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Jim Crow Returns: Interstate "Crosscheck" Program Could Strip Millions of the Right to Vote

November 03, 2014
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Guests

Greg Palast

investigative reporter with Al Jazeera America, a Puffin Foundation fellow, and author of the New York Times best-seller, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.

On the eve of the midterm elections, we air a report by investigative journalist Greg Palast on how new voter ID laws risk disenfranchising millions, especially black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters. Twenty-seven states are now participating in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. Backers say it is needed to prevent voter fraud, but critics say it is being used to stop Democratic-leaning voters from going to the polls. Tens of thousands of names have already been removed, and millions more are threatened. Based on a six-month investigation, Palast’s report originally aired on Al Jazeera America. A Puffin Foundation fellow, Palast is the author of the New York Times best-seller, "Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps."


TRANSCRIPT

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Jim Crow, sadly. That’s right, "Jim Crow Returns." That’s the headline of a new report by investigative journalist Greg Palast on how new Voter ID laws risk disenfranchising millions, especially black, Latino, Asian-American voters. Twenty-seven states are now participating in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. Backers of the program say it’s needed to prevent voter fraud by highlighting the names of voters who may have voted in two or more states in the same election. But critics say it’s being used to stop Democratic-leaning voters from going to the polls. Tens of thousands of names have already been removed, and millions more are threatened. Greg Palast produced this piece for Al Jazeera America based on a six-month investigation. It begins with Republican political operative Dick Morris speaking on Fox News about the 2014 midterm elections.

DICK MORRIS: So you’re talking about probably over a million people that voted twice in this election, the first concrete evidence we’ve ever had of massive voter fraud. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. This proves it.

JOIE CHEN: Greg Palast is a private investigator turned journalist, who’s been following voting rights in every election since 2000.

GREG PALAST: Yeah, I got into this stuff when Bush won by 527 votes. And now, it’s a decade and a half later, and I’m hearing the cry of voter fraud, there’s a million people committing voter fraud. Is there really this big crime wave?

JOIE CHEN: The journey begins here in Kansas, where Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach has launched a nationwide campaign against voter fraud.

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: Take double voting. That’s a slam dunk to prove that. A guy has voted in Kansas, and he’s voted in Colorado. It’s a state crime. It’s also a federal crime. But the Obama administration is not interested in prosecuting. Surprise, surprise. And so, we have to do it.

JOIE CHEN: In 2011, he began promoting a digital name-matching program used to scan electoral records and flag anyone whose name appears on the voter rolls in more than one state. It’s called Crosscheck. And across the country, 27 states are using it to investigate possible voter fraud. Among them, 22 have an election board controlled by Republicans.

Palast and his team contacted every state involved with Crosscheck to request access to these so-called double-voter lists. Only three complied, and now Al Jazeera is making them public for the first time.

GREG PALAST: It took us months of harassing these offices 'til they finally gave up the lists from Washington and Virginia and Georgia. And I looked at these millions of names—Jorge Rodriguez, David Lee, Joe Black—common names. That's the only identifier. So then I say, "Well, who are these guys?"

JOIE CHEN: Palast went to North Carolina, where electoral officials have taken the unusual step of hiring a former FBI investigator. He’s been given a list of more than 190,000 names flagged by Crosscheck to determine if any of them should be prosecuted for voter fraud.

GREG PALAST: Hi. How are you?

JOSH LAWSON: Hi. I’m Mr. Lawson. Good to see you.

GREG PALAST: OK.

JOSH LAWSON: Welcome.

JOIE CHEN: Josh Lawson is a spokesperson for the North Carolina Board of Elections.

GREG PALAST: Have you busted anyone because of Crosscheck?

JOSH LAWSON: We have not made any referrals yet to any district attorneys. There’s not been a presentation to the state board.

GREG PALAST: Not even a referral?

JOSH LAWSON: Which is required under state law.

GREG PALAST: Have you bagged any double voters in, say, the last 10 years?

JOSH LAWSON: We’ve made referrals. Whether the DAs have prosecuted them, we do not have good data on it.

GREG PALAST: Is it really difficult to find these people?

JOSH LAWSON: It’s not about just going and blanketly trying to arrest somebody. You have to have evidence of a crime.

JOIE CHEN: Of the three million names identified by Crosscheck in the last two years, not one has been convicted of voter fraud. But Virginia, another state using Crosscheck, has already struck more than 41,000 voters off the rolls, admitting that some of them may have moved out of state. Other states, like North Carolina, have been reaching out to voters on the Crosscheck list by mail. Those who fail to confirm their identity will be denied the right to vote on Election Day.

GREG PALAST: But you had this whole, like, hysteria over the fraudulent voters. But they—you know, do they exist?

JOSH LAWSON: We know that double voters exist.

GREG PALAST: Do we have fraudulent—you know that?

JOSH LAWSON: We know, because we have—we have—

GREG PALAST: But you can’t find them, even though you have their address. You said they aren’t phantoms.

JOSH LAWSON: Again, is there a question? I understand. I want to get you what you want.

GREG PALAST: I’m asking why you can’t find them, if you have their addresses, Social Security numbers, signatures.

JOSH LAWSON: I never said we couldn’t find them. I said that we had not prosecuted.

GREG PALAST: The problem is the methodology. There’s over a million middle names that are mismatched. Take a look at this. You’ve got in Georgia, James Elmer Barnes Jr. is supposed to be the same guy as James Cross Barnes III. Then you go right down, and you see James Ratcliffe Barnes Jr. is supposed to be the same as James Anthony Barnes, the nothing, probably senior.

JOIE CHEN: In fact, Georgia’s Crosscheck list has more than half a million names on it. Palast went there to find out how the state was handling them and found out that few people even knew this was going on.

GREG PALAST: Here’s the type of matching that they do: Vincent Hardy Williams voted in Georgia, Vincent H. Williams voted in Virginia.

REP. STACEY ABRAMS: OK.

GREG PALAST: So they said that that’s the same guy.

REP. STACEY ABRAMS: And how do they know that that’s the same person?

JOIE CHEN: Stacy Abrams is the top-ranking Democrat in Georgia’s State Assembly. Palast went to meet her three weeks before Election Day.

REP. STACEY ABRAMS: I sit as the minority leader of the House of Representatives. This information has never been presented to the House of Representatives. I think it’s completely unreasonable, and I certainly intend, through my auspices as a member of the House of Representatives, to investigate and to request information from the secretary of state about this program, about the nature of the program, about the origin of it, about the resources being used to implement it, and about whether or not we are systematically attempting to disenfranchise half a million of our Georgia voters.

HELEN BUTLER: For someone to vote in two places, that’s kind of odd, because we have a hard time getting them to vote one place.

JOIE CHEN: Helen Butler is the director of New Georgia Project, a get-out-the-vote initiative aimed at minorities.

GREG PALAST: According to voting protection groups that we’ve met with in Carolina, according to Dick Morris on Fox TV, that the Obama campaign, for example, may have had a million people voting twice and that he stole the election.

HELEN BUTLER: Oh, that’s crazy. That is totally crazy. There was not people voting twice in any election. And if they’re basing it off of this, they are crazy, as well, because that tells you that that is not good information.

JOIE CHEN: In the lead-up to midterms, Georgia has begun sending postcards to anyone suspected of being a double voter, asking them to verify their registration. But Butler says they’re easy to miss.

GREG PALAST: So you think if someone got this, that their vote would be saved?

HELEN BUTLER: No, because more than likely they’re going to throw it out. And that’s the way junk mail comes. And like me, I go, "Woop. I don’t know who that is. Woop."

JOIE CHEN: It’s the first day of early voting in Georgia, and this polling station is buzzing. With a race for governor and an open Senate seat in the balance, these Georgians know every vote counts. But not everyone who wants to vote will be allowed to.

GEORGIA EARLY VOTER: The state is trying to suppress the vote, man. Don’t you know that?

JOIE CHEN: Journalist Greg Palast obtained a list of more than 500,000 people whose eligibility is in question due to Crosscheck. He found one of them in this apartment building said to be housing up to 10 double voters.

GREG PALAST: Here, Joseph Edward Naylor—that’s you, right?

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Mm-hmm.

GREG PALAST: And also, it says Louisiana, Joseph Edward Naylor. You’re suspected of voting twice, which is a crime.

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Yeah.

GREG PALAST: Is that—is that true?

JOSEPH NAYLOR: No. I didn’t vote twice. I only voted here that year.

GREG PALAST: You know that this—

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Matter of fact, in Louisiana, when I registered, I never voted. I just registered.

GREG PALAST: You registered but you never voted in Louisiana.

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Never did.

GREG PALAST: Right? But that was how many years ago?

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Oh, man, since about ’92, ’93, something like that.

GREG PALAST: So we’re talking 20 years ago?

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Mm-hmm.

GREG PALAST: And they have you down for voting?

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Twice, and I didn’t. I thought it was all straightened out.

JOIE CHEN: Joseph Naylor, like most people on the Crosscheck list in Georgia, received a postcard from the County Registrar asking him to verify his address. He says he sent it back, but he’s still not sure how—or even if—his name will appear on the voters’ list.

GREG PALAST: Are you going to vote in this election?

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Yeah, if they don’t take me off the list, yes.

GREG PALAST: If they—yeah, OK.

JOSEPH NAYLOR: So, it’s if I—I don’t want to vote, and then they’re going to try to give me some jail time—I want to know ahead of time, before I vote.

GREG PALAST: So, you’re concerned that you could be—

JOSEPH NAYLOR: I could be—

GREG PALAST: —arrested?

JOSEPH NAYLOR: My livelihood is more important than any politician. Because I want to live, too. So, why am I going to go to jail? If it causes me to go jail, take me off the list. I don’t care, because I don’t want to go to jail.

GREG PALAST: And so, do you think that this is then a tactic to scare people away from voting?

JOSEPH NAYLOR: Could be. Me, I ain’t scared about the voting. It scares me about going to jail. I don’t want to go to jail for something stupid like that.

JOIE CHEN: While Crosscheck could discourage some from voting, its supporters say it’s a necessary tool.

JACK WINTER: Having requirements for people to vote can deter bad activities.

JOIE CHEN: Jack Winter is the former head of the Republican Party in Fulton County, Georgia.

GREG PALAST: And in this state, you’re required to have voter ID to show up and vote. Do you think that there’s a lot of fraud that requires that?

JACK WINTER: The reports in the press would indicate there have been some fraudulent registration forms turned in, but I think the legal process is the right way to determine the answer to that, and it is underway right now.

JOIE CHEN: Palast and his team did a statistical analysis on more than two million names on the Crosscheck list. Their projections found names like Jackson, Washington, Garcia and Kim are overrepresented. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 53 percent of all Jacksons and 90 percent of Washingtons are African-American; 91 percent of all Garcias are Hispanic; and 94 percent of all Kims are Asian.

HELEN HO: I mean, if you know an Asian person, you probably know two people the same name. So, I would say that that—using that as a marker for fraudulent activity, that’s very troublesome. I could see how that would systematically pull out certain ethnic groups, especially Asian ethnic groups.

JOIE CHEN: Helen Ho and Sang Park are members of a nonprofit providing legal aid for Asian Americans in Georgia.

HELEN HO: In a lot of our, you know, ethnic communities—Korea is a good example, Vietnam—there’s only a certain number of last names. Then, when we all immigrate to America, we tend to spell our last names, even if there might be an actual difference in language in our home countries, we’ll homogenize it, so we’ll all be Kims, K-I-Ms, right? Or with the Vietnamese, we’ll all be Nguyens.

GREG PALAST: How does the Asian community vote—Democratic, Republican?

HELEN HO: Nationally, South Asians and Korean Americans tend to vote Democrat. But we—about 30 percent of Asian Americans don’t align with any party, and I think that’s why both parties tend to see our community as up for grabs. However, in 2012, the majority of Asians did vote for President Obama.

GREG PALAST: So this could be a threat to Asian-American voters if they’re tagged just because they have a common name. Here’s—oh, here’s Park.

HELEN HO: Yeah.

GREG PALAST: Lots of Park—Park, Park, Park. Oh, there you are, sir.

HELEN HO: Sang Park.

GREG PALAST: Sorry. According to the state of Georgia, someone with—you, or someone like you, voted—Sang Park voted in Suwanee, Georgia, and Annandale, Virginia.

HELEN HO: Mr. Park, Suwanee [speaking Korean]?

SANG PARK: [speaking Korean].

HELEN HO: He lives in Lenox, he says.

GREG PALAST: OK, someone else with your name—

SANG PARK: Yeah, it’s a lot of—lot of same name. Is it birthday—birthday different? Is the Social Security number different? Everything different. How to use the names? It’s a same name. Name is a lot of same names. [speaking Korean]

TRANSLATOR: He says no one in their right mind would go out there and vote twice, just to waste their time. Yeah, he says they won’t even vote once. It’s ridiculous that they would go out and vote twice.

JOIE CHEN: Across town, at Martin Luther King’s old church in Atlanta, race and politics mix with the gospel.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: We know that we are at war. We are in a real struggle to maintain and make sure no one mitigates or undermines our basic right to vote.

JOIE CHEN: Reverend Raphael Warnock has been at the center of an effort to get more African Americans to the polls. But he says claims of fraud tend to target black voters.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: I mean, think about it. It’s high-risk and almost no reward. I mean, the risk for engaging in voter fraud is criminal prosecution. What’s the reward? What does it take—how many imaginary voters or double voters do you have to create in order to actually sway an election? So, the rewards are almost—are zero. And the risks are very high. And so, this whole idea is fantastical.

GREG PALAST: Here we are in what used to be Reverend King’s congregation, where the long march to voting rights for African Americans began.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Sure.

GREG PALAST: Now, half a century later, are you marching backwards? Is there a new attempt at voter suppression in the state?

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: There clearly is an effort to suppress the votes of African Americans and young people, elderly people. Clearly there is a kind of partisan cherry picking that’s going on. But as the pastor of this church, I’m reminded that Martin Luther King Sr., Dr. King’s father, led a voting rights campaign in Atlanta in 1935, 30 years before the voting rights law. And so, that’s the nature of the democratic process. It’s a process; it’s not a final product. And unfortunately, there are times when we think we’ve won certain battles, and we’ve found ourselves fighting those battles all over again. And it’s our job to stand up.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Reverend Raphael Warnock of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, speaking to investigative journalist Greg Palast. He reported and produced the piece with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker Richard Rowley. Their reporting first aired on Al Jazeera America. The piece was narrated by Al Jazeera America’s Joie Chen. After break, Greg Palast joins us live here in studio.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined now by Greg Palast live, who produced the "Jim Crow Returns" piece for Al Jazeera America, Puffin Foundation fellow, author of the New York Times best-seller, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.

Greg, welcome back to Democracy Now!

GREG PALAST: Glad to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about how you learned about and got a hold of these lists from the—what is the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.

GREG PALAST: Well, I had read that the state of Kansas and 27 other states had matched their voter files, and they found, supposedly, 6.9 million people—actually three-and-a-half million people voting twice. Now, voting twice is a go-to-jail crime. You get five years in the federal penitentiary. And here were three-and-a-half million people supposedly committing this extraordinarily difficult voting in two states in the same election. They had their names. They had their addresses. So, I said, "I need the list." And I went through six months of hell, because all these states, like North Carolina, said, "Well, these are criminals. We can’t give you the list, because they’re suspects." I said, "You’ve got three million suspects?" So, finally, I got—three states relented after six months, and I got two million names, supposedly one million double voters.

And this is a very, very typical list. For example, Robert Steven Jackson Jr.—or, Robert Steven Jackson is supposed to be the same person as Robert Herman Jackson Jr., and one voting in Virginia, one voting in Georgia. Now, you have to understand, that’s not unusual. If you look at my whole list—in fact, I think it was up on the screen there—there isn’t a single name where the middle name matches on that list. In fact, we went through the entire two million names. One out of four names has a mismatch of just the middle name. Junior-senior—you know, junior-senior used to be father-son. Well, they say, no, it’s the same voter, just, you know, taking a different shape and a different age. They claimed that there is no—that they used birth dates to match. There were no birth dates, none. They claimed that there was a Social Security match. This is Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas. He’s kind of the Katherine Harris of 2014. He’s always finding illegal voters. But there are no Social Security matches. And they said if there’s a mismatch of Social Security number—that’s basically everyone on the list. It actually says in the instructions, which we found, that you don’t—that they ignore the mismatch. They ignore the middle name mismatches, Social Security number mismatches, birth date mismatches. Half a million people in Georgia alone are supposedly actual double voters—not double registered, double voters.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Democracy Now! called the Kansas secretary of state’s office for details on which states participated in its voter registration data crosscheck program in 2014. Brad Bryant, the state election director, responded with a list and map. The states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

GREG PALAST: Well, one correction there: Washington dropped out. That’s how I got the list. Washington said this list is junk. It’s just a bunch of common names. It only matches first name and last name. So they handed me the list. They said, "These aren’t criminals. It’s just a list of common American names." And, you know, as soon as you get to common names, Amy, you’re getting to African Americans—that’s a legacy of slavery. Most Jacksons in America, according to the U.S. Census, are African-American. Most David Lees—we have a whole list. Oh, my god. We have pages and pages of Michael Lees. And most of those, about 64 percent, are Asian-American, like Michael L. Lee is supposed to be the same voter—he’s from Georgia—is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Thomas Lee of Virginia.

AMY GOODMAN: So they get around fast, from one state to another—the same person is voting.

GREG PALAST: Oh, we have people—some of their names, they have people matched as voting nine times.

AMY GOODMAN: So how do you challenge this? I mean, the polls—well, a lot of people have been doing early voting, as we see. But tomorrow, if someone goes to the polls?

GREG PALAST: Unfortunately, it’s a very underhanded method of removing people. When years ago I found the purge of black voters as so-called felons in Florida by Katherine Harris, there they marked an F next to someone’s name if they were a so-called felon. By the way, of 58,000 names, none were. None. And that changed the election of 2000. In this case, they don’t mark anyone as a duplicate voter. Instead, they send you a postcard that says, "Please verify your address and name." Now, most people—looks like junk mail—throw it away. Renters, poor people, students who are moving a lot, the letter doesn’t even find them. So they know who they’re knocking off. If the letter doesn’t come back, in a state like North Carolina, they’re going to remove that voter. In some states, it’s a two-step process. If they don’t vote Tuesday, they’re marked inactive. If they don’t vote Tuesday, then they will lose their vote for the presidential election. And that’s where you’re going to see the biggest effect of this. It could determine the Senate on Tuesday, but it will absolutely have a huge impact on the federal presidential in 2016.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would happen if you lost your right to vote, if you don’t vote tomorrow?

GREG PALAST: You know what they do? They give you one of these provisional ballots. The problem of a provisional ballot, it’s like a placebo ballot. It makes you feel good. You filled out a ballot. They say, "Oh, we’ll check your registration." If you’re not registered, you’re not registered. And they throw it out. That’s the problem with getting the provisional ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re headed, after the show, to North Carolina. It’s one of the states. I mean, we’re talking about the majority of states are in this crosscheck program.

GREG PALAST: Majority—well, it’s not just any states. Almost every state is a Republican-controlled state, where the election board is Republican-controlled. So it’s a very select group, about half the states, but it’s the Republican states, and because they know who this is knocking off. They know who’s losing their vote.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you doing in North Carolina?

GREG PALAST: Well, I’m going to be looking at—well, we went down to meet, and we’re going to try again to meet, with the FBI agent that the state of North Carolina has hired, a famous G-man named Chuck Stuber. He’s now had their names. He’s had 190,000 suspects of double voting in North Carolina, for six months. He’s got their names and addresses. But he still hasn’t arrested anyone. So far, with all these millions of suspects, with their names, addresses—you know, they got all this information, they know where everyone is, and they show up to vote—they haven’t arrested anyone, because in fact there are no double voters. The fraud is not—you don’t have massive fraud by voters; you have massive fraud by the voting officials. So this G-man, this FBI agent, has arrested no one at all, not made a single referral, because he’s not going to put his name behind arresting, you know, David Larry Lee because he’s supposed to also be Michael Chang Lee. They’re not going to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about Texas.

GREG PALAST: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a six-page dissent criticizing the court’s decision to allow Texas to use its new voter ID law in the midterm elections. She wrote, quote, "The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters." Supreme Court didn’t rule on whether this was constitutional, the actual law; they said it would just cause confusion, and so they’d let it go for this time, then they would look at it.

GREG PALAST: Well, the biggest single problem, again, is voter fraud is a fraudulent concept. For example, I’m going to—in North Carolina, where I’m going later today, they imposed new ID requirements, as they have in Georgia, as they have in Texas. They haven’t shown me a single case yet where someone has used someone else’s identity to vote. I mean, identity theft in voting doesn’t happen. You go to jail for five years. It’s not a joke, and it’s very easy to get caught. People don’t do it. In other words, what they’re doing is they’re taking action against a crime that does not exist.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds. What should people do when they go to the polls if they’re told they can’t vote?

GREG PALAST: Contact—get your 800 number for voter protection. And whatever you do, don’t simply accept a provisional ballot, because they’re not going to count it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Greg Palast, I want to thank you for being with us, investigative reporter. His piece appeared at Al Jazeera America. He’s a Puffin Foundation fellow, author of the New York Times best-seller, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.

And that does it for our show. Tune in tomorrow night for our special election night broadcast beginning 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. You can go to our website for all the details at democracynow.org. We’ll be on the air for five hours.

On Thursday, I’ll be speaking at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, at 2:00 p.m., then on Sunday at Princeton, New Jersey for the Coalition for Peace Action 35th Annual Interfaith Service and Conference for Peace. The following week, I’ll be in Berlin, Germany, on Friday and Saturday. Check our website, democracynow.org.


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