Rustling votes

Rustling votes

Muckraker Greg Palast explains how the ballot you cast might not count

By Kevin Uhrich 09/27/2012

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In “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: An Investigative Reporter Exposes the Truth about Globalization, Corporate Cons, and High Finance Fraudsters,” muckraker Greg Palast lays bare the truth about vote-rigging in the 2000 presidential election and George W. Bush’s payoffs to corporate cronies after getting into office, among other mischievous misdeeds and malfeasance.

Unfortunately, according to Palast, the situation has only worsened since the book was published in 2002, with voting rights in America under attack now more than ever, a realization that prompted the 60-year-old Los Angeles native to write “Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps,” illustrated by cartoonist Ted Rall, with a forward by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

In the forward, Kennedy, an attorney, explains how voting opportunities are being routinely suppressed by governments in states around the country, yet rarely anything is being done to prevent or stop it.

“Voter suppression is real. It’s often a crime. And it’s happening to YOU,” Kennedy asserts. “But there is something that you can do to prevent it. That is the message of Palast’s book.”

Over the years, the New York-based Palast’s investigative reporting has appeared on the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and in The Observer and The Guardian newspapers, as well as in The Nation and Rolling Stone. It was for Rolling Stone that Palast, who himself espouses no single political party, and Kennedy teamed up in 2008 for an exposé on the new Jim Crow-like restrictions being built into America’s voting and voter-validation procedures.

In addition to writing, Palast is also a documentarian, and he used his 2002 book as the basis for the 2004 film “Bush Family Fortunes,” about the Bush administration, alleged voter fraud and the war in Iraq.

Palast has not just had Bush and his cronies in his sights over the years; he’s also taken aim at several corporate giants. The book discusses Enron, the Texas-based energy-trading con corporation with close financial ties to Bush, and scolds Microsoft for allegedly overcharging millions of people in Great Britain for software back in 2000. Palast also claims Exxon Mobil’s 1989 Alaskan oil spill was not so much the fault of a drunken captain, but the company’s cutting its radar system to save money.

Today, with the presidential election just weeks away, Palast, whose writing style is variously described as “no-holds-barred,” “courageous,” “sensational” and at times “bombastic,” sees the voting rights landscape in America as bleak and only worsening, with former Bush aide Karl Rove, the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers and a new cast of Republic lawmakers as the villains of our era.

As a relentlessly pessimistic Palast writes in his latest book, “It was bad in 2000. It was worse in 2004 and 2008. But in 2012, it will be much worse. And in 2016, worse than in 2012.”

Palast’s timing come not be any better. The release of his book comes roughly two weeks before the results of a new study by the Advancement Project, which show up to 10 million Latino citizens will be disenfranchised by GOP voter purges and voter identification laws being enacted in more 20 states. “Naturalized citizens typically received their driver’s licenses when they were legal immigrants but before becoming naturalized citizens (and before registering to vote); therefore,” states the report, “this method generates lists of voters to be checked that targets naturalized citizens.”

In a recent interview with the Pasadena Weekly, Palast talked about his relationship with Kennedy, a Harvard-educated environmental law attorney who also specializes in voting rights law, and a dismissive attitude among mainstream media outlets that seems to suggest voting rights violations are not serious and therefore unworthy of coverage. He also discussed how stealing people’s votes is not exclusive to either Republicans or Democrats, and how the elderly, poor, immigrants and people of color are likely to be excluded from voting without their even knowing it.

Palast also explained why his work on voting rights violations appeared in Rolling Stone, which focuses primarily on happenings in the music world and mostly dabbles in politics, compared to mainstream news outlets. In a phone interview from his New York office last week, Palast said Rolling Stone was natural venue for his work. But, the question is, “How come we weren’t in the Los Angeles Times? Why are we not in The New York Times? I’m not knocking Rolling Stone … But the stuff I do has always been at the top of the BBC Nightly News, that’s my day job. And the front page of The Guardian, my other job. I’m prime time on [British] television. But I’m on no time on American television. Why?”

One thing that makes investigations like his prohibitive is their cost, he explained. “It’s expensive and difficult to do these things,” Palast said. “These investigations involve digging through files, going all over the planet.”

That’s gets pricey for regular print publications of some distinction. When it comes to television coverage by, say, “60 Minutes,” “They would spend as much on makeup” as Palast says he spends on an investigation. In American television news, “Everything is about pictures and movie stars. You have to pay your actors like Dan Rather millions of dollars, and that replaces reporting. And reporters themselves ... they don’t want to do the work. They are repeaters, not reporters.”

In the course of their joint investigation, Palast and Kennedy found that more than 2.7 million people had their voter registrations rejected under procedures mandated by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), signed into law by Bush in 2002. The pair also found that in 2004, a GOP scheme called “caging” voters — defined by the US Department of Justice as a way of challenging the registration status of voters by sending direct mail to addressees on the voter rolls, compiling a list of addressees from which the mail is returned undelivered, and using that list to purge or challenge voters’ registrations on the grounds that the voters do not legally reside at registered addresses — ultimately deprived 1.1 million people of their votes. Since the 2004 presidential race, States used dubious “list management” rules to scrub at least 10 million voters from their rolls, according to Palast’s research.

Further, Palast contends, provisional voting in many states has proven to be a waste of time, with a majority of those ballots summarily tossed in the trash before being counted. And when it comes to absentee balloting, Pakast and Kennedy recommend against it. “Don’t go postal,” Palast told “All you need is the most minor error, like you didn’t use your middle initial in your registration; not enough postage cost one-third of a million votes in the US the last time around, because most ballots are two stamps, not one. There’s a million ways to not count your vote on a mail-in; don’t do it,” Palast told the news and opinion Web site.

Of those purged from voter rolls in California in 2006, Palast discovered 40 percent had Islamic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Hispanic names — names at most risk for misspellings. “They are discounted for misspellings, wrong addresses, people with unusual names or hyphenated names,” Palast said. “California has a long history of blocking Latino voters by blocking registration.”

In addition to the article in Rolling Stone, Palast and Kennedy also published a comic book voter guide titled “Steal Back Your Vote.” In it, reported in 2008,  Palast and Kennedy claim HAVA, enacted in response to the 2000 election debacle, had allowed secretaries of state ostensibly attempting to comply with HAVA to purge voters — people of color, low-income, elderly and swing-state voters — whose names did not match government databases.  

“I would be lying if I said everyone does it, that it’s all equal, so just forget it,” he said. According to Palast, much of the voter manipulation today is being perpetrated by Republicans, but that party alone is not to blame.

“The Democrats stole the vote,” he said. “They were called Jim Crow laws (in the 1880s). It was the Democratic Party that wrote those racist laws, enforced them by violence. And it was the Democratic Party that stole votes in Chicago when I lived there under Boss [Mayor Richard] Daley” in the 1960s and ’70s.

“But now it’s reversed,” Palast said. “It’s the billionaires, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers who have taken over and have become the big vote rustlers.”

Palast will be among the speakers in Beverly Hills next Thursday, Oct. 4, when Ilene Proctor presents No. 53 in the Great Mind Series: “Will the GOP steal America’s 2012 Election?” For more on the event or to RSVP, write to


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