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2004-10-28

Secret Document Suggests GOP Preparing to Challenge Black Vote in Florida

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Investigative reporter Greg Palast exposes a secret document within the Republican Party in Florida that contains nearly 1,900 names and addresses of voters in the predominantly black and Democratic areas of Jacksonville. The so-called "caging list" could be used to block and harass African-American voters. [includes rush transcript]

Concerns continue to mount across the country over the fairness of next Tuesday’s election. Already problems have emerged in many states. In one county in Ohio, more than 900 registered voters have been told they must appear in court on Saturday to defend their voter eligibility or risk losing their right to vote. In Wisconsin, scores of students report that their local elections board says it has no record of their voter registration. In Nevada, fallout continues after the it emerged that a group registering voters had destroyed possible hundreds of ballots of voters who identified themselves as Democrats. But nowhere is concern greater than in the state of Florida, the epicenter of the theft of the election in 2000.

Yesterday, the deputy election supervisor in one of Florida’s most populous counties admitted that some 60,000 absentee ballots had gone missing. Broward county election official Gisela Salas said the matter is under investigation by law enforcement agencies. In 2000, it was Broward county that gave Al Gore his strongest support in the state of Florida. The US Postal Service says it has investigators trying to find the missing ballots, which constitute 5 percent of Broward County’s electorate.

This comes as investigative reporter Greg Palast obtained a secret document from inside Bush campaign headquarters in Florida. The document suggests a plan-possibly in violation of the law-to disrupt voting in the state"s African-American voting districts.

Two e-mails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington DC, contain a 15-page so-called "caging list". It lists more than 1,800 names and addresses of voters in predominantly Black and traditionally Democratic areas of Jacksonville, Florida. Palast broke the story on BBC’s Newsnight program. Today, we broadcast the story in its entirety for the first time on US television and radio. Here is Greg Palast’s report.

  • Greg Palast’s report.
  • * Greg Palast*, investigative reporter with the BBC and author of the books "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" and "Democracy and Regulation." He has a new documentary out called "Bush Family Fortunes."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we broadcast the story in its entirety for the first time in the united states on U.S. television and radio here. Here is Greg Palast’s report.

WILLIE STEEN: I’m happy, I’m excited, and I’m ready to vote.

GREG PALAST: Willie Steen’s his way to vote…he hopes. In the last election, he was one of thousands of black citizens stopped from voting when they were falsely tagged as criminals.

WILLIE STEEN: I went in the place to vote and I was with my son, and there’s about forty or fifty other people around, and I got up there to vote, and they told me that I was a convicted felony. I told the young lady that I never been arrested before.

GREG PALAST: Enthusiastic Americans like Willie can now vote early in the weeks before election day. Willie sued governor Jeb Bush after Jeb’s officials were caught playing games with the voter list, dropping legal voters, especially black ones, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

WILLIE STEEN: Hey, how are you doing?

GREG PALAST: This is as far as Willie got last time. Will he be blocked yet again? We leave Willie in Tampa to go just past Disneyworld to Faithworld. Here in Orlando, the faithful, who believe they were cheated last time, pray it won’t happen again. In the last election, one million black votes were not counted.

FAITHWORLD PREACHER: The Reverend Jesse Jackson.

JESSE JACKSON: You don’t have to vote the way I vote. But I shouldn’t steal your vote, in the name of Democracy. The winner shouldn’t lose and the loser shouldn’t win.

GREG PALAST: Jackson fears that the Republicans have some new plan to block the black vote, not just the fake felon scam used last time on Willie Steen.

JESSE JACKSON: There are more Mr. Steens out there, and now you have a case of this is a guy who just may be a kind of biopsy — a kind of political biopsy of a cancer that is much more widespread than just one example. You can’t forget the stealing of your birthright. You can’t forget disenfranchisement of your vote.

GREG PALAST: A hundred miles away in the riverside town of Jacksonville, we may have found the evidence of the plan Jesse Jackson fears: something called a "caging list," which could capture black voters. This is a list of nearly 2,000 voters in the black neighborhoods of Jacksonville, who appear to have errors in their mailing addresses. The list was specially prepared for George Bush’s campaign.

GEORGE BUSH: There is no doubt in my mind that, with your help, we’ll carry Florida again, and win a great victory on November the 2nd.

ION SANCHO: Every one of these has to be hand entered, and —

GREG PALAST: We asked Ion Sancho why the Republicans might put together such a list. Sancho is a Democrat; but he’s also one of the most respected and experienced of Florida’s county elections supervisors.

ION SANCHO: The only thing that I can think of African-American voters listed like this, these might be potential individuals that will be challenged if they attempt to vote on election day.

GREG PALAST: American states allow political parties to place their people right inside the polling stations, like this one in Jacksonville. They can point to a voter and challenge their right to vote. Voters will be turned away with provisional ballots, which are usually just thrown out. Political parties rarely use challenges because they can bring voting to a halt.

ION SANCHO: In Leon county, for example, we have not had one challenged voter in the sixteen years that I’ve been the supervisor of elections. Because again, if you challenge voters, you really must do so with concrete, hard evidence, not your opinion. And this process can be used to slow down the voting process, to cause chaos on election day and, quite frankly, to discourage voters from voting.

GREG PALAST: Do the Republicans have a plan to launch thousands of challenges on November 2nd, and bring voting in Florida’s black, Democratic precincts to a standstill? This is the caging list. And this it where it was sent: to the office of Brett Doster. He’s the Executive Director of the George W. Bush for President Campaign in Florida. Let’s ask his team about it. I asked Republican spokeswoman, Mindy Tucker Fletcher, if they had a strategy to challenge these black voters on election day.

MINDY TUCKER FLETCHER: I can’t tell you right now. I don’t — I’m not part of the — that strategy,

GREG PALAST: OK.

MINDY TUCKER FLETCHER: But I — I — this is — this was not done in order to create a challenge list, as you, I think, were trying to get to.

GREG PALAST: But they accuse Democrats of registering voters illegally; so Republicans must counterattack. So you’re saying your poll workers will be instructed to challenge people to say they should have a provisional ballot?

MINDY TUCKER FLETCHER: Where it’s stated in the law, yeah.

GREG PALAST: Are you worried that will gum up the procedures for legal voters.

MINDY TUCKER FLETCHER: By enforcing the laws?

GREG PALAST: Well, that’s a good question.

MINDY TUCKER FLETCHER: I imagine even the people in line would want the laws applied.

GREG PALAST: The law appears to be applied in a curious way in Florida. Across the road from the Jacksonville voting station, I spied someone hiding away a camera in a black s.u.v. with blacked-out windows. He was disguised in a tourist uniform, complete with shorts, baseball cap, and open-toed sandals. He had been filming every voter. I thought I’d say hello. This isn’t just a hobby? You’re just not doing this volunteer?

DOUG THE INVESTIGATOR: No.

GREG PALAST: OK.

DOUG THE INVESTIGATOR: No. I’m an investigator. This is my —

GREG PALAST: Are you a licensed investigator, or ...? A professional agency, then. It’s not — you’re not like some frea — you know, just some guy who decided he’s going to do something. He remembered that his name was 'Doug,' but he couldn’t remember who he was working for. The local congresswoman had a suggestion.

CONGRESSWOMAN: The Republicans, once again, are trying to intimidate African-American voters. This car have been here since the eighteenth, in front of the supervisor’s office all day, and they have been filming.

GREG PALAST: Back in Tallahassee, another election scam surfaced which could sabotage thousands of voter registrations. It targeted students with liberal views. Election supervisor Ion Sancho discovered the scam struck close to home.

ION SANCHO: This, for example, is a copy of my step-daughter’s voter registration from Orlando; and it is clear that her own handwriting filled in blocks two through fifteen. Apparently, a petition form was placed over the top of a voter registration form. It purported to tell the citizen they were signing a petition to legalize medical marijuana. The citizen filled it in, thinking that’s what they were doing, and then after the voter had left, the individual fraudulently filled out lines one, the party change, making them a Republican now, and then fraudulently signed it, and then turned the application over to the election administrator. This form changed the voter’s registration from Tallahassee to Orlando. And if this voter had not known me, and turned this information over to me, she may have been — she may have been disenfranchised when she attempted to vote.

GREG PALAST: Is it a crime to misregister someone in that way?

ION SANCHO: It is a third degree felony to do this. It is an illegal act.

GREG PALAST: And the Republicans now admit it was their operatives who collected these thousands of suspect registrations, though the party denies it committed fraud. Civil rights experts in Washington fear the threat to a free and fair election is severe, and unprecedented. Ralph Neas is commander-in-chief of an army of 6,000 lawyers who will take up battle stations on election day, to protect voters from dirty tricks.

RALPH NEAS: This is the nerve center.

GREG PALAST: Right.

RALPH NEAS: There will be fifty-six of our field offices in the seventeen states, and then there will be thirty-eight legal command centers where the majority of the lawyers will be. There will be a law student or lawyer at every precinct; but if there are real problems, we’ve got mobile traveling vans of lawyers who will go to the troubled precincts and make the decision.

GREG PALAST: They’ll keep their eyes open for mass challenges by poll watchers paid for by the Republican party. It may be disruptive, but it’s perfectly legal to challenge voters; but if you target the challenges at black districts, like Jacksonville, you’re breaking federal law.

RALPH NEAS: You cannot target districts, with respect to challenging voters, if race is a consideration. Doesn’t even have to be the major factor. You cannot target on the basis of race.

WILLIE STEEN: Thanks.

GREG PALAST: Back in Tampa, Willie Steen finally gets to vote. But this happy ending was thanks only to "Newsnight." The day before he was still listed as a criminal felon, but when we turned up with cameras, his status magically changed to upright citizen who can vote unchallenged. But what about the thousands of others, without TV cameras, who will have to overcome the new tricks, caging lists, registration games and more in the 2004 battle of the ballot?

AMY GOODMAN: Investigative report by Greg Palast for BBC’s "Newsnight", first aired here on Democracy Now! in the United States. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Greg Palast joins us live in our studios.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is investigative reporter, Greg Palast. Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Greg, congratulations on another terrific report. I guess the people in England and Europe are more informed on the shenanigans going on in the United States.

GREG PALAST: They’re absolutely horrified. They are watching black cars with blacked out windows surveilling black voters. You are seeing challenge lists. To the rest of the world, the reaction in Europe to the report this led the BBC news in Europe, and the reaction was, the US is running election like Zimbabwe.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t this happen in 2000, that your reports, first exposing what was going on in Florida, appeared in Britain and Europe, and the US press didn’t touch it for months?

GREG PALAST: Only —- I broke the story on BBC and in The Guardian, that tens of thousands of voters were falsely listed as felons and barred from voting. Basically, it was black people who were only guilty of voting while black. In the film, we have one of those people, Willie Steen, and I want to emphasize that because the Republican Election Supervisor was tipped off of our coming down with the cameras to watch him vote, even though the state said -—

AMY GOODMAN: He was doing early voting.

GREG PALAST: He was doing early voting, that one hour before he voted, they changed his status from felon to upright citizen, so he could vote. There’s still — the U.S. press doesn’t cover this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And who was it who tipped him off? You told us off camera. Can you tell us on camera?

GREG PALAST: One of the major newspapers in America is foolishly still not covering the story. It’s hard to cover the story. You have to understand, BBC has been threatened by the Republican National Committee.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What was the newspaper? A reporter from the major newspaper?

GREG PALAST: I cannot say.

JUAN GONZALEZ: OK. It’s a major newspaper in New York, right?

GREG PALAST: I understand.

AMY GOODMAN: What about BBC. You are talking about being threatened?

GREG PALAST: Yeah. That’s why I’m grateful that you have run the report today. Because the Republican National Committee is threatening BBC, as they have done before with my reports, saying that if Greg Palast is on the air there will be no interviews for the network. From the Republican National Committee, which is, of course, cutting off the air supply of the news organization, and you can immediately see why American news organizations won’t touch the story. That’s basically that the Republican Party has a hit list of black people they’re going to try to wipe out on Election Day, stop them from voting, and in particular, this has the effect of not only of intimidating the voters, eliminating voters, but in places like Jacksonville where three and four-hour waits are expected, this could entirely sabotage the voting operation. Understand, this is illegal if they’re targeting black folk. It is against federal law.

AMY GOODMAN: We saw that scene of Congress member Corrine Brown in Jacksonville. Explain what she was saying.

GREG PALAST: The BBC cameras were there to interview her about voter harassment, and it just so happened that we caught a guy in the blacked out car with a telephoto lens filming each of voters going into the early voting booth. It’s mostly black voters doing early voting. This may be related to this so-called caging list to knock out the block vote.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Also, the segment where you went into the fake registrations or the ones that where signatures were falsified. How expensive was that?

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who that this guy is.

GREG PALAST: What you saw was a guy, Ion Sancho, who is probably considered the most experienced and respected of election supervisors in Florida. Unfortunately, my one mistake was to identify him as a Democrat, because the Republicans told me he was a Democrat. He’s very independent, not affiliated with any party. He has also asked the parties not to challenge voters on Election Day. The supervisors have said it’s really never been done in Florida history. This basically is an attempt to stop the entire voting process, bring it to a halt. As for registrations, what happened was that students, mostly Democrats, students filled out petition forms for medical use of marijuana, and it turns out they were signing the back of registration forms without knowing it, reregistering themselves as republicans. This was definitely tied to a republican-paid operation, and at least 4,000 of the forged registrations, which is a felony to forge registration, have been found, and Jeb Bush’s department of law enforcement says that they don’t have time for the next few weeks to get around to arresting the forgers. It’s just — this is just the beginning of the game.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean that they have now registered as Republicans? Can they still vote?

GREG PALAST: No, they cannot. They have now double- registered. They only got caught because the Election Supervisor’s daughter was caught in the scam. If she had put in an absentee ballot, if this wasn’t caught in her case, her ballot would be thrown out.

JUAN GONZALEZ: He also said they were being reregistered in another county, therefore, creating problems?

GREG PALAST: Yes. In other words, basically setting up the voter to have their vote voided because they’re double registered. And again, this is just one of the several games we are finding, for example, the felon purge, which our press here has said is over with believe me, it ain’t. Most of the people of the 93,000 people tagged in the first round as felons, who are legal voters, mostly Democrats, 4 to 1 Democrats, just so you know, 4 to 1 Democrat registered. Most of those are still purged. They’re still playing games with these people. Then you’ve also got games with absentee ballots. One thing that’s not come out in the story about Broward County, and the ballots missing, you have to understand that Jeb Bush fired a black female Democrat who was elections supervisor, who was elected, replaced her with his own appointee, who is suddenly now not sending out absentee ballots in a heavily Democratic area.

JUAN GONZALEZ: This is Broward?

GREG PALAST: Broward. You have Jeb Bush appointing Republicans to replace Democrats, who are then impeding the vote, as in Jacksonville where a Republican was just appointed to take over, and he’s making it almost impossible for black people to vote. Jacksonville, by the way, is the largest physical city in the United States with one polling place for early voting, again to stop the churches and Jesse Jackson and his group from bringing in thousands of voters to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: So again, this top news, as many as 58,000 absentee ballots have gone missing in Broward County, ballots said to have been mailed two weeks ago, but somehow, they have disappeared. Now there’s a lot of finger pointing, the county is blaming the postal service. The post office said, No, we didn’t get them.

GREG PALAST: You have to understand the games that are being played. Theresa LePore, Madame Butterfly from Palm Beach, who is an ally of Jeb Bush, was just defeated a few weeks ago in her own re-election. She will still be counting votes in November. In the last race, a couple of weeks ago, she counted 37,000 votes from 31,000 absentee ballots. It was like Fishes and Loaves. The problem is, if she had gone the other way, we would not have caught her. If she counted 31,000 votes out of 37,000 ballots. Do not, I recommend to people, don’t use absentee ballots. You don’t know where they’re going and what they’re doing with them. That’s the great scams of this election. The thing is that it’s all aimed racially. And you have to understand, who are people on the caging list that the Republicans appear to be ready to challenge? They include people whose addresses they claim cannot be verified. I verified some of these addresses. I found 50 guys shipped out from the military, so their addresses changed from the poor neighborhoods of Jacksonville to Baghdad. And they are going to challenge these soldiers’ votes.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get the caging list?

GREG PALAST: If I said that, I wouldn’t receive any more lists. Let me tell you, if anyone has any lists or good items, go to Gregpalast.com. I love it, especially if it’s marked secret or confidential on the top.

JUAN GONZALEZ: There’s no reason, obviously, to assume if this kind of situation is occurring in Florida, that it’s not occurring in other states as well, other battleground states.

GREG PALAST: I have to tell you that I have been writing a story called "Other Floridas." New Mexico — there’s non-count of vote in the Hispanic areas and Native American areas. Colorado they’re starting a felon purge, days before the election which is against federal law, by the Republican Secretary of State. In Harper’s, in this month’s issue, I have gone through how the change in machinery to computers is going to cost hundreds of thousands of African American votes, Democratic Party votes. We figure our analysis is that in southern Florida alone, the change to computer also cost 27,000 votes — will cost John Kerry a net of 27,000 votes. So, it’s even the machinery. We have Hispanic precincts in New Mexico which in the last race showed no vote at all for president, and the response they get from elections officials, some people cannot make up their mind. What’s happening is in poor areas, they’re being given crap machines, just like they get crap hospitals and crap schools. They know this means that a lot of votes are lost in the machinery, whether its computers or punch cards. You name it. You have a loss of — by the US Civil Rights Commission statisticians that I have been working with, we calculated a loss of 1 million black and minority votes lost in the machines. This is a tremendous electoral thumb on the scale, when we are going into this Tuesday. It’s nationwide. I concentrated on Florida, because Florida will be Florida again. Look to, if you are going to see it election shoplifted, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio. Those are going to be states where you cannot trust the vote.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Greg Palast for joining us. Investigative reporter with this explosive report.

GREG PALAST: Thank you very much.

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