Investigative reporter Greg Palast says that the Supreme Court’s recent decision approving Ohio’s process for purging voter registration rolls legalizes a process of disenfranchising minorities across the country. However, the case is far from over
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert.
The law firm Mirer Mazzocchi & Julien of New York plans to file a suit in federal court against John Husted, the secretary of state of Ohio, unless the investigative team of Greg Palast receives complete information on each of the hundreds of thousands of voters who have recently been removed from Ohio voter rolls.
The case and Greg Palast’s investigation are a consequence of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 11 decision, which declared that Ohio’s system of voter suppression is legal. That is, the court ruled with a 5-4 conservative judge majority that Ohio is not breaking federal law when it tries to identify which of its registered voters have moved. Ohio does so by targeting those who have not voted in a federal election, and then sends them a postcard asking if they have moved. If they failed to respond to the postcard, their name is removed from the voter registration roll.
Joining me now to discuss the court’s decision and the investigation is Greg Palast himself. Greg is an investigative journalist for Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and the BBC, among many others. He’s also the author of The New York Times bestseller and the film by the same name The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Thanks for joining us again, Greg.
GREG PALAST: Glad to be with you, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: So first off, explain to us why your Investigative Fund, with the help of this law firm, is trying to get a hold of all of the names of the people who have been purged from Ohio’s voter registration rolls. And how many have been purged, anyway?
GREG PALAST: Why? Because they’re stealing elections, OK. Look, there’s- I’m going to put it bluntly. There’s not enough white people to elect Donald Trump or a Republican Congress. I’m not partisan, but I believe every vote should count. And you can’t win, shouldn’t win elections by eliminating voters, by winning votes.
So how are they eliminating voters? In the state of Ohio, and in many other states, but Ohio has been the test case before the Supreme Court, they were saying if you don’t return a postcard you lose your vote. What triggers sending you the postcard? Well, you missed a couple of elections. Or there’s also a second group of people, about a half million people, who are on a list created by Kris Kobach of Kansas, the right-wing Republican, you know, Trump vote fraud hunter. He sent a half a million names to Husted. They also got postcards. So if you missed a vote or you’re on Kris Kobach’s blacklist, you get a postcard. You don’t return it, you lose your vote.
And that is supposedly evidence you have moved. Now, that’s really weird, Greg. But I should tell you that the Palast Investigative Fund, which has been hunting Husted of Ohio and hunting Kris Kobach of Kansas for Rolling Stone, Al Jazeera, and others for years now, these guys are, are masters of the vote purge. And this new vote purge by postcard really can swing the 2018 and 2022 elections. They already started. And 2016 is in doubt because of this program.
So we want the names of those people that they’ve removed, how they sent them postcards, why they sent them postcards, who returned these postcards. We want pictures of the postcards. A lot of this we have, by the way, because I am-. If you look at the hat, I’m an investigative reporter. And I get a lot of this stuff not illegally, I don’t hack computers, but I do have ways of getting some of this information myself. But I want this through the front door. Let them divulge the facts and prove to me that these are voters who moved out of state, or moved away. It’s, just so you know, in 2012 they removed, they claimed that half a million people left the state or their county. Only 4 percent of people by other records have moved, and yet they say 20 percent of the entire state picked up and moved.
So we’re going to make them prove that. The Supreme Court decision is not the final word, unusually. It usually is. In this case it isn’t because we want to prove by fact that these people are not gone. They’re still there. They haven’t moved, and you can’t take away their votes. And we’re going to also prove from the information we have so far, the list we have received so far, these lists are racially poisoned. It’s black people, it’s young people, it’s poor people, it’s Hispanics and Asian Americans. And that’s the people they’re wiping out, and that’s the people they’re using this trick to deny their right to vote.
GREG WILPERT: Well, that’s exactly the, my next question, actually. It’s, obviously it seems to be very important. I mean, of course everybody should have the right to vote, whether, no matter what their skin color or their background. But it seems to be a crucial question whether this voter purge itself is partisan in some way, and whether, or whether it affects all voters equally. And I guess the majority of the courts assume that it would affect everyone equally in some way. What do we know about the system’s political bias and purging voters? I mean, you just said that it affects minority voters more than, say, people [inaudible].
GREG PALAST: Absolutely. The court didn’t look at any evidence on the racial bias of these lists. And that’s why we have an opening to show them the facts. Now, I’ve asked for these lists, but I have to tell you I already have two million of the names that they’ve removed in 26 states. And-, or have been targeted. And I can tell you right now, we had the entire list analyzed by top experts in databases from eBay and Amazon, and other, their experts helped us. And we were able to determine that your chance of being on the hit list of these Republican officials, voting officials, is enormously higher if you’re black, brown, or low income. That’s to get on the list.
And the reason is that the they have-. For example, let me give you an example, and you’ll see. This guy in my film, in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, a guy named Donald Webster of Ohio, he’s in Dayton Ohio. And the secretary of state, and based on a list given to him by Kris Kobach of Kansas, it says that he has moved to Alexandria, Virginia. So he’s going to lose his vote in Ohio because he moved. Well, in fact, I knocked on Mr. Webster’s door. He is there. You can see him in my film still in his home in Dayton. But here’s the, here’s the evil thing. The other voter, supposedly Mr. Webster, there is Donald whose name is Donald Alexander Webster. The guy in Virginia is named Donald Eugene Webster, Jr. Now, he didn’t move from the state, and he didn’t change his name to Eugene or become a junior. This is the type of of a junk list that they’ve created, but they also know that it’s a junk list made up of minorities. It’s just finding common names of voters. You find a Donald Webster in Ohio, then he found Donald Webster in Virginia. They said obviously it’s the same guy. It’s absurd.
But the trick is, by using common names, 85 of the 100 most common last names in America are minority names. Rodriguez, Garcia, Kim, Ho, Wong, John Black. Jim Johnson. Don Webster. These are black, Hispanic, and Asian-American names. That’s who they are targeting.
GREG WILPERT: So just let’s turn briefly to the legal issues behind this. The federal laws that the court based its decision on are the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Tell us briefly about how these laws have affected voter suppression, and how we might be able to change these laws, perhaps to get around this problem on a legal level.
GREG PALAST: Well, it was while Bill Clinton was president. One of the few really shining things that he accomplished was to create the VRA, known as, usual as the motor voter law. You know, you get your driver’s license, sign up to register. The Republicans have hated that law because it’s registered millions of minorities around the nation and young people around the nation. It’s not their voters.
So they created another law. After 2000, George Bush and Karl Rove wrote something called the Help America Vote Act. Now, as you know, Greg, when George Bush tells you he’s going to help you vote, you better look out. The Democrats didn’t look out. The Democratic Congress passed this this horror show called The Help America Vote Act, and it effectively restricted and amended the motor voter law of ’93. It said that you could, you could and you must remove people if you have evidence that they have moved. And that’s what Kobach and Ohio are using, and Republicans all over the nation are using, to remove voters of color and young people, blocking them from voting, saying that they have moved.
Now, and that’s allowed in the Help America Vote Act. That’s what the court cited. They’ve said, yeah, the VRA of ’93 says you cannot remove people for failing to vote. Period. The court says, yeah, that’s true. But you can remove them for failing to vote if you use that as evidence they have moved, and they don’t return a postcard. You go to GregPalast.com, and you look at the postcard. It’s a piece of junk mail that you would throw away, and you throw away your vote when you throw that card. By the way, only, only about, only about 8 percent of the people who have gotten this card return it, because it’s a piece of junk mail.
But they know that most of the returns are coming from white folk, because we know from from careful studies that have been done of junk mail returns sent by Governor, if it’s a government postcard, that you have a 90 percent return rate among white homeowners in suburbs that are over 60, and you have a less than one quarter return if you’re young, a voter of color, lower income, and in an inner city. And usually it’s because you’ve, you’ve moved. Kids in school vote, move dorm rooms, and move apartments. Low-income people move their apartments within a building or within a district, they don’t have to re-register. They haven’t moved. And of course you’ve got those people captured by this crazy last name hunt.
So they know that the Help America Vote Act, they use this trick by saying Help America Vote. Supposedly, and this to Help America Vote is actually a trick that they can use to remove voters of color.
GREG WILPERT: Now, you mention that there’s two forms that the voter lists are being purged. One was the one with the postcards. The other one is this system of crosscheck, which I believe that we’ve spoken to you about it before, that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had introduced, who also was briefly President Trump’s vice chair of the Commission on Election Integrity. So you’ve investigated this quite a bit. I just would like to know, what’s the status of this crosscheck program? I mean, has it been applied now to many more states since we last spoke to you, which I believe was over a year ago?
GREG PALAST: Well, two things. I would note that both of these are purged by postcard programs. And what went before the court was the, was the postcard program. You get a postcard if you’re on the cross check list. That’s if you’re, you know, if they say that you’re, that you’re registered in two states. And again, just finding someone else with a similar name in another state is evidence you moved. Or you’ve not voted, and that’s more evidence, supposedly, you moved. So you get purge in either case because you haven’t returned a postcard. You get a postcard. You don’t return it, you lose your vote.
And now the crosscheck part of it has had, it’s been a mixed story there. Because of our reporting at the Palast Fund, in Rolling Stone, and elsewhere, it’s been picked up. And Kentucky has pulled out under the glare of publicity. Massachusetts had pulled out, and some other states. So actually, Kris Kobach’s program is shrinking. However, when I say it’s shrinking, it’s shrunk down to 26 states. It’s still in 26 states, where they’re removing people because they have, they say that you are registered also in another state, and you didn’t return that postcard.
In Indiana they tried a virulent new form, which is to take your name off no matter what, without even sending you a postcard. And the federal court said, well, that’s a clear no-no. You have to, if you’re just on Kobach’s list, crosscheck list, you can’t lose your vote. You have to get your postcard. Now, that’s not much comfort. But Indiana was, the NAACP got Indiana’s law imposing crosscheck, got that thrown out. In addition, we are now, again, the ACLU is also asking for the same information I am. We have the, they have simply copied our, our request, because they are local. I’m suing as a journalist who has a right to the information. They are bringing action as residents of the state of Kansas.
So I’m working with the ACLU on that. But so we’re trying to, you know, expose crosscheck and saying that whether you’re, that’s purged by postcard, whether you’re on the crosscheck list, whether you’re on the you skipped the vote list, you can’t purge people because you send them a postcard and they don’t return it. That’s just insane. It’s just that simple, because those people have not moved. And we can prove that once we get those lists.
GREG WILPERT: OK. We’re going to leave it there for now. We’ll definitely come back to you as this case develops. I was speaking to investigative journalist Greg Palast. Thanks again, Greg, for having joined us today.
GREG PALAST: You’re very welcome, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. Also, if you like stories such as this one, I want to remind you that we recently started our summer fundraiser, and need your help to reach our goal of raising $200000. Every dollar that you donate will be matched. Unlike practically all other news outlets, we do not accept support from governments or corporations. Please do what you can today.