Empire Files: The Hidden Purging of Millions of Voters
With all the discussion of the contentious 2016 election, the most shocking fact is often ignored: that millions of people had their votes stolen through malicious, means. The Republican Party is currently working to purge millions more voters leading up to the 2018 election. Abby Martin interviews investigative reporter Greg Palast, who has done the most extensive work uncovering this massive disenfranchisement campaign.
Speaker 1: And one of the most contentious presidential elections ever, a hidden fact is that millions of Americans lost their vote through various methods employed in a coordinated multi-million dollar operation. Stunning in a country that claims to be the greatest democracy on earth.
We don’t hear about it. What we do hear about is, claims from Trump and Republicans that they system is rigged. Because, millions of people are voting illegally.
Trump: It’s rigged like you’ve never seen before.
Speaker 3: Issue, of busing [inaudible 00:00:53] into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone working in New Hampshire politics …
Speaker 4: Is there dead people registered? Are there illegal people registered?
Trump: Dead, illegal, and two states, and some cases maybe, three states?
But we’re going to stop it. We’re not going to back down.
Speaker 1: Not only are these hysterical claims provably false, but they are in fact used by the same people committing actual vote rigging. None the less, these myths are perpetrated by right-wing politicians and media to justify wide spread voter crackdowns.
In the latest purge, nearly half a million people have been kicked off Indiana’s voter registration list. Just since the 2016 Presidential Election. That’s a whopping 10% of total voters in the entire state.
Alongside an arsenal of voter suppression tactics, a program called Interstate Cross-check institutionalized vote theft nationwide. Investigative journalist, Greg Palast uncovered exactly how the cynical billionaire back scam works in his recent film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Where he travels the world exposing how the GOP is robbing millions of votes from minorities and poor people while the democratic party shrouds itself in silence.
I caught up with Greg, to talk more about the 2016 Election and the myth of American Democracy.
So, your film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, amazing film, that everyone needs to watch. It dealt with the interstate voter registration cross-check program. First talk about what exactly that is and it’s impact on the most recent election?
Greg: Interstate cross-check, was Donald Trumps’ secret weapon. That handed him the election more than anything. It’s a way that you can eliminate voters of color. Just wipe them off the voter rolls, in my investigation for Rolling Stone, which is in the film, you’re watching me do it. Our experts estimate that 1.1 million people lost their votes in especially concentrated in those key swing states.
Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, that’s where cross-check was operating. And that also, by the way, we talk about Trump, but let’s not forget that was also wiping out voters of color which meant that, that’s one of the reasons we have a republican congress. So that’s what interstate cross-check does. What interstate cross-check is, is go back to Donald Trumps’ line, “The election is rigged, there are millions of people voting many, many times. Millions of people voting twice.”
That’s the second part of his statement that no one was picking up. And so, what that is, is his claim that there are people for example, a guy named James Brown in Atlanta is voting a second time in Detroit. That’s the accusation. Everyone says, “Oh, that’s nuts.” Well, it doesn’t matter if it’s nuts. The accusation was devastating because it was backed up by his political operatives, actually removing voters from the voter rolls on the accusation that they were voting twice. Over a million people.
This is one of the grave hidden purges of 2016. And yet, they didn’t arrest. They didn’t arrest anyone for voting twice in the last election. Not one person was arrested for it, yet they’re removing people. And so here’s how it worked. And by the way, here’s how we knew it was going to be Trump.
Because the guy who created interstate cross-check is a character named Chris Kobach. Who’s like this right-wing, Fox news darling who’s a secretary state of Kansas voting official, and he’s the guy who basically perfected and spread this system to hunt down these so called double voters and remove them from the voter rolls.
He was backing Trump, so we knew that locks Trump for the nomination, and that locks Trump for the White House. And it doesn’t matter how you vote, because they’ve already eliminated the margin in those really close states.
Speaker 1: When did cross-track come into existence?
Greg: Its been around for quite some time. Before this guy Kobach took it national, a couple of states were sharing voter rolls to see if people were voting twice. There was no big damage. Because they didn’t find anyone voting twice so there’s no one to remove. Had no effect.
This guy Kobach comes in a changes the whole thing and was basically after the Supreme Court, took the guts out of the voting rights act back in 2013. As soon as that happened, cross-check spread like virus. To 30 republican states where the republicans controlled the office of secretary of state, or the chief voting official, and these guys were sharing voter rolls.
Now just so you know, Donald Trump said that there were three million illegal voters. Now that’s an important number to remember. Now people think, oh he just pulled that out of his wig, out of his comb over. No. That number comes from Kobach, because the list of suspects is seven million people. Seven million names. They said that’s three and a half million people voting twice. They use the list, they tag people as voting twice, and they removed not the whole seven million but they removed about 1.1 million voters in the 2016 Election.
That’s just … We put it in the Rolling Stone, I put it on Al Jazeera, I put it in The Guardian. It’s all over the world, but not in the United States.
Speaker 1: Talk really quickly about how the voting rights act was guided and how it made cross-check easier to implement?
Greg: What happened was, I contacted all these voting officials. Every single one and said, “Give us these lists that you’ve got from this guy Chris Kobach, accusing people of voting twice.” So we were turned down. They said, “You know, if you vote twice, it’s a crime.” Yeah, you vote twice, you go to prison for five years. So who would do this thing? So who are these people?
But they wouldn’t give us the list because it’s a criminal investigation. Well you see the hat, I’m an investigative reporter, right? Took us about six months, five months to begin getting some of these lists we weren’t supposed to have. So we have these confidential lists of the voters, we have two million of their names. And we start going through the list. And this is where the rubber meets the road. Who is on the list of voting twice? Guys like 288 guys named, James Brown in Georgia voted in another state in the same election.
How do they know that? Because they found a guy named James Brown in atlanta, and believe it or not, they found a guy name James Brown in Detroit, and said, “Obviously, James Brown, this is the same voter, voting twice.” Now here’s the thing about the list, and you’ve got to take a look at these lists. Name after name after name, James Thomas Brown’s supposed to be the same guy as James Edward Brown. Christina Isabel Hernandez is supposed to be the same person as Christina Maria Hernandez. By the way, these aren’t made up examples. These are real, real, real. James Brown Jr, and James Brown Sr are supposed to be the same- father and son are supposed to be the same voter.
Now here’s the trick, you’ve heard Maria Hernandez, you’ve heard James Brown, David Kim is another one. When you’re looking at common names you’re looking at black people, Hispanics, and Asian Americans.
85 of the 100 most common names in America are held by minorities like Rodriguez, Chung, Nguyen, Hernandez, and how do they vote? It’s not the color of their skin, they vote democratic. So if you want to knock out democratic voters, you knock out voters of color. Here’s where the Supreme Court comes in. In most of these states, you cannot put in a new system of removing voters like cross-check unless you get it first approved by the justice department and make a claim that it is in no way prejudicial against voters of color.
Of course, when you’re knocking out James Brown and Jose Garcia, it’s a game that’s pulling out voters of color. So they could never get away with this if the voting rights act were still in place. The voting rights act also gave the justice department all kinds of powers to stop this game before it happens. You don’t remove everyone, ’cause this adds to the racial bias, they send post cards to people.
They don’t even say, “You’re accused of voting twice.” They just say, are you registered to vote in another place? If you don’t send back the card, and most people don’t- the poor people, who move a lot don’t get the cards etc. You lose your vote. So that happened in mass. In Michigan, I was there after the election, Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,700 votes. The secretary of state of Michigan himself told me, he’s a republican, “We move aggressively against people on the cross-check list.” Half a million people on that list in Michigan, we estimate they removed 50-60,000 voters. Mostly voters of color. Several times, Donald Trump’s supposed margin.
March down the list of states like Arizona, North Carolina and Ohio. Cross-check made the difference.
Speaker 1: According to your research, 1/4th the names in this cross-check list you obtained didn’t have a middle name match. And the cross-check instruction manual even notes that the social security numbers may or may not match? That is astounding.
Greg: Well, yeah. They use this con, this guy Chris Kobach who’s working for the Trump Campaign and is also a state official. When he’s asked about the cross-check list, when a reporter asks something, sniffs something, he says, “Oh well we check their middle name, we check the last four digits of their social security number. We checked their birthdate. It sounds totally kosher, how could you miss?”
Well, in the instructions itself it says to ignore the mismatches. Ignore the mismatches? So the trick is, they have the information if anyone asks them, well what- you have all this information, but they ignore the mismatches deliberately. And let me tell you something, this whole business requires millions and millions of dollars of government money to effectuate this.
Yet we have systems, these huge database operations, in fact for example, one owned by the Koch Brothers called I360. One owned by Trumps cronies called Cambridge Analytica. Those operators can with 99.9% certainty name every single real double voter in America, but then they would get all three. They wouldn’t be able to get a million people off the voter rolls.
Speaker 1: And you know people like to pain Trump as this anti-establishment figure who’s standing up to the empire. Greg, talk about his ties with Chris Kobach and how- who else is behind this.
Greg: As an investigator, I can tell you, the oldest rule is the important rule: Follow the money. But what we’ve been doing is hunting down the money behind this steal. Now who funds Chris Kobach? The money goes back to a four letter word, Koch. K-O-C-H. We follow the trail back, boom. It’s the Kochs. And so the Kochs are behind the money to Kobach. Now, taking apart the voting rights act, 1965. It’s a really complex expensive lawsuit. And that was brought by Shelby, Alabama.
Where does Shelby get the money? It’s 10’s of millions of dollars to bring cases like this. Where does little Shelby get this money? The answer is, it was supplied again by the Heritage foundation which is Koch money that they put into it, and other billionaires. And also a character that is known by his nickname the Vulture. His given name is Paul Singer but he’s a multi-billionaire who’s vital, he became the number one donor to the republican party for some time.
So the money to take these things- to go after civil rights law and voting rights law, the money to run cross-check, the money to sell it to the public, is coming from people like Paul “The Vulture” Singer, the two Koch brothers who I’ve been following for years. And these are the people behind it. These are the people behind it. The Mercer family, and other billionaires putting their money in these operations. This is not new stuff. This is old accusation against black people.
In the film, the big Klu Klux Klan propaganda film, Birth of A Nation which is now 101 years old. 101 years ago, they made this film and they had white actors in black face sneaking a second ballot into a ballot box. So the accusation that black people like to vote twice, that’s an old Klu Klux Klan trope and Trump just shop lifted it for this election.
Speaker 1: Yeah, and these people are just patsies like, again Trump paints himself as this anti-establishment figure, really he’s just a complete patsy for the Mercers, the Koch brothers, Banon too. You look at Breitbart, and the funneling with the Government Accountability Institute, it’s all Mercer and Koch money funneled right into these people and they’re just using them.
Greg: The big backer of Trump was a guy called JP, John Paulson as he’s known, the foreclosure king as he’s best known. And JP the foreclosure king joined with Paul Singer to take Delphi Auto Parts which is GM Auto Parts and move it to China and move it to Mexico. And yet, he’s the big backer, one of the big secret backers of Donald Trump, and yet Donald Trump stood at the gates of a closed Delphi plant which his donors had moved to China, and said, and his donors had moved also, one of the plants from Warren, Ohio to Mexico. He said, held a big rally and said, “See this, see this closed plant? I’m going to build that wall higher and bigger. Every time I look to this plant I just add a few more feet to that wall.”
Now I don’t know what the wall has to do with moving the plant across the border but it was his boys who were funding his campaign. And by the way, it’s very important to understand this, Donald Trump just plays a billionaire on TV, he’s no billionaire. He’s hocked up to his keister. So he had to turn to these guys quietly.
Speaker 1: You know, this has always been kind of a talking point, the voter fraud, especially on Fox News. The voter ID laws have been pushed through and through. Alec and Koch brothers and that think tank. It seems like Trump was really the one to mainstream it, just act- you know, creating that false reality and that paradigm that people just fall behind and believe it.
Greg: He took it out of the Fox News, foxhole, spread it nation wide, they’re coming to take your vote way. This is the idea: If someone votes twice, they’ve taken your vote away. And of course, never just anyone, it’s always a voter with dark skin. It’s an immigrant swimming the Rio Grande, voting illegally. Find me one, I know of only two convictions. And it’s very easy to find alien voters, they show up to vote, sign their name. One was a republican in Georgia from Austria. Not in Georgia, in Florida from Austria.
So what’s happened is, they create this false hysteria. And here’s a new one. By the way, as we head towards 2018. Chris Kobach, met with Donald Trump in Trump Tower just days before the inauguration. He had a memo in his hand which you could see, he didn’t hide it when he was shaking hands with Trump before they went in, there’s pictures of him holding the memo he’s about to give Trump. Well, we could blow it up about 100 times and see what it was. And it said, one of the things it said on it was, “To change and amend the national voter registration act.” That’s the Motor Voter law, which is one of the main things that registered minorities in America, when you get a drivers’ license, you get a voter form attached.
He would remove that, he wants people to prove, Kobach, and now Trump want people to prove that they’re citizens to vote. And I say, well why not? Prove you’re a citizen to vote. Excuse me? How do you prove your a citizen in America? This is not Red China, we don’t carry citizenship cards. Social security cards, drivers licenses, those are issued to aliens, including my team who aren’t American citizens but have green cards.
So, social security number, drivers license mean nothing, you have to have a passport? Now excuse me, who has a passport? Or there’s your original birth certificate, good luck finding that. Or naturalization papers. So what happens is, Kobach, Trumps’ guy, took this thing on a test drive in Kansas saying, you’ve got to prove your a citizen. The only thing that happened was, 36,000 students were blocked from voting because they couldn’t get these papers, they didn’t have passports, they’re too young. They had no passports, they didn’t have birth certificates. 36,000 young people.
Now a federal judge knocked that out. A federal judge said, “You have 36,000 people who couldn’t register, could you tell me one, Mr. Kobach, even just 1 out of 36,000 that’s an illegal alien voter?” He couldn’t name it. So the judge said, “This is all bogus.” Threw it out. Why? Because of the National Voter Registration Act which this violated. So he’ll eliminate the act, just like eliminating the voting rights act, eliminate the national voter registration act, he’s going to eliminate the civil rights act.
Speaker 1: Greg, your movie was devastating, because it’s not only the cross-check, it’s not only the voter ID laws, you go to some of these polling places, and the disenfranchisement is stunning. Miles long lines. Thousands of people waiting in the freezing cold for hours and hours. Talk about some of the other voter suppression methods that are going on too?
Greg: In Ohio for example, which is as we know, the vital swing state, and this happened many places, they did this in Wisconsin too, where they said, “Early voting, you can only have one single voting station for an entire county.” And they tried this is Wisconsin as well, this was key to Trumps victories in Ohio, supposed victories in Ohio and in Wisconsin. What they did, was you wait in line, on Tuesday when most white people vote in Ohio, they had for example, in Montgomery county which is Daton, they had 178 polling stations.
But yet, on election on the Sunday before, which was when black people tend to vote, they call it Souls to the Polls day, there’s one polling station. The result was, and you can see it in my film. I saw literally, I’m walking, walking, there’s a half mile long line, there was one polling station, are you ready? For 80,000 voters. One polling station for 80,000 voters. You’ll see this line of black people waiting to vote. Waiting, when I was in Daton, five hours to vote. And at the end of the process, and they did this in Wisconsin, this very election, at the end of waiting all this time, they’re not given ballots, they’re given absentee ballots.
Now what’s the difference? You fill out a- in Ohio and Wisconsin, you fill out the ballot, you put it in an envelope, you have to fill out the envelope perfectly. If you don’t have a driver’s license and it says, driver’s license and you leave it blank, you lose your vote. You lose your vote because you left off your driver’s license which you don’t have. You have to write “No driver’s license.” You have to sign it in several places, properly, and your signature has to match exactly your registration’s signature. So if you no longer include your middle initial but you signed your registration form 40 years ago with a middle initial, you lose your vote.
All these tricks, because officially, this is an ugly thing that we don’t talk about in the United States, people who mail in their ballots, absentee ballots, or mail-in ballots, 1.7 million of those ballots never ever get counted. This is the ugly type of what I called soft apartheid in voting in America. We use fancy terms like disenfranchisement. You know what, someone steals your car, you don’t say, “Someone’s disenfranchised my car!” No, they’ve stolen your car. They steal your vote. It’s a theft.
Speaker 1: We focus on obviously the presidential elections with this because obviously its the biggest most vast disenfranchisement of the votes, but local elections, every election this is happening.
Greg: Really, what’s very, very important, is that most of this vote theft is actually aimed at the state, local and congressional elections. I’ll give you an example. One of my first big investigations of vote theft was back in 2000 when I discovered that Katherine Harris and Jed Bush, of Florida had removed 10’s of thousands of black men from the voter rolls.
10’s of thousands of black men from the voter rolls, what was the reason? They were all felons, criminals who aren’t allowed to vote. And Florida is one of the only states that still removes people from the voter rolls if they have a felony conviction. Okay. The problem was, I investigated and not one, absolutely zero of the people on this list who lost their vote, none of them were illegal voters. None. But yet George Bush became president by 537 votes because of what Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris did.
But here’s the trick, they didn’t do it to elect George Bush. It was originally created two years before this system of purging black folk off the voter rolls to elect Jeb Bush as governor.
Speaker 1: There’s so many backups in place to secure the republican vote, to secure that this happens which brings me to the most obvious question, of course Hillary, and during the run up to the election, every time Donald Trump would bring this up she would poo-poo it and say, “Oh you’re crazy, how dare you question this sanctimonious system that we have?”
Greg: This is one of the big problems that I run into. I’ll get questions like, “Well, if the republicans are stealing votes, how come the democrats aren’t saying anything?” Well, one answer to that, by the way, is democrats steal votes too, lots of them. I saw some of the most ugly Jim Crow style tactics used against Bernie Sanders voters here in California in the Sunshine State. I mean it was raw, today as you and I speak, there’s still over a million ballots that were cast, that were never tallied, never counted.
Over a million, today, overwhelmingly those were Bernie Sanders votes. The victims are always the same, the victims are always voters of color, poor people, students, basically progressive votes. And because the democratic party, if they let everyone vote and help everyone vote it would be a very different party. So the establishment democrats don’t want those votes. They’d rather lose them in the general election than have those votes in the primary.
That’s just the ugly awful truth.
Speaker 1: I think its hard for people to believe that the Clinton dynasty would give up power because they would rather legitimize the system that bred them.
Greg: The Clinton’s are the system. Remember, whether we like it or not, Hillary Clinton did some pretty shady things, the last thing she wants to do is talk about illegality. And misuse of the electoral system, misuse of campaign finance.
Speaker 1: Here you are, doing this giant in depth investigation, this feature film, trying to get this story out and here everyone, is just hysterically fear mongering about another country, usurping our election.
Greg: Well, heres the problem, the Russians did not tell Hillary Clinton, “Do not make a single stop in Wisconsin.” She didn’t tell those long lines in Ohio. Did Russia remove the votes of students in Georgia because they didn’t have citizenship proof papers? It wasn’t the Russians.
Speaker 1: We cannot count on the democrats to fix this, Greg, what do we do, how do we give back a voice to the voiceless here?
Greg: We have to form the organizations and participate in the organizations that exist right now that’ll expose the con that America has the world’s most perfect elections. We don’t. We still have apartheid elections, we still have Jim Crow. The only difference now is that Jim Crow has gone from wearing white sheets to using spreadsheets. We can expose it, and then we can act on it. We gotta do those two things and not ask the democratic party to do it for us.