The Coming US Elections: An Interview with Greg Palast

Photograph Source: Kārlis Dambrāns – CC BY 2.0

Greg Palast is an investigative journalist who has written for the BBC, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, the NYT, and other publications. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (2002), Armed Madhouse (2006), Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (2012), and How Trump Stole 2020 (2020). His strong, incisive voice came to the forefront of alternate, independent journalism back in 2000 when he began reporting on Choicepoint and Katherine Harris, which together purged thousands of “felons” from Florida’s voter registration ranks, a leading cause for George W. Bush’s surprise victory in the state his brother Jeb was governor of. Palast later showed that none of the “felons” were felons and their largely Democrat votes should have counted.

More recently he’s been caught up, like a lot of journalists, in the Trump Era farce that has cost so much time on the Climate Change front, underscored the unhappiness of the nation in general and its willingness to elect a clown for president. In his book How Trump Stole 2000, Palast showed how Trump would use select secretaries of state to disenfranchise votes from the left and secure Trump’s election by subterfuge. It almost worked, despite his loud and early warnings. But a pandemic came along, forcing more scrutiny of the national vote count, and Old Joe, who nobody really wanted as president, won election. But then Palast became one of the first to point out how Trump and his associates would use the 12th Amendment to undermine the final House electoral college vote — leading to the eventual largely comical catastrophe of January 6, 2021.

Recently, I spoke with Greg by Zoom. Here he reviews the 2020 presidential election and looks forward to the next in 2024. Below is an edited transcript of Greg’s responses to questions I posed on March 8, 2022 (GMT+8).

John Hawkins: You and Ted Rall woke a lot of people up with your book How Trump Stole 2020. I, for one, had forgotten about the power of state secretaries to change the rules for which votes count and which ones don’t. On presidential election night, most people think it’s one big tote board, with each state playing by the same rules. Such manipulation raises the Cain of Federalism again – the autonomy of states versus federal overseer, etc. Your book was a shocking revelation of my naiveté. I found myself going, Say what?! How can we stop gaming the polls? How do we stop tossing votes at the last minute to override what voters want?

Greg Palast: The way we always do. You’re never going to stop it, but you are going to overcome it. And I have a very simple rule that I tell people who read my books. When people say, Oh, it’s so depressing. You’re saying that all the elections will be stolen? No, no.

Hawkins: Well, I find I find you’re writing very liberating and inspiring, actually.

Palast: Oh good, because publishers usually don’t. But I did say that they can’t steal all the votes all the time. And so like, for example, now I’ve been concentrating the last nine years in the state of Georgia, which has been at the center of voter suppression. I just gave a lecture on this at Harvard, and as I explained to the students, ‘vote suppression’ is a very strange term. You know, someone steals your car. You don’t say my car’s been suppressed. Basically voter suppression can be defined as fucking Black people out of their votes. That’s what it really is. I mean, it’s kind of widened out to Hispanics and Asian-Americans, but it’s basically fucking people of color out of their votes. Some young people, some women, you know, they’re widening out the targets.

It’s not completely GOP, but for the most part, it’s the Republican Party, because, obviousl, the non-white vote is not Republican. Even with the expansion of the Black and Hispanic vote towards the GOP, it’s still a minority. So they know it’s class war by other means. So in Georgia, for example, they use all kinds of tricks. One of the nasty little secrets of America is that we don’t count all the votes, and we don’t let all people vote.

Forget the stuff about [hacking voter machines].  And when Trump brings it up, it’s no more credible than when some of my friends on the Left bring it up. It doesn’t happen. Never happened, OK? That’s not the problem. The problem is that we block people from voting. The biggest way you steal votes in America is before the election, not on Election Day. You steal it by mainly by blocking people from voting.

So, as you were alluding to, secretaries of state are these little known offices that control the votes in a state, and each state has its own rules. And many of them have figured out how to return to Jim Crow. So in Georgia, for example, they wrongly removed 198.000 voters [from the registry database]. I ain’t kidding you. We went through the list name by name. They removed 300,000 voters altogether and almost 200,000 of those voters should never have been removed. [Officials] said that they didn’t live in Georgia anymore. Because, believe it or not, they would say, Oh, well, OK, Jose Garcia is registered to vote in Atlanta, Georgia. But there’s also Jose Garcia in Arizona, so that guy must have moved to Arizona or he’s voting in two states, illegal? Mm hmm. Well, except that Jose Garcia is a common name — just not for a Republican. And so they removed 198,000.

This type of removal caused the Republicans to win and keep control of the governorship in 2018 in Georgia. The defeat of the Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams in 2020. Illegal removals almost did the trick for Donald Trump in Georgia. Except that the Palast Investigative Fund, my group working with ACLU, Black Voters Matter, and other groups, and a lot of celebrities — Leonardo DiCaprio and Rosario Dawson and others — got out the word that you may have lost your vote. So re-register. We went to federal court and the judge notes, You guys have been so successful at registering voters. Why are you even bothering to come in here? You reregistered over a 100,000 voters. Now, Biden ultimately won the state by eleven thousand votes. He would not have won if we hadn’t returned. Those voters now understand. I wasn’t trying to elect Joe Biden. That is not my job. In fact, not even my preference. But let the voters of Georgia choose the president, right? So [what happens in] Georgia is happening all over America.

They were about to remove 135,000 voters in Wisconsin before the 2020 election. I did a study for The Washington Post and proved that of the 135,000 voters, about half of, who [state officials] said no longer lived in Wisconsin lived right there at their registration addresses. We used experts to go through the list, specialists in address verification. We didn’t sample or any of that. We literally went through every single name and we contacted the voters. We called 800 of them and the experts said, You know, you’re not going to be allowed to vote because you don’t live in Wisconsin. And they got back, What do you mean? I’m right here in Milwaukee. I’ll show you a picture. We interviewed people on video.We stopped the state from removing tens of thousands of Black and student voters illegally.

The Washington Post did a wonderful job of mapping this for us, showing that it was mostly Black and student voters. Biden won that state by ten thousand votes. If we hadn’t blocked the purge of those voters, Biden wouldn’t have won that state. Now, I have to tell you two things: one, the Democratic Party was absolutely zero useless help. Zero. Two, I wasn’t there to help Biden get elected. It was about letting the voters of Wisconsin make that decision. But I told you that The Washington Post did a lot of the statistical analysis for me. But The Washington Post never ran the story. Even though we issued the Black Voters Matter report and the state of Wisconsin accepted our report as truth, it was not reported. The Washington Post spiked the story.

Hawkins: Don’t they know that Democracy Dies in Darkness?

Palast: Well, do you think that The Washington Post makes money off democracy? Where have you been? Hey, remember, they talk about how they’re a great investigative newspaper. Remember Watergate? Yeah, but let’s do a calculation. It’s been almost exactly 50 years since The Washington Post has broken a major story.

Hawkins: Great, Greg, you had to bring in a Watergate. Ok, I understand he was an associate director of the FBI. He was ‘deep throat’ and that he was upset that Hoover, Mr. Deep Throat, himself refused to recommend him for promotion. Nixon overlooked him and went with the outsider Freeh. Mark Felt was incensed, and he took revenge on Nixon for not being appointed.

Palast: So I love that. Isn’t that wonderful when these guys shaft each other? I love it when the elites kill each other. And that’s why what we’re hoping is that the same will happen in Russia now that that a couple of these oligarchs who’ve had their yachts seized, we’ll say, Putin, we didn’t bring you in here to threaten our yachts. But, so we’ll see if it works as well in Russia as it does in the US. You know, that’s how that’s how it works. Actually, if there’s a checks-and-balances within the U.S. government, it’s within the walls between the intelligence agencies and the corporate powers. So we got to count on these guys’s internal wars to keep the semblance of democracy in America. Yeah.

Hawkins: Trump is still going on and the MSM is still following their milking cash bull religiously. This whole thing about ‘voter fraud.’ The real voter fraud that he’s referring to is that it wasn’t business as usual. Trump made a phone call and to lose ten thousand votes away, and Georgia wouldn’t go along with it this time. Maybe because it was so blatant.

Palast: Well, I know the guy he called — Brad Raffensperger — who’s probably the worst Jim Crow secretary of state in America. The most vicious, violent, and racist operative we have in America. But the mainstream press has played him as a freaking hero. Yeah, because he wouldn’t go to jail for Trump. What Trump wanted, he understood. He already stole 198,000 votes for Trump. But he couldn’t steal the last 12,000, because to do that would have meant jail time.

Hawkins: Republican manipulation of voter participation in their own election is bad enough, but you point out in your book that even Democrats get into the act, such as in California during the 2016 and 2020 primaries. The Republicans seem to want to disenfranchise Ind’gens, Blacks. Latinos, and university voters, who you point out, overwhelmingly vote either Democrat or independent. Democrats slightly altered the Republican scam with independent thinkers. Want more choice? Bernie or Greens or Libertarians. Republicans and Democrats seem to collude to keep it Coke or Pepsi. No Dr. Pepper. Is there something we can do to fix this Coke and Pepsi problem?

Palast: Good question. I think that the answer is that we do have a good imitation of democracy in America. And, as I say, they can’t steal all the votes all the time. I was a statistician by training and an economist, and it tends to be 4 to 7 percent votes steal, usually towards a lower end 4 percent. That’s how much they take. You can overcome that. They can’t steal all the votes all the time. So, the answer is, one, check your registration, because the number one way that they steal votes is by blocking you from voting. Don’t mail in your damn ballot because they can disqualify. And, three, don’t steal your own vote by not voting and scream bloody murder if they try to take it away.

Hawkins: I voted in the last presidential election through Maryland, and I noticed that I did it all by online. The great thing about it was — this might be a solution — is that I got a notification, later on, that my vote actually counted. And I wonder if that’s a kind of solution.

Palast: It is very helpful.

Hawkins: Disenfranchised people don’t even know the vote didn’t count.

Palast: Well, I have to say that’s that was the thing that lost Trump, Georgia, because in Georgia, you don’t get notified if your vote didn’t count. But we need a million solutions, we need notification that your ballot has been counted. You have to be able to look up and see if your ballot’s been counted too. We shouldn’t be purging the vote.

Hawkins: Despite the national effort to be more vigilant about postal and provisional votes counting in 2020, a carefulness almost certainly brought on by the requirements of the pandemic — so the more postal votes — Trump almost won anyway. Four states Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin finished with vote counts around one percent difference, triggering automatic recounts.

Palast: How about a 44,000 votes shift in three states? That’s all you needed. 44,000 scarily.

Hawkins: This is a guy that got impeached twice, and he’s still, you know, that close, to being able to overturn it. Had there not been a pandemic, and the usual situation prevailed, he might have won re-election..

Palast: Might is not even a question. He would have walked away with it, if it wasn’t for the pandemic. And, you know, I believe in democracy, if Trump got elected… I’m not a big fan of stealing elections, but if you get elected fine, I’ll accept democracy. I’ll accept people’s votes. The problem is, is that we don’t let people vote in America. Hillary Clinton won in 2016. I’m not a big Hillary Clinton fan by any means, but she won, if they screwed with those votes in Michigan, 19,000 votes in Wisconsin, a few thousand votes in Pennsylvania. That’s all it was. And I can show you in detail, as I did in the book, in 2016, it was all stolen. As it was in 2000, when I uncovered that thousands of Black people had been removed from the voter rolls on the grounds that they were felons. Not one [was a felon], zero. Yeah, and by the way, the New York Times would not run that story, either. The only way I got it into the Times is that there was a Black columnist there at the time – Bob Herbert — who is now gone.

Hawkins: You were amazingly prescient in your book. After it came out, things started looking ugly. You know, once COVID arrived, that changed the dynamic of your book. You could see how he January 6, 2021 Festival of Blight might go down — months before everyone else did. What went wrong and will they fix it? Well, there’ll be future marches, will there be Kool-Aid stands set up with the next one?

Palast: I think that there’s a big danger here. Huge. So I’m putting this down now, so you’ve got it on record when things go really bad in the next election. I said that there would be violence, but I thought it might be that night, but apparently they had a bigger plan. I have a team out there. So, like Zach D. Roberts, who’s a tremendous investigative photojournalist, he embedded himself with the right wing group. So he knew all about Jan. 6 before January 6 was happening, because he was in on those discussions, and, in particular, he was following one guy, Olly Alexander, the guy who founded Stop the Steal. And we have him on camera. I issued a go to Greg Paulsen. You’ll see the footage — Alexander was in front of the Georgia State House, saying, If you don’t make Trump president, we’re going to light this shit on fire. That’s a quote, we’re going to light this shit off. So we had it on camera before and then a couple of days later, he goes to Washington and basically organized the January 6th March, which led to the insurrection. Now here’s the thing. The violence is B.S. It was horrible; they crushed a cop’s skull. A couple of people got gunned down — terrible. But that wasn’t going to affect their elections. Here’s what was going to affect our election. The scheme was simple. They were going to use something called the 12th Amendment.

Now, everyone knows the Second Amendment. Everyone knows the First Amendment. If you don’t know the 12th Amendment. Join everyone in America. The 12th Amendment, if you think the Electoral College is bad, this is really bad. The Electoral College says that each state gets X votes. The Electoral College is a horrific system. But if the Electoral College can’t pick a president, then it goes to the 12th Amendment procedure in which case — are you ready for this? It goes to the House of Representatives, but it’s not one member, one vote, [even though] the House of Representatives represents America proportionally. You know, you got you got 40 Congress people from California and three from Wyoming. But under the 12th Amendment, each state gets a single vote, so Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, they each get the same vote as California, New York and Illinois. Now, when that happens, if it’s one state, one vote. Any GOP candidate is going to win because the GOP controls a majority of House delegations, so if you go to the 12th Amendment, Republicans win, not by the vote. Now again, I’m not against the Republicans winning. If they get the majority of Americans on their side, then you know, it’s democracy. But when you can win with states voting, which represent 18 percent of the population, and can literally exclude 82 percent of the population from choosing the president….

So what happens now? Are people worried? What will happen in the 2024 election? They’re going to try to do the same thing. Have you seen the 12th Amendment? The point of the insurrection, if you remember, was to stop Vice President Pence, who’s the president of the Senate from certifying the electors that came in from the states. So they try to pressure Pence. But he did save America. Because what if he said , Yeah, Jesus, there’s all these competing slates of electors, and I can’t certify this election. So it goes to the 12th Amendment, OK? Each House delegation goes off and votes and oh oh golly, gee, Trump and I are reelected. That could have happened, and that could happen again this time. Why did it fail this time? Because Trump didn’t prepare the ground

And so you had all these Republicans, including Pence, who voted to certify the results. This time that won’t happen, because anyone who voted to certify the results is either going to face terrible primaries, or get defeated — a lot of them have resigned. The GOP this time will absolutely say the election was rigged. All they have to do is come up with say, Oh, we got pictures of people voting twice, blah blah blah. And throughout the Georgia results, throughout the Florida results, throughout the Wisconsin results throughout Michigan. Then it will go to the 12th, so if you think that Trump won’t get re-elected. Come on, man, you’re whistling past the graveyard. And when I say re-elected again, if he gets re-elected by the people. Fine. But if he gets elected by manipulation of the 12th Amendment, it’s time to join the Ukrainians. Pick up the guns, baby. I’m sorry. I’m willing to. Like I said, I’m not a pacifist. I fight fascists. And if they steal the White House that way — keep sending those donations to the Palast Investigative Fund. But I have to say, I want to warn people, if you send me weapons, that’s not tax deductible.

Let me tell you something. No one’s rising up against tyranny. We’ll see. But I haven’t seen any [sign of it] yet. So what I would like to do is just say: Don’t let them steal your vote. Fight for your vote, check your vote. Fight to get it cured, if they stole it, if they took away your registration, re-register. Just check it online. Every state allows you to check online. This is practical crap. I know it doesn’t sound revolutionary. It’s not drama. Checking your registration. Checking your vote status. Um, but in some ways, it’s the most revolutionary thing you can do. I’ll leave it at that.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.