Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures' Picnic, named Book of the Year 2012 on BBC Newsnight Review. Palast also directed the U.S. government's largest racketeering case in history, winning a $4.3 billion jury award. He also conducted the investigation of fraud charges in the Exxon Valdez grounding.
transcriptPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And we're continuing our series of interviews with investigative journalist Greg Palast. His new book is Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps. Thanks for joining us again.GREG PALAST, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Glad to be with you.JAY: So let's pick out one of those nine steps to steal an election. And go ahead.PALAST: Oh, we can spin the wheel: tossing, purging, caging, ejecting.Let's talk about tossing. And what I mean by that is tossing absentee ballots. A lot of people mail in their ballot, especially 'cause they're afraid, oh my god, the computers are going to change my vote from Ralph Nader to Pat Buchanan or Obama to a space alien or something. So they say, okay, I'll just mail these criminals my ballot.Now, what do you think they're going to do with it? I'll tell you what they do with it. These are the official numbers in billions of dollars.JAY: So we're talking absentee ballots.PALAST: Absentee ballots, mail-in ballots. And they'reâin 2008âthis is officialâ488,000 absentee ballots were cast and thrown in the garbage. You say, well, what do you mean? Now, by the way, The New York Times says it's about ten times that high, up to 4Â million ballots lost. But let's go with the half a million. Okay?Now, what does that mean, that half a million are lost? And one thing that The New York Times leaves out of its story: it's not just glitches, it is deliberate, and it doesn't affect everyone.Here's how they pull it out. You have a stray mark on your ballot which can't be read by their machines. Postage due is a favorite one. The wrong color envelope, and then wrong weight of paper. You signedâyour signature is suspicious. Your signature is suspicious, see. I always say, listen, if someone's signature is suspicious, you have some federales come and arrest that personâyou got a fraudulent voter. You don't throw ballots in the garbage; you go arrest the fraudster. They don't do that, 'cause it doesn't exist.So you've gotâand then stray markâI know two elderly peopleâmy parents, okayâfor example, they voted absentee, mail-in ballot forâthey wrote in a candidate who was the democratic candidate for mayor of San Diego, calledâshe was known as "the Surfer Chick", Donna Fry. She won 'cause she wasn'tâshe won through write-in votes. Then they recounted and said they threw out 5,000 mail-in ballots. People had written in her name, but like my parents, they didn't fill in the bubble next to her name. So they threw out those ballots.Now, in the old days, when we had a Supreme Court and not a Supreme Corporation, the voter's intent ruled. You couldn't play gotcha games.JAY: Now, who's sitting there doing this?PALAST: Ah! That's the thing. JAY: And isn't there supposed to be observers from all sides watching the process?PALAST: Yeah, we would like to say that there's observer watching. First of all, one thing observer can't doâthis is one of the most evil onesâthose votes come in and they simply don't get noted. In other words, they just get thrown in the garbage when they get mailed in from the wrong zip codes to the right office. Like, Theresa LePore of Palm Beach seemed to find thousands of unopened absentee ballots after the election. The others thatâthey'll say that your ballot arrived too late: it doesn't matter what the postmark is; when you sent it.JAY: But who's "they"? Who's looking at these before they get to the observers?PALAST: Ah. Themis and DataTrust. Okay? Themis is a massive database operation which has been funded by the Koch brothers. DataTrust is a massive database operation which is under the control of Karl Rove in his Crossroads super PAC, which is also under contract with the Republican National Committee. It's a massive database system which figures out who's going to vote how and who's likely to vote absentee. They crosscheckâ.JAY: How do we know Roveâwhat do you mean Rove controls this? How does Crossroads control this?PALAST: He isâ. Okay, 'cause he's the official owner. Crossroads GPS, his super PAC, which is a quarter billion dollars, is the official owner of this massive data mining system called DataTrust. And we knowâwhen I say we, BBC has investigated this already and seen how he's used and abused this.And if they use some of the DataTrust information to sell you on their candidates, fine. You want a candidate who has a dressage horse and a car elevator? You want to sell me that? That's fine. God bless America.What I get concerned about is that much of this computing power is used to determine who can be challenged in any one of minor cockamamie ways. Okay? So you have moved your address. Now, it's within the same congressional district, you're not supposed to lose your vote, but they will challenge you as a fraudulent voter. Theyâespecially absentee ballots.JAY: So, again, who's "they"?PALAST: Again, the Crossroads GPS operation, theâ.JAY: Challenges? Like, what's the actual methodology, mechanism for the challenge?PALAST: Theyâpart of the mechanism for the challenge isâwell, let me give you one case, okay? They send out letters to people. The letters get returned as undeliverable 'cause someone's away from their addressâcollege students, soldiers, you name it. They pick out the people that they want to target who are likely to be absentee voters from their databases. They challenge their registration as fraudulent or that someone's voting from a fraudulent address, a non-existent address. They don't really live there. It's not true. That letter is returned. You're away on vacation. You're a soldier away at the front. But when they've challenged your right to vote, your registration, you mail in your absentee ballot, you don't know you've been challenged. That vote is on a challenge list. Your ballot's on a challenge list. Boomâit's gone.JAY: And if you don't respond to this challenge, it's turfed?PALAST: Usually, you don't even get a chance to respond. Usually the challenge is on some database whichâby the way, I tell peopleâat the end of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits I have something called theâwhich we call the ballot condom for safe voting. I developed this with Bobby Kennedy, the law professor. And it's seven ways to beat the ballot bandits. And one thing is: please check your registration, Paul, 'cause if it says on your form "Pal" or "Boltimore" instead of Baltimore, you're out of business. You can't vote.JAY: Now, are both sides doing this? I mean, you're talking about Rove and the Republicans. But are the Democrats doing the same thing to Republican voters?PALAST: The Democrats are absolutely doing some of the same things, except that the Republicans, by creating these massive, massive databases, are far more sophisticated. You know, the Republicans are dealing with really expensive algorithms and data mining, and the Democrats are still playing with their floppy disks. So it's a very, very different level of attack.JAY: Now, you were mentioning sometimes if it just has a mark on it that the computers can't read, who looks at that and says, oh, there's a mark on it, we can challenge this? Who gets hold of that?PALAST: There's different ways it's done. One, the worst, is that we have very, very politicized people in charge of counting votes. In the current 2012 election, for example, the secretary of state of Ohio is going to be crucial in determining who's president, as they were in 2004 when you had the Republican secretary of state who sets up the rules for which ballots will be accepted and not and is alsoâin 2004, the same person was head, was chairman of the Bush for reelection campaign. You have the same thing now, but the secretary of state of Ohio is a Republican, highly partisan. And so they will set these rules, for example, if you use the rawâif you didn't use the envelope that they gave you, orâand, in fact, in 2004 (you'll love this one), Blackwell gave out ballots and envelopes, and then said, but they wereâ.JAY: Blackwell was the secretary of state for Ohio.PALAST: Was the Republican secretary of state who also ran the Bush campaign, then disqualified votes using envelopes that he handed out. So, you know, it's a pretty shameless operation.And it used to be that this was completely not allowed, the voter intent ruled, that you couldn't play gotcha games with someone's ballot, you couldn't say, oh, that's the wrong color envelope. The Supreme Court used to say, you can't play those games; your intent is clear.But now the gotcha game is gone way over the top, and there's no control of this. Ever since Bush v. Gore, especially, it's really accelerated, where the voter intent is out the window, and if you have some guy with a Blackberry and your name in it that has a basis for challenge, they're going to look at each one of those ballots, and they will know who you are. Theyâobviously, even before you open the ballot, they know who you are, how you voted. They'll get you.JAY: So someone challenges an absentee ballot. The process is a letter goes to the person who's been challenged?PALAST: No. I wish that that were true. I wish it were true.JAY: Well, who pushes back on the challenge?PALAST: Well, supposedly there's two ways of doing it, one, if there's observers there from a party that will defend your vote. And, for example, I found in New Mexico that the Democratic Party would notâwas literally absent from the review of absentee ballots.I did, by the way, warn Senator Al Franken that his election was stolen through the non-counted absentee ballots. That's why he's a senator now, because I'd warned him. I said, did you look at the absentee ballots? Were all your absentee ballots counted? He never even thought of that. And not that I was for the Democrat or Al Franken. I was for getting all ballots counted.I don'tâyou know, in fact, I was working in investigating ballot theft in New Mexico, and there we had Hispanic Democrats knocking out the votes and throwing away the ballots of Pueblo natives, because there was a fight over whether there should be a uranium mine on a sacred mountain of the Acoma Pueblo.JAY: What's the fix to this?PALAST: What's the fix? Number one, we have to know what's happening. You shine a light on the cockroaches and they run to the wall. Right? That's number one. People don't like it when they know votes haven't been counted. I don't care whoâwhich side you're on. Most Americans don't like that. That's number one.Number two, we have to go back to a system in which candidates stop playing games and saying it's okay as long asâhere's some goofy rule we create, and that's the rules, too bad. We have to now, as citizens, say every vote counts, that's what we do in America, no games, no bubbles not filled in, no stray marks, no nonsense none of that counts. And we also need, thenâthat's very important. If we don't do it, don't count on the politicians, don't count on the Democratic Party to protect minority votes; it doesn't happen. We Americans have to do it.And one of the things I say in Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, at the end, the seven ways to beat the ballot bandits, one of the things I say is we have to take steps to protect ourselves. For example, please, please, if you're watching this, check your registration online at your secretary of state's office. Make sure you're not listed, for example, as aâ.Here's a good one. You're an inactive voter. Now, if you mail in your ballot, you don't know that. What's an inactive voter? The guy that made my poster who works with me, my own assistant, Zach, okay, he drew up the seven ways to beat the ballot bandits. It says, number three, check your registration. He didn't. He went in to vote and he was told, you're an inactive voter. Inactive voter? What does that mean? 'Cause they know that he doesn't do his situps? Or what does that mean? It turns out 9Â million Americans are marked inactive.JAY: So what?PALAST: Then, when you try to go and be active, to vote, they say, you can't 'cause you're inactive. And if you mail in your ballotâhere's the evilâif you mail in your ballot, you don't know you're inactive. It's thrown in the garbage. OnlyâOregon state is the only place in America that by law requires you be notified and be given a chance to correct any problems.JAY: So what happened to Zach? He was told he's inactive, and then what?PALAST: He lost his vote.JAY: He can't become active?PALAST: Nope. Nine millionâ.JAY: So he can neverâwell, then he can never vote.PALAST: Well, then you have toâthey say you can reregister; in the next election, now, you're active. But what does that mean? And also, by the way, it's not true. Zach is a serial voter who votes for everything from PTA president onward. It was just he had moved some addresses, etc. It's a state mistake.But here's the thing. If it were random, it wouldn't matter. But when you have these guys running these hit operations where they're using, like, electronic drones to hit those voter rolls, they know you're backâfor example, they're proud to sayâthe Themis guys that Koch hired say they can tell whether you've bought pornography in the last week. Remember, they have your credit card records and all the rest, all the things that the FBI can't even get. But they buy all this information, they get all this info. So they you know everything about you, and they certainly know who you're going to vote for. So they go after you.And one of the problems we've run into in America is that when we talk about votes not counting, altogether in the 2008 election, for exampleâthis is the official numberâwe had 2.7Â million ballots that were cast and not counted. The chance your ballot will be rejected for some reason is 900Â percent higher if you're black than if you're white. That doesn't happen by accident. People are deliberately challenging these votes, challenging the count, especially when it comes to absentee ballots. So I say, avoid mailingâdon't go postal; avoid mailing in your ballot if you can.But in the end, we can check our registrations, we can carry in our ballotâI say, do vote early, so if they say, hey, Paul, you're inactive, you can say, wait, I'm going to call the elections clerk and get that straightened out. Those are things you can personally do.But America has to demand that the candidates and the people decide that every vote must be counted.And it's not cute, it's not cute that George Bush won the presidency of the United States in 2000 by 537 votes in Florida. In that case, we had tens of thousands of black people thrown off the voter rolls illegally, which I discovered thatâbecause they were told that they were felons. And they were justâevery single one, not one exception, every single one targeted by Katherine Harris, every one was a legal voter whose only crime was voting while black. You know, if Bush won by the count, God bless America. Fine. It's all about if we are now playing a game of stopping people from voting. That means we no longer have a democracy. And that's why Kennedy writes, Bobby Kennedy writes in the introduction, this is not ugly; this is treason.JAY: Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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