The Great Voter Purge: a Wisconsin Story

Photograph Source: Bill Smith – CC BY 2.0

Greg Palast, long-time investigative journalist and fearless vote protector, is at it again…or rather, he’s still at it, exposing Republican vote theft right up to the November 3 election, now just a month away. His latest book, How Trump Won 2020, is his major wake-up call about the myriad ways “billionaire bandits” and their Republican operatives are determined to keep Trump in power at all costs. (See my piece in Counterpunch, “How to Rig An Election,”August 21,2020)

Palast’s biggest piece of advice remains the same as it was in August: Check Your Registration! It is still not too late, and you better do it, because voters are being scrubbed from voter rolls all over the country, and he’s got the evidence to prove it.

One of the most damning cases to emerge so far is in the battleground state of Wisconsin, where Trump edged out Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a mere 22,000 votes, landing the state’s electoral college votes in the Trump column. Now, a group called the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), funded by the wealthy Bradley family (who made millions selling their factories in Milwaukee and then poured some of their profits into supporting Trump) recently sued the state demanding it remove 153,000 voters from the rolls on the grounds these voters had moved from their registration addresses. Oral arguments were heard September 29.

Warned Palast the following day, “The Wisconsin Supreme Court may have chosen our president.” That warning came from his discovery, back in 2016, that in Wisconsin “a giant hunk of the student vote simply…vanished. And the Black vote also plummeted.”

But don’t despair. Greg has some serious arrows in his voters’ quiver, including cooperation from the Wisconsin post office and four experts who usually supply address lists for such giants as Amazon, eBay, American Express and Home Depot. Greg and his team of investigators hired the experts to review the Wisconsin purge list. The Black Voters Matter Fund chipped in, knowing full well that voters of color were targeted for removal in previous elections, in Wisconsin and nationwide — part of what Palast calls “ethnic cleansing” of the voter rolls which he has documented going back to the 2000 elections in Florida that put George W. Bush in power.

I interviewed Palast the day before the oral arguments, wanting to know more about his latest crusade to prevent another Great Voter Purge in Wisconsin like the one that happened in 2016. That’s how I discovered his ingenious plan to hire corporate “address list experts” to work for everyday voters.

“They know exactly where you live,” he told me. “And they know where you were last year.” Then he revealed their modus operandi, which under normal circumstances can seem quite unnerving. These big companies, he explained, “don’t talk about the fact that they have been tracking you with nearly 2000 data points on a constant basis, where you’re ordering from, where you’re getting deliveries, your subscriptions, films you purchased and watched.” In short, they know a lot about us, including where we live.

But thanks to The Palast Investigative Fund in a report for Black Voters Matter, these experts happily applied their skills in “Address List Hygiene” to track down the location of voters in Wisconsin. What they and team Palast discovered was that some 39,000 voters on the list had not, in fact, moved and another 58,000 had moved, but within their county. This discovery, Greg hopes, will prove WILL’s list to be being highly suspect, and hence, worthy of being invalidated. “Under federal law,” he explained, “you cannot have an inaccurate voter roll as a basis for removing voters.”

How, you may wonder, did WILL get ahold of this inaccurate voter roll? A system called ERIC, standing for Electronic Registration Information Center, has been set up and used by 30 state officials to identify voters who have moved. Originally designed to help voters re-register after they moved into a new state, it has become a tool for Republicans to hunt down voters in order to purge them from the list. And purging can be a simple act taking only minutes.

Because of the Help America Vote Act, all voter rolls are now computerized. “But what it means,” says Palast, “is that you can wipe out voters by the tens of thousands with the flick of a button.”

Fortunately, Wisconsin’s Election Board is bipartisan and is resisting the scrub list. Not all Election Boards are so congenial, however, so voters may have to take matters into their own hands. Students in college towns can learn from Palast’s book how students in Wisconsin were denied their right to vote in 2016: the state requires a government-issued ID like a driver’s license, but photo ID’s issued by the state to its 182,000 University of Wisconsin students did not qualify them to vote. “How brilliant is that?” Palast notes in his book. “Gun permits could be used to vote; but not a student ID. Carry a weapon, good. Carry a book, forget it.”

Check out this video!

The Palast team has put together a short 7 minute video that explains the lessons of Wisconsin, complete with interviews with a member of the Address Hygiene List, the head of WILL, and a Milwaukee County supervisor and a student, both of whom were wrongfully scrubbed from the voter list. If you do nothing else, pass this film around. No one should take their right to vote granted this year. Be prepared — and CHECK YOUR REGISTRATION!

Charlotte Dennett is an investigative journalist. Her most recent book, now out in paperback, is Follow the Pipelines: Uncovering the Mystery of a Lost Spy and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil.