The SCOTUS decision in Shelby County v Holder ruled that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional. Greg Palast talks about how what followed has been the expansion of the very issue that the VRA was implemented to curb
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in the Shelby County versus Holder case that some sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were outdated and unnecessary because, according to justice Clarence Thomas, “Blatant discrimination against certain voters that section five was intended to prohibit is no longer evident.” That SCOTUS decision ultimately ruled section five of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, and what has followed in the wake of that ruling has been the expansion of the very issue that the VRA was implemented to stop. In the past three years alone, tens of millions of voters have been affected by this fallout.
Here to talk with me about the continued assault on voting rights and what this means for election integrity is Greg Palast. Greg is the author of several New York Times best sellers, including The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse. He’s known through his investigative reports for BBC television, the Guardian, Democracy Now!, and Rolling Stone. And Greg Palast’s film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy is available on GregPalast.com. Thank you, Greg, for joining me today.
GREG PALAST: Glad to be with you Jackie.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So first, can you give us a quick refresher on what part of the VRA was struck down that gave states the green light to do what we’re going to talk about today? What was that about?
GREG PALAST: That was real bad news. See, since the civil rights era, since it was passed in 1965, about 16 states and jurisdictions–and by the way, not only Alabama and Mississippi, but New York City–were under special orders that if they were going to mess around with the way people vote in their states, they had to get it pre-cleared, that is approved, by the justice department to make sure that they weren’t wiping out voters of color, Puerto Rican voters, et cetera.
And so, you remove that act, and now the party’s started where they can start removing voters of color all over America, and especially in those states without even having to have a review to make sure that it’s not discriminatory, that we don’t have a return to Jim Crow. And as a result, for example, last year alone–are you ready for this? 14 million voters were purged from the voter rolls. 14 million. That’s according to the Election Assistance Commission of the federal government itself. And let me tell you, according to our investigations in these states with the top experts in the nation, most of those people are legitimate voters who’ve lost their right to vote.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now you cited a figure, 14 million. But actually, according to the Brennan Report, it’s actually worse than that. Since 2016 to 2018, they estimate the number at 17 million. And that is an increase over 15 to 16 million voters who were purged between 2013 and 2016. So we’re talking about roughly 30 million people. Can you explain something that is very important in this discussion, Greg, that I think people don’t understand? Because the discussion surrounding purge rates is very important in this topic. What does purge rate mean? And why does the difference in purge rates between jurisdictions that were covered under section five and those that were not covered under section five matter?
GREG PALAST: Real simple. Your name gets erased from the voter rolls. That means you can’t vote. By the way, we have a lot of nations and even a couple states that don’t even register voters. The idea that you have to register to vote is itself a bit suspect. So you register to vote, and usually without any real notice to you, your name is simply removed. You show up to vote and you’re set, you’re told, “You’re not on the voter rolls; scram.” Or they give you something called a provisional ballot, which I call a placebo ballot because usually they don’t count it. In fact, in the last election, officially three million people came into voter stations, were told their names were missing, were given provisional ballots, and three million of those ballots were thrown in the garbage.
This changes elections. Because it’s not just anyone’s vote, Jackie, that gets expunged. Overwhelmingly, these are voters of color. These are young voters. These are low income voters. In other words, they’re Democratic voters. This changes elections. And I’ll give you a really good example. In 2018, Brian Kemp, who was the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia, running against Stacey Abrams for governor. She was running as a Democrat, the first black woman ever in American history to run for governor. And Brian Kemp, the Secretary of State, removed over half a million voters in Georgia alone from the voter rolls. I took a team of experts from Silicon Valley. I sued Brian Kemp in federal court, got the names and addresses of all the voters. He said that these half million voters had left the state or moved away. So they moved out of Atlanta.
We went through the names with the top experts from Amazon and eBay and the top people who actually track where you live all the time. I hate to say it, they know where you are every day, all these guys in Silicon Valley. And we proved, we named 340,134 voters, a third of a million voters, who never moved from their registration address, and yet they were removed by Brian Kemp for supposedly leaving the state or moving. And they’re still there. We have their names and addresses. A third of a million voters. On that basis, Stacey Abrams has said, “I won the governorship. I just won’t be inaugurated because of this return of this Jim Crow methods.” And now they’re more sophisticated. They are worse than ever. Worse than ever. I mean, we’re back to 1964 if not worse.
And I’m telling you, just in Georgia alone, a third of a million voters purged. We still have our case going in federal court. I’ve teamed up with Stacey Abrams and her new nonpartisan organization called Fair Fight, starting with Fair Fight Georgia, suing to get these third of a million voters back on the voter rolls. And by the way, included in the … I was at the Georgia polls during the gubernatorial election in November of last year in 2018 and I was there when a 92 year old woman was told, “You can’t vote. Get out of here.” Her name is Christine Jordan, and her cousin was Martin Luther King Jr. This is Martin Luther King’s cousin.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That’s not even ironic. That’s almost obscene.
GREG PALAST: It’s tragic. It’s horrible. It’s vicious. It’s racist, it’s Jim Crow, it’s Republican. And by the way, I’m not partisan on this, but who benefits when you get rid of black people from the voter rolls and you get rid of young people from the voter rolls and poor people from the voter rolls? And Georgia is not alone. I am joining with the Stacey Abrams organization in taking on 20 states where they’re removing people, just throwing them off the voter rolls–
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: 20 states.
GREG PALAST: On false premises.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So, you bring up a lot of great points, but I think I need to backtrack a little bit and make it clear that this is not just an issue of federal elections or even just gubernatorial races. We’re talking about voter purges affecting state and local races, down ballot races, judge positions, sheriff positions, even possibly school board positions. So when we look at the landscape of our state and local elected officials, and we wonder, is it inconceivable that the elimination of section five could have impacted the fact that some of these truly racist but otherwise questionable people ended up in some local and down-ballot offices?
GREG PALAST: Well, I’ve got to tell you, for example, there’s up … You know, I did an investigation for Rolling Stone, which became my film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, going state by state, showing you how Donald Trump only won because of this mass purge of black voters and other games. The purge for example, in Michigan, 75,355 ballots not counted in Michigan. Trump’s supposedly won that state by 10,000 votes. Now, but so while I’ve been looking at presidential elections, because that’s what’s exciting to people, but let me tell you right now, we would not have a Republican Senate if not for the games played with the voter rolls. This is not whether you’re for or against the GOP. This has nothing to do with it. This has to do with democracy and being able to vote.
We have massive purges going on. We had a system set up by the, and I’ve got to use the term very carefully, the white supremacist Secretary of State of Kansas, a guy named Chris Kobach of Kansas who was kind of Trump’s master vote thief in chief. Now, he set up a program called Crosscheck in 29 States that removed, according to our statisticians, about 1.1 million legitimate voters, saying that people were voting twice, same guy voting in two states. But they’re using names like John Black and Jesse Jackson, saying, “Oh, there’s a John Black and a Jesse Jackson in Chicago and there’s a John Black and a Jesse Jackson in Atlanta. They must be the same voters voting twice.”
You know, it may seem absurd, but a million people lost their right to vote. And the result is not only the wrong guy as president, that is the person who wasn’t elected democratically, but you have a Senate which is not elected democratically. And it goes all the way down the ballot, as you say; down to your local school board, dog catcher, and sheriff. This is dangerous stuff. We don’t have a full working democracy right now, especially because after the 2013 decision of the Supreme Court that you discussed, basically there’s no cops on the beat to watch these guys stealing the vote.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So you raise the issue of Trump, calling into question how he actually won the election and the role of voter suppression that has been implemented by politicians and actors in this country. What does that do to the entire narrative that Russia influenced the election and caused Donald Trump to be elected? And what kind of legitimacy does that argument have in the face of the fact that almost 30 million Americans were purged from voter rolls by Americans?
GREG PALAST: Okay, think about this. Okay. This is why Stacey Abrams has now literally said, “I’m not going to run for president. The most important thing for me to do is start saying they’re stealing the vote. They’re stealing our democracy.” Think about this. The Russians did not remove 1.1 million voters under this phony racist system called Crosscheck. The Russians did not fail to count 75,355 ballots in Detroit, Michigan, handing that state to Donald Trump. The Russians did not illegally purge a third of a million voters in Georgia. I mean, whatever, I don’t know. You know, you could say whatever the Russians did. No, no one should be messing in our elections. That’s wrong. That’s illegal. That’s bad. But that was not what elected Donald Trump.
What elected Donald Trump was a massive racist vote purge system and a system of blocking people to voter rolls with gimmicks like, “Where’s your voter ID?”
We had a dozen nuns in Indiana who were turned down, turned away from the polls. Why? They had driver’s licenses, but their licenses had expired. But your picture is on there. You haven’t expired. They didn’t drive because they were in their 80s and 90s. This is what–the games that they’re playing. As a result, 80,000 voters of color in Indiana under this horrible Supreme Court regime, 80,000 voters of color in Indiana lost their vote. Indiana had gone in the 2008 for Barack Obama. Now it’s back as a solid red state, not because of the voters’ choice, but because of the election officials’ games. It’s not Russia that did this to us.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So what do we have to do to mitigate the effects of this horrendous and racist and classist voter purging that is being perpetrated by largely the GOP, but also corporate actors and people who want their interests to be maintained in the political sphere? What do we have to do between right now, Greg, and 2020?
GREG PALAST: Well, just like in alcoholics anonymous, the first thing you have to do is admit the problem. I am an alcoholic. We have to admit that we as Americans, that our officials are purging legitimate voters from the voter rolls, blocking people, Americans, from voting. I just returned, by the way, from Switzerland, where by law you’re required to vote. You don’t have to register. They don’t have any games about your ID. And they don’t have any games about, “Oh, you’ve been removed from the voter rolls.” You know, a lot of this world is stunned that the font of democracy, the United States, has become the font of democratic voter suppression. And the voter suppression is a very … I almost don’t like that word because it’s very polite.
You know, when someone steals your car, you don’t say, “My car has been suppressed.”
They’re stealing our votes and we have to say it out loud. It ain’t the Russians. Americans are doing this to Americans. And I’m glad by the way, that you added in corporate powers. Because you know, I’m going to tell you something, vote thievery, mass purges, all these games and all the changes of the law do not come cheap. There are very rich guys. These billionaires, for example. You talk about the terrible decision in Shelby v. Holder in the Supreme Court. Shelby has no money. It’s a little Alabama County.
How’d they get the millions to go to the Supreme Court? It came from a billionaire named Paul Singer. I call him the vulture. This is a GOP guy who has been destroying third world countries, destroying corporations in America. He’s one of those vultures that attacks poor and dying nations, people, corporations and puts … The guy’s responsible personally for putting a million people out of work to keep his position, to keep his money, to not pay taxes on his gains. He funded that lawsuit and the congressional push on the Shelby v. Holder was directed and funded by a front group funded by the brothers Koch. These are billionaires who make money off stealing your vote because then they name the politicians they like, they get the tax breaks, they get the destruction of regulations. All of this comes from vote suppression.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: There is the unmistakable thread between corporate malfeasance and discrimination and suppression of the rights of vulnerable people, especially people of color. I wish we had more time to go more into this because there is so much more, but this fight is not over. But I thank you so much, Greg Palast, for coming on today.
GREG PALAST: You’re welcome. And I’ll be back with more reports.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: We certainly hope so. And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.