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Greg Palast on Vote Rigging and Suppression Ahead of the 2008 Election

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BBC investigative journalist Greg Palast travels to New Mexico, Michigan and Colorado to investigate how both Democrats and Republicans are accusing each other of trying to steal the election. Palast also discusses his new comic book Steal Back Your Vote, co-written with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: Election Day is less than a month away, and a record-breaking voter turnout is expected in the 2008 race. But voting rights groups are warning that tens of thousands of registered voters might not be able to cast a ballot come November 4th.

Beyond the documented problems of electronic voting machines, thousands of names have been purged from the rolls in several states, including at least six swing states. In some states, voters have been deemed ineligible because of voter registration laws that require photo identification or due to state officials checking voter names against Social Security databases.

Democrats and Republicans are locked in court battles over these in a number of states across the country. While Democrats say they’re trying to prevent attempts to block votes, Republicans say they are trying to prevent voter fraud.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour looking at voting rights and the political manipulation of the voting process. We begin with a report filed by BBC investigative journalist Greg Palast on how both parties are accusing each other of trying to steal the election.

    GREG PALAST: There’s a war on for that White House over there. Both political parties say the other is trying to take it, not by winning the vote, but by stealing it. In fact, the Democrats say the Republicans have done it before.

    ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: You know, a lot of Europeans wonder, why are Americans so crazy? They keep reelecting this guy. Well, the answer is, we don’t. You know, they keep stealing these elections. And they stole it in 2000, they stole it in 2004, and they’re all set up to steal it again.

    GREG PALAST: Now, the Republicans accuse the Democrats of voter fraud on a massive scale. Republicans charge that Democrats have registered as many as five million illegal aliens, fakes, felons and fraudulent voters.

    So, the question is, are the Democrats stuffing the rolls with millions of bogus voters, or are the Republicans blocking millions of genuine voters?

    The answer is buried somewhere out here. This is no country for old men — or young ones, for that matter. It’s economic ghost town. This is the desert town of Las Vegas — the other one, Las Vegas, New Mexico — where they made the movie No Country for Old Men. For many people, work as extras on the film was the only work they had all year. Even the candidates for office are back on horseback to save gas. Odd thing, in elections earlier this year in New Mexico, one in nine people who turned up at the polls found their names had simply vanished from the voter rolls.

    LAS VEGAS RESIDENT: I wasn’t on the list, and I had to do one of those —-



    VOTER REGISTRAR CLERK: OK, let me tell you. Those lists came from the Secretary of State’s office. We -— the local clerk did not have anything to do with that.

    GREG PALAST: What’s going on here? We asked this man, County Elections Supervisor “Pecos” Paul Maez.

    So, people are losing their vote?

    “PECOS” PAUL MAEZ: Yes, because they’re not on the voter rolls, you know.

    GREG PALAST: Even the supervisor had his own surprise.

    I understand you had a problem.

    “PECOS” PAUL MAEZ: I had a problem during the caucus, yes.

    GREG PALAST: What happened? Your name was missing?

    “PECOS” PAUL MAEZ: It was —- yes.

    GREG PALAST: And it didn’t say “Pecos Paul” on the voter roll?

    “PECOS” PAUL MAEZ: It didn’t say “Pecos Paul.” It actually -—

    GREG PALAST: Wait, you’re the elections — you’re the elections supervisor. It didn’t have your name on the voter roll?

    “PECOS” PAUL MAEZ: Yeah.

    GREG PALAST: The presidency could be decided right here. Republicans won New Mexico last time by barely 5,000 votes. Which voters have gone missing?

    A lot of poor folk on this street — officially, they don’t exist. In fact, this whole street doesn’t exist.

    Low-income voters, especially, have been purged from voter rolls under new US law. Republicans claim these purge laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. We caught up with one of the party’s top anti-fraud crusaders at a Republican celebration. Lawyer Pat Rogers singled out ACORN, a Democratic Party-linked group.

    Are the Democrats using fraudulent means to stuff the voter rolls and steal the election?

    PAT ROGERS: My experience in Albuquerque with the ACORN group is that they were involved in serious registration fraud. My experience in Albuquerque with the elections over the last few years have indicated that there have been isolated instances of voter fraud.

    GREG PALAST: It’s true that several ACORN workers were convicted of making up fake names for the voter rolls, because they were paid for each name they collected. But there’s no evidence that any fictional voter actually cast a ballot. Rogers still fears they’ll appear in November.

    PAT ROGERS: If you’re going to go to this effort and this expense of having fraudulent people register, why would you do that? People say that there is no fraud here, but there is.

    GREG PALAST: I drove into Detroit to investigate whether Republican plans to stop fraudulent voters might also capture innocent victims of the economic crisis. In Michigan, 62,000 families now face losing their homes to foreclosure on their mortgages. In neighborhoods like this, half the houses have been repossessed.

    ROBERT PRATT: This house here is vacant. I mean, they’re nice houses. Look at this house. This is a nice house right here.

    GREG PALAST: This is Robert Pratt. He’s next on the list.

    ROBERT PRATT: This house here is vacant. Yeah, it’s empty. This house is empty.

    GREG PALAST: That makes it impossible for you to sell your house.

    ROBERT PRATT: To sell any house. This house is vacant. Then you look across the street over there, those houses are vacant.

    I work straight with no overtime, no off-days. I’m talking seven days a week, eight hours a day. Yes.

    GREG PALAST: So you’re trying to get these built [inaudible].

    ROBERT PRATT: Yes, yes, yes. I want to build. I want — I mean, look at our neighborhood. Our neighborhoods are starting to look like a battle zone.

    GREG PALAST: As the neighborhood spun down into poverty and violence, his son, just twelve years old, playing in the backyard, was shot dead by a stray bullet.

    ROBERT PRATT: This is my son. This is my son here. This is Robert.

    GREG PALAST: He’s lost his son, his home, and now he could lose his vote. A reporter for the Michigan Messenger wrote that the local Republican chairman told the journalist that his party would challenge residents right at the polling station to stop them from voting if their names are on a foreclosure list. The Republicans now deny this. But the Michigan Messenger sticks by its story.

    There’s another issue. If you lose this house, there is an allegation that the Republican Party is —-

    ROBERT PRATT: Don’t want us to vote. And that’s not -— I mean, that’s like saying we’re not a United States citizen anymore. You know, we lose our house, we lose our right to vote. That’s not right. That’s not fair.

    GREG PALAST: This is the second time this family has faced foreclosure. Last time, they were thrown out by a company called Trott & Trott, a firm that evicts more than a hundred Michigan homeowners every day.

    ROBERT PRATT: Trott & Trott — I mean, come on. That’s a mortgage company that’s here in Michigan that then got a lot of peoples and put a lot of peoples out on the street. I mean, to a lot of homeowners, that’s like an enemy.

    GREG PALAST: Home after home after home, foreclosed, boarded up, abandoned.

    But in an exclusive enclave nearby, there are no boards over the windows. These go for $10 million apiece.

    Wow! No foreclosure sign on this house. This is the home of David Trott. He is Michigan’s foreclosure king. No one has evicted more families in this state.

    What’s this below the Stars and Stripes? The Jolly Roger? It’s Mr. Trott’s flag. And this is Mr. Trott’s office. And it’s also Mr. McCain’s office.

    The Republicans are renting their local headquarters from Mr. Trott’s eviction operation.

    Greg Palast, BBC Television.

    The Republicans wouldn’t speak with us, but they deny they are going to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters. So, we went upstairs.

    And right upstairs from McCain headquarters, Mr. Trott.

    David Trott not only houses the Republican Party, he’s also one of their biggest Michigan contributors. He and his wife have given hundreds of thousands to the party.

    McCain has just given up on Michigan, yet the foreclosure controversy remains key to swing states Nevada and Florida.

    And now, to the critical swing state of Colorado, where SUVs have replaced the buffalos that used to roam the plains. According to this report, Colorado voters are going the way of the buffalo: they’re disappearing. This government report says that nearly one in five voters, 19.4 percent, were taken off the rolls in an unparalleled, massive purge. Democrats accuse Republican Secretary of State Donetta Davidson of orchestrating the purge. But she says local officials have the final say over voter rolls.

    She ended up here, in Washington, when George Bush appointed her head of the United States Elections Assistance Commission, where her job is to tell the rest of the nation how to run unbiased elections. She commissioned a report on election fixing. The report came in like this, but came out like this. It was written by Republican and Democratic experts. They concluded that Republican fears of widespread voter fraud were unfounded. This is the report’s author, Tova Wang.

    TOVA WANG: This idea of massive in-person polling place fraud on Election Day is just an absolute myth.

    GREG PALAST: The bipartisan team found Democrats were right to worry that legitimate voters were being excluded, but by the time Bush’s chairwoman published the report, the experts’ conclusions were turned upside-down.

    TOVA WANG: They left out a lot of the information that we provided regarding voter intimidation and vote suppression. They left out — edited out a number of things that could be perceived as critical of the Department of Justice’s handling of voter intimidation cases.

    GREG PALAST: US law permits political party workers to go right into the polling stations and challenge voters when they show up to vote. Experts fear this could lead to intimidation of legitimate voters. Despite the election experts’ views, Republicans demanded new grounds for challenge, they said, to stop Democrats cheating.

    UNIDENTIFIED: We know that, and we know — your party rests on the base of electoral fraud.

    GREG PALAST: The answer came from the man known as Bush’s brain, Karl Rove, who demanded new ID voting laws.

    KARL ROVE: I go to the grocery store, and I want to cash a check to pay for my groceries, I’ve got to show a little bit of ID. Why should it not be reasonable and responsible to say that when people show up at the voting place, they ought to be able to prove who they are by showing some form of ID?

    GREG PALAST: New ID laws will hit black voters hardest, says Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of the late attorney general, and voting rights lawyer.

    You know, Karl Rove said he goes to the grocery store, he has to show an ID to cash a check. So, why can’t you be required to show a photo ID when you vote for president of the United States?

    That seems sensible. However, in America, it raises a racial issue.

    ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: I have an ID, and most Americans have an ID. But one out of every ten Americans don’t have a government-issued ID, because they don’t travel abroad, so they don’t have passports, and they don’t drive a car, so they don’t have driver’s licenses. The number rises to one in five when you’re dealing with the African American community.

    GREG PALAST: Altogether, an estimated 100,000 black voters in just one swing state, Indiana, will lose their vote to the new law.

    But when I stopped by the Native American pueblos of New Mexico, I discovered that when it comes to voter suppression, Democrats don’t have clean hands, either. Local politicians wanted to reopen a uranium mine on the pueblos’ sacred mountain. The pueblos were not happy.

    NATIVE AMERICAN MAN: See, that’s a very sacred mountain that we have. There is a place, special place, that we pray for — to have a nice summer, have good rain.

    GREG PALAST: The officials gave the pueblos ballots without envelopes. Then these same politicians threw out their votes, because they didn’t come in the right envelopes. The Democrats were charged with cheating the pueblos by this man, David Iglesias, a rising Republican star appointed US prosecutor by George Bush. But the Bush administration wanted him to go after individual Democrat voters. Republicans bombarded Iglesias with allegations of fraud by Democrats.

    DAVID IGLESIAS: Over 100 complaints we investigated for almost two years. I didn’t find one prosecutable voter fraud case in the entire state of New Mexico.

    GREG PALAST: So the Bush administration fired him.

    Not prosecuting innocent people led to your removal?

    DAVID IGLESIAS: Yeah. I mean, they wanted some splashy pre-election indictments that would scare these other — these alleged hordes of illegal voters away. They were looking for politicized — for improperly politicized US attorneys to file bogus voter fraud cases.

    GREG PALAST: In the last presidential election, officially, three million votes were cast and never counted. This time, it could go a lot higher.

    And then, there is the chronic shortage of voting machines. In Ohio last time, voters in prosperous white neighborhoods waited only fifteen minutes to vote, while voters in poor black areas waited in line four hours. It all adds up, and it can change the outcome.

    TOVA WANG: If you combine people who are disenfranchised by voter ID, people who are disenfranchised by other things, such as there not being enough voting machines, combined with people who will be shut out because they have been left off the voter registration list, that’s enough to swing the election.

    GREG PALAST: If the final count is as close as the polls indicate, the next man in that house won’t be chosen by counting the votes, but by blocking the voters.

AMY GOODMAN: A report on voting rights filed by investigative journalist Greg Palast for BBC Newsnight. When we come back from break, he joins us live. Then we’ll be talking to the Secretary of State of Ohio and find out about a new report on voter purging around the country. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, BBC investigative reporter, joins us here in our firehouse studio, author of Armed Madhouse, as well as The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Democracy and Regulation. Right now, he has teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to investigate this year’s election. They’ve just released a voting guide comic book called Steal Back Your Vote.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Greg Palast.

GREG PALAST: Glad to be here. Let’s see how many we can steal back.

AMY GOODMAN: And your piece is coming out in Rolling Stone next week. Just summarize what we just watched, what you found as you traveled the country, the most egregious problems of people taken off the voting rolls.

GREG PALAST: Well, that’s the problem, is that we have millions and millions and millions of people being purged off the voter rolls, like in the state of Colorado, it was stunning to find out that one in five voters had their names simply erased by the Republican secretary of state. And then George Bush found — picked her out and made her the head of the US Elections Assistance Commission, as — you know, our joke in the comic book is that Bush wanted to name her “purgin’ general,” but Rove said it was a bit too much. So, this is one of the big problems.

You’re going to have millions of people walk into the voting booth, if you’re in Colorado, especially in New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Michigan — if you have any foreclosure problems, anything, they’re going to tell you you can’t vote, and they’re going to try to either get you out of the voting booth or give you a provisional ballot. And what we’re trying to tell you is how you can, in effect, steal it back.

So, look, Kennedy and I are coming out with an exposé in Rolling Stone next week on the massive theft of the vote in November. And we were kind of shaken up about it, because — so, Jesse Jackson recommended to us, said, “Look, that’s so grim. You’re going to discourage people from voting. They’re going to say there’s no chance. So you’ve got to do something.” So what we did is we — you know, facing a democracy crisis in America, we did what you have to do, which is to create a comic book. And it’s twenty-four pages of full color with the idea that it tells you — it gives you the Rolling Stone story, with Ted Rall and other great comics laying it out, but then also telling you how you — you know, how you steal it back. And so, we have six ways that they’re stealing the election, but then seven ways you can steal it back.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one of the things that we were talking as the film was playing, the — you’re not often getting Democratic leaders in some of these states really raising a ruckus about this issue.

GREG PALAST: Oh, yeah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And why is that? In terms of your investigations, for instance, in New Mexico, you mentioned that some of the Democratic leaders were willing to go along with these kinds of purges.

GREG PALAST: Well, as — you know, why don’t Democrats stand up? For the same reason as jellyfish. They don’t — you know, invertebrates, but — or as my co-author, Kennedy, said, they’re cowards. But, you know, he’s true blue. I’m not a Democrat. And, by the way, the guide is totally nonpartisan, so you — which means you can take it into the booth with you, by the way, to protect yourself, the Steal Back Your Vote comic.

And why don’t the Democrats protect voters? Because they’re in on the game. As you saw in New Mexico, you had Democratic Party officials knocking off the Native American vote, which is huge in New Mexico. It’s a swing vote in New Mexico. And they’re all Democrats — Native Americans — almost to a one. But they wanted to stop a uranium mine locally, and so the local policy want their baksheesh from the uranium mine are knocking off Native American votes. We see this in Colorado, we see this in Florida, where local Democratic officials are in on the purge, in on the game, trying to block the low-income minority voters. There are so many dangers now for the new voter, for the minority voter, for the elderly voter. There are so many tricks that they’re using now. It’s not one thing.

You know, I think a lot of people remember me from busting open the Florida purge of 2000 when Katherine Harris said that thousands of black folk were felons, when their only crime was voting while black. You know, that was kind of the magic bullet they gave in Florida. Kennedy, my co-author of the comic book and Rolling Stone article, showed how they stole Ohio.

Now what we see is a nationwide kind of Floridation of the nation, under something called the Help America Vote Act, because, you know, Bush is now trying to help us vote. It’s under the Help America Vote Act, where it’s like a whole series of things. So we have the mass purges. We have new ID laws.

How many new voters in America that have just signed up and all of those Obamaniacs realize that if you mail in your ballot on a first-time vote, almost every state requires you to also include a photocopy of your government ID? Obama is going to lose a million votes from absentee ballots which are mailed in without ID. It’s a new requirement. They don’t tell you that. In some cases, like Kentucky, you’ve got to serve — you have to notarize it. I mean, it’s completely out of control, the mass purging.

But there are things — I don’t want — again, I got to go back to Jesse Jackson’s admonition: don’t be discouraged. In fact, you should be encouraged. You should have the courage to now protect your vote.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what are some of the ways you can fight back?

GREG PALAST: Yeah. Well, in Steal Back Your Vote, we actually — besides the wonderful comic book, we have a pullout page, which you can get at stealbackyourvote.org, that we have print copies. Download copies. Download them right now, stealbackyourvote.org.

But some of the things you can do is, first of all, don’t mail in your ballot. There’s just too many ways that they can throw it out: you didn’t have your ID, you didn’t have your — you know, you’re not — you’re on some type of purge list, you don’t know it.

Vote early. Today, right now in Ohio, what are you doing after this program? You’re voting. That’s what you’re doing. In Ohio, in Indiana, you can vote right now. In Florida, you can vote right now, in many states, because if you are on a purge list, Amy and Juan, then you have time to correct it, to scream.

We also have the 800 number from Election Protection, so that — bring this in with you, by the way, please. Don’t leave the voting booth. And then we say things like — that’s number four.

AMY GOODMAN: Just go one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

GREG PALAST: One, don’t mail in your ballot. Don’t go postal.

Second, vote early, vote now.

Three, register and register. What we mean by that is check your registration. We give you a place to go from our sponsor Voto Latino. We also have this in Spanish, Voto Latino.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, you go online.

GREG PALAST: Go online to stealbackyourvote.org, and then you can check your registration and see if you’re valid, how you’re registered, because you better know how it’s spelled. You know, if you’re Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., you better have ID that says “Jr.” on it.

The fourth thing is vote unconditionally, not provisionally. Three million people were handed provisional ballots. Now, if you’re a white listener to this program, you may not know what a provisional ballot is. If you’re Hispanic or you’re black, you sure know what it is, because they gave out three million in almost all minority areas. Provisional ballots are what you get if there’s a dispute on your ballot or your ID. They challenge you. Some guy with a Blackberry from the Republican Party is challenging you. And I’m not being partisan. It’s just the Republicans that are doing this, challenging you. You get a provisional ballot, and then they throw it out. Don’t accept a provisional ballot. Demand adjudication. Go to stealbackyourvote.org for the steps on how you do it.

The fifth one is — I call it “occupy Ohio, invade Nevada.” What that means is you should be working, you should be working on Election Day. You should vote early now, and on Election Day help people get out the word, get out the comic book, get out — you know, get out the protection. You can’t win anymore by 51 percent. You’ve got to win by 56. I’m not an Obama supporter, but I do believe that every single vote should count.

Six, we call it date a voter. As our sponsor Jesse Jackson said, arrive with five. But, you know — and what we say is, like bowling and love, don’t vote alone. The reason is, you have to protect each other. And when you go in in a group, it’s a lot easier to have the courage to stand up to the vote thieves when they’re challenging you.

And then, of course, last one is, make the democracy demand, which is that if there is games with the vote, the election doesn’t end then on November 4th. It’s Wednesday that counts as much as Tuesday. We have to change the culture of America, where we stop shrugging our shoulders, like after 2000, 2004, and say we’re going to count the votes right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Greg Palast, I want to thank you for being with us. Greg Palast and Robert Kennedy, Jr. have come out with a new comic book, Steal Back Your Vote. “Hold it! Who said you could vote?” is on the front page, but they say you can, and they have ways to do it. Thanks very much for being with us. Look forward to your piece in Rolling Stone next week.

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