Election expert Greg Palast: Thanks to GOP voter suppression, "Democrats may have effectively lost"

Investigative reporter Greg Palast on Brian Kemp's "postcard trick" and other Republican vote-suppression tactics

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 28, 2018 6:00AM (EDT)

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp  (AP/John Amis)
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (AP/John Amis)

There are elements of about the current Georgia governor's race that may fundamentally undermine faith in democracy. If Republican candidate Brian Kemp, the current secretary of state, wins the election, his victory is likely to appear illegitimate. Impartial observers will never be able to tell whether he would have won had every eligible voter in the state been able to cast a ballot. If he loses, there is little question that the victory of Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams will be viewed as an existential threat to the same forces that tried to rig things against her in the first place.

Salon spoke by email with Greg Palast, the journalist who previously tipped Salon off to widespread voter disenfranchisement in Georgia earlier this month. Palast has created a website that can help you learn if you were purged from the rolls.

How many Georgians do you believe have been disenfranchised and what is your evidence?

Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, purged 550,702 Georgians from the voter rolls in 2016 and 2017 — that is, canceled their registrations. I’m not guessing. After much resistance, Kemp turned over the names and addresses of each one of these purged voters in response to a threat of a federal lawsuit (which I filed in federal court in Atlanta and served on Kemp Friday).

Of these, we are certain that 340,134 were wrongly removed, with no notice that they were purged. I want to thank Salon for your report, which went viral, letting Georgians know my foundation had listed all the names of the purged at GregPalast.com. Unfortunately, there were only a couple of days left to re-register, but it appears that thousands did so.

That still leaves hundreds of thousands disenfranchised. If they show up to vote on Nov. 6 -- though they won’t get notices of polling places, nor get absentee ballots if requested -- they can only receive "provisional ballots," with little or no chance they will be counted.

How did Kemp pull off this mass purge? He moved voters from his state’s so-called "inactive" list to "canceled," based on his assertion they had all moved out of the state or out of their county.

But they hadn’t moved. According to a team of experts led by John Lenzer, CEO of CohereOne, 340,134 had never moved at all. Lenzer led a group of the nation’s top "advanced address hygiene" professionals, who use dozens of databases (including deep post office files) to know exactly where every American lives. Our experts advise companies like American Express to make sure you get your bill (or find you if you don’t pay).

As Lenzer told me of the 340,134 Georgians, "They hadn’t moved, and they should not have been removed from the voter rolls."

How could Kemp assert these voters had moved? Each one was "guilty" of missing the 2014 and 2016 elections, and they failed to return a postcard. The postcard looks like junk mail; most people throw it away. Kemp argues, correctly, that the Supreme Court said states could use this procedure — but only so long as the state had a good-faith basis to believe voters have moved.

Kemp sent the "inactive-to-canceled" list to counties to check the accuracy of the list, knowing damn well the counties don’t have the experts and resources to do this.

So I’ve now done it for them. I have every single name and address of every voter who has not moved. I would note this does not include the tens of thousands of voters who moved within their county who, under federal law, should not be removed either.

What methods has Brian Kemp's office used to disenfranchise these voters?

Besides what I call the "postcard trick" to remove a third of a million voters, Kemp has a devil's toolkit of vote-bending tricks.

For example, Kemp sent out consultants to tell counties to close polling stations — which, notably, are in black neighborhoods. I saw this in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, which partly accounts for Democrat Jon Ossoff's defeat in the special election there in 2017. My daughter, a Georgia voter, could tell you all about how Kemp (and other GOP officials) have kept polling stations off college campuses.

Kemp is requiring "exact matches" of voter ID, letter by letter, number by number, to match with state and federal records which are filled with typos. If your name is García-Márquez, forget about getting registered. Hyphens and accents -- and you know which voters have those -- are unlikely to meet this crazy test. This is the heart of the problem with the 53,000 pending registrations — some five years old — that have not been put on the rolls.

Then there are the threats and intimidation against voter registration groups. GOP officials sent the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to raid the offices of 10,000 Koreans Vote, threatening criminal charges against volunteers registering voters on weird nonsense grounds. After two years of "investigation," charges were dropped but the registration effort was shut down.

I could go on.

Tell me more about the lawsuit that you have filed.

As you can see, Kemp’s a real piece of work. I’ve been investigating him for five years, starting with Al Jazeera in 2014 and Rolling Stone in 2016. He has utterly stonewalled our requests for public records — especially the names, addresses and reasons for purging Georgia voters. With Helen Butler of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda (Rev. Joseph Lowery’s civil rights group), our law firm sent him a required 90-day notice that we would file a federal lawsuit unless he opened his files. That forced him to give us the names and addresses we investigated — but he’s still holding back documents we believe will prove he’s been using the notorious "Interstate Crosscheck" lists created for Kemp by Kris Kobach of Kansas. [That state's secretary of state, and also the Republican gubernatorial nominee this year.] Kobach is known as Trump’s "fraudulent voter" hunter.

Kemp admits he gave Kobach the state’s entire voter file and got back a "hit list" from Kobach — but Kemp claims he never used it and "can’t find" the Crosscheck lists. Sorry, Brian, but your deputy admitted to using the list, and even turned over the Kobach list to a reporter you thought was a Republican who would give you glowing publicity. However, the reporter actually worked for me — for the Rolling Stone investigation. Gotcha!

And now, Mr. Kemp, you’ll have the opportunity to explain these contradictory statements to a federal judge.

I’d note that as a journalist, my suit only demands information. However, the Atlanta NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition will use the info we’re prying from Kemp in court to stop this New Jim Crow purge operation.

How is this part of a larger pattern nationwide in terms of voter disenfranchisement?

I’ve already filed 90-Day notices of intent to file federal lawsuits against 26 other secretaries of state and boards of elections. Kemp invented nothing — he and his crony Kris Kobach of Kansas are simply the advance guard of a new wave of officials, most (but not all) Republicans, who are using suspect and racially poisonous schemes such as Interstate Crosscheck to purge their voter rolls.

Most officials have come out with their hands up and their files open. In addition to Georgia, I’ve already posted the ridiculously large purge lists of Indiana, Nevada, Nebraska, Illinois and Colorado on GregPalast.com, with more coming.

In the case of Indiana, for example, our experts found an inordinately large number of voters on Kobach’s Crosscheck list (46 percent), sent to Indiana’s GOP officials, had been purged. When asked about this, the lawyer for the Indiana Board of Elections admitted that it appeared that Indiana had purged voters in violation of a federal court order. Violation or not, at least 20,000 voters tagged by Kobach were wrongly removed from the voter rolls in a state with a tight U.S. Senate race.

And I’m sorry to say,I have uncovered a lot of ugly games with registration and ballot counting in Democratic election offices, though not on the GOP’s nationwide scale.

Could this voter disenfranchisement make the difference between victory and defeat for Democrats in Georgia or elsewhere?

Absolutely. We are looking at dead-heat races in Nevada, Indiana and Arizona where you shouldn’t be surprised to see a "red shift," that is, Republican victories in races where exit polls show a Democratic win. That’s explained by provisional and absentee ballots rejected (because of registration or ID or other problems)—people can tell pollsters how they voted but not if their vote was counted.

The fact that millions of voters lost their registrations without notice that they’d been purged means that Democrats may have effectively lost any chance of winning key elections before a single vote is cast.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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