For the past month, people around the world have pondered the meaning of the phrase “President Donald Trump.”
During this period hate crimes have multiplied, street resistance has swelled, tear gas has flowed, and prominent white supremacists have been nominated for top positions in the U.S. government.
On television, one prominent Trump supporter cited Japanese internment as a positive legal model for what he hopes will happen to Muslims under “President Donald Trump”.
But for the next week at least, Americans would do better to consider not the effect of the phrase, but its fundamental accuracy.
Donald Trump lost the popular election by more than 2 million votes, yet is projected to win more votes in the electoral college – an arcane institution once designed to empower the elites of slave states.
And that electoral lead remains in question – not only because of so-called “faithless” Republican electors who could change their vote on Dec. 19, but because the popular election was not actually over until Dec. 13 – the deadline for counting the very last vote.
Election experts have patiently explained that many states declared Trump their winner without counting all of their votes, including over a million votes from communities of color who traditionally vote Democratic.
This revelation has led to a small but organized outcry in defense of voting rights, as charges of Jim Crow mingle with open references to “Muslim registries” and Japanese internment.
On Nov. 25, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein took the lead, filing for a recount in Wisconsin after raising over $5 million to pay everything the state charges her. On her website, Stein said this money was raised in less than three days and came from more than 130,000 people giving less than $50 each. The latest count puts her total in excess of $6 million.
Stein has also filed for recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Under federal law, all these recounts must be completed by Dec. 13, ahead of the the electoral college vote.
Rolling Stone journalist Greg Palast said problems like these are not new. Palast, a former private investigator, is a firebrand when it comes to critical election analysis. He has studied voter suppression for the past 16 years, broke the story on Florida’s voter suppression in 2000, and has a history of documenting political corruption, corporate crime, and the colorful characters who make them possible.
In his new film, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” Palast investigates the election fraud of 2016 and excavates its past, establishing continuity from the KKK to the civil rights movement to thousands of people waiting in line to vote.
Palast answered questions for Street Roots to explain the 2016 recount and why the movement for civil rights includes both Standing Rock and the ballot box.
Stephen Quirke: How instrumental was your election coverage to the Green Party’s campaign to count the votes? How did Jill Stein contact you?
Greg Palast: There’s a lot of stupid going around. Like, “The election was stolen by Russians!”
I’m a journalist with 16 years on the ballot-bending beat for Rolling Stone and BBC TV. I think Jill Stein asked me to break the news because I’d get the story right, I’d have credibility, and I’d immediately put to rest the idea that she’s on some crazy hunt for Putin’s fingerprints in the software.
Editor's note: While U.S. intelligence agencies say they believe Russia hacked into American email systems to influence the presidential election, there has been no evidence of vote tampering.
S.Q.: You’ve covered issues with election fraud since 2000. What’s different this time?
G.P.: In 2000, for BBC and The Guardian, I discovered that Jeb Bush threw 56,000 African-Americans off the voter rolls because they were, supposedly, ex-cons, criminals. All were innocent – but that made his brother Dubya our president.
In 2016, Trump’s henchman, Kris Kobach, secretary of state for Kansas, pulled off a similar stunt, accusing voters of color of voting twice (in two states in the same election). It was just a list of common names (James Brown, Maria Hernandez), but it cost about 1.1 million voters their vote, mostly minorities. It’s just a variation of the faux felon purge — but involved 30 states, including swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania.
What’s the same is that, in both 2000 and 2016, only the foreign press is interested in racial vote suppression in America — and you.
S.Q.: State-wide recounts are currently happening in Michigan and Wisconsin, with limited local recounts happening in Pennsylvania. What’s the status of these re-counts, and what issues are they looking for?
G.P.: “Recount” is really the wrong name. It should be simply called “the count.” Because the nasty secret of American democracy is that several million ballots just never get counted: A million “provisional” ballots — into the dumpster. A million absentee ballots — into the dumpster — and for cockamamie reasons like using the wrong envelope.
And then there are the ballots kicked out by machines uncounted, “under-votes” (blank ballots) and “over-votes,” as when the machine thinks someone voted for two presidential candidates, zero vote gets recorded. Now, I know Detroit schools are bad, but everyone knows there’s just one president, and you (are allowed to) only vote for one. The problem is the machines — which, in poor cities like Detroit, are garbage bins with counters on them. Votes gets trashed by the tens of thousands.
So the Stein recount spends most of its energies on counting the votes that didn’t get counted in the first place. And they may have to fight in court over each one — for example, provisional ballots filed by students in Wisconsin with the “wrong” ID.
S.Q.: What discrepancies have been found so far? Does it appear that the recount could result in Hillary Clinton’s election?
G.P.: Yes, the recount could change the result. We know because of a massive “red shift” — the fact that the exit polls showed Clinton winning all these states. It indicates that people thought they voted (for Clinton), but didn’t realize their vote was voided – their provisional ballot rejected, their ballot tagged as under- or over-voted, etc.
S.Q.: Portland has been described as an epi-center for street demonstrations against Donald Trump. Do you have any message for the protestors here and around the country?
G.P.: Oregon has the fewest voting problems of any state in the nation. So, I’m glad that the “voting privileged” are marching for the rest of us. Glad people are opening their mouths. Democracy should not go gently into that good night. Now, Portlandians, open your ears and eyes. Get the info on how the vote is stolen, so we can rebuild a voting rights movement to preserve what we have.
An easy way to begin is to watch the movie, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” or, hell, read the book. In the film, I show you how Trump would steal it. He did, exact to the plan. If a movie or book is too much for you to handle, you can get the free comic book by Portland’s own resident genius with a pen, Keith Tucker. “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” is a free download at GregPalast.com.
S.Q.: You’ve written that up to 1.1 million voters had their registrations erased before this election, mostly voters of color across 30 states. Isn’t this illegal? Who can stop this?
G.P.: That’s Crosscheck, explained in my Rolling Stone series and in my movie and comic book. It’s the system described above of falsely saying Maria Isabel Hernandez of Virginia is the same voter as Maria Cristina Hernandez of Louisiana – and both lose their right to vote. It’s mad, it’s racist, and yes, it’s utterly illegal. Congressman Alcee Hastings of Florida said, “I’m a former federal judge – and I know a criminal conspiracy when I see one. These people (Kobach and the GOP operatives who run the system) ought to be indicted.”
Hastings asked the U.S. attorney general to do just that. But, as we all know, the Obama Justice Department moves slowly. I’m going to Washington to meet with Justice — joined by the leaders of 18 Million Rising bringing tens of thousands of signatures of pissed-off Asian-Americans who are targeted by Crosscheck. The idea is to open the investigation before Trump’s man, Jeff Sessions, an Alabama race-baiting con man, becomes attorney general.
S.Q.: A leader of one of Trump’s PACs, Carl Higbie, recently cited Japanese internment as sound legal precedent for a proposed “Muslim registry.” Do you see a relationship between comments like this and the racist impact of the Crosscheck system?
G.P.: There’s an intimate relationship: the man who created the so-called Muslim-tracking software is the same guy, Kris Kobach of Kansas, who operates Crosscheck. Worse, Kobach’s the odds-on favorite as Trump’s choice to run Homeland Security. I hope you look good in orange.
S.Q.: You recently wrote, “Stopping Crosscheck is the Standing Rock of racist vote suppression.” What do you mean by that?
G.P.: Sameera Khan is my correspondent in Standing Rock, where one poisonous, Earth-murdering pipeline has been stopped. Symbolically, it slowed the snake – and, as she notes, that single story of the Lakota told the story that steady, implacable resistance is what wins the battle and ultimately the war. It’s how Martin Luther King Jr. won the Voting Rights Act, as he said, “Steady, loving confrontation.”
Crosscheck is the new Jim Crow at its most sophisticated. Instead of white sheets, it’s spreadsheets. To expose and stop Crosscheck is to begin the process of education and confrontation that will restore voting rights. A stand must be made, state by state.
S.Q.: Donald Trump once promised to demand a recount if he lost the election. Now he is against counting the votes.
G.P.: He’s a coward and a hypocrite – in other words, the perfect presidential candidate.
S.Q.: What can people do if they want to support the recount effort and ongoing coverage of voter suppression?
G.P.: What the recount needs now is to spread real information about the effort —what it can do (see above), what it doesn’t do (hunt for Russians) and what it can’t do — there’s so much obstruction by GOP officials that I have doubts whether a real recount is possible. So, rip out this interview, make copies and spread it around. Or, a bit easier, pass it around electronically — and follow my reports at GregPalast.com. Also, BBC, The Guardian, Democracy Now, The Thom Hartman show, even the comedy program “Lee Camp’s Redacted” on RT (a Russian network) is better than the mainstream crapola coming from the idiot box.