by Chris Pepus for Razorcake.org
We need to learn the issues. People are unarmed. That is, people know that they’re getting shafted, but they don’t really know exactly how.
The American press corps has finally begun to report on illegal activities of the Bush administration. However, the subject of election theft remains largely ignored. In recent years, the Republican Party has used an array of tactics to subtract votes from opposing candidates. These include sending defective voting machines to strongly Democratic precincts and removing low-income and minority voters from electoral rolls.
Reporter Greg Palast has been covering this issue since 2000, when he revealed that Florida officials ensured the election of George W. Bush by illegally suppressing the African-American and Democratic vote. (Learn more about that subject here.) In this interview, I asked Palast about his reports on the GOP’s dirty electoral tricks since 2000 and the possibility that the ’08 election will be stolen. He explained how the Help America Vote Act actually helps crooked Republicans and he previewed his upcoming broadcasts and publications, which will include a free guide with tips for safeguarding your vote.
Chris: Your reports on vote suppression led to a congressional inquiry and the resignation of Tim Griffin, one of President Bush’s U.S. Attorneys. Could you describe how the Bush administration interfered with voting rights in 2004?
Greg: Item one is something that we discovered called caging. There were e-mails written by the Republican National Committee’s chief researcher, a character named Tim Griffin, who was a protégé of Karl Rove. He was sending out caging lists, which are hit lists of voters to challenge. The way caging works is they send out registered letters to voters and when the voters aren’t around to receive their letters—the envelopes say, “Do Not Forward”—the voters end up being subject to challenge. The particular hit list that we got was substantially filled with voters from the naval air station in Jacksonville (Florida). There are reasons why someone at a naval air station wouldn’t be at their voting address. That’s because, unlike Bush during Vietnam, they are off in a foreign war. Republicans also sent letters to students at black colleges in August knowing that they wouldn’t be there. They illegally challenged their votes. The Republicans challenged three million voters in 2004, which is absolutely unbelievable and unreported. That fact was right there in the records of the Election Assistance Commission of the federal government. Those voters received provisional ballots and a million of those ballots were thrown in the garbage. That is just one of the tricks. There are several and they are being sharpened for 2008.
Chris: But Griffin claimed that he didn’t know what caging was until he read your report. “I had to look it up,” he said.
Greg: Well, actually, I determined that he is correct. He sent out an e-mail saying, “Here is a caging list.” As he said, you have to be an expert in direct-mail marketing to understand what caging is. Now, that means that someone told him to send out an e-mail with caging lists, someone whose orders were so important that he wouldn’t question them, even if he didn’t know what (the list) was. Now, who would know direct marketing and who could give orders to Tim Griffin? Well, before he worked for George W. Bush, Karl Rove was head of Rove & Company, a direct-mail marketing firm. Rove is an expert on caging. Law professor Bobby Kennedy Jr., my co-investigator, says that this was an illegal act. So who ordered this illegal act? Hm, Mr. Rove?
Chris: How did you obtain these e-mails?
Greg: Griffin is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and he copied these e-mails not to GeorgeWBush.com, which was the campaign’s internal e-mail system, but rather to GeorgeWBush.org, a parody web site. The head of that site, John Wooden, knows me. He immediately passed (the e-mails) on to my team. He didn’t know what they were and, frankly, we didn’t know what they were at first either. It took a lot of work to decode.
Chris: Have there been any new developments in the case, other than Karl Rove’s refusal to testify before the House Judiciary Committee?
Greg: I have just returned from a meeting with David Iglesias, a fired prosecutor from New Mexico. Caging and gimmicks like it were behind his firing and the firings of other U.S. prosecutors.[iii] The U.S. press corps, as usual, got it completely wrong. The firing of U.S. Attorneys is not simply about the politics of the prosecutors or even the operations of their offices. Rather, it is about an attempt to force prosecutors to be involved in a scheme to arrest voters under voter-fraud laws to create hysteria to justify vote suppression. I was constantly asking Republicans, “If there are so many criminal voters, why haven’t you arrested them? Why aren’t there prosecutions?” The Republicans said, “Oh, there will be. Talk to David Iglesias.” I called him and other prosecutors and got all this hemming and hawing. So, I’m being told that Iglesias is about to bring prosecutions and he is saying, “I don’t think so.” It’s very clear to me that Iglesias was resisting phony prosecutions. He ran around the bases looking for fraudulent voters and he didn’t find one. Some were in the military, so they were not at their voting addresses.
I just came back from checking out some of the so-called fraudulent voters that Iglesias refused to prosecute. Republican leaders gave me their names. There was one lady, a waitress, who was signed up twice and there were two different signatures of her name. So I spoke to her—this “criminal”—and I said, “Did you register twice?” She said, “Yes.” She explained that, under the law, if you don’t receive formal acknowledgment of your registration, you can and should register again. They don’t put your name on the roll twice. I asked why there were two signatures: “Was there some fraudulent game going on?” She said: “No. One time, I signed at a table. The other time, I signed it on my hand.” This woman was supposed to be one of the six most obvious cases of a fraudulent voter in New Mexico. Governor Bill Richardson signed laws making it harder for people to register because of these so-called frauds. The laws are so horrible that Richardson, a Hispanic Democrat, is being sued by the Brennan Center for Justice for illegally impeding Hispanic voters.
Chris: It’s remarkable how many groups are targeted. I recall reading about defective voting machines in (Palast’s 2006 book) Armed Madhouse. You mentioned that, in ’04, the county in New Mexico where the most votes disappeared was a predominantly white, working-class county.
Greg: Yeah, I call vote theft “class war by other means.” Places like Native American precincts, black precincts, and Mexican barrios are often the hardest hit. But, statistically, we find that it is income more than race that determines whether your vote will count. I can tell you the probability that your vote will count if you tell me your income. By the way, the Republican secretary of state in Colorado (Mike Coffman) just attacked me. I reported that he purged all these voters. He said, “Palast is just trying to raise money for his operation,” but he didn’t say I was wrong. He said he was just following the law. I’d heard all this from Katherine Harris before. I’d said, “Guess the color of the voters purged.” He said, “We don’t keep track of voters’ race on our voter forms.” Yeah, right. They know. It’s by zip code. That’s the other thing: if they don’t know, they should know. Civil rights law does require election officials to take steps to determine that their actions don’t have a racial bias. When he said, “I don’t know,” that’s not true and, also, that’s not a legal answer. He’s supposed to know, especially when he removes a fifth of the voters in Colorado.
Chris: Another state with a history of vote suppression is Florida. In 2000, you reported that Florida Republicans removed tens of thousands of Democratic voters from the rolls. Have you found evidence pointing to a similar result this year?
Greg: Worse than ever. The whole nation’s been Floridated. George Bush signed the Help America Vote Act (in 2002) and, in 2006, they did a Katherine Harris on the whole nation. They told secretaries of state, who are partisan officials in every state, to purge away and remove “suspect voters.” A lot of the things that were illegal, like caging, that’s now in the law. Basically, we now have federal cover for mischief, instead of federal prohibition. In one New Mexico county, half the Democrats who showed up to vote in the (2008) primary/caucus couldn’t vote. You have address purges, I.D. purges. The Brennan Center said that about 85,000 voters in Florida are losing their right to vote, because they signed up in voter drives and couldn’t verify their identity. Overwhelmingly, those voters are black, because many black voters register in voter drives out of their churches. So, Florida’s back in the game. They’re just changing the rules.
Chris: How does the Help America Vote Act enable those tactics?
Greg: For example, Florida, when imposing special identity requirements on voter drives, they cited the Help America Vote Act. They said that it was required. Now, the fact that forty-six states don’t agree with them on that interpretation didn’t stop them. Also, HAVA basically required every state in America to change its laws. Once you open up the howling Pandora’s Box of election law, every reform becomes grounds for new mischief. HAVA creates this new shadow world of law. Florida officials said, “Well, we did this for HAVA.” Then the lawyers at the Brennan Center said, “Where in HAVA? How can you say this is for HAVA?” They said, “Oh, well, that’s our own interpretation.” Is this federal law? Is it state law? No, it’s Bush law; it’s Rove law. The nice thing about elections for vote thieves: there’s a “Fuck you” clause in vote theft. If you win, you control the review. You own the police.
Chris: Which provisions of the act are most often cited as authority for attacks on voting rights?
Greg: I go back to the 2006 codicils. Certain things kicked in in ’06 regarding verification of voter identity. That is the most mischievous thing. The law demanded that, beginning in ’06, each state must have centralized, computerized rolls of voters. Again, the first state to go full-on with computerized, centralized purging of voter rolls was Florida. That’s how we ended up with the phony felon purge (in 2000). With HAVA, they used the Florida fix as an excuse to create a so-called reform and the “reform” was to take Florida’s method and nationalize it. But people say, “Well, why shouldn’t we have verified rolls?” The answer is that this is a new law to prevent a crime that almost never happens. We have five or fewer convictions for vote fraud a year in America. We figure that, under the new system, five million voters a year lose their right to vote. You literally have a million voters losing their right to vote to catch one ne’er-do-well. You don’t arrest a million people to catch one murderer.
Chris: Now, regarding these centralized lists, you’ve written about a firm called Accenture that runs computerized voting lists for various state governments. Could you talk about that?
Greg: Accenture used to be Arthur Andersen, but after they got caught cooking the books for Enron, they tend not to use that name. Arthur Andersen was split into two parts: one was liquidated, put into bankruptcy, and one was renamed Accenture. They haven’t changed their ways. There’s Accenture; there’s ES&S (Election Systems & Software). These characters are some of the greasiest operators out there. They combine bias with incompetence and high fees. ES&S has been involved in New Mexico. It’s a firm founded by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (of Nebraska). Every time ES&S gets involved in purging voter rolls, they turn astonishingly Republican. Everyone knows that if you use certain methods, it knocks out certain types of voters. That’s why I’m doing this investigation with Bobby Kennedy. We are investigating the theft of the 2008 election before it happens. We’re looking at what’s happening in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Florida. We’re going to be putting out a big national magazine article with our findings. We can’t say where.
Chris: When is that going to come out?
Greg: In September. We will then also have a film out starting with a broadcast on BBC Television and a U.S. national network. For the first time, we’re going to break through the electronic blockade in America.
Chris: I read that you’re raising funds for the broadcast. How are you doing on that?
Greg: Well, that’s the thing. (The network) finally opened the door, but they said, “Of course, we’re not paying for this.” Okay, I’ll tell my cameramen to eat dog food. My staff is pretty good at living on very little. They were here last night ’til 2 a.m. (Research associate) Zach Roberts—I want to give him his due—his last day off was about seven weeks ago. This is a nonstop operation, but I have to raise money to provide the bare minimum. We do want to be able to provide outreach and give stuff out to some activist groups. We’re going to have a voter guide, Steal Back Your Vote, which I’m putting together with Kennedy. A lot of this is going to be in comic-book form, designed by Top Shelf. I had a complaint from one of my fundraisers that we give away too much stuff—my books, DVDs. But that’s our game: to get the word out and build a knowledge base. Now, I’ll give a hint of my age. The protests against the war in Vietnam began with massive teach-ins: “Here’s where Vietnam is.” We need to learn the issues. People are unarmed. That is, people know that they’re getting shafted, but they don’t really know exactly how.