From White Sheets to Spreadsheets
By Greg Palast, for TruthDig
I hate to spoil a happy ending.
The movie “Selma,” like this week’s commemorations of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma, Ala., 50 years ago, celebrates America’s giant leap from apartheid.
Half a century ago Alabama state troopers and a mob of racist thugs beat African-Americans and others as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, demanding no more than the right to vote. By the time King led 25,000 demonstrators singing “We Shall Overcome” into Montgomery, the state capital, on March 24, the president of the United States had introduced the Voting Rights Act. Free at last—to vote. Roll credits.
Yet, just a few months ago, Martin Luther King asked me, “How long until African-American citizens of Alabama—and Mississippi and Georgia—get the unimpeded right to vote?”
Obviously I was not speaking with King Jr.—a bullet stole him from us in 1968. The question was posed by his son, Martin Luther King III. I spent an afternoon at his home in Atlanta, where we pored over the latest evidence that Americans of color were blocked at the doors to the polls in the 2014 midterm elections—by the hundreds of thousands.
As King’s 6-year-old daughter serenaded us with her toy drum set, we dived into a massive, secretive database used by elections officials—almost all of them Republicans—in 28 states. The scheme, called “Interstate Crosscheck,” threatens to disqualify the ballots of over a million voters, overwhelmingly citizens of color.
It took six months for my investigations team, in coordination with Al-Jazeera America, to get its hands on the names of those tagged for the voting rights slaughter.
According to the GOP officials, these citizens had voted twice in the same election, in two different states—a federal crime. As punishment, their mail-in ballots would be junked and their registrations annulled. But no reporters had seen (or, for that matter, asked for) the lists. State officials, the modern-day equivalents of Bull Connor, refused our requests on grounds that these Americans were all suspects in a criminal investigation and therefore the files were confidential.
Nevertheless, we managed to get hunks of the lists—2.1 million names of a total 3.5 million “suspected double voters.”
Who are these criminal voters? A typical example: Kevin Antonio Hayes of Durham, N.C., allegedly voted a second time in Virginia as Kevin Thomas Hayes. The Durham Hayes, however, swears to me that he has never used the alias Thomas or set foot in Virginia. Another: James Elmer Barnes Jr. of Georgia allegedly voted a second time as James Cross Barnes III of Arlington, VA.
The lists go on like that: huge numbers accused solely on the basis of sharing a first and last name with a voter in another state.
It is clear what attracts Republican Katherine Harris wannabes to this absurd method of identifying fraudulent voters. The prevalence of name-sharing among black Americans is a legacy of slavery. The “Crosscheck” name-match game is also a darn good way of knocking off Hispanic voters. (According to the national census, at least 91.5 percent of Americans named Aguirre are Hispanic and, according to Gallup, two out of three vote Democratic).
I was suspicious—if Kevin Hayes really voted twice, authorities should have arrested him. They should have arrested 589,393 “criminal double voters” in North Carolina alone. But they busted none. Nevertheless, the officials got what they wanted: For example, enough voters of color were blocked, purged and disqualified to help knock a Democrat out of the U.S. Senate this past November.
This situation deeply concerns Martin Luther King III, founder of the Realizing the Dream Foundation. Fifty years after Bloody Sunday and the Voting Rights Act, he said, “The irony is that when you look at Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, where you have significant African-American populations—Mississippi close to 50 percent—those states still have leadership that is totally Republican.”
The black vote should have turned those states solid Democratic blue. What happened?
Meet the New Jim Crow. Fifty years ago, African-Americans were kept from the polls by the threat of beatings and lynchings. Today, Jim Crow has traded in his white sheets for spreadsheets. He’s Dr. James Crow, systems analyst. His method is lynching by laptop.
At the end of the film “Selma” we are told that the brutal, racist county sheriff was tossed out of office by newly enfranchised black voters. True. But today, Dr. James Crow has a magic machine that can reverse the Voting Rights Act.
Here’s one example uncovered by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: On the night of Nov. 5, 2002, it appeared that Democrat Gov. Don Siegelman, the favorite of the African-American voters, had won re-election. But at 11 p.m., the white, Republican elections officials of Baldwin County declared they needed to recount the ballots. The county courthouse doors were locked. No press (or black Democrats) were allowed inside. By dawn, the white officials announced they had corrected a “glitch” in the count. Upon recounting, the tally for Siegelman dropped miraculously by 6,334 votes, handing the race to his opponent.
Could we see the ballots? Of course not; they were simply tallies on computer files. The files had been “corrected”—and Siegelman, the choice of the black voter, was gone.
(Siegelman was warned not to complain. He did—and before long he was imprisoned on corruption charges that Kennedy dismisses as “laughable, ginned up by a cast of crooked GOP attorneys.”)
Purging phantasmagorical “double voters” and finding thousands of votes in magical computer systems are but two of the methods at Dr. James Crow’s disposal. Working with Kennedy, I’ve counted nine sophisticated, racially dubious methods for blocking the black vote, costing—by a conservative estimate—5.9 million Americans their voting rights.
Despite the glorious story of the Selma march, the truth is that the USA and Old Dixie in particular are marching backward over the bridge. Disenfranchisement—a fancy word for ballot-box apartheid—is worsening, especially since June 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court nullified key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
It would be wrong and demeaning to the memories of those who gave their lives to this cause—including the fathers of King and Kennedy—to say that we’ve won no voting rights victories. This weekend we can congratulate ourselves on America’s great strides against racism at the ballot box. But let’s remember that Dr. King had to lead a dangerous march from Selma for voting rights that were supposedly guaranteed a century earlier by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution—rights won after 600,000 Americans fought to their deaths between Bull Run and Gettysburg.
The struggle for civil and human rights did not begin 50 years ago, and it will not end in another 50. It is a centuries-long story of advance and retreat.
And that’s the lesson. The movie’s over, but not The Movement. It is left to us to march over the bridge again. And again. And again.
Wha’? Yep, the filter I put in for moderating the onslaught of fake designer handbag links prevented this site from regressing to a giant billboard for con-artists.
Every week I get at least a half-dozen fake registrations for this site. Guess what?
Their lousy rip-off efforts continue to be thwarted.
If you register and post, I still need to approve your comment. No fake designer handbags or fake Nikes or fake what-have-you accepted here. You’re welcome.
Check out the twitter feed of Buzz Fugazi and grab some pithy talking points. Use them the next time you visit some wingnut Congresstool wanting to slash funding for public infrastructure and environmental regulations and cut taxes for the wealthy while piling on sales taxes, making your speeding ticket cost $2000, reducing the minimum wage, and exploding the debt for another unfunded pointless war that will not make us more safe.
When was the last time we reduced the size of the Federal Bureaucracy by getting into another war? The same every time we collapsed the economy by raising the minimum wage. It happens every year on the 5th of Never!
The Fine Print
With one of the biggest Republican gatherings of the year in full swing at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a group of Democratic operatives in Washington is fighting back — waging a full-out public relations war to counter CPAC.
“We are kind of the central apparatus for tracking and research, really, on the progressive side. And so at an event like CPAC, we put our resources to work,” said American Bridge PAC president Brad Woodhouse, speaking to “The Fine Print” during a rare tour of the Democratic group’s so-called war room.
The room is filled with rows of desks equipped with double-monitor computer screens, which a group of about 40 Democratic operatives are using to monitor and fact-check speeches at CPAC as they happen, issue rapid responses, and monitor the media and social networking sites.
“Over here, we have people who are monitoring. Today they’re monitoring CPAC,” Woodhouse said, as he pointed to people working around the room. “They’re monitoring tweets, they’re monitoring news coverage [and] they’re looking at transcripts.”
American Bridge also has “trackers,” who are essentially Democratic spies on the ground at CPAC, recording events and monitoring the events both on and off the official stage of the conference.
“We’re literally in filming Ted Cruz just like ABC is,” Woodhouse said. “We’re also out in the hallways capturing conversations and that kind of thing.”
It’s all part of an effort to differentiate the Democratic message from their Republican opponents, Woodhouse added. When asked which Republican speakers at the conference the war room soldiers most like to watch, he pointed to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as one of their favorites.
“He’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Woodhouse said of Paul. “His attacks on Hillary Clinton because of what Bill Clinton did 20 years ago … is going to really hurt them in the long run. So one thing, it’s nice to watch Rand Paul because it’s just so outlandish.”
In addition to rapid-response style reactions to the ongoing events at CPAC, Woodhouse said an equally important long-term strategy of his group is to catch moments — large and small — that might otherwise be missed and can help propel a campaign against a Republican candidate.
“We’re either there with a tracker filming it, just like the media … and we have media monitors that are watching the local coverage,” Woodhouse said. “We’re tracking whatever Republicans are saying, wherever they’re saying it.”
American Bridge PAC looks a lot like a permanent campaign — a characterization that Woodhouse didn’t reject but, instead, explained as necessary.
“One of the key things in campaigns is knowing what your opponent says, what they do, what they believe, and also having video of them saying and doing those things,” Woodhouse said. “So we look at this as real-time rapid response, but also as a place that curates.”
Of course, Republicans have war rooms of their own and use strategies similar to American Bridge PAC. But Woodhouse pointed to such groups more as evidence of American Bridge’s success rather than threats.
“Imitation is the best form of flattery,” Woodhouse said. “After the 2012 election … they saw what this organization did to highlight the Akin comments and Mourdock, and how much information we fed to the super PACs who had ads on Bain [Capital], for example. … So America Rising started on the Republican side after the election. They modeled themselves after us and so, you know, more power to them.”
For more of the interview with Woodhouse, including how American Bridge PAC decides whether to reveal new dirt on a Republican target or to hold it in a vault for later use, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”
ABC News’ Chris Good, Michael Conte, Tom Thornton, Hank Brown, and Vicki Vennell contributed to this episode.
This is why some of the suits get paid the big bucks… coming up with this…