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Greg Palast: By Rejecting Recount, Is Michigan Covering Up 75,000 Ballots Never Counted?

StoryDecember 13, 2016
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Greg Palast

reporter for Rolling Stone. His new film is The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.


Investigative reporter Greg Palast has just returned from Michigan, where he went to probe the state’s closely contested election. Trump won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes out of nearly 4.8 million votes cast. Green Party presidential contender Dr. Jill Stein attempted to force Michigan to hold a recount, but a federal judge ordered Michigan’s Board of Elections to stop the state’s electoral recount. One big question remains: Why did 75,335 ballots go uncounted?


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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our update on the presidential election to look at the results of the recount effort in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin’s Election Commission announced Monday, after its recount, Republican Donald Trump’s margin of victory widened by about 162 votes. In Pennsylvania, a federal judge Monday rejected a request to recount paper ballots and scan some counties’ election systems for signs of hacking. Hours later, state officials certified the results of the election, with Trump winning by less than 1 percent of the vote. Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein had requested recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, three states where Donald Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton. A federal judge had already ordered Michigan’s Board of Elections to stop the state’s electoral recount. Trump won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes out of nearly 4.8 million votes cast.

We turn now to Rolling Stone investigative reporter Greg Palast, who went to Michigan to investigate the vote. He filed this report for Democracy Now!

GREG PALAST: Officially, Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes. But a record 75,335 votes were never counted. Most of these votes that went missing were in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, majority-black cities. How could this happen? Did the Russians do it? Nyet. You don’t need Russians to help the Michigan GOP. How exactly do you disappear 75,000 votes? They call them spoiled votes. How do you spoil votes? Not by leaving them out of the fridge. Most are lost because of the bubbles. Thousands of bubbles couldn’t be read by the optical scanning machines.

SUE: I saw a lot of red ink. I saw a lot of checkmarks.

GREG PALAST: Sue is a systems analyst who took part in the recount.

SUE: We saw a lot of ballots that weren’t originally counted, because those don’t scan into the machine.

GREG PALAST: The machines in Michigan and Wisconsin can’t read these bubbles. But a much better machine, the human eyeball, can easily read what the voter intended. Both Michigan and Wisconsin, you have to pay the state millions of dollars to have humans read the ballots. This woman, Jill Stein, raised the money for the human count of these uncounted ballots. According to Stein, this human review was finding a whole lot of...

DR. JILL STEIN: Votes that were blank, many of which were in communities of color that are historically Democratic. So, obviously, this was a—this was a concern for him.

GREG PALAST: Enough votes that Mr. Trump would lose. So, then, a GOP politician came to Mr. Trump’s rescue.

This is Trumpville, rural Michigan. And this is their hero, the man who shut down the recount. Bill Schuette is the Republican attorney general of Michigan. He issued an order saying that no one would be allowed to look at the ballots in over half the precincts, 59 percent, in the Detroit area—the very place that most of the votes had gone missing.

DR. JILL STEIN: And it’s shocking to think that the discounting of these votes may be actually making the critical difference in the outcome of the election.

GREG PALAST: We went to speak with the secretary of state, whose spokesman said the missing votes in Detroit were simply people who waited in line but didn’t want to vote for president.

FRED WOODHAMS: You know, I think when you look at the unfavorability ratings that were reported for both major-party candidates, it’s probably not that surprising.

GREG PALAST: Back in Detroit, there was another explanation. Some of the votes missing resulted when 87 machines, responsible for counting thousands of ballots, broke down. Carlos Garcia is a media specialist at Michigan State University. He witnessed the breakdown.

CARLOS GARCIA: The start of polling at 7:00 a.m., the machine didn’t work. And at 9:15 a.m., they brought in a replacement, and it was replaced by 9:30. The people that didn’t wait, their ballots were in the bottom in the ballot box.

GREG PALAST: But they weren’t scanned.

CARLOS GARCIA: And so, at the time when they started having anyone who was waiting scan their ballots, those ballots were not taken out of the machine. So, any new scanned ballots were falling in on top of the old ones.

GREG PALAST: They weren’t counted. Activist Anita Belle.

ANITA BELLE: Only 50 ballots in the ballot box. Hot mess. Hot mess!

GREG PALAST: How did Detroit end up in a hot mess with these ballot-destroying machines? Republican state officials took direct control of the government’s spending in Flint and Detroit. Result? Flint’s water was poisoned, and the voting system of Detroit was poisoned, as well.

DR. JILL STEIN: Whereas if you’re voting in a wealthy white suburban precinct, no sweat, your vote will be validated, you can have assurance and confidence in your vote. But if you’re African-American, these questions cannot be asked.

GREG PALAST: And then there are voters who never got to vote in the first place.

DR. JILL STEIN: Whether it’s because of the chaos in—you know, some polling centers are closed, and then some are moved, and there’s all kinds of mixups. So, a lot of people are filling out provisional ballots in the first place, or they were being tossed off the voter rolls by Interstate Crosscheck.

GREG PALAST: Crosscheck is a list that was created by Donald Trump’s operative, Kris Kobach, to hunt down and imprison voters who illegally voted or registered in two states in one election.

FRED WOODHAMS: Michigan participates in the Interstate Crosscheck, like a number of other states, so we do match voters who may be registered in another state.

GREG PALAST: Do you know how many names are on it?

FRED WOODHAMS: There’s a lot of names.

GREG PALAST: There’s a lot of names. Yeah, I’d say there’s a lot of names. Here’s Michigan: 499,092 Michiganders are on this suspect list.

FRED WOODHAMS: Mm-hmm.

GREG PALAST: Is this to eliminate fraud, or is this to eliminate voters?

FRED WOODHAMS: It’s to clean our voter lists and ensure—

GREG PALAST: Well, why would you—now—

FRED WOODHAMS: —that there’s no vulnerability for fraud.

GREG PALAST: No—so, do you believe that there’s fraud in Michigan?

FRED WOODHAMS: Well, we’ve been very aggressive in closing vulnerabilities and loopholes to fraud.

GREG PALAST: Well, I see the aggression. Here, Michael Bernard Brown—

FRED WOODHAMS: Mm-hmm.

GREG PALAST: —is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Anthony Brown. Then Michael Timothy Brown is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Johnnie Brown.

FRED WOODHAMS: Mm-hmm. And you’re correct that, you know, I’m sure that there are some false positives that show to us. But we go through it thoroughly, and we’re not just canceling people.

GREG PALAST: Statistical experts who have looked at this list say it’s heavily overweighted against minorities, because it’s using—it’s just basically a list of common names.

FRED WOODHAMS: I’m not familiar with that.

GREG PALAST: Michael Brown. Jose Garcia.

FRED WOODHAMS: Mm-hmm.

GREG PALAST: Could you imagine that that would be a problem, in terms of—

FRED WOODHAMS: I did not know Brown was identified with one race or the other.

GREG PALAST: Common—OK, you know that Brown was a common name in America, and a black name?

FRED WOODHAMS: It’s a very common name.

GREG PALAST: It’s a very common black name in America, yes?

FRED WOODHAMS: I’ve known a lot of white Browns.

GREG PALAST: Donald Trump promotes Kris Kobach’s and Michigan’s Crosscheck crusade. Stein doesn’t buy it.

DR. JILL STEIN: If he thinks that Michael Louis Brown is the same person as Michael James Brown, he’s confused. And the American people should not be duped into believing him for a minute. It’s the opposite of what he is saying: not people who are voting fraudulently and illegally, but actually legitimate voters who have had their right to vote taken away from them by Kris Kobach and by Donald Trump. And there is no legitimacy to his claim that there are fraudulent voters that have distorted the outcome of this election. It is a Jim Crow system, and it all needs to be fixed. It’s not rocket science. This is just plain, basic democracy. And I think the people of Detroit are so inspired and principled and passionate. They really are a model for this struggle around the nation.

GREG PALAST: And so the recount slogged through, uncovering missing votes and missing voters that could change the presidency. So Republicans rushed in to shut down the recount completely. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, here in Michigan—we may be way north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but the elections are still run by Jim Crow. For Democracy Now!, this is Greg Palast.

AMY GOODMAN: And joining us from Washington, D.C., is Rolling Stone reporter Greg Palast. His new film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. So, Greg, what most surprised you in this latest research in Michigan?

GREG PALAST: Well, you know, people are looking for Russians, but what we had is a real Jim Crow election. Trump, for example, in Michigan, won by less than 11,000 votes. It looks like we had about 55,000 voters, mostly minorities, removed by this racist system called Crosscheck. In addition, you had a stoppage—even before the courts ordered the complete stop of the vote in Michigan, you had the Republican state officials completely sabotage the recount. They said, in Detroit, where there were 75,335 supposedly blank ballots for president—75,000—they said you can’t count 59 percent of the precincts, where most of the votes were missing. There were 87 machines in Detroit that were—that didn’t function. They were supposed to count about a thousand ballots each. You’re talking about a massive blockade of the black vote in Detroit and Flint, enough votes, undoubtedly, to overturn that election.

And you saw a mirror of this in Wisconsin, where, for example, there were many, many votes, thousands of votes, lost in the Milwaukee area, another African-American-heavy area. And there, instead of allowing that eyeball count of the votes that are supposedly blank, they said, "Oh, we’ll just run them back through the machines." It’s like betting on an instant replay. It’s the same game. They just put them through the bad machines again. This is not just a bad way to count the ballots; it’s a way to not count African-American ballots.

And I want to emphasize that, Amy, which is that when we use the term "recount," we’re actually talking about ballots that were never counted in the first place—way over 75,000 in Michigan. There are enough ballots uncounted that if you looked at them with the human eye, because the machines—these are terrible machines which can’t read your little bubble marks next to the candidate’s name on the piece of paper. If the human eye looks at these things, it’s easy to tell that someone voted for a presidential candidate. A lot of the machines said that they voted for two candidates. Not many people do that. The human eye could do that.

But the question is: Where are these ballots not counted? They are not counted in African-American areas, in Dearborn, where there’s a heavy Arab-American community, in Latino communities. So, while we’re discussing hacking the machines, a lot of this was old-fashioned Jim Crow tactics, you know, from way back. And by the way, a lot of this is the result of the destruction and the gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which this is the first election post the Voting Rights Act. So, we saw—and Jill Stein said it correct—she expected to see a lot of hacking. What she found was, as she said, a Jim Crow election.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we just have a minute, but what do you think needs to happen now?

GREG PALAST: Well, we need to have kind of a Standing Rock for voting. We need to restart the voting rights movement, because with Jeff Sessions coming in as attorney general, we have to start investigations now. I’m in Washington because 18 Million Rising, the Asian-American group, and the Congressional Black Caucus Representative Hastings, they have presented 50,000 signatures to the Justice Department, begging Justice, please, open an investigation of this racist Crosscheck system created by Donald Trump’s operatives, operating in 30 states, knocking off Asian-American, African-American, Latino voters. Please open the investigation now, before it becomes a new Justice Department—or maybe it’s in an Injustice Department.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Greg, for your report. Rolling Stone reporter Greg Palast, his new film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, based on his original book by the same title.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll talk about another Trump appointment. Stay with us.

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