Greg Palast in Ohio on GOP Effort to Remove African Americans from Voter Rolls in Battleground State
By: Democracy Now
In an on-the-ground report from the battleground state of Ohio, investigative reporter Greg Palast has uncovered the latest in vote suppression tactics led by Republicans that could threaten the integrity of the vote in Ohio and North Carolina. On some polling machines, audit protection functions have been shut off, and African Americans and Hispanics are being scrubbed from the voter rolls through a system called Crosscheck. "It’s a brand-new Jim Crow," Palast says. "Today, on Election Day, they’re not going to use white sheets to keep way black voters. Today, they’re using spreadsheets."
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As the United States goes to the polls, we turn now to an on-the-ground report from the battleground state of Ohio. Rolling Stone investigative reporter Greg Palast has uncovered the latest in vote suppression tactics that could threaten the integrity of the vote in Ohio and North Carolina.
GREG PALAST: All of America votes, but it’s Ohio that decides who’s going to be the president and who controls the Senate of the United States.
There are those on both sides who say the vote can be hacked.
PAMELA BROWN: The revelation comes as investigators are confident Russia is behind several recent cyber-attacks to influence the U.S. elections.
GREG PALAST: In Ohio in 2004, the mismatch of exit polls and the machine count, that put George W. Bush back in the White House, raised questions of the integrity of Ohio’s voting machines. They had no paper ballots to allow an audit of the vote. But today, many new voting machines in Ohio have a built-in safety feature.
ROBERT FITRAKIS: Well, machines now can actually take a ballot image, in the sequence of every single one cast, to eliminate fraud if somebody tampers with the paper ballots.
GREG PALAST: There’s only one problem.
ROBERT FITRAKIS: They’ve decided to turn off the security.
GREG PALAST: Election law attorney Robert Fitrakis represents Republicans and Democrats. He just discovered that the photo image and audit protection functions have literally been shut off.
ROBERT FITRAKIS: So they bought state-of-the-art equipment and turned off the security.
GREG PALAST: We followed Fitrakis into state court in Columbus. He’s seeking to order the Republican secretary of state to turn on all the voter protections on the machines. We weren’t allowed to film, but Republican officials argued that it would require a massive effort to turn on the protection applications.
ROBERT FITRAKIS: It’s a drop-down box, just like on your computer. Do you want ballot images of every ballot cast? You would think yes. Same thing for the audit log.
GREG PALAST: The judge, a Republican appointee, disagreed. He ruled that the Republican officials could leave the machines unprotected.
On Sunday, I was at the Freedom Faith Missionary Baptist Church. They’re building their spirits to prepare to join other black churches from all over Ohio for Souls to the Polls Sunday voting.
So they went to the one voting station for all of Dayton and waited in line to vote. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Seventy percent of the state’s African Americans vote early. The line snaked up and down three floors and out into the parking lot.
OHIO VOTER: I have a friend. She just texted me, and she said that she was going home, because she worked the third shift, and she couldn’t stand in a long line.
GREG PALAST: Why? Because Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted said all counties can have only one single voting station on Souls to the Polls day.
OHIO VOTER: She wanted to vote today.
GREG PALAST: So, they just make it—do you think that it’s deliberate to make it harder for the day, for African-American voters?
OHIO VOTER: Yeah, and other minorities. Yeah, yes, I do.
GREG PALAST: Indeed, Husted wanted to end Souls to the Polls Sunday voting entirely. But he was blocked by local officials.
This is former Montgomery Elections Board member David Lieberman.
DAVID LIEBERMAN: And we had voted, both the Republicans and Democrats, for long hours on weekends so that people, like this, could come and vote. After we did that, we were told by the secretary of state that if we didn’t change our vote, that he would fire us.
GREG PALAST: And so, what happened?
DAVID LIEBERMAN: I got fired.
If you want to eliminate that early voting, then, yeah, the effect is a racial effect.
GREG PALAST: And finally, we’ve uncovered a bigger threat than long lines or compromised machines. It comes out of the GOP’s and Donald Trump’s claim of voter fraud.
DONALD TRUMP: This voting system is out of control. You have people, in my opinion, that are voting many, many times.
GREG PALAST: Say what, Donald?
DONALD TRUMP: You have people, in my opinion, that are voting many, many times.
GREG PALAST: Reflecting Trump’s claim of multiple-voting Democrats, GOP-controlled states have purged nearly 1 million voters accused of voting or registering in two states. Ohio’s Republican secretary of state has a secret list of a whopping 497,000 double-voting suspects. We got our hands on this confidential list, including such would-be criminal voters as Donald Alexander Webster Jr., who supposedly voted a second time in Virginia as Donald Eugene Webster Sr. We met with the would-be double voter.
DONALD ALEXANDER WEBSTER JR.: Donald Eugene Webster. That’s not my middle name.
GREG PALAST: "Eugene" is not your middle name.
DONALD ALEXANDER WEBSTER JR.: No.
GREG PALAST: You ever use the name "Eugene"?
DONALD ALEXANDER WEBSTER JR.: No.
GREG PALAST: They say you do.
DONALD ALEXANDER WEBSTER JR.: Mm-mm.
GREG PALAST: You know that it’s a crime if you vote more than once?
DONALD ALEXANDER WEBSTER JR.: Of course. It never occurred to me to do that.
GREG PALAST: Have the—
DONALD ALEXANDER WEBSTER JR.: You know, what’s two votes going to do, when you’ve got thousands and thousands and thousands? You’ve got to have a bunch of people doing that.
GREG PALAST: Well, do you? Are you part of a large conspiracy.
DONALD ALEXANDER WEBSTER JR.: No. No, I’m not, sir.
GREG PALAST: In fact, nearly 2 million voters on the list, called Crosscheck, have middle names that don’t match—like this one: Maria Isabel Hernandez is supposed to be the same voter as Maria Cristina Hernandez. Who’s on the list? Names like Hernandez, Wong, Garcia, Jackson.
Our experts have calculated that fully one in six voters of color are on the Republican blacklist.
We’ve asked voting rights attorney Fitrakis why Ohio’s Republicans would use this Crosscheck scheme.
ROBERT FITRAKIS: He knows what he’s doing is illegal. What he’s doing is counting on bigotry to get away with it. He’s picking first and last names only, because he doesn’t want to actually match people by using the middle name. He wants to purge blacks and Hispanics. And he’s trying to make Ohio winnable in the only way he knows how: by stealing American citizens’ votes.
GREG PALAST: In North Carolina, we spoke to the man who brought Crosscheck to the South, Colonel Jay DeLancy of the Voter Integrity Project.
JAY DELANCY: This is Interstate Crosscheck.
GREG PALAST: OK.
JAY DELANCY: OK, these are the states...
GREG PALAST: When confronted with evidence of Crosscheck’s racial bias, he chuckled.
JAY DELANCY: And you would think that Jim Crow rose from the dead.
GREG PALAST: It’s a brand-new Jim Crow. Today, on Election Day, they’re not going to use white sheets to keep away black voters. Today, they’re using spreadsheets.
From Ohio, this is Greg Palast reporting for Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: And Greg Palast joins us now from Columbus, Ohio. Greg, thanks so much for that report, Rolling Stone investigative reporter. Explain further this Crosscheck list and what happens when people come up against it. Do they know they’re coming up against it?
GREG PALAST: No, they don’t. It’s really devious. And remember, the lists are secret. You know, you could tell from my hat that I’m an investigative reporter, so I got a hold of their secret list, Amy. There are 7 million names on it, 7.2 million Americans suspected of voting twice. And about 1 million—from the information we received from Virginia, about 1 million will find their names missing today when they go to vote. They’ll be given provisional ballots, which, if they’re missing from the voter rolls, fair or not, they lose their vote. So about one in seven of the 7 million are going to be without a vote today. And 30 Republican states concentrated in Ohio and in North Carolina. This could flip the Senate. Very good chance that this alone could flip the Senate.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain again Donald Webster’s story. And did this happen this year?
GREG PALAST: Oh, yeah. No, this is—we just filmed him for—actually, for my movie. And his name is Donald Alexander Webster Jr. And according to the GOP blacklist, he is supposedly registered a second time to vote as Donald Eugene Webster Sr. Now, it’s not just—at least 2 million of the names are, on their face, mismatched. And they say they use Social Security numbers to match people and say, "Oh, these are double voters." But those Social Security numbers are absolutely not used and absolutely missing. And it’s because we got the list that we found out that they are removing literally a million people without any evidence and without even—you have to understand, they’re not notifying people: "You are accused of voting twice." They’re just going, poof, you’re gone. Your problem. This is—this is one of the biggest—this is the biggest purge game I’ve seen since Florida knocked off the fake felons, which I discovered back in 2000, accusing black men of being criminals and who can’t vote, but in fact their only crime was voting while black. At least they put an F next to their names so they knew that they were falsely accused of being felons. You don’t know why you’re removed. You’re marked inactive, or you simply vanish.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you can insist on a provisional ballot. And when do those get counted?
GREG PALAST: Well, if you’re not on the voter rolls, Amy, you can’t get counted. That’s why it’s provisional. The only thing that they do is check if your name is somehow in the central—in the central machine. They do not—even if they say, "Oh, yeah, you’re not a double voter. You committed no crime," but you don’t get your vote back. And you know it’s suspect, because if a million people really committed the crime of voting twice, you’d arrest them. You go to jail for five years. But they’re not arresting people, because they know their list is phony. And you could see it, but we literally just had to get it out the back door, because they’ve kept it tightly under wraps. They don’t want you to know who they’re accusing. But I will tell you this: It’s one in six voters of color in those 30 Republican states. One in six voters of color, Asian Americans especially.
AMY GOODMAN: And now, it’s Ohio Secretary of State Husted, who was responding to Donald Trump’s charge of a rigged election, who said it’s not. So, your response to Trump, and Husted’s insisting that the election is not rigged?
GREG PALAST: Well, it is rigged. And they should know, because it’s their buddies who are rigging it. And that’s one of the problems. Kris Kobach, the white supremacist secretary of state of Kansas, is the one who received all the lists and put them together. He secretly sent them out, and they’re kept under wraps. And it becomes a hit list of voters of color once again. Now, in the case of Donald Webster, both of them, we don’t let people go on camera, become our guinea pigs; we save their votes. And all you have to do is contact your—have some contact with your secretary of state’s office and get your vote back. But so, most of those people will get their votes back, but 1 million, as of today, on this important day, will not.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, in the media, the only real discussions are hacking—of hacking are hacking of email, not hacking of voting machines. The beginning of your piece talked about that and the security that’s turned out—turned off. Explain that further.
GREG PALAST: It’s crazy. People have complained that voting machines don’t have an audit trail and no picture of your ballot, no ballot. In fact, many of the new machines, in Ohio and elsewhere, actually have this function. And in Ohio, they deliberately turned off the audit function and turned off the function that takes a picture of every one of your marks on your ballot and times it so you can see if anyone has played games with those ballots. They have turned off those security features. And the courts say, "Well, they haven’t stolen the election yet. Come back if it’s stolen. Then you can complain." But once you—you can’t go back in time and turn on the security features. You have to wonder, Amy: Why in the world would you take off this valuable security feature, and especially when the big bad Russians are supposed to hack our machines? Maybe it’s not the Russians who are hacking our machines.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, I want to thank you for being with us, on the ground in Ohio. Greg Palast, Rolling Stone investigative reporter. His new film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, available online at GregPalast.com at no charge today. And we’ll link to your piece in Rolling Stone, "The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters," the subtitle, "Will an anti-voter-fraud program designed by one of Trump’s advisers deny tens of thousands their right to vote in November?"
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, "the path to 270," that’s what all the networks are talking about today. They’re talking about the Electoral College. We’ll speak with a group that wants to see the abolition of the Electoral College. Stay with us.
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