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“This Is Voter Suppression”: 198,000 Georgia Residents Were Illegally Purged from Voter Rolls

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Image Credit: Mike Segar / Reuters

As voters in Georgia cast their ballots in two key runoff races that will determine control of the U.S. Senate, voting rights activists fear many eligible voters will be turned away at the polls. Georgia has been called “ground zero” for Republican voter suppression efforts in the U.S., and in September the ACLU of Georgia revealed 198,000 voters had been wrongly purged from the voting rolls. We air a report into voting in Georgia by investigative journalist Greg Palast, narrated by the actress Debra Messing, and speak with voting rights activist LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund. “I think it’s quite interesting and coincidental … that many of them on that list are African American voters,” says Brown. “This is voter suppression.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

It’s runoff day in Georgia. Republican Senator David Perdue is facing off against Democrat Jon Ossoff, and Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler is running against Reverend Raphael Warnock. The two races will determine control of the U.S. Senate. Over 3 million Georgia residents have already cast their ballots, in a record turnout for runoff elections.

But voting rights activists fear many eligible voters may be blocked from voting. The ACLU of Georgia has revealed 198,000 voters have been wrongly purged from the polls. While legal efforts to reverse the purge ahead of the runoffs failed, voting rights activists continue to pressure state officials to reexamine how voter rolls are maintained.

We turn now to a report by investigative journalist Greg Palast that’s narrated by the actress Debra Messing.

DEBRA MESSING: There are two competing stories: widespread voter suppression or massive voter fraud. For example, this year, Georgia’s GOP secretary of state accused 1,000 Georgians of voting twice.

SECRETARY OF STATE BRAD RAFFENSPERGER: There are a thousand people, of that 150,000, that actually double voted.

DEBRA MESSING: Wow! One thousand double voters. That’s a felony crime. And how many of those thousand did he arrest? Zero. None. Zero voter fraud. So, fraudulent voting is a fantasy. But what about vote suppression? Just before the 2020 election, the same Georgia official canceled the voter registrations of an astonishing 198,000 voters. They called it “the purge.”

GREG PALAST: I got my hands on the big purge list. Now, how? It actually took years.

DEBRA MESSING: Greg Palast, an investigative reporter with Rolling Stone, got suspicious about the disappearance of tens of thousands of voters from Georgia’s voter rolls. Georgia told Palast that these voters had moved out of their home, left Georgia. But the purged voters told the reporter:

CHRISTINE JORDAN: But I’ve been voting right here ever since 1968.

GREG PALAST: According to the state of Georgia, they said, “Well, these people had moved away.” So I went through the list, and I started finding these voters.

PURGED VOTER 2: I’ve lived in this house for 20 years.

PURGED VOTER 3: And I’ve been living in this house for 13 or 15 years.

PURGED VOTER 4: I had been purged from the voter rolls. Haven’t moved, and my name was not there.

GREG PALAST: So, what’s going on here? The state says these voters have moved. And here they were. Who knows if you’ve moved? The Post Office actually has licensees who can go into the postal computers and tell you exactly who’s filled out those change of address cards. So, the Post Office contractor gives me the official list of people who have moved and people who haven’t moved. And it turns out these voters, they hadn’t moved; 198,351 of them had not moved.

So I took this list to the ACLU, you know, the American Civil Liberties Union, of Georgia. And they issued my report, “Georgia Voter Roll Purge Errors.” Is this illegal? You bet. I looked. And according to federal law, before you purge someone off the voter rolls, you have to check with the Post Office and their official licensee contractor. That’s the law. So I get a call from the president of the National Bar Association, C.K. Hoffler.

C.K. HOFFLER: Purging from the polls is a classic sign of voter suppression. That’s a classic tactic. Isn’t it ironic that the people being purged from the polls, by and large, are Black and Brown voters? How do you explain that?

DEBRA MESSING: Hoffler sued to return all 198,000 voters to the rolls. The suit was filed on behalf of rights groups, headed by Black Voters Matter.

REPORTER: LaTosha Brown, the co-owner of Black Voters Bus, is touring at least to 12 states to spread their message of empowerment.

LATOSHA BROWN: Even the National Voter Registration Act, a simple — a simple requirement is to have a third-party licensee. That’s a simple requirement, that you could literally, just in a matter of being able to verify that those names — those 198,000 names never would have been on the list —

GREG PALAST: Right. They said they moved.

LATOSHA BROWN: — if they had just followed the procedure.

GREG PALAST: They said they moved. Did they move?

LATOSHA BROWN: They said they moved, and they didn’t move. There is no evidence that those 198,000 people have moved. So we know what this is. This is another form of what we believe is voter suppression.

DEBRA MESSING: A federal judge told the state to meet with Black Voters Matter and fix the discrepancies, the massive errors in the purge list. LaTosha Brown, backed by a dream team of America’s top rights lawyers, went to the state Capitol to confront officials to fix those discrepancies.

BARBARA ARNWINE: This purge case is just one of the many ways in which they are trying to destroy the vote.

C.K. HOFFLER: If one voter is disenfranchised, that’s one voter too many.

GERALD GRIGGS: And we’re coming to the new suppressor-in-chief’s office and demanding a meeting. And then we’ll see them in court.

GREG PALAST: So, LaTosha led us on a march into the Capitol. The attorneys had told the state we were coming to meet the director of elections. Now remember, this was once the heart of the Confederacy. We get to the Office of the Secretary of State, and it’s locked and dark, but there’s a phone number taped to the door.

ANSWERING MACHINE: Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system.

GREG PALAST: The voting chief has disappeared. It was a cheap trick to avoid LaTosha. But she had another idea. So we went on a hunt.

DEBRA MESSING: And there he is: Chris Harvey, Georgia’s director of elections, the purge general himself, the man who erased these voters’ registrations, dressed for casual Friday.

GREG PALAST: Mr. Harvey, just a quick question. I was just talking to some voters: Curtis Frazier, Michael Watson, Ishtar Diaz. According to your office, these voters had filled out change of address forms because they moved, and so they were removed from the voter rolls. They told us that they have not moved — one 20 years at the same house, 19 years, 10 years at the same house — that they haven’t moved. They never filled out those forms. Can I give you their names, and you can put them back on the rolls? So they were wrongly removed?

CHRIS HARVEY: I’ll be happy to take their names, and we can follow up with them.

GREG PALAST: Well, actually, we have a list of 198,000. If it turns out that they have not moved as you claimed, will you return them to the voter rolls?

CHRIS HARVEY: Sir, I’ll be happy to take the information and follow up.

GREG PALAST: So, even if —

CHRIS HARVEY: I’m not going to prejudge what we’re going to do.

GREG PALAST: So, even if they were wrongly removed, you won’t return them to the voter rolls?

CHRIS HARVEY: I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do.

GREG PALAST: In other words, you’re just not going to do it.

CHRIS HARVEY: I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do.

GREG PALAST: Well, let me ask you a question.

CHRIS HARVEY: I’m not — sir, I’m not going to answer any questions about stuff that’s going on right now.

GREG PALAST: Now, but you told the court that you thought that maybe the Post Office, through a licensee named Anchor, had identified these people as having moved. They said they didn’t. We checked with Anchor. You never checked with Anchor or the Post Office. We did. Why did you give the court the impression that used the postal licensee to check whether these people moved, but you didn’t? Have you spoken to Anchor?

CHRIS HARVEY: I’m not going to answer any more of your questions.

GREG PALAST: Have you spoken to the Post Office and its licensees?

CHRIS HARVEY: I’m not going to answer any more of your questions.

GREG PALAST: You won’t answer that?

CHRIS HARVEY: I won’t answer your questions.

GREG PALAST: Well, the federal law requires you to do it. So you’re saying you’re not sure that you followed the federal law?

CHRIS HARVEY: I’m not going to answer your questions.

LATOSHA BROWN: We just want to get it resolved. Like, there are 198,000 people, as you can imagine, that we feel very strongly that are being disenfranchised right now. And so, we want to — we are coming in good faith. We’ve reached out repeatedly through the last seven days. We just want to get it resolved. And so, we would like a sit down with you all. We don’t want to get a run around the block. We want to sit down, have a meeting, have our experts to sit down with your experts and get it resolved.

CHRIS HARVEY: I understand.

LATOSHA BROWN: That at the end of the day, people’s voting rights, as an election officer, you understand how critical that is.

CHRIS HARVEY: I’ll follow up with the secretary.

GREG PALAST: Will you and the secretary meet with LaTosha Brown and her plaintiffs?

CHRIS HARVEY: I’m not going to answer your questions.

GREG PALAST: You’re not going to say whether you’re going to just meet with them? The court has asked you, said you should meet with them.

DEBRA MESSING: As of today, the state of Georgia still resists returning 198,000 voters their rights and refuses to meet with LaTosha Brown.

AMY GOODMAN: A video report by investigative reporter Greg Palast, narrated by the actor Debra Messing. We’re joined now by LaTosha Brown, the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and the BVM Capacity Building Institute.

LaTosha, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, we’re left hanging here. Did you ever get to meet with the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who’s really being hailed as a hero for standing up against President Trump as he demands he “finds,” what, over 11,000 votes to make him the winner of the Georgia elections? But you’re talking about 198,000 purged, stolen votes, in a sense.

LATOSHA BROWN: That’s right. No, so, as an update, we have never met with him. We’ve not heard from his office yet. My legal team, we’re still waiting to hear from the office. We have not heard from his office. We continue — we will pursue this. We will continue to pursue this. While we were not able to get injunctive relief, our case is still pending right now in the courts, and we’re going to press forward. And, I think, because we have reached out in good faith, and the judge did recommend that we sit down and meet and he’s not responded, I certainly think that we will convey that to the courts, as well.

You know, but it’s really interesting — it’s baffling to me — that Raffensperger is being perceived as some kind of hero. The truth of the matter is, he just simply doesn’t want to go to jail. He doesn’t want to cross over into this new territory that Trump is asking him to do to really be able to unravel — it’s too much. It’s too big of a mountain to climb. The truth of the matter is, he’s done everything in his office — he’s abused — an abuse of power, everything in his office, to make sure that he gave Trump the best possible — and the Republicans, the best possible opportunity to be able to steal this election, starting with the disenfranchisement of almost 200,000 voters, that literally — this is post-Brian Kemp. This happened in October 2019. We found out and became aware of it in September of this year. There was a report that was handed to him. We reached out to him repeatedly.

And those 200,000 — almost 200,000 voters have never been restored, which he had — within his office, he could have restored them. Not only — as the video talked about, not only did he not meet the basic, fundamental requirement in the National Registration Act, which was to have a licensee vendor that can check these names to make sure that the 198,000 people that he kicked off the voting rolls, that in fact they had moved. What we have discovered is that they have not moved, that Greg Palast and his team, his investigative team, literally, just the first week during our court case, 12 — we would call people, and one of the folks, one of the voters, said they’ve lived in their home for 27 years. They’ve never moved. They’re not even thinking about moving. Another one said they’ve lived there for 18 years.

The bottom line is, we don’t know where he got these 198,000 voters. I think it’s quite interesting and coincidental that the majority of them — that many of them on that list are African American voters. So let’s be clear about what this is. This is, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck. This is voter suppression, that part of what is happening in this state, this state has been ground zero for voter suppression.

And what we’re seeing and witnessing right now with Black voters being a key constituency group that’s coming out, it’s not because voter suppression doesn’t exist in the state. It’s not because Raffensperger is doing such a good job. We’ve outorganized them. Organizing works. So, grassroot, social justice, community organizations have been working on the ground. We’ve used our networks. We’ve used our information, because the message matters, but the messengers matter. And so, those of us who work and that are embedded in community have been doing the work really to be able to engage people. And our folks, the voters, have been relentless. And so, when you’re seeing Black voters in the state of Georgia vote, people should understand how remarkable that is. It’s not because voter suppression isn’t happening. This is on the backdrop of voter suppression. It’s just in the South, you know, voter suppression has been such a part of the waters that we’ve had to navigate, that many of us, as organizers on the ground — which is why I’m often supportive that when we’re talking about building political power, ground zero is organizing. It’s not television ads. It’s organizing on the ground, that we’ve been able to navigate, unfortunately, through these waters, these voter suppression waters, by literally being able to engage people directly, to educate folks and to motivate people to go out and vote, in spite of what we’re seeing in voter suppression.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, LaTosha Brown, I wanted to ask you — this 198,000 purged votes, we should put that in the context that Joe Biden, despite those purges, was able to win by less than 12,000 votes. I’m wondering: As you’re looking at today’s elections for the U.S. Senate, the two races, key races, in Georgia, how do you see the enthusiasm and the turnout? Will these purges ultimately have an impact on what happens in this race, in these two races today?

LATOSHA BROWN: I think those purges have had an impact on every single race. Any time you have 198,000 people who have been disenfranchised — you know, I don’t know how those people are going to vote, but 198,000 people to be disenfranchised, it absolutely impacts the election. Right? And so, we should be frustrated. We should be furious that this is happening in this country right now.

And so, regardless, while we do want some — you know, there’s certainly, in terms of — I’m speaking in my Black Voters Matter PAC hat and (c)(4) hat. You know, certainly, we have a vested interest. We want to make sure that we see these Republican senators defeated, because they have not been aligned with our communities. They’ve not been good to our communities. As a matter of fact, they’ve been very deconstructive and complicit with Trump and his agenda.

But what’s most important, if I was in line — I am such an advocate for democracy that if I was in the voting line and there was a Republican person that was — voters right next to me and someone was trying to deny them because they’re Republican, I would fight as ferociously for them as I would for the Democratic voter. Why? Because I believe fundamentally in the right to vote, that every single citizen should have the right to operate in their agency and cast their vote.

And so, yes, I certainly think that it’s going to have an outcome on this race. You know, the question is: Are we able to overcome the voter suppression? I think what you saw in November is that we were able to overcome the voter suppression that happened in the state. And I’m hoping that today, what I’m feeling in terms of energy, as soon as I get off this interview with you all, I’m putting on my Black Voters Matter sweater, we’re getting on the Blackest bus in America, and we’re hitting those streets again.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much, LaTosha Brown, for joining us, co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

Coming up, Israel has the highest vaccination rate in the world. But what’s happening with Palestinians? Why are they expected to wait months, perhaps years, for a vaccine? Stay with us.

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