When future historians want to know what happened to America in 2000, they’ll read Greg Palast’s The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The book follows the paper trail of perjury, deception and incompetence left by the Bush family, and the billionaires who fund them, as they trample through the world – from mining disaster cover-ups to the California energy scandal to the pre-9/11 intelligence black-out that let a handful of Saudi terrorists slip past the NSA, FBI and CIA.
The book also uncovers inside documents on the IMF and World Bank, Pat Robertson‘s unholy money-schemes, and the co-opted US media that won‘t report what the rest of the world gets on the front page.
The book opens with the crime that keeps on stealing – the 2000 presidential election. George Bush lost the popular election by 500,000 votes, but won the electoral vote by winning hotly contested Florida, the state that tipped the scales, and the state where his brother Jeb is governor. His tiny 500-vote win there was accompanied by a torrent of hanging chads and unhappy voters, who claimed their votes were stolen. Last week Palast came to Boston to promote the new edition of The Best Democracy… I asked him exactly what he uncovered.
What really happened in Florida?
Five months before the election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris ordered the removal of 57,700 names from Florida’s voter rolls on grounds that they were felons. Voter rolls contain the names of all eligible, registered voters. If you’re not on the list, you don’t get to vote.
If you commit a felony in Florida, you lose your right to vote there, and you‘re “scrubbed” from the rolls. You become a non-citizen, like in the old Soviet Union. This is not the case in most other states; it’s an uncivilized vestige of the Deep South.
My office carefully went through the scrub list and discovered that at minimum, 90.2 percent of the people were completely innocent of any crime – except for being African American. We didn’t have to guess about that, because next to each voter’s name was their race.
When I questioned Harris’ office about the high percentage of African Americans on the scrub list, they responded, “Well, you know how many black people commit crimes.”
But these people weren’t felons, so why were they scrubbed?
The Florida Republicans wanted to block African Americans, who largely vote as Democrats, from voting. In 1999 they fired the company they were paying $5,700 to compile their felony “scrub” lists and replaced them with Database Technologies [DBT], who they paid $2.3 million to do the same job. [DBT is the Florida division of Choicepoint, a massive database company that does extensive work for the FBI.]
There are a lot of Joe Smiths in the Florida phonebook. DBT was hired to verify which Joe Smith was a felon and which was not. They were supposed to use their extensive databases to check credit cards, bank information, addresses and phone numbers, in addition to names, ages, and social security numbers. But they didn’t. They didn’t use one of their 1,200 databases to verify personal information, nor did they make a single phone call to verify the identity of scrubbed names.
So where did DBT get their data?
From the Internet. They went to 11 other states’ Internet sites and took names off dirt-cheap. They scrubbed Florida voters whose names were similar to out-of-state felons. An Illinois felon named John Michaels could knock off Florida voter John, Johnny, Jonathan or Jon R. Michaels, or even J.R. Michaelson. DBT matched for race and gender, but names only had to be similar to a certain degree. Names could be reversed, and suffixes (Jr., Sr.) were ignored, but aliases were included. So the felon John “Buddy” Michaels could knock non-felon Michael Johns or Bud Johnson Jr. off the voter rolls. This happened again and again.
Although DBT didn’t get names, birthdays or social security numbers right, they were very careful to match for race. A black felon named Mr. Green would only knock off a black Mr. Green, but not a single white Mr. Green. That’s how DBT earned its $2.3 million.
Why didn’t DBT use their own databases?
They didn’t, because the state told them not to. Choicepoint vice-president James Lee was grilled by a Congressional committee, headed by Cynthia McKinney, and he admitted everything, but said DBT was following state directives. Florida state officials told DBT to knock off voters by incorrectly matching them with felons.
Congresswoman McKinney led this commission to her own peril. Choicepoint is in her Atlanta district. She was destroyed in the last election by fabricated quotes and a vicious propaganda campaign.
Is this the only way votes were stolen?
No. There were 8,000 Floridians who had committed misdemeanors, but were counted as felons. Their votes were scrubbed. Katherine Harris’ office illegally scrubbed people who’d served time in other states, then moved to Florida, and Jeb Bush’s office illegally barred these people from registering to vote at all.
The biggest wholesale theft occurred inside the voting booths in black rural counties. In Gadsden County, one of the blackest in the state, thousands of votes were simply thrown away. Gadsden used paper ballots which are read by an optical reader. Ballots with a single extra mark were considered “spoiled“ and not counted. The buttons used to fill out the ballots were set up – with approval from Bush and Harris – to make votes appear unclear to the machine. One in eight ballots in Gadsden was voided by the state.
The same ballots were used in Tallahassee County, which is mostly white. There only one in 100 votes was “spoiled.” What made the difference? In Tallahassee, ballots were read on the premises, and if they were marked incorrectly, voters were sent to revote until they got it right. In the black counties, the votes were trucked off immediately. There were no machines on site. Voters weren’t told that their votes were spoiled, and they certainly weren’t permitted to re-vote.
When Ted Koppel investigated voter theft in Florida, he concluded that blacks lost votes because they weren’t well educated, and made mistakes that whites hadn‘t. He didn’t even bother to ask how the machines were set up. This is the kind of reporting we get in America. In Britain, this story ran 3 weeks after the election, when Gore was still in race. It was in the papers and on TV. In the US, it was seven months before the Washington Post ran it, and then it was only a partial version. After the election, Gadsden County replaced its voting commissioner. In 2002 they only lost one in 500 votes. So you can say blacks in Gadsden got smarter in one way – they elected a black elections chief.
What happened to Choicepoint?
Bush is handing them the big contracts in the War on Terror; immigration reviews, DNA cataloging, airport profiling, and their voting systems are being rolled out across the country.
It wasn’t reported in mainstream press, but the NAACP sued Harris and the gang for the black purge, and won. The state threw up its hands immediately and said, ‘You got us! We’ll put these people back as soon as we can.’ We’re still waiting.