put it in your lawn.  Here's what they look like:

    Like the Philly rally, I think it made a strong statement in a peaceful way.  I'm glad we went.

    Join us?

    Should I invite you to any future rallies I hear about?


  19. Gerrymandering

    Original Version: 10/29/2018
    Last Updated: 3/30/2021

    "Gerrymandering" is the process of drawing the boundaries of electoral districts to intentionally affect the outcome of the vote.

    Here's a fun 5-minute video explanation:

    The video is cast in terms of the Animal Kingdom.  The lions are trying to change from a monarchy to a democracy, but need a voting system that's fair for all types of animals.  The video gives a very clear explanation of the problem, using simple diagrams to show how drawing different boundary lines for voter districts can reliably produce different election results.

    Like the other videos in the same series, it's easily understood by grade school kids, but still not overly simplistic for folks who already a lot about it.  Each one points out some subtle effects that I'd missed before.

    Here's my summary of the video...

    Small number of large districts

    In general, having a small number of large districts, with one or more winners in each district, produces a fairer result.  In fact, having one huge district for all voters completely avoids the problem of gerrymandering.  With only one district, there are no boundaries between districts, so gerrymandering isn't possible. 


    That's exactly the argument in favor of getting rid of the Electoral College in US Presidential elections, and just going with the popular vote.  The Electoral College is a form of gerrymandering that was purposely added by the 13 states as they negotiated with each other to form the US.

    4 things were explicitly negotiated to give advantages to some states over others:

    1. 2 Senators per state, regardless of geographic size (favors small states)

    2. 2 Senators per state, regardless of population (favors states with fewer people)

    3. Number of House Reps per state is based on population (favors states with more people)

    4. Number of Electoral College electors per state, to choose the President, is the number of Senators plus the number of House Reps (same compromise as above)

    These days, there's a lot of discussion about whether or not the Electoral College is working well.  Especially since it's happened so often recently that the Electoral College vote and the popular vote would have chosen different Presidents.

    Large number of small districts

    Having a larger number of smaller districts, typically with one winner per district, makes gerrymandering more possible.  Most districts may be won by the same party, each by a slim majority.  That can lead to complete dominance by that party.

    A party can win most districts even when losing most votes overall.  That's a "non-proportional" result -- the minority can come to power over the majority.  Especially if the district boundaries were explicitly gerrymandered to produce that result. 

    So avoid the problem entirely, by having very large districts, with multiple winners per district.  Simple, right?

    But people like small districts

    But for local elections, people like to have local reps who resumably share their interests.  No one wants all of their reps to be from the far side of the country.  Or even from the far side of the state, or the far side of a big county.  So what to do?

    Proposed solutions:

    1. Bipartisan committee of politicians to draw districts
      • But there's a basic conflict
        • Voters want close elections where anyone can win
        • Politicians want safe elections where their party will win
        • So even bipartisan committees tend to gerrymander
        • Each committee member tries to give the overall advantage to his own party

    2. Independent Commission of non-politicians
      • May not be independent enough
        • Lots of power, so lots of opportunity for corruption
      • Even if honest, they tend to group similar areas together
        • Based on the common interests of the local voters
        • But that tends to makes elections "safe" again, not close

    3. Math, using "Shortest Split-Line" method (see the video)
      • No intentional bias, but can still skew via bad luck

    4. Gerrymandering for good, not evil
      • Gerrymandering to avoid the problems of gerrymandering
      • Gerrymandering that's explicitly designed to produce the most fair "proportional" result -- the winners that most voters wanted

    5. Any better ideas, anyone?

    See the video for more detail:

    For similar videos about other voting-related topics, see:

    For more info on gerrymandering, see:


  20. Types of voting systems

    Original Version: 10/29/2018
    Last Updated: 3/28/2021

    There are various types of voting systems.  The simplest is "plurality" voting, where there's a single choice to be made among multiple candidates and whoever gets the most votes wins.

    That's the most common in the US, for local, state, and federal elections.  And for school boards, PTA meetings, clubs, etc.  Even for decisions among friends, family members, school mates, etc.  And not just in the US.  It's also the most common in other countries.  So, we're all familiar with that.  But it has some weaknesses, so there are other systems.

    Here's a good series of short fun videos about various voting systems, cast in terms of the Animal Kingdom:

    The lions are trying to change from a monarchy to a democracy, but need to find a voting system that will fairly represent all types of animals.  Using this metaphor, it gives a really good explanation of various voting systems, and what works and what doesn't for each.

    There are 5 videos, each 5-6 minutes long.  It's worth the time to watch them all.  Very clear explanations good graphics.  Easily understood by grade school kids, but still not overly simplistic for folks who already know a good bit about it.  Able to point out some subtle effects that I'd missed in previous stuff I read.

    The following tips are my notes on the various systems.


    1. Plurality Voting -- aka "First Past The Post" (FPTP) Voting

      Original Version: 10/29/2018
      Last Updated: 3/28/2021

      As I said above, "plurality" voting is the simplest voting system that we're all familiar with.  Whoever gets the most votes wins.

      More precisely, whoever gets a "plurality" (more votes than any other candidate) wins, even if it's not a "majority" (more than 50%).


      1. It's not proportional.  There's an "all or nothing", "winner takes all" effect that leaves the minority with zero representation.

      2. A plurality can still be a significant minority, so the winner may be someone that most people hate

      3. So, people vote defensively/strategically against the worst candidate instead of simply for their favorite candidate

      4. Multiple parties always fade away, leaving only 2 parties

      5. Gerrymandering can do things like splitting a majority party that's currently out of power into multiple districts so it can't win in any one district

      6. 3rd parties are spoilers, tending to pull splits votes away from the major party they have most in common with.  So the other major party wins.  In that case, the 3rd party hurts the interests of its own voters.

      7. This is so true that a weaker major party that strongly disagrees with the 3rd party may even fund its campaign.  Just to make it a spoiler for the stronger major party, so that the weaker major party wins.

      For more info, See:


    2. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) -- aka "Instant-Runoff Voting" (IRV), "Alternative Voting" (AV), "Preferential Voting"

      Original Version: 10/29/2018
      Last Updated: 3/28/2021

      Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), also known as "Instant-Runoff Voting" (IRV), "Alternative Voting" (AV), and "Preferential Voting", tries to solve the problems of "Plurality Voting".

      Voters list their 1st, 2nd, 3rd choices, etc.  The vote goes to their 1st choice, unless that candidate ends up with a low enough count to be out of the running.  In which case the vote transfers to their 2nd choice.  And so on, until one candidate gets the majority.

      In elections where we choose more than one winner, like "pick any 5 of these 9 to fill seats on a school board"), it's not "until one candidate gets a majority".  Instead, it's "until all seats are filled by candidates who got enough votes be sure to win".  For example, with only 1 seat to fill, that's means over 1/2 (50%) of the votes.  But with 2 seats to fill it's over 1/3 (33.3%), with 3 seats to fill it's over 1/4 (25%), etc.


      1. Stops the spoiler effect.  There's no need to vote defensively/strategically against the worst candidate.  Just vote for your favorites, in order.


      1. Gerrymandering is still a problem.

      2. It's not proportional.  There's still an "all or nothing", "winner takes all" effect that leaves the minority with zero representation.

      3. Can't guarantee a "Condorcet winner".

      4. Multiple parties still always fade away, leaving only 2 parties

      For more info, See:


    3. Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP) Voting

      Original Version: 3/28/2021
      Last Updated: 3/28/2021

      Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP) Voting tries to solve the problems of "Plurality Voting".

      It doubles the number of seats.  Each voter gets 2 votes.  One for a candidate to represent their local district, because people like having local reps, and don't want one huge district.  The other for the party they prefer to fill one of the additional "at-large" seats.  The "at-large" seats are filled in such a way as to explicitly cause the total proportion of seats to match the total proportion of 2nd votes.  Each party chooses in advance which candidates will get the at-large seats awarded to the party.

      People will still vote defensively/strategically with their 1st vote to avoid the candidate.  But will use their 2nd vote to simply vote for their favorite party.


      1. Gerrymandering becomes ineffective because the total proportion of seats always matches the total proportion of 2nd votes.

      2. Prevents minority rule

      3. Encourages more than 2 parties

      4. It's less "winner takes all".  The 1st vote (local vote) still is, but the 2nd vote (at-large vote) nullifies that effect.


      1. Parties become an official part of the election process

      2. Parties can pressure their candidates to conform to party line, be a "team player".  So parties in general gain power.

      For more info, See:


    4. Single Transferable Vote

      Original Version: 10/29/2018
      Last Updated: 3/28/2021

      Are you disgusted with both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party?  Tempted to vote for a 3rd party candidate?

      Voting 3rd party may not be enough.  Unless we can get enough people at the same time to all take a leap of faith together.  Sometimes (especially in the 2016 and 2020 elections), we're forced to vote for the lesser of 2 evils, which may not be our 1st choice.

      That's why I like the idea of a "Single Transferable Vote", which is a refinement to "Ranked Choice Voting".

      As with "Ranked Choice Voting", let me vote for my 1st, 2nd, 3rd choices, etc., with the vote going to my 1st choice, unless that candidate ended up with a low enough count to be out of the running.  In which case the vote would transfer to my 2nd choice, etc.  Until one candidate gets the majority.  And in elections to choose more than one winner, do the same thing until all seats are filled by candidates who got enough votes be sure to win.

      But in multi-winner elections, also add one more rule.  Once a candidate has enough votes to be sure to win a seat, any other votes are "surplus" (unneeded) votes.  Give those votes proportionally to the 2nd choice candidates of all voters who voted for that candidate, etc.  Otherwise, such "surplus" votes would be wasted on candidates that are already sufficiently popular, to the detriment of similar candidates.


      1. All the Pros of "Ranked Choice Voting" (no spoiler effect where voting for a long shot 1st choice causes my 2nd choice to lose)

      2. It's more proportional (within each district).  No votes are wasted.  I don't have to guess whether to vote for my 1st or 2nd choice.  No risk of wasting a vote on my 1st choice who didn't need it, at the expense of my 2nd choice who did.  No risk of my least favorite beating my 2nd choice because I wasted my vote on my 1st choice.  Instead, that "surplus" vote rolls over to my 2nd choice.

      3. Encourages more than 2 parties.

      4. Guarantees a "Condorcet winner" (I think) because no votes are wasted.


      1. Gerrymandering is still a problem.

      It's still not perfect, but seems to be the best we've come up with so far.  It would allow long shots to have a better chance of beating the main 2 parties.

      I don't know how we'd ever get such a change since both parties would be VERY anxious to block it.  But if we could, I think it would work out great!

      For more info, See:

      For the first time, in 2018, the state of Maine will be using this system for their federal elections.  Here's a site that talks about the pros/cons, how it was put into place in Maine, etc.  We'll see how it works out!

      Starting in 2021, the city of New York will do the same for primary and special elections.  And it's already used in nearly 20 other American cities, including San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Minneapolis.  Also in other democratic countries like Australia, the UK, and Ireland.  See:


  21. CARES Act -- 3/27/2020 $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus Bill

    Original Version: 3/28/2020
    Last Updated: 4/8/2020 (Search for occurrences of "update" below)

    NOTE: This is an old version of this tip.  For a newer version, see:

    Here's what's in the "CARES Act", the $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus bill.

    This bill is also known as "Phase III" of the various bills passed this month to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.  There's already talk of a Phase IV bill, since this one was so rushed.  Hopefully much smaller, just to fine tune a few things.

    Date Pages Cost Name
    I Wed
    28 $8.3 Billion Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act
    II Wed
    83 $180 - 350 Billion Families First Coronavirus Response Act
    III Fri
    880 $2.2 Trillion
    ($2,200 Billion)
    CARES Act -- Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act
    IV ???
    ??? $??? ???


    Legend: Color-coding of partisan aspects, as I understand them:

    What's in the bill

    1. $2,192 Billion total

    2. $504B: Emergency grants/loans to large corporations
      1. $25B grants (not loans) to passenger airlines
      2. $25B loans to passenger airlines
      3. $17B for companies (Boeing) critical to national security
      4. $425B for other businesses, cities and states
      5. $12B: For what? I couldn't find details.
      6. Restrictions on companies getting money:
        1. No layoffs
        2. No furloughs (reduced hours, mandatory unpaid time off)
        3. No pay cuts
        4. No stock buybacks to raise shareholder value
        5. No dividends to shareholders
        6. No salary increases for execs
        7. No benefit to Trump, Pence, Cabinet members, Congress, or their families (spouse, child, son-in-law, daughter-in-law)
          1. No such restriction on friends, business associates or other family members.  Only on family members listed above.
        8. Restrictions last only 1-2 years.  After that, anything goes, regardless of whether the loans have been repaid.
      7. Oversight of companies receiving money
        1. Administered by the Federal Reserve following their established policies.  Not personally by Mnuchin as he sees fit.  To ensure it doesn't become a "corporate slush fund".
        2. New "Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR)" to watch for fraud and abuse, like TARP had in the 2008 bailout
          1. Note: Immediately after he publicly signed the bill into law on national TV, Trump quietly issued a "signing statement" saying he won't cooperate with the SIGPR.  He's forbidden his administration to comply with requests for documentation.  And he's told the SIGPR not to issue any of the required reports to Congress without his explicit permission.
        3. Congressional oversight panel to evaluate how the money is distributed
          1. Note: Trump also challenged this provision of the bill after he signed it into law.  Says Congress is not allowed to oversee any spending by the Executive Branch.  It's not yet clear what he plans to do with all the money, but he says he's going to defy the Congressional oversight committee and the SIGPR.  Maybe he wants to use all $2.2T to "build the wall" instead?  Or just put it all in his own pocket?  When asked if he would commit to exempting his business interests from bailout funds, he said "Let's just see what happens."
        4. Airlines must report loans within 3 days, others 14 days, not 6 months

    3. $377B: Emergency grants/loans to small businesses

          [4/2/2020 Update]
          [4/3/2020 Update]
          This entire section updated 4/2/2020 and 4/3/2020.  No changes, just additions.  Now more specific about Sections 1102 (Loans), 1106 (Loan Forgiveness), and 1107 (Grants).  Also, more accurate about the loan interest rate.  When I read a max of 4% interest could be charged by lenders, I assumed they'd all charge that.  But they seem to have started at 0.5%, and then moved to 1%.  Thanks to:
          • Mike Tischler, for pointing out the $10,000 Section 1110 Emergency EIDL Grants.  I'd missed that entirely.
          • Craig Rothe, for pointing out the 8 week limit on spending the Section 1102 (Loan) money, to qualify for Section 1106 (Loan Forgiveness).  I'd missed that entirely also.  I guess that's what happens when you read an 880-page legalese document at 3am!

      1. Typically businesses with no more than 500 employees per physical location
      2. Loans: "Section 1102: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)"
        1. 1% loan up to $10 million
        2. Actual amount is 2.5 times average monthly payroll for previous 12 months
        3. No payments/interest for 6-12 months
        4. Used only for employee salaries, health care, paid leave, company rent or mortgage interest, interest on existing loans, utility payments, necessities, worker protections, higher salaries for tipped employees, etc.
        5. Only for expenses incurred 2/15/2020 to 6/30/2020
        6. Administered by lenders (banks, credit unions, etc.) certified by the SBA (Small Business Association)
          1. Lender can charge up to 4% interest, and limited fees
          2. Federal government pays additional fee to lender:
            1. 5% for loans up to $350,000
            2. 3% for loans up to $2,000,000
            3. 1% for loans over $2,000,000
        7. Non-profits too
      3. Grants: "Section 1106: Loan Forgiveness"
        1. Loans above can be "forgiven" -- converted to grant, not a loan, not paid back.  100% of the loan amount, subject to the following:
          1. Only portion spent in first 8 weeks of loan
          2. Layoffs increase the percent that must be repaid
          3. Salary cuts increase the percent that must be repaid
          4. Except for employees who earn more than $100,000/year
          5. Unless laid off employees are re-hired or replaced, and salary cuts reversed, by June 30, 2020
      4. Grants: "Section 1110: Emergency EIDL Grants"
        1. Up to $10,000
        2. Grant, not loan, not paid back
        3. Keep the money even if you don't eventually qualify for loans above
        4. Used for employee salaries, health care, paid leave (sick leave or other), increased costs of materials due to disrupted supply chain, company rent/mortgage, other costs as needed due to revenue loss
        5. Only for expenses incurred 1/31/2020 to 12/31/2020

    4. $290B: Checks mailed directly to millions of families
      1. Up to $1,200 per adult (less for wealthier families)
      2. Up to $500 per child (less for wealthier families)
      3. Not taxable, since it's officially a "tax credit"
      4. Including families below poverty level who paid no taxes

    5. $280B: Business tax cuts/deferrals
      1. Payroll tax credit
        Effectively, the government pays your total payroll and healthcare costs for up to 8 weeks (2 weeks/quarter)
        1. Claimed for each quarter of the year.  Starts when gross income drops below 50% of same quarter last year.  Ends when it gets back above 80%.
        2. Credit = 50% of total "qualified wages" for that quarter of all employees not working but still being paid
        3. For companies with 100 employees or less, same credit even if the employees ARE still working
        4. Qualified wages of an employee per quarter = one month salary + one month employer healthcare costs.  Limited to $10,000/employee per year.
        5. Applies only to qualified wages paid 3/13/2020 to 12/31/2020
        6. Used to pay employer portion of "payroll taxes" (6.2% to Social Security, plus 1.45% to Medicare).  Employee portion (same percentages) still paid by employee.
        7. Any excess, above payroll taxes for current quarter, rolls over.  Can be used in future quarters.
      2. Deduct 50% of interest on business loans.  Was 30%.
      3. Deduct more losses against taxable income (more than 80% and from more years)
      4. Defer employer payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare)
        1. Was: Due monthly
        2. Now: Half due 2 years from now (12/31/2021), half due 3 years form now (12/31/2022)
        3. All costs to be paid out of the General Fund, not the Social Security Trust Funds
      5. Defer corporate/business taxes
        1. This might be a repeat of the item above (payroll taxes).  Or there might be additional deferring of corp/business taxes.  I'm not sure.  880 pages is a LOT to read.
        2. Applies to Trump hotels/resorts?
      6. Deduct cost of building improvements immediately, not amortized over time
        1. Hospitality industry only (hotels, resorts, casinos, restaurants, bars)
        2. Applies to Trump hotels/resorts?
      7. [4/8/2020 Update]
        Stop payroll, but not benefits
        If you still can't afford to keep paying your employees, consider cutting their salaries but not their health insurance and other benefits.  For employees with low salaries, they may actually come out ahead, due to the additional $600/week being paid in unemployment benefits for the next 4 months.  (See the unemployment section below.)  That's what Elon Musk is doing with his low-income Tesla employees, since he's been ordered to temporarily shut down his factory in California.

    6. $260B: Improved unemployment insurance benefits and eligibility
      1. Additional $600/week for 4 months. 
        1. Was $300-$400/week average.  Now $900-$1,000/week average.
        2. Concern:  Unemployment may pay more than a minimum wage job, which discourages people from working. 
          1. Only for 4 months.  And we're currently all being asked to stay home anyhow.
      2. 39 weeks.  Was 12-28 weeks (varies by state), now 39 weeks.  May be extended further if Coronavirus pandemic persists.
      3. No waiting period.  Previously, no benefits for 1st week unemployed.  Now starts as soon as you apply.
      4. People not laid off.  Now available to people not actually laid off, but who can't work because of Coronavirus:
        1. Too sick
        2. Quarantined
        3. Nursing a sick household member
        4. Forced to stay home w/kids due to closed school or daycare
        5. Unable to get to work (public transit closed, etc.)
        6. Suddenly need a job because breadwinner died
        7. Place of employment is closed
        8. Had to quit for other reason due to Coronavirus
      5. People not previously covered.  All of the above now also applies to the following people who were not previously covered:
        1. Freelancers and other gig workers (independent consultants, contractors, Uber/Lyft/Amazon drivers, etc.)
        2. Part-time workers
        3. People who haven't worked long enough to qualify under the old rules
        4. "Partially unemployed" workers (hours cut by employer)
      6. Restrictions.  All of the above does NOT apply if you are:
        1. Able to be paid for working from home
        2. On paid leave (sick leave or other)
      7. Retroactive to 2019.  If your unemployment ran out in 2019, you can retroactively collect up to 13 more weeks.
      8. Paid by the federal government.  The additional benefits are paid by the federal government.  Not by employers that pay regular benefits, since they may not be able to handle the increase.
      9. Additional benefit goes to employee.  Employers and states are not allowed to reduce regular benefits because of additional benefits.
      10. Expires 12/31/2020.  These changes pretty much all expire 12/31/2020, unless they get extended.

    7. $180B: Hospitals, expanded health-care spending
      1. $100B: Hospitals and providers hit hardest by Coronavirus (especially in rural America)
        1. PPE gear for workers, testing supplies, ERs, etc.
      2. $80B: Community health centers, Medicare, Telehealth/home service, public health agencies like CDC

    8. $175B: Emergency aid for state/local governments
      1. $150B: State/local governments
        1. Min $1.5B per US state
        2. DC and territories get less
        3. $8B: Tribal governments
      2. $25B: Infrastructure grants for states

    9. $45B: FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)

    10. $31B: Schools/colleges

    11. $25B: Transit systems

    12. $25B: School meals, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), food banks, etc.

    13. Miscellaneous: I'm not sure which bucket these fall in, or how much they add up to, but you may be interested anyhow.  If they apply to you, you may have to be aware to benefit.
      1. Student loans 
        1. Payments deferred till Sept 30.  Just skip your payments.  No interest, no penalty.  Applies only to some federally sponsored student loans. 
        2. Payments tax-free when paid by your employer, up to $5,250/year.  Previously, courses taught by your employer, and tuition reimbursed by your employer, were not treated as income.  But student loans paid by your employer were.  Now, none of them are taxable income.
        3. Loans forgiven for payment periods when you had to drop out due to Coronavirus.  Don't have to be paid back.
        4. Grants not returned by you or college to federal government if you drop out due to Coronavirus
        5. Period of enrollment adjusted for federal loans, Pell grants, etc.  Not a problem if you take longer to graduate due to Coronavirus.
        6. "Satisfactory academic progress" calculation ignores credits not completed due to Coronavirus
        7. Foreign study restrictions relaxed regarding loans and grants for foreign students studying here, US students studying abroad, etc.  Can go home to a local school, switch to on-line classes, etc.
        8. Work study restrictions relaxed.  College can pay you for hours not worked due to Coronavirus.
        9. Colleges can increase grants to students impacted by Coronavirus
      2. Early withdrawal of retirement money
        In 2020, you can withdraw up to $100,000 from a retirement plan without a penalty for early withdrawal.  Don't have to wait till age 59 1/2.  Applies to IRA, 401(k), 403(b), etc.  Roth and non-Roth versions.
        • [4/4/2020 Update]
          You can take 3 years to pay back the early withdrawal, if you don't want to pay any taxes on it.  Or spread out the tax payments over 3 years.
      3. $300 charitable contribution tax deduction
        You can deduct up to $300 that you donate to charity, from your federal taxes.  On Form 1040, even if you don't itemize deductions.
      4. REAL ID deadline pushed back a year, till at least Sept 2021
      5. Foreclosure/eviction protection
        1. 2-6 months to pay your mortgage before foreclosure
        2. 4 months to pay rent before eviction
        3. No additional interest, penalties, fees
        4. Applies to federally backed mortgages only.  And to tenants of landlords with federally backed mortgages.
      6. No money for Trump's border wall
        Money is allocated for the National Guard to deal with the Coronavirus.  But it's explicitly NOT allowed to be transferred to the "Counter-Drug" account that pays for the border wall.

    What's NOT in the bill

    Here are additional items that are NOT in the bill.  The Democrats wanted them, but the Republicans blocked them all.  Some of this may show up in the Phase IV bill.  (This was Phase III.)

    1. $1,500 check per adult, not just $1,200.
      $1,500 per child, not just $500.
      Up to $7,500/household
    2. $200/month increase in Social Security
    3. $10,000 in federal student loan debt cancellation
    4. Free health care for those with Coronavirus
    5. Funding for vote-by-mail system for 2020 elections
    6. $25B for the US Post Office

    More info

    Full searchable text of Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III bills, and all US Code:

    1. Phase I: 28-page, $8.3 Billion "Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act", Wed 3/4/2020

    2. Phase II: 83-page, $180-350 Billion "Families First Coronavirus Response Act", Wed 3/18/2020

    3. Phase III: 880-page, $2.2 Trillion "Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act" (CARES Act)", Fri 3/27/2020

    4. US Code of Law.  Useful for looking up details of things like "US Code, Title 26, Internal Revenue Code, Section 72(t), 10-percent additional tax on early distributions from qualified retirement plans" that are referred to so often in Phase III above.

    More info about Phase III (CARES Act):

    1. Good overview, with graphs/charts showing where the money goes

    2. Another good overview, with graphs/charts (a day or two before the bill was finalized, may have some details wrong)

    3. Simple explanation of dozens of items

    4. Brief explanations of hundreds of items (unfortunately, not searchable)

    5. EXCELLENT resource!  Mentions lots of items I didn't see in any other summary (payroll tax credit, student loans, IRA withdrawals, etc.).  I would NEVER have found these otherwise, unless I read the entire 880-page document closely.  And even where I already HAD read the relevant section of the 880-page doc, it pointed out things in plain English that I had missed in the legalese. 

      For example, it tipped me off to the fact that a small business can get the federal government to pay its full payroll for up to 8 weeks, even if it does NOT have idle workers. I had failed to notice that, in section 2301.c.3.A.ii.II of the 880-page doc, where it describes the "qualified wages" of a company with 100 or less employees, it omits the phrase about "not providing services" that it DOES include in the earlier section 2301.c.3.A.i, where it describes the same for companies of 500 or less employees.  Having already read the earlier section which is very nearly identical, I zoned out and missed the few omitted words in the later section.  I couldn't believe this and many other things I found in this excellent summary, so I searched for each one in the 880-page doc, and yes, all true.  Will save me a FORTUNE this year!

    6. What Democrats fought for, won and lost

    7. Details of wrangling about unemployment insurance

    8. Articles about Trump planning to defy Congress after signing the bill

    9. Trump approves of money for Kennedy Center

    If you think these sources are all biased, you can find your own sources with a search engine query like the following.  Email me any other sources that significantly add info, or that contradict what I've said here.  I'll add them to the list and update this summary.  Maybe I'll learn something in the process!


  22. My 3 biggest complaints about Trump

    Original Version: 2/25/2017
    Updated: 10/26/2018
    Last Updated: 6/26/2020

    Here are my 3 biggest complaints about Trump:

    1. Trump is dishonorable

      Would even his biggest fans really trust him alone with their daughters?  With their money?  Would any of them honestly describe him as an "honorable" man?  I've started to ask that lately, and the answer always starts with "No, but ...".

      For example, during the campaign, Trump saw a graph of murder rates in the US.  It showed a massive DECREASE year after year for 20 years, dropping now to the LOWEST in 50 years.  He noted that after the extraordinarily low rate in 2014, the rate in 2015 was actually a little higher.  He cited that (accurately, but misleadingly and self-servingly) as "the biggest percentage increase in 46 years", claiming that crime is "out of control" under Obama.

      Here's the full graph.  See the slight uptick in 2015 that Trump was talking about?  See also what he failed to mention?  That the rate DROPPED every previous year for 6 years under Obama.  And that it was still well below the rate when Obama was elected.  How could an honorable man see that graph and claim that "crime is out of control"?  Pure scare tactics!

      At least that time the specific fact he cited was technically accurate. Later, he started to claim it was "the highest rate in 50 years", when it was actually the lowest rate.

      Since then Trump has made flat out lying the new normal, introducing the term "alternative facts", as though we can all just "agree to disagree" on facts and each be equally correct -- an effect that will persist long past his time in office.  Permanent damage has been done to the mindset and integrity of the country.

      Updated version:

    2. Trump is flighty

      He has no ability to focus on a single task long enough to actually accomplish it.  Just pokes at stuff for a while, then gets bored.  He seems to think he can just make un-informed snap decisions about whatever happens to catch his attention.

      He wants to "repeal and replace" w/o taking the time to come up with a good alternative.  Wants to "build a wall" instead of considering that most illegal immigrants enter legally and then overstay their visa.  Without considering that drug dealers can easily catapult drugs over the wall in one direction and money for it in the other direction.  Or that the border goes right through the middle of some towns with nearby buildings on each side.  So tunnels, ladders, drones, etc., are all easy ways to get past.

      I read a newspaper article that gives some serious thought to a border wall.  How effective it could really be.  How expensive.  Some stretches could cost as much as $1.7 million per migrant turned away!

      Also, how much land would have to be seized from US citizens.  How much US land would be fenced off from the US and effectively given to Mexico.  The fact that the entire riverfront area of the Rio Grande river and lakefronts of resorts on Lake Amistad would be fenced off, unavailable to US citizens for fishing, swimming, boating, etc.

      The fact that parts of the wall would be miles from the nearest road, so trucks and construction equipment can't get there.  And that other streams flow from the US into the Rio Grande.  Would they be re-routed?  Dammed up?  Allowed to flow through the wall but with grates to prevent people from passing through the gaps?  What about fish?  What about US citizens downstream who need the drinking water?

      Trump doesn't seem to have considered any of these things.  He just wants a sound bite "Build the wall".

      Here's the article:

      6/26/2020: Newer discussion of why a wall can't work

    3. Trump is easily provoked

      He has such a huge and fragile ego that it's really easy to poke him and make him react.  Sooner or later, countries, companies, and other parties will figure out that they can predict exactly what he's going to do, just by poking at him all the time and seeing what he tweets in response.  And that they can often goad him into doing things they want just by daring him to and calling him chicken.

      If Trump had been the guy planning an invasion to end World War II, and Germany wanted to know whether he was shooting for Normandy or some other landing site, I'm pretty sure they'd have been able to goad him into showing his hand.  His tweets are not only offensive, but also very revealing.

    Dishonorable, flighty, and easily provoked.  Not the attributes I want in a president.  Do you?


  23. H-2B visa seasonal workers

    Original Version: 4/5/2017
    Last Updated: 7/24/2020

    I don't like to get my news second-hand.  Don't want to be swayed by potentially right- or left-leaning news sources.  I try to go by my own direct observations of candidates, issues and facts.  This is a true story from my own life.

    My wife Brita has been working crazy hours for the past 2 years, dealing with the fallout of Trump's attitude towards immigrants.  She's a landscape architect at a US-based and US-owned landscaping company that may be forced out of business.  So, she (a US citizen) may lose her job.  And worst case, we may all start noticing food shortages soon.  Here's why...

    During the 2016 campaign, Trump consistently bashed immigrants from Mexico and South America, referring to them as "rapists and murderers", claiming they smuggled drugs into the US, and rallying his fans with cries of "build the wall".  He made it such a political hot potato that Congress didn't have the heart to renew a long-standing immigration law regarding temporary seasonal workers on H-2B visas.

    In the past, there had been a cap on the number of new H-2B visas issued each year.  But if you had followed all the rules the previous year, applying for an H-2B visa, entering the US legally, working here for the season, and then returning to your home country, you were "grandfathered in".  You could get the same type of visa the next year.  The cap (65,000 in 2017) didn't apply to returning workers.  Only to new workers.

    But Congress didn't renew that law in 2017.  Suddenly, all of the seasonal H-2B workers who had been going back and forth as required for many years, were no longer "grandfathered in".  Instead, they were all treated as 1st time applicants, so only 65,000 of them were allowed to return.  I don't know how many had been returning each year, but I'd guess it was several times the number of new workers allowed each year, so probably hundreds of thousands at least.  Suddenly, the limit was 65,000 total -- both new and returning.

    These are the people who come here to work in farm fields, cut grass, dig ditches, install roofs, clean toilets in hotel rooms, wash dishes in restaurants, etc.  You've seen them all around you, everywhere you go.  You may have noticed that they're generally unobtrusive, hard-working, quietly friendly, smiling people.  They don't talk much because they're embarrassed to not be able to speak English very well.  They work long hard days, often in brutal temperatures, for cheap wages, doing the work that few American workers are willing to do. 

    Have you ever personally felt threatened by them as they worked on your house, in your garden, or in the restaurants or hotels you visited?  Did they seem like "rapists and murderers" to you?  Not to me, but that's how they'd been cast, so we changed the rules to keep them out.

    Meanwhile, Brita's boss has been following the rules for over 20 years.

    He doesn't hire illegal aliens.  Doesn't pay them under the table.  Always gets them official seasonal H2-B visas, withholds taxes, pays into Social Security and Medicaid, buys Worker's Comp insurance in case they get hurt, etc.  Entirely legal.  And very good for the US economy.  The same 12 guys come from Mexico each March, and return each December.  Nice stable family-owned small business for 20 years.  Makes enough money to support himself, his wife, and his kids.

    But in 2017, he suddenly got no visas in March, and almost went out of business.

    He tried to recruit local US citizens, offering the same $12-20/hour that he's paid in the past for simple laborers up to skilled stone masons, foremen, etc.  Brita worked crazy hours, scrambling to help find, recruit and interview about 10 people.  A couple of them didn't even show for the interview.  Another 5 or so quit within the first day or the first week, saying the work was too hard and they'd rather work in the air conditioning at McDonalds.  Or they just stopped coming to work and never said why.  One failed a drug test.  One has stayed, but is a not a great employee.

    Finally, in August 2017, I suspect Trump realized that his own hotels needed seasonal workers.  In any case, he quickly and quietly got more visas authorized, and Brita's boss got lucky.  Got his visas and brought his guys in to start work in August.  But he'd already lost about half a year's income, and permanently lost some customers.  He scrambled, pushing his crews and my wife to work long days and weekends, trying to make enough money to keep the company alive, before they all had to go back to Mexico in December.

    In March of 2018, the number of visas was again very low and Brita's boss again got none.  Again, Brita struggled to delay and appease potential customers, scrambling to try to recruit local workers.  She also ended up doing a lot more design work since the company could still get paid for her designs, even if they couldn't find workers to do the installations.  She continued working 12-hour days, often 6 days per week, just trying to keep the business from folding.  Still no luck finding any local US citizen workers.

    Her boss could try raising salaries to attract more US citizens, but then he would lose lots of customers since the Trump effect has made it so attractive to cheat.  Many of his competitors are doing fine by hiring illegal immigrants under the table, not paying any taxes, not paying into Social Security and Medicaid, not buying Worker's Comp insurance, etc.  But he wants to hire legally, pay taxes, etc., so his costs are higher and he loses a lot of customers to the competition.  If he were to pay the even higher rates that US workers seem to want, he'd never win a bid, and would go out of business.

    Finally in July 2018, again more visas were authorized.  I think the industries that use them are all being crushed, and are complaining enough to be heard a little.  Brita's boss got lucky and won the visa lottery again.  You get all or none of the visas you request.  So, some companies live and others die, at the whim of the government.

    Unfortunately, some of the crew had wised up after losing a half-year's pay in 2017.  They simply didn't go back to their families in Mexico in December.  Instead, they stayed here, desperate to find more work to feed their kids.  So, they became illegal immigrants the way so many do -- arrive legally and fail to properly leave.  How is Trump's wall supposed to help with that?  Doh!!

    Those who stayed illegally knew Brita's boss wouldn't hire them without visas, so they went to work for the competition.  Now that he has more visas, he's trying to get in touch with them, to bring them in legally, but 2 problems:

    1. They're now here illegally, and don't qualify for the visas
    2. Their new bosses are threatening to have them deported if they quit.  And if they get deported, they can't come back legally for 10 years.  So they're now hostages to a law-breaking low-paying employer.  Can never quit their job, and can never go home to their families on Mexico, if they ever want to work in the US again.

    Brita's boss had to be careful what names he put on the visas once he got them.  If he put any of the crew who stayed, he would just lose that visa.  Had to find out which guys were still eligible, and assign visas only to them and to other people they could recruit from Mexico.  So now, he has a less experienced crew, and his customers are getting lower quality patios, walls, outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces, etc.

    And Brita is again very busy, scrambling to do the designs, proposals, scheduling, plant buying, billing, etc., for the next few months in the hope that the company can do enough business before December to survive.  Otherwise, she'll be out of a job.

    So, Trump is "Making America Great Again" by:

    1. Encouraging legal immigrants to stay and become illegal
    2. Encouraging businesses to hire illegal immigrants under the table
    3. Reducing the amount of income tax being paid
    4. Reducing the amount of Social Security and Medicaid taxes being paid
    5. Causing all sorts of seasonal businesses (roofers, landscapers, construction, hotels, restaurants, etc.) to produce lower-quality products and services
    6. Forcing higher costs and thus higher prices at such businesses
    7. Forcing businesses to close, laying off even their US citizen workers like Brita
    8. Turning workers into hostages
    9. Increasing the number of workers without Worker's Comp, so if they're hurt, they go to the hospital without being able to pay their bills, so healthcare costs go up for all of us
    10. And worst of all, from my personal point of view -- depriving me of my wife, who leaves for work before 8am, rarely gets home before 9pm, and often works one or both days of the weekend.  I never get to see her anymore, for the past 2 years.  I can hardly remember what she looks like!

    Watch the news for similar stories. For example:

    I hear from my aunt Mary Jane in California that the agricultural industry there relies heavily on immigrant workers.  And with no American workers applying to work in the fields, this could become a national food crisis.  She's already seeing fields lying fallow or unharvested.

    Not good!  We need those workers!  The US economy, and perhaps the US food supply, relies on them.

    I suggest you occasionally set aside whatever news source you've been watching, and pay attention to what you personally see around you:

    [7/24/2020 Update]

    In 2019, it was the same story.  No visas approved at first, shortened season, lost profits, lost customers, fewer and less skilled workers.

    2020 is even worse.  No visas approved ever, supposedly due to the Coronavirus.  Brita's boss now has about 4 employees instead of 12.  Struggling to make ends meet.  Bankruptcy looming.  Previous employees are still captive to their illegal employer, haven't been home to see their families in years.  Thanks, Trump!


  24. 2020 "State of the Union" address

    Original Version: 2/5/2020
    Last Updated: 3/16/2020

    Want to watch the "State of the Union" address, but not have to sit through 1.5 hours of it?

    You can find it on YouTube:

    and play it at double speed.  See:

    Unfortunately, the interactive transcript is totally trashed.  Random characters, not even words.  Bummer!  But you can still read the full transcript here:

    I read through it quickly, ignoring all of the self-congratulatory fluff, and just looking for facts.  I don't have the time or resources to fact-check most of it, but 2 things jumped out at me that I DO know about:

    1. Trump said:
      "Since my election, United States stock markets have soared 70%"
    2. Trump said:
      "Our new healthcare plans are up to 60% less expensive"
      • Not true for me.  How about you?
        My healthcare plan is 30% more expensive under Trump.  At the start of 2017, it was $14,965/year.  Now $19,542/year.  Are any of you paying less in the past 3 years?  Where do I sign up?

    Have any of you checked any of his other facts.  Are they true?  False?

    I also wish he would stop trying to make us afraid of immigrants.  He cited 2 cases of illegal aliens murdering people.  That's 2 murders, out of 15,498 in 2018 (the last year I could find records for):

    That's 0.01% of the murders.  How many of the remaining 99.99% of the murders were committed by US citizens?  I have no idea.  Do you?

    What is your personal experience with legal and illegal immigrants?  I've always found them to be polite, hard-working folks, just keeping their heads down and trying to support their families.  Have you seen otherwise?  If so, please send me details.  Here's an article studying the question in depth:

    Trump also talked a lot about narcotics seized at the Mexican border.  But he totally ignored the narcotics that come in on planes, boats, and through the US mail.  What percent actually walks across the border?  I have no idea.  Do you?  Why walk it across when it's so much easier to ship it?

    All this "FUD" (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) is just because Trump wants to build a wall at the border.  But what good does a physical wall do?  It can easily be bypassed via ladder, catapult, drone, etc.  And there are far greater threats to the US than people walking in to the country.

    What about cyberwar?  The public Internet server for my little old one-man software company blocks thousands of attacks every single day, from all over the world.  How many more are aimed at our utilities, banks, infrastructure, and military?  Forget about a wall!  Why would anyone attack by walking across the border when they can easily take down our poorly protected computers, manipulate our financial markets for profit, impact our elections to support politicians who are friendly to them, etc.  Why kill the golden goose?

    Finally, if you do watch the video, pay attention to the faces of the military leaders when Trump talks about how much he's helped to make the US more secure.  Do they look to you like they believe it?

    Just sayin'...

    Hey!  Just as I finished writing this, I found that someone else has already done some fact-checking.  Could have saved myself some time.  See:

    2/6/2020 Update:
    Thanks to Phil Hostetter for sending me this additional fact-check page.  I really like the format.  A full transcript of the speech, with parts underlined and fact-check comments inserted inline.

    2/6/2020 Update:
    Thanks to Linda Swyderski for sending me this additional fact-check page:

    I skimmed it quickly, and noticed this:

    1. Trump said:
      "We have now completed over 100 miles and have over 500 miles fully completed in a very short period of time.  Early next year, we will have substantially more than 500 miles completed."
      • Not likely.
        It says that, according to Trump's U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as of Jan. 24, Trump has built only 1 mile of new fencing along the Mexican border.  The other 99 miles are all repairs to existing fencing, from before he took office.

        Wow!  After 3 years?  At a cost of how many billions of dollars?  As of 2/6/2020, I think it's $2.5B + $3.6B + $1.4B = $7.5B.  If so, consider the total cost.  In 2016, Trump's campaign estimated $8B.  In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security estimated $21.6B.  A more recent estimate is $45B, plus the costs of buying land, and an annual budget for maintenance.  If we can trust any of those numbers, it sounds like we're going to get anywhere from 1 to 6 miles of new fencing out of this project (or allocate a LOT more money).  I guess illegal immigrants won't need a ladder after all.  They can just walk around the fence.  Winning?

    2/7/2020 Update:
    From Fidelity Investments:

    1. Trump said:
      "the net worth of the bottom half of wage-earners has increased by 47 percent -- 3 times faster than the increase for the top 1 percent. ... This is a blue collar boom."
      • No, not a "boom", and certainly not blue collar.
        Fidelity says:
        • According to the Federal Reserve's "Distributional Financial Accounts", this 3-year increase (about 1.34%/quarter) was just below the average for the past 30 years, which is 1.39%/quarter. 
        • The increase mostly went to whites, college graduates and baby boomers -- those who own lots of stock.  The poorest 50% still have just 1.6% of the nation's net worth.
        • People who didn't graduate college lost $0.4 trillion in household net worth.

        So, you personally, if you're a blue collar worker, have you seen a "boom" in your net worth?

    2/16/2020 Update:
    A friend emailed me to say that if you choose your timeframe and your index VERY carefully, you can actually make the 70% SEEM true.  You have to give Trump credit for nearly 2.5 months of Obama's presidency (Election Day to Inauguration Day).  And you have to ignore both the Dow Jones and the S&P 500.  Even with that carefully chosen timeframe, both of them come in well under 70%.  You have to base it on the NASDAQ which rose 78% during that time (but only 65% while Trump was actually in office).

    It seems to me that my friend was working awfully hard to find some way to make something Trump said NOT a lie.  I give him points for creativity and for effort, but no dice! What index was next in line? Perhaps the Bloomberg KYW Philadelphia Index? Then maybe pork bellies?

    But we're quibbling over details. Trump is a con-man through and through.  You can see it in how he presents his claims, even the ones that are actually almost true.

    Trump claims record highs for the stock market under his watch, with no reference to the giant (Obama) who teed it all up for him.  And no supporting evidence or comparison to others.  Even if we give Trump credit for the 70% he claims, what about the 153% under Obama?  Oh, wait!  Maybe that's what they all meant by "Thanks, Obama!".

    Since Trump took office, yes, the stock market has continued to drift erratically upward on Obama's momentum, with occasional slumps for profit-taking for Trump and cronies.  However, it sure would be nice to get back on the track that Obama set.

    OK.  Let's ignore the slower Trump pace, and discuss the fact that the stock market HAS continued to rise.  Trump likes to brag that it's at an "all-time high".  True, but Trump can't take any credit for that.  Imagine you climbed Mount Everest with someone riding on your back.  And after you carried him to the peak, he laid your backpack on the ground and stepped on it, rising a couple inches higher.  Would he be right to claim he was the "highest climber ever!!!"?

    Trump wants you to accept his "facts" in a vacuum, as evidence that he is single-handedly "making America great".  What about the comparable stats for Obama and other presidents?  How much did the stock market go up under them?  How many trade deals did they negotiate?  How many jobs did they add?  How many Nobel Peace Prizes did they win for their work in the Middle East?  How many threats to US security did they eliminate?  How much did they work to mitigate climate change?  How much more loved and respected did they make the US as a world leader?  How much safer, wealthier, happier, and more honorable did they make us?

    Don't get all your info from Fox News and believe it without applying any of your own critical thinking.  Make some comparisons.  Do some reality checks.

    (I won't mention my friend's name here unless he asks me to.  I don't want to embarrass him by outing him as having been conned by Trump.)

    3/1/2020 Correction:
    Thanks to Jay Whitaker for challenging my numbers.  He was right.  I made a foolish mistake for a math guy.  Obama was not 253% as I first said.  Merely a FACTOR of 2.53, which is a 153% increase over the original 100%.  It was my own personal stock portfolio, not the Dow Jones, that went up over 250% during Obama's presidency.  Now corrected.

    3/16/2020 Update:
    Due to the ongoing #TrumpSlump, Trump's gain is now entirely wiped put.  After more than 3 years, the Dow Jones is back to where it started when Trump took office.  And still falling fast.  We'd have been better off stuffing our money in a mattress!


  25. 2020 CNN Democratic Candidate New Hampshire Town Halls

    Original Version: 2/7/2020
    Last Updated: 2/7/2020

    Want to watch the CNN Democratic Candidate Town Halls from Feb 5 and 6, 2020, but not have to sit through an hour for each candidate?

    Here are all 8 of them (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Any Klobuchar, and Deval Patrick):

    This is a nice format.  Each candidate gets an hour, but is not just giving a speech.  Is responding to questions being asked by people in the room.  And being challenged and fact-checked, on the fly, by the moderator.

    To watch them more efficiently, click the YouTube link at the bottom right of each, to see it at YouTube directly.  Then you can play it double speed, read the interactive transcript, etc.  If you get bored, you can read ahead to find a more interesting part.  Or go back and re-read earlier parts.  Click on any line of text to jump to the point in the video where the speaker says it.

    For details of how, see:


  26. Why I call Trump #SadLittleDonny

    Original Version: 2/7/2020
    Last Updated: 2/7/2020

    A friend recently told me:
    "The world watches our President deliver his State of the Union.  Regardless of what you think of the messenger, the message was about the greatness of America and the American people."

    So I went and re-read the transcript to see if he was right:

    Yeah, there was some of that in there, especially towards the end.  But the main focus of the speech was basically "I am great.  You all suck!"

    I found 42 blatantly self-congratulatory phrases.  Many of them comparing himself to Obama, and to the current Democratic candidates for President.  Clearly, this was a campaign speech.  Not to tell the Congress and the American people where things stand, and what still needs to be done.  Not to inform them about the "state of the union".  Just another Trump rally.

    Look at the list below, or at the entire transcript.  If your child talked like this, wouldn't you tell him/her it was offensive?  If they put stuff like this into a college/job application, would you expect them to be admitted/hired?  If you couldn't get them to stop trying so hard to impress people by exaggerating and lying, wouldn't you take them to a therapist to treat their mental health and learn the cause of their extraordinarily low self-esteem?

    I have a nephew who talked like this when he very young.  He was always anxiously watching your reaction, and tailoring his story to make himself look good.  You couldn't believe a word he said.  But we worked with him to get him to stop, and he eventually grew up.  Trump has never grown up.  He's still sad, pathetic, little Donny, who requires an extraordinary amount of praise, delivered constantly throughout the day, and will do anything to get it, no matter how dishonorable.

    The world watches speeches like this and laughs at the US for having elected such an immature, insecure buffoon.

    Here's the list. All exact quotes from the speech:

    1. Three years ago, we launched the great American comeback.
    2. In just 3 short years, we have shattered ...
    3. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago ...
    4. From the instant I took office ...
    5. I moved rapidly to ...
    6. Since my election ...
    7. ... more than Government experts projected during the previous administration.
    8. Incredibly, ... lower than any administration in the history of our country.  If we had not reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration ...
    9. Under the last administration ...
    10. Under my Administration ...
    11. In 8 years under the last administration ...
    12. In just 3 years of my Administration
    13. Since my election ...
    14. Since my election ... soared ...
    15. ... transcending anything anyone believed was possible ...
    16. ... for the first time ever
    17. ... I got it done ...
    18. With the tremendous progress we have made over the past 3 years ...
    19. ... no one would have thought possible just 3 years ago.
    20. ... predictions were that this could never be done.
    21. ... under my Administration ...
    22. ... unlike so many who came before me ...
    23. ... I also promised ... Our strategy worked ... groundbreaking ...
    24. ... my Administration reversed the failing policies of the previous ...
    25. I have raised contributions ...
    26. My Administration is determined ...
    27. My Budget also contains an exciting ...
    28. I am also proud that ...
    29. Before I took office ...
    30. I moved quickly to ...
    31. I signed an Executive Order ... massive amounts of money ...
    32. My Administration is also ... at a faster clip than ever before.
    33. I have also overseen historic ...
    34. In the last 3 years ...
    35. My Administration has undertaken an unprecedented ...
    36. Before I came into office ... historic ... unprecedented ...
    37. Last year, I ...
    38. ... my Administration is restoring ...
    39. My Administration is also defending ...
    40. So long as I am President I will ...
    41. My Administration is also strongly defending ...
    42. Last week, I announced a groundbreaking ...

    OK.  So, he's an immature, insecure buffoon, and the whole world is laughing at us.  So what?  Shouldn't we just get him some counseling?  Can't he still be a good and effective president if we all just rally behind him? 

    No.  We can't afford the risk.  Click the link below to see why this makes him such a huge national security risk.  And so ineffective and easily played.



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