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2004-07-26

Stealing An Election: Greg Palast Reviews How Florida Is Attempting To Disenfranchise Thousands of Voters (Again)

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We speak with investigative reporter Greg Palast, one of the leading journalists investigating voter disenfranchisement in Florida during the 2000 elections, about the upcoming presidential election and the dangers of discounting the minority vote. [includes rush transcript]

One of the leading journalists investigating the voter disenfranchisement in Florida during the 2000 elections is investigative reporter Greg Palast, author of the international best-seller "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." His latest project is a film he did for the BBC about the Bush family called "Bush Family Fortunes". It deals extensively with the issue of the Florida vote count, or lack of a count, as the case was. Here is an excerpt of Greg Palast’s film "Bush Family Fortunes."

  • Excerpt of "Bush Family Fortunes"–new documentary by Greg Palast.
  • Greg Palast, author of the "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Palast is an investigative reporter for the BBC and the Guardian of London.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Well one of the leading journalists investigating the voter disenfranchisement in Florida during the 2000 elections is investigative Journalist Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. His latest project is a film he did with BBC, about the Bush family, called "Bush Family Fortunes." It deals extensively with the issue of Florida. He talks about the voting counting or not counting, as the case was. Here’s an excerpt of Greg Palast’s film "Bush Family Fortunes."

GREG PALAST: Thousands of black voters when they showed up to vote were turned away because they were listed on voter registers as convicted criminals. But were they? I met with Willie Steen. Like 94,000 others he had been tagged a criminal. He’s not allowed to vote in Florida because Jeb’s elections officials said he was a felon. So Willie, fess up, are you a criminal?

WILLIE STEEN: No. No criminal at all. Never been convicted of any crime.

GREG PALAST: But they had you down as a felon. A serious, convicted criminal.

WILLIE STEEN: Yes, they did. But not me. Wrong person. I never been arrested in my life. You know? Was in the military for four years, got out of the military, been in the medical field ever since. I mean you can’t even work for a hospital being a convicted felon. And I was in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Fought in the war. So, you know, pretty screwed up how they did me, but what can I say?

UNNAMED WOMAN: If you, in error, remove even one person from the voter rolls, it’s of tremendous significance. We found errors, we were very uncomfortable with the matches on the list. The matches that the state considered a match, was not something that we necessarily considered a match. Sometimes the race, even the gender was not a match. We were not comfortable.

GREG PALAST: How did you feel when they said you’re a criminal?

WILLIE STEEN: Well for one, I was upset, you know. I was ashamed, you know, with 40 people around, made me feel real bad. And I am just hoping that I get a letter stating hey, you can vote again, Willie.

GREG PALAST: But Harris never sent the letter, although the state admits Steen is innocent.

WILLIE STEEN: I really feel that it was bad, you know, for African Americans. But hey, you know, what can we do sometimes? You know? What can we do?

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of the film "Bush Family Fortunes." Greg Palast for BBC, and Greg Palast now joins us in the studio, the author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Welcome, Greg.

GREG PALAST: Good morning, Amy. And thank you for breaking the, what is basically a blackout on that film in the United States. That was, that film–one hour "Bush Family Fortunes"- was played, and the events from it played, at the top of nightly news in Britain, in Germany, in Brazil, in Japan. Everywhere in the planet they heard about that section which was how the vote was fixed in Florida in 2000. It’s coming again in 2004. And the other information in the film about the Bush-bin Laden connection. Basically this is the kind of journalism underneath and expanding out from Farenheit 911, it’s at the top of the news everywhere but here. The only way we can get it out here, is BBC is allowing me to put it out as a DVD so you can kinda watch it in the basement with the shades down so Mr. Ashcroft doesn’t know you are getting this information. Thank you for putting it out.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the American people though are aware, we just read this, BET-CBS poll, African Americans, the majority feel that the vote was stolen in 2000?

GREG PALAST: They feel it, but in fact, the Reverend Jackson’s working with me to get the DVD and the information out right now because what the rest of the world knows, for example, is that just before the election of 2000, as we saw in the film, tens of thousands, tens of thousands of black voters were removed from the voter rolls. They were called felons who couldn’t vote in Florida. In fact their only crime was voting while black. So you had tens of thousands of votes- voters- legal voters- black voters- not allowed to vote in Florida. Election decided by 500 votes. In addition, as Reverend Jackson was talking about, is that you also had in Florida 180,000 votes which were never counted, thrown in the garbage, thrown in the dumpster. And of those, 54%, this is the official finding of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, 54% of the votes never counted were cast by African-Americans. You pull the votes out of the dumpster, Al Gore won by 90,000 votes in Florida. That’s what happened. In other words, the exit polls were dead on accurate. Because they asked, who’d you vote for? They never asked you, do you know if your vote was counted? And so what’s happening in America, and what I was trying to get into the film, in one section- what the Reverend Jackson was talking about- we actually have in America, an apartheid, Jim Crow voting system and basically no one’s talking about it. John Kerry finally said something at the NAACP convention, of course that’s a nice, safe place. Let’s see if he says it at this convention.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you want to see him say?

GREG PALAST: Well, what I would like to do, I don’t care about partisan politics, I care about getting the news out, but it’s about time that someone noticed the fact that, as Jackson said, in the last election, and we just put this out in the film and book, one million black votes were thrown away, not counted. Not just the 90,000 in Florida, one million votes nationwide. 2 million votes in America were cast, never counted. People think, I cast a vote, I pull the lever, mark a ballot, someone counts it. Not so. Two million ballots in the United States in the last election were called spoiled. You don’t spoil a vote, Amy, by leaving it out of the fridge. You spoil it cause you mismark it, you know, in some way. As it turns out, about half of the votes which are thrown out spoiled for technical reasons were cast by African-Americans. Why? African-Americans get the crappy schools. They get the crappy hospitals. They get the bad police protection, they get the bad voting machines. This is what we’re talking about. And in Florida, the bad machines were put in and we know this deliberately, were put into the black precincts and this happened again in 2002 in Broward county. With the new computer machines, this is a big danger. Bad computers put into Black precincts, the machines didn’t work. Good computers put into the white precincts, those votes counted. In other words, the system with the new computers works exactly as they want. We’re gonna see not only the million black votes lost in 2004, but more than a million black votes and that’s why Jesse Jackson wants to, has asked for a meeting with President Bush to commit to make sure this doesn’t happen and he’s not getting the response. The main thing is, that other than this program, there is no coverage on American television and American radio about the million missing black votes and the massive disenfranchisement of black voters from the registries and once they have cast the ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned that this story will make people feel more disempowered?

GREG PALAST: No, what I found, when you show the film in the black community, what’s happening is that people get really charged up and angry, you know, they know that, after all, in Florida, there were people hung from trees 35 years ago for trying to vote. So this is kind of redeeming those martyrs. Now people are kind of charged up, well we better vote because, you know, you are talking approximately, here’s an ugly statistic, one in seven, one in seven African-American votes cast are never counted for technical reasons. One in seven. So that means that basically 14% of the African-American community has to vote just to actually get the right vote counted.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Greg Palast is the author of the best selling book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and now the BBC report, the film "Bush Family Fortunes." This is Democracy Now!, when we come back we’ll hear from people in the streets, and we’ll hear from a veteran who will be attending the first hour Veteran’s caucus, the Democratic Convention, and finally Angela Davis. Stay with us.

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