Internet Catches Texas Senate Fudging Time-Stamps On Abortion Bill

from the isn't-that-a-crime? dept

What with all that’s going on in the world, you may have missed the news that the state of Texas was attempting to introduce a controversial bill that would close down a ton of abortion clinics. The bill had first failed to pass the state senate, but Governor Rick Perry demanded a special 30 day session which would bring the bill back up for debate. There was a deadline for the bill, which would have had to be voted on and passed on June 25th to become law, leading to a fairly impressive filibuster effort by Senator Wendy Davis. The entire thing was internet-y already, with scores of people tuning in live on YouTube to watch Davis go on, while Texas Republicans attempted to find procedural methods for ending her filibuster. It was all the more impressive due to various filibuster rules in Texas law, such as when Republicans complained that she had had someone assist in putting on a back brace, since by rule she wasn’t allowed any assistance in standing straight up without leaning during her filibuster. #StandWithWendy trended on Twitter, a portion of the internet poured through Texas legislative rules for discussion points, and even President Obama was reportedly glued to YouTube.

In the end, Davis’ efforts paid off, with her pushing her filibuster just long enough to delay a hurried vote from being taken before midnight. Liberals rejoiced, conservatives lamented. And then, dear friends, things got really strange.

In a desperate effort to pass a controversial bill that would shutter hundreds of abortion clinics in Texas, a slew of Twitter sleuths, including Circa’s Anthony De Rosa and former Reuters social media editor Matthew Keys, discovered that the state legislature altered official state documents to show that the vote was passed before the midnight deadline.

In actuality, the Texas state senate did not pass the bill, SB 5, in time—thanks to defeaning cheers from the gallery from supporters of State Senator Wendy Davis, who spent more than 10 hours filibustering a vote.

De Rosa and Keys managed to get screen grabs from the Texas Senate’s page that detailed the proceedings of that particular bill. In the immediate aftermath, it listed the date of the vote being recorded as 6/26, which was past the deadline. Shortly after, and as of this writing, the page has been altered to show the vote being taken on 6/25, which would have been within the deadline. As Gawker notes, this is an extremely serious matter.

So what happened? Did someone tamper with official state documents? It would seem so, and that’s a crime.

And no, according to experts like tech policy analyst Kathy Gill, this is almost certainly not an innocent accident.

In order to change something like this, someone has to change the database. And things like votes and official times, they’re often (usually?) automatically generated also.

In other words, changes like this are deliberate.

Now, you may not like abortion and you may not care for filibusters, but no matter what your ideology you had damned well better be against the bullshitting of the constituents. The internet certainly is, having already sprung an official White House petition to defend the filibuster and preserve proper voting procedure. But the real beauty of this story is that it’s thanks to the internet that this was found out so quickly and spread in such a viral fashion.

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Comments on “Internet Catches Texas Senate Fudging Time-Stamps On Abortion Bill”

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92 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

It is at least possible that the automatically generated date/time was wrong. Servers do not always exactly match the correct time, and it takes at least SOME time for information to be inputted. So if the bill was passed at 11:59:55 and someone hit the “bill passed” button at 12:00:03, it would absolutely be proper to correct it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Servers do not always exactly match the correct time

$ ntpq -p
remote refid st t when poll reach delay offset jitter
==============================================================================
oGPS_NMEA(0) .GPS. 0 l 30 64 377 0.000 0.026 0.001

Twenty-six microseconds! WTF!

I’ll say they don’t always match the correct time. Stupid computers.

DCX2 says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I may not have been perfectly clear, allow me to elaborate just in case.

Kerberos only requires +/- like five minutes. Typically a Windows system will be using the “Windows Time” service to keep computers synchronized. The Windows Time service was designed primarily to make Kerberos happy. Therefore, Windows Time doesn’t synchronize to better than a few seconds.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The non-trivial part is determining how much accuracy your network really needs. If you’ve got extended timestamps in logs recorded in microseconds, it’s very, very tempting to say that therefore you necessarily want microsecond accuracy. And, of course, microsecond accuracy is absolutely 100% doable these days.

Personally, I’ll be really happy when the affordable equipment starts getting close to planck time accuracy. Then everyone can just throw up their hands and say, ?Physics!?

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re:

Absolutely agree!

Any IT person worth anything will keep all systems under his control in time.

Every system I manage has the same time. I have two tier three NTP servers that tap several tier two servers and serve time to keep all systems I administer in time. I am alerted anytime they are more than 1 second apart. The only time that happens is when they are rebooted or shut down. Even then they are typically back in time in less than 5 minutes.

Anonymous coward says:

Re: Re:

I agree with your premise, but unfortunately it is not an issue of a few seconds as you propose. The vote occurred at 12:03. Several minutes past midnight. Indeed, the vote was called after midnight, as was pointed out by a Democratic Senator (possibly West? he was holding his phone(?) above their heads in an attempt to draw the Senate’s attention to the current time).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Then the bill did not pass in time and should be voided. Changing the date under those circumstances is unacceptable, and this should be investigated for possible criminal charges.

But just because I feel like arguing something… if it’s true that the vote was not called until 12:03 and that this was “thanks to defeaning cheers from the gallery from supporters of State Senator Wendy Davis”, I would also say that THIS is not appropriate. The gallery, perhaps purposely, disrupted the proceedings to the extent that a vote could not be taken? There’s almost certainly a law against that, and minor charges would also be appropriate against the offenders. (Minor charges only. Nowhere near the charges appropriate for falsifying the date on the bill, of course.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

  • Maybe they should have called a recess or whatever the Texas state legislature allows in that situation.
  • Maybe they should have thought about the peanut gallery as a potential problem before they acted on it.
  • Maybe they should have had a better prepared lt. gov. who actually understood the procedures better to avoid as much wasted time on finding that information.
  • Maybe they should have called for an extention of the voting to avoid a single filibuster being what stood between Ahab and his whale.
  • Maybe they should have ignored what happened in the peanut gallery and proceded instead of waiting for absolute peace.

    It is clear that the falsification of the date is a very serious way of subduing democracy. An unruly lot of people watching the process is either a problem they should have foreseen given the subject and the rules of the place (they are appearently very lax…) or something they should be able to ignore or avoid due to specifics of existing laws.

    If the senate do not know the laws, how the hell can they make them or even have an opinion on them?

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

I was watching this happen, People had screen shots, printed logs, and some guys even refreshed the web page to see the date change.

We (the internet and those in Austin) saw the Texas GOP do some really bad things, ignore there own rules, use every trick in the book to end the filibuster. Since this happened with live coverage it was really doubtful this was going to pass.

lars626 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Texas

You have to look at all this from the perspective of so many Texas legislators. They do not understand how things work. Especially not computers, those nasty little boxes that contain porn and other evil things. Things like a description of a ‘rape kit’.

They think that in order to win when you loose you just have to fudge the paperwork like the good old days.

A Monkey with Attitude says:

Dont like Abortion, Not a fan of Filibusters, But I do think each person has a right to make a choice, so I have to applaude Wendy Davis for doing the right thing, it took some courage, and I applaude the internet for fighting to keep the others honest as well… When your argument must be passed thru trickery and last second swindles- give up its not worth it.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Filibuster

Reading some of the comments in the linked article gave me a chuckle. All the folks calling Davis a ‘hero’ for her ‘courageous’ filibuster are the same sort of folks who scream bloody murder and call Republicans ‘obstructionists’ and ‘anti-democratic’ whenever they use the filibuster to block something.

The filibuster is unique in American politics in that it brings out hypocrisy in people like nothing else.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Filibuster

The best thing about a filibuster is that it also exposes what someone truly believes in. The truth of the matter is that whether or not you may like it, a Republican State Senator stood up for what she believes in to block a bill that very likely most Texan civilians were truly against.

Here’s the problem…this isn’t political. It’s never a good thing when one side stands up for things they believe in and do everything within their power to stop something they believe isn’t right only for the side that lost to be all butthurt and HACK a government computer to change the time stamp on a document.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Filibuster

A bill allowing less restrictions on Abortions was fillerbustered. Wally never said Texans were for abortion, he was saying they’d likely be against one that has less restrictions on it…like allowing minors to have an abortion without consent of their parents.

Wally’s point is that it’s far better to stand up for your beliefs and block something legally than it is to illegally change the time stamps on the to the previous day to make it look like a bill passed. Politically abortion may or may not agree with some people…but this article has nothing to do with that. It’s how the loss was handled by one side who was for it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Politics in a nut-shell:

Where X is a given action, and A and B are opposing political parties:

When A does X, X is considered ‘good’ by A, and ‘bad’ by B.

When B does X, X is considered ‘bad’ by A, and ‘good’ by B.

Conclusion: X doesn’t matter on it’s own, the only determination as to good/bad is who is bringing it up at a given time. Also, politicians are hypocrites.

silverscarcat says:

Re: Filibuster

The way I see the filibuster is this…

If you actually get up and talk and do your filibustering with words like Davis or Senator Rand Paul did, then you’re doing it correctly. If you just use the threat of filibuster and don’t do anything about it, then it’s being used incorrectly and you need to be shot for doing that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Filibuster

I don’t understand you. People should be able to filibuster but not to threaten to filibuster? The only difference between “filibuster” and “threat of filibuster” is if the OTHER side decides to test it.

In my opinion, filibusters should not be allowed at all. Members should be able to reasonably debate the bill at hand, but not to speak for hours for the purpose of obstruction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Filibuster

Except that would utterly undermine everything a filibuster is supposed to be — a way for people, indeed senators, to block a bill going through that, in their mind or opinion, would be extremely dangerous or otherwise harmful. In fact, if this filibuster HAD NEVER HAPPENED, the bill would be passed, and we wouldn’t have it, ON RECORD, that people tried to cheat the system to get the bill passed.

Filibusters are needed, but filibuster reform is also needed. Filibusters SHOULD be about standing up and TALKING your way to obstruction, not just ‘threatening’ to do so.

bjg007 says:

Re: Filibuster

You’re right, but the difference is that she didn’t perform the republican “silent” filibuster where they just have a staffer call in and say they’re filibustering then go about their day. She stood up and argued her point for over 10 hours on the floor of the Texas house with no food or bathroom breaks while staying on topic. That takes more then just a political whim to perform such a feat. The closest the republicans have had to this is when they sat and read Alice in Wonderland on the House floor. I would say there IS a difference here.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Filibuster

Uh, the issue with the GOP in Congress is they are filibustering EVERYTHING. And not actually having to do what Ms. Davis did by actually standing up behind their ‘principles’ in the bright spotlight.

The GOP prefer the dark anonymous corners. It’s why they claim to not have voted no on anything they filibustered. It was never technically voted on, only whether to stop debate and vote.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Filibuster

“Reading some of the comments in the linked article gave me a chuckle. All the folks calling Davis a ‘hero’ for her ‘courageous’ filibuster are the same sort of folks who scream bloody murder and call Republicans ‘obstructionists’ and ‘anti-democratic’ whenever they use the filibuster to block something.”

The so-called “fillibuster” in the Federal Congress is merely a procedural matter. Republicans elminiated the actual performance feature of it.
In the Texas Legislature, you actually have to perform the fillibuster and keep talking to hold on to the floor.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Filibuster

> “Reading some of the comments in the linked
> article gave me a chuckle. All the folks calling
> Davis a ‘hero’ for her ‘courageous’ filibuster
> are the same sort of folks who scream bloody
> murder and call Republicans ‘obstructionists’
> and ‘anti-democratic’ whenever they use the
> filibuster to block something.”

The so-called “fillibuster” in the Federal Congress
is merely a procedural matter. Republicans elminiated
the actual performance feature of it. In the Texas
Legislature, you actually have to perform the
fillibuster and keep talking to hold on to the floor.

Yes, and if next year the Txas Republicans do the same thing Davis did and filibuster some bill that the Left considers a sacred cow, the same people who mooned with admiration when Davis filibustered will be gnashing their teeth in fury about how the Republicans have tarnished democracy itself with their obstructionist behavior.

mowgli (profile) says:

Re: Filibuster

Pretty big generalization there. Also I’d point out filibusters in the US Senate and those in the Texas Senate are different to the degree the “filibusters” in the US Senate aren’t actually filibusters. Basically US Senators just get to threaten them and that’s good enough. To me THAT’s obstruction.

That alone makes Ms. Davis ‘heroic’ in my opinion. And I applaud Senator Paul’s and Senator Sanders’ filibusters from a while back for the same reasons.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Filibuster

Also I’d point out filibusters in the US
Senate and those in the Texas Senate are
different

Why does everyone here assume I was talking about the federal Congress when I made my comment? The article is about the Texas legislature and that’s what I was referring to. Nowhere did I indicate that I’d suddenly switched the topic to filibusters in the federal Congress.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Filibuster

All the folks calling Davis a ‘hero’ for her ‘courageous’ filibuster are the same sort of folks who scream bloody murder and call Republicans ‘obstructionists’ and ‘anti-democratic’ whenever they use the filibuster to block something.

You must have been talking about the federal congress because you used the present tense and Republicans in Texas haven’t filibustered a bill during this election cycle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Whitehouse petition to veto bill

You are right. Obama and the federal government have absolutely nothing to do with Texas state law UNLESS by some means the law in question violated federal law and THEN it wouldn’t be the Executive Branch’s place to do something about it but rather the Judicial Branch’s place to do something about it and for that to happen the other side would have to file a lawsuit that reached the federal courts. Texas has it’s own judicial system for this (which is where this is likely to be headed) that is perfectly capable of striking down a state law that was not passed legally.

Anonymous Coward says:

and, like so many other underhand and really bad things, this is why governments keep doing their best to take control of the Internet. when it is being used to champion or promote a particular cause, the internet is the dog’s bollocks of tools. when, however, it brings things like this to light, to the attention of the masses, it is the worst tool every invented! it also works when somewhere like N.Korea is up to no good and it is spread world wide via the ‘net. when USA or somewhere similar is up to dirty tricks, it has to be shut down immediately and the information contained!

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s especially bad since this incident gives citizens yet another reason to not trust their governments.

As for abortion itself… well, my mom faced near-fatal illness when she was having my siblings, but she chose to carry them through to the end anyway. As a result, she now has three children she loves and that have raised her as much as she’s raised them. I do wish most people would pause a moment to think about how things might be if they had never been born and that they could muster up the bravery my mom did.

But… the issue is also very nuanced and personal, like marriage and other such things, so it’s not like you can force any single view of it upon a whole nation, especially if it’s “for their own good”. Perhaps it should always be one of those things where people should have the freedom to make their own decisions. Hopefully they’ll learn from their decisions as well, whatever they are, and become better people for it.

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Aye, there’s the rub. It’s possible most people don’t like abortion because of its potential for abuse. It lets people have lots of sex without ever dealing with any of the responsibility sex is supposed to entail. But then what about those life-or-death situations?

And what do all those abortion clinics say about us as a society? Are there really that many life-or-death pregnancies that we need to have entire clinics devoted to undoing them as opposed to abortion being a supplementary service offered by standard hospitals? Am I missing something here?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not to mention it’s just unrealistic to outlaw all abortions over half a century after it was legalized, people would never stand for it. Studies show over 1/3 of all women have had an abortion by the time they’re in their mid 40’s.

Studies also show that outlawing abortion is like outlawing drugs. It doesn’t work at reducing the number of abortions, it just makes abortions less safe, and throws countless people in jail who are otherwise law abiding citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "As much as I hate abortion..."

It’s not thqat simple

You do own your own body, but the baby also has a right to life that is worthy of protection that conflicts with your rights to choose and you have a resposablity to protect it.

If you do not wish to take care of the child after birth there’s always adoption

Further, with the exception of rape you already have a choice on whether to have a baby without even needing to factor abortions into the mix.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "As much as I hate abortion..."

Do you THINK you OWN your children? If you do then maybe you need to rethink your position. I HAVE a daughter that I love dearly, care for, and provide for that I am also responsible for and I am raising with the help of my wife to the best of our abilities. But I do not OWN her. People are not property. If you do indeed have children, I truly feel sorry for them and hope that they end up more enlightened than you.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "As much as I hate abortion..."

the baby also has a right to life that is worthy of protection

And there is the crux of the biscuit. We cannot, as a society, agree at what point a fertilized egg becomes a baby. As a society, we will probably never agree what point that is, because such a single point does not exist.

I think that the compromise test that the Supreme Court used (viability outside the womb) is a very imperfect one in many ways — but I am hard pressed to come up with a better one.

Sunhawk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "As much as I hate abortion..."

Can you be compelled to risk your life for another? Must you give someone one of your kidneys if they need it? Or let’s say someone needs a blood transfusion and only I’m available – can you tie me down and take a couple pints (or even more, to the point of putting my life in some amount of danger) to save their life?

Because that’s the flip side of the “the fetus has a right to life” argument – even granted that (for the sake of argument), does any human being have the right to live through unwilling sacrifice of another’s health?

The reason for the ‘viability’ limit is because at that point the fetus can gain what is needed without demanding further risk or sacrifice from the woman in question.

Ben (profile) says:

Slightly off topic

My understanding of Texas law (and this based solely on what I’ve heard) is that the special session (such as the one this happened in) is supposed to be called for emergencies, and because it is an “emergency” the rules for passing a law get amended to allow simple majority passage (instead of 2/3s).

So, what was the emergency? Was it just this stupid anti-abortion bill? Was it an emergency because they couldn’t get it passed during their normal session? That doesn’t sound like much of an emergency.

What is to keep them from just doing away with the “normal” legislative session, and just do everything in 30 day “emergency” sessions?

And lastly, how much do these “emergency” sessions cost? If I were a Texan, I’d be asking why we needed to pay for this travesty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Update

According to Democracy Now, the lt. governor announced at 3am that the vote had not followed procedure and therefore did not pass in time conceding the victory to the opposition. However, he blamed the fact that it failed due to the “Occupy Wallstreet tactics” of the activists that were in the building disrupting the proceedings.

Furthermore, according to Pacifica radio, the governor has already called a second emergency session to begin July 1st to reintroduce the issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Whitehouse Petition

I suspect it is this part of the TOP that they used to justify pulling it.

“You agree not to create petitions that fall outside this limited purpose?for example, petitions that advertise or call for the endorsement or purchase of commercial goods or services, petitions that expressly urge the support or opposition of candidates for elected office, petitions that do not address the current or potential actions or policies of the federal government, or petitions that address a topic not included in We the People at the time the petition was created.”

Since it is a matter of state law not federal law it does not “address the current or potential actions or policies of the federal government.”

Squire James (profile) says:

Filibuster Beside the Point

To throw my 2 cents in, I think both filibusters and midnight special sessions are pretty shady tactics, and both sides use them frequently for really important stuff that could really wait another day or two (e.g. Obamacare).

Placing a deadline at, say, 7 PM rather than midnight would help curb this behavior, as would allowing calling/making votes electronically so protester noise is not an issue.

That being said, the person who actually altered that date and the person who ordered him/her to do it needs to lose their job. I don’t care which party they’re in. Obviously it’s likely an R in this case, but I’m sure a D or two has done this in other states or at the federal level at some point.

jsf (profile) says:

Official Clock

The date/time on the web page may not matter in this case. Most, if not all state legislative bodies have a single clock that represents the official time. Usually this is within the voting chamber and visible to all members. By either law or parliamentary ruling this is the only clock that counts.

Based on the videos it would seem that the big clock in the chamber is the likely official time and that indicated it was past midnight.

As far as recorded dates and times on bill passages fudging has been a relatively common place thing for as long as the USA has been around. It has become much harder to do without notice since legislative proceedings have become televised.

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