- Greg Palastjournalist who has been investigating Brian Kemp and voter suppression in Georgia. He’s the director of the 2016 documentary titled The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
- Leah Wright Rigueurprofessor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is the author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.
A new investigation has found Georgia secretary of state and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp has overseen the removal of more than 340,000 current Georgia residents from voting rolls. We speak with Greg Palast, a journalist who has been investigating Brian Kemp and voter suppression in Georgia. He has joined a lawsuit against Kemp over the purge.
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As we continue to look at voter suppression in Georgia, a new investigation has found that the Georgia secretary of state and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp has overseen the removal of more than 340,000 current Georgia residents from voting rolls. In a moment, we will be joined by journalist Greg Palast. But first, I want to turn to part of a new video he produced about the voter purge in Georgia.
GREG PALAST: How did Kemp wipe out the registrations of 550,000 voters? He used the postcard trick. Kemp sent out millions of these cards, requiring voters to confirm their addresses. Problem? They look like junk mail. Eight out of 10 voters who get them throw them away. Throw away the card, and Kemp can throw you off the rolls. The trick? Not everyone gets a postcard. Mostly, they go to neighborhoods like this.
STACEY HOPKINS: This is my neighborhood. And this is where I almost got purged.
GREG PALAST: Stacey Hopkins is a community organizer.
STACEY HOPKINS: Give me a hug. Give me a hug, baby.
This is also a community that’s rapidly changing. It impacts us as a voting community. With all these empty houses, our vote is being lost. Our political power is being lost.
GREG PALAST: When Kemp sent her a postcard, he picked the wrong target.
STACEY HOPKINS: I look at these mailers that are telling me and two of my children that if we did not fill out these forms and return them, we were going to be moved to the inactive list. But we had just voted. I decided to try and hold Mr. Kemp accountable for that, because I wanted to know why he didn’t want me to vote. We filed suit against Secretary of State Kemp.
GREG PALAST: And she won—big time.
STACEY HOPKINS: A hundred and fifty-nine thousand were restored to the voting rolls. And that was—that was a good feeling.
GREG PALAST: But what feels bad is that more than half a million voters remain on the purge list. We had to threaten Kemp with a federal lawsuit, but he finally gave up the names of every voter he purged. Then we made all the names public. I was flooded with 1,900 emails from Georgians stunned they had lost their right to vote.
AMY GOODMAN: Investigative journalist Greg Palast attempted to question Georgia Secretary of State—the Republican gubernatorial candidate—Brian Kemp about the purge.
GREG PALAST: Mr. Kemp, are you removing black voters from the voter rolls just so you can win this election? Why are you purging voters from the voter rolls? Sir, why aren’t you answering my questions? Sir, why do we have to sue you to get the names of voters who have been removed? Why are you—let go of me right now, sir. Is there any other reporter being thrown out of here?
KEMP HANDLER: No, sir. He said you specifically.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Greg Palast questioning the Republican candidate for governor Brian Kemp, who’s the secretary of state. Greg Palast, the journalist who’s been investigating Kemp and voter suppression in Georgia, director of the 2016 documentary titled The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
You are suing Brian Kemp, as well, Greg Palast. Explain what you found and why you’re suing him.
GREG PALAST: Well, you see, he wouldn’t answer my questions, so he’s going to have to answer them in a federal court. This is a follow-up to my Rolling Stone 2016 investigation. We are suing him—and I say “we,” including civil rights organizations—to find out why he’s removed 340,134 Georgians on supposed evidence that they’ve left the state or left their county. And they are in—they are still in their home registration addresses. They haven’t left. So, you’re talking a third of a million people. If these people show up to vote on November 6th, they’re going to find that they can’t vote. They’ll be handed a provisional ballot, but it won’t be counted. This is huge. And these lists are violently racially prejudiced. So, we are going into court to get all the answers why he did this. We know it’s wrong.
And for my other investigation, I was able to get inside his operation and get some of the purge lists before. It’s quite an ugly operation. I’ve never seen a purge operation this wide, this big. And this one thing that Stacey Abrams was mentioning during the debate, it’s not just the 53,000 names pending, it’s the 340,000 people purged. That is, their registrations have been canceled. That’s why we’re in court with the voting rights groups to get the information on exactly why these people were wrongly removed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Greg, you are a veteran of this issue of voter suppression in various national elections. I think back to Katherine Harris—
GREG PALAST: Right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in Florida during the infamous Florida recount vote and the purging of supposed felons from the Florida voting lists. Kenneth Blackwell, another Republican secretary of state, in Ohio, during the 2004 election. We’ve heard about Kris Kobach in Kansas, and now Kemp in Georgia. This secretary of state position rarely gets a lot of attention. But when it comes to election time, it’s a key position, isn’t it?
GREG PALAST: Well, that’s one thing that’s not very well understood. It’s very, very dangerous for Brian Kemp to be in charge of the vote while he’s running for governor. As you see, for example, Kris Kobach, also secretary of state—and you’ve got another story coming up—is closing and moving polling stations where voters of color can’t get to those stations, Kemp is doing the same thing, by the way. He has closed stations in neighborhoods of voters of color, in Atlanta, for example, in the 6th Georgia Congressional District. He will be the one—when people go to the polling stations and find they’ve been purged, and they fill out those provisional ballots, it will be Brian Kemp who decides whether they get counted. Absentee ballots—you just heard how panicked he was about the massive number of absentee ballots coming in from voters of color, from Democrats. And he’s going to be able to decide which of those ballots get counted.
People don’t realize, you mail in your ballot, you’re kind of taking a chance. They have to decide that your signature is correct. In Georgia, Kemp has imposed a rule called exact match. You add your middle initial and you didn’t register that way, or you leave it out and you did register that way, your ballot is toast. It’s gone. This is very serious, to let a secretary of state, the ballot counter, the guy who determines who gets to vote, which ballots get counted, where the vote takes place, how it takes place—Secretary of State Kemp is not following the normal procedure, that a secretary of state should resign while they’re running for governor.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go back to Tuesday night’s gubernatorial debate in Georgia. This is the Republican candidate Brian Kemp questioning Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams.
SECRETARY OF STATE BRIAN KEMP: In a recent video, you called on illegals to vote for you in this election. I was actually shocked. I had to watch that video twice. It clearly shows that you were asking for undocumented and documented folks to be part of your winning strategy. So, my question is: Why are you encouraging people to break the law for you in this election?
STACEY ABRAMS: Mr. Kemp, you are very aware that I know the laws of Georgia when it comes to voting. In fact, I am one of the foremost experts in the state on expansion of voting rights. And I have never in my life asked for anyone who is not legally eligible to vote to be able to cast a ballot. What I’ve asked for is that you allow those who are legally eligible to vote, to allow them to cast their ballot. And, in fact, we took you to court in 2016, and a federal judge said that you illegally canceled 34,000 registrations. You used the exact same system, the “exact match” system, that is under dispute right now.
Now, I realize that in the next response you’re going to say that it’s a function of my organization, because your tendency is to blame everyone else for the mistakes that you make. My responsibility as a leader is to see a problem and try to solve it. When I saw that we had 800,000 unregistered people of color in the state of Georgia, I started an organization that has reached into every county and increased those registrations. When I saw that people were being unlawfully denied the right to vote, I worked to make certain that we held you accountable. And as the next governor of Georgia, I will continue to do my job to make certain that every legally eligible vote that gets cast gets counted.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to return to Leah Wright Rigueur on this answer. Leah Wright Rigueur, author, Harvard professor at the Kennedy School of Government, can you respond to the accusation and what Stacey Abrams said?
LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Well, I think Stacey Abrams is laying out her pathway to the governor’s office and to victory. But she’s doing it in such a way as to remind everyone that she is interested in a legal pathway, but that also she is interested in expanding the rights and the constitutionality and the right to vote for all Georgians and ensuring that they have that right to vote. So, for a long time, you know, in our democracy—and it’s not just Georgia—there’s been this idea that everyone should have the right to vote. But there’s also—it’s coexisted with this idea that not everyone should have the right to vote. And, in fact, this is what we’ve seen, a restriction of rights, of the right to vote, for certain groups of people.
Abrams was directly responding to that, by saying, you know, “This has been my ground game, this has been my life’s work, to ensure that everyone who is a legal citizen has the right to vote and has the right to exercise that vote, as opposed to constraining it,” so clearly pointing out that, you know, and rebutting this idea that she’s on tape encouraging undocumented peoples to vote, but instead saying this is about ensuring that citizens have their right to vote and are able to exercise that right, as opposed to being suppressed or losing those rights.