By Michael D. Evans
Greg Palast, a reporter with U.K. newspaper The Guardian and author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Case of the Stolen Election, headlined the Fresno Free College Foundation and KFCF’s fund-raiser on Oct. 12. Palast is best known for his investigative reporting on issues within the U.S. electoral system.
“I was trying to think of what’s unique about Fresno,” Palast began. “In El Salvador, you’ve got MS13; in Italy, you’ve got the Mafia; and in Fresno, you’ve got PG&E.”
Palast recalled his own experience auditing PG&E in a previous occupation and addressed the absurdity of the entity shutting off power when the wind blows. He referred to prior deregulation of the utility as the “decriminalization of reaching into your wallet.”
“If you get deregulated democracy and you decriminalize vote thieving,” says Palast, “you’re going to get a criminalized government, which will allow the decriminalization of corporate greed.”
“We have to make a decision to have democracy and regulation,” he notes. “To get democracy in the economy, you need democracy at the ballot box.”
Palast then outlined how ballot-box democracy is increasingly compromised.
He showed a video of Christine Ford, a then 92-year-old African American woman in Georgia who was purged from the voting roll in 2018. A cousin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she had pictures in her home with him. She first voted in 1968 and voted in every election since. In 2018, not only was she denied the right to vote but also her voting history was purged.
Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state and concurrently a candidate for governor, purged 500,000 voters in the state, mostly young people and people of color. In a video of Palast attempting to find out why, Kemp refuses to respond. Kemp was running against Stacey Abrams, the first African American woman to run for governor anywhere in the country. The result showed that Kemp won.
Palast spoke highly of Abrams’ handling of this outcome. “She responded by saying, ‘They stole [the election] from me by taking away Black votes.’”
“She said it,” intoned Palast. “She broke the taboo. And the Democratic Party was surprised to find that the sky did not fall when you call for democracy in America.”
He pointed out the need to support organizations such as Abrams’ Fair Fight, which [even] advocates for free and fair elections and to fight these battles in the courts, if necessary. “We have to win in court with judges appointed by Agent Orange.”
Palast addressed an array of voter suppression incidents in the past two decades.
- In 2000, Florida’s secretary of state targeted 94,000 ex-cons and said they couldn’t vote. The voters reversed that policy this year, but the power structure is pushing back by requiring ex-cons to have no outstanding debts to the state to be able to vote.
- In 2004, in Ohio 54% of women and 52% of men claimed in exit polls that they voted for the Democrat, John Kerry. Yet George W. Bush won the state. “What happened?” asked Palast. “When you vote and come out to the exit poll and say how you vote, you do not know if your vote counts.”
- In 2016, when a recount got under way in Michigan to address 75,000 uncounted votes, the Trump campaign’s lawyers when to court to stop the count. Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who had requested the recount, was told she did not have standing at the state level. Attorneys for Hillary Clinton’s campaign were asked, “‘How say Secretary Clinton, does she want these votes counted?,’” according to Palast. “Their response was ‘we are just here to observe,’ which I think was her campaign slogan, wasn’t it?”
- In Wisconsin, two weeks before the election the rules were changed such that the school IDs of the 200,000 students at University of Wisconsin campuses would not be accepted at a polling site. However, a gun license was an acceptable ID. “You carry a gun, you’re OK. You carry a book, you can’t vote.”
- Palast calls Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach “Trump’s major adviser on vote fraud.” The cross-check system promoted by Kobach was used by 30 states, all Republican. The list reputedly included persons who voted twice or registered twice. Palast got the lists for several of the states. For example, “Everyone named James Brown was voting in another state,” he notes. “It’s a list of common names.”
In 2016, “if all the votes were counted that were tossed in the spoilage bin,” says Palast, “it would not have been close in the Electoral College.”
Palast implied that Trump has already won the 2020 election. “We still have cross-check,” states Palast. “We have the ID laws spreading like Jim Crow kudzu throughout the nation. Kobach’s back, and his new thing is they’re swimming across the Rio Grande to vote.”
Throughout the presentation, Palast had praise for KFCF and its critical role as a “weapon of mass instruction.”
During the Q&A, Gary Lasky, an environmental attorney, asked about voter suppression in California. Palast responded that “California has more provisional ballots that are not counted than a third of the country.” He also expressed concern about the difficulty for No Party Preference (NPP; sometimes called independent) voters to participate in the Democratic Primary in 2016 suggesting that thousands of such votes were not counted and likely cost Bernie Sanders a victory in the state.
In response to a question about the Electoral College, he called that institution “a fossil of slavery.”
Rych Withers, KFCF’s station manager, asked about the impact of the Voter’s Choice Act in California. Some counties, including Fresno, have opted to participate in this new voting methodology. In summary, under this system every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail and that ballot can be returned via the mail (without having to add postage), at a drop box at various locations throughout the county or in person at a vote center. The traditional neighborhood site will be eliminated in favor of vote centers at which anyone can return their ballot or vote in person.
“The problem with mailed ballots is it is very easy to make a mistake, and therefore very few get that ballot qualified, whereas if you go into a voting station and make a mistake and you stick it into the reader, the ballot pops back out,” says Palast. “I’m not crazy about that system.”
Halima Aquino, a voter engagement advocate, referenced her research on voter participation and asked how to “communicate in an environment full of lies”?
“Whether it’s the Washington Pravda or the New York Izvestia or the LA Times…don’t expect those outlets to listen to you or give you a platform,” Palast replied. “You’re never going to get National Petroleum Radio to cover this stuff, and they’re the ‘good ones.’”
“KFCF is your democracy,” says Palast, “and your voice for democracy.”
Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Greg Palast took us through a frightening journey by discussing the many ways voters are disenfranchised and legitimate votes are being nullified nationwide. At the personal level, having been a vote-by-mail voter for a long time, I am planning to change my status and vote in person next time. I do not want an amateur clerk to throw out my vote because my signature did not match the one on record!”
“The assault to democracy is directly proportional to 1) the widening schism between the rich/powerful and the poor and 2) powerful people’s desire and ability to justify maintaining an unfair status quo.
“In a place such as the San Joaquin Valley, a microcosm of many other places in the world, where the schism has grown too large, people’s desire to understand and improve democracy is directly proportional to people’s awareness, however vague, that they 1) deserve the right to greater self-determination through some mechanism that they feel is broken, 2) need to exercise greater influence over their environment to optimize their chances of success and 3) are or feel blocked from doing so.
“That’s what Palast saw when he looked out at hundreds of people that night in Fresno, and it should make all of us proud and hopeful that we’re on the road to improving the status quo.”