"Block the Vote" co-author and Rolling Stone contributor Greg Palast on Colorado's troubled voting system
"Block the Vote," an article in the October 30 edition of Rolling Stone, argues that "in state after state, Republican operatives -- the party's elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics -- are wielding new federal legislation to systematically disenfranchise Democrats." And while Colorado makes only a brief appearance in the piece, BBC journalist Greg Palast, who co-authored the article with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., says the state may be the worst offender in the entire country when it comes to this phenomenon, and identifies former Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson as the official who's all but perfected the current strategy. He identifies her as "the purgin' general of the United States."
In a wide-ranging conversation with Westword for the Off Limits column in our October 30 edition, Palast took on all comers, including the Denver Post, which published a 2005 article about voter fraud that he describes as a "biased, fictitious, bullshit press release," as well as Mike Coffman and representatives of the Colorado Secretary of State's office, who he accuses of stonewalling him. Post staffers Susan Greene and Karen Crummy, who wrote the aforementioned piece, respond to Palast's charges in this blog, while Richard Coolidge, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office, gives his take here -- and an additional cyber-sidebar features a video of Kennedy on a segment of MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show that puts Colorado and Davidson front and center.
First, though, look below for extended outtakes from our fiery conversation with Palast, who begins by citing a U.S. Election Assistance Commission report that says Colorado wiped out 19.4 percent of its voter rolls between 2004 and 2006. (Click to read the pertinent page of the document.) By the way, the current vice chair of the commission is none other than Donetta Davidson. -- Michael Roberts
Excerpts from Westword's interview with Greg Palast, October 27, 2008:
“Nineteen point four percent is the exact number, which you can get yourself from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. They not only put that number in their tables but they made a note of it. The report gives all the statistics for ´05 and ´06 on what happened to the voter rolls, and on page 11, it says, 'Many States do not track reasons why registrants were removed from voter lists. Of the 42 States that responded to this portion of the survey, some 13 million registrants were removed from the voter lists during the 2004-2006 survey period. This number accounted for about 7.6 percent of the registration rolls nationwide. For example, in Colorado, nearly 19.4 percent of its voter file list was removed.'
“That’s 19.4 percent. No one else came close. Well, one state came close – Idaho. But here’s the interesting thing: Did the EAC get it wrong? Well, the person who signed the report is Donetta Davidson, who I think was quite proud of the fact that she was the purgin’ general of the United States. Just like the Republicans are proud of this ACORN voter-fraud crap they’re putting forward.
“Now, there are some legitimate removals, especially the ones that are marked ‘dead.’ That’s about a fourth of her numbers, and those are pretty solid. But you don’t really ever have to purge a voter roll – and do you know why? Because almost no one is ever convicted of fraudulent voting. The Denver Post did a piece-of-shit voter-fraud article, saying that there’s all kinds of voter fraud, a huge number of voter-fraud investigations and cases being opened up – all kinds of cases. [He’s referring to 'Voter Fraud Probed in State' by Susan Greene and Karen Crummy, published March 24, 2005.] But the Post never responded to my question, 'How many convictions were there? How many fradulent voters were convicted?' And you know why? Because out of the millions of ballots cast, there are almost none.
“So here’s what’s happening from my experience. You have a mass purge. So are you really telling me that one in five voters are fraudulent, illegal voters who are trying to steal the election? No, they’re not. Is the state really rife with fraudulent voters? No, it’s not. It’s a complete, absolute con, and they know it. Davidson and Mike Coffman have been running a purge-and-block operation. And that’s not the end of it. Look at the article in the New York Times. [He’s referring to 'States’ Purges of Voter Rolls Appear Illegal,' published on October 8, 2008.] The information finally got to that tiny brain a few weeks ago, and they noted that Coffman was removing voters by the gobs within ninety days of the election. That raised two questions: Why the hell were these people being removed, number one. And why within ninety days of the election?
“Now, I can’t verify the New York Times’ numbers for you, but we all know that if anything, the Times errs on the side of caution. These are not wild numbers. And I want to be very cautious, too. I haven’t looked at the Times’ numbers, but I’ve looked at my numbers, and I know that Coffman’s hiding things. And we may take it for granted that there’s nothing wrong with a guy running for Congress who’s in charge of counting his own votes – but, I mean, they stopped doing that in Uganda. Although it’s not the count that’s most important, per se. It’s setting the rules for registration, voting and counting. You’re going to end up with a massive number of provisional ballots, and the question is, what are the rules for provisional ballots?
“I work for the BBC, and starting in June, we put in formal Freedom of Information Act requests to your Secretary of State. Several formal requests. And we’ve been stonewalled on receiving information. I said I would speak to Mr. Coffman. I said I would speak to his press spokesman. Go to the Rolling Stone website. You’ll see a video of me on a cell phone in front of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office saying, ‘I’m right downstairs.’ And they wouldn’t talk to us. And then Coffman’s press secretary [Richard Coolidge] had the balls to write a letter saying that I wrote about 19.4 percent of voters’ names being removed, and that was completely false – meaning that he thinks Donetta Davidson has issued false information. And he also said that I never tried to speak to him. And we were begging to talk to them. They would not even return our phone calls. In fact, the only response I got was when they called BBC in Washington and London saying that I was harassing them. And they said, ‘That’s what we pay him to do.’ I don’t do like the Denver Post does. I don’t run biased, fictitious, bullshit press releases as if they’re news.
“Then you have the problem that new voters are getting rejected for the most cockamamie reasons, abusing the Help America Vote Act. Now, one of the problems I’m running into in analyzing Colorado’s list is that they’re stonewalling us so much that it’s hard to even analyze their data. But take a place like New Mexico, where one in nine voters were missing from the Democratic voter rolls. Everyone said there was no bias. Unfortunately for them, I used to teach statistics at Indiana University, and I did a statistical analysis – and what I found was that there was an exact proportioning of purged voters to the non-Anglo population. An exact proportioning. That’s how it worked everwhere.
“Colorado is a strange state. As usual, the Democrats are so much in love with their advertising and everything else that they don’t see what’s happening. But when I spoke to the governor’s brilliant lawyer, Paul Hultin – he’s with the Governor’s Election Reform Commission – he was unaware of the massive purges. Now, I want to make it clear that I really think highly of this guy. I don’t blame him. And far be it for most journalists to bother to look into it. They’re like, ‘The state says it’s not true. That Palast is a conspiracy nut,’ and that’s the end of the story. But Hultin reads my stuff extremely carefully, and he’s deeply concerned. But the problem is, the first hearing on the disaster wrought by the Secretary of State’s office is November 19. [He’s close; actually, the meeting takes place on November 12.] That’s not Hultin’s fault. But someone ought to buy the Democratic Party of Colorado a calendar.
“I’m not here for Obama. They’re so focused on Obama, Obama, that the core issue of whether voters vote is lost. It’s a lot easier to flood the place with commercials and register a zillion people and overcome the game than confront it. Look at the last election, 2004, which was a very suspect vote. You had Donetta Davidson mass-purging people like ex-felons, who can vote in Colorado, and no one seems to realize that. It’s the same thing in New Mexico. The Republican Party operatives there filed a suit related to all of this ACORN stuff, saying that this one guy, Sheldon, keeps trying to register – he tried to register five times. And the Democrats’ response was, don’t worry, he was marked a felon and not allowed to register. But he had the absolute right to register, the absolute right to vote. You’ve had this mass purge of felons in Colorado and in New Mexico even though the law says they can vote. In Colorado, if you’re on probation or if you’re an ex-felon, you can vote – which actually makes Colorado more liberal than most states. You have to either be in prison or convicted of a felony crime but not yet in prison to lose your vote.
"There aren’t many states where felons can’t vote. It’s basically an old Jim Crow type law. It’s an urban myth that they’re banned in most places, but no one, including the Democratic Party, is going to stand up for convicted criminals. The problem you have in Colorado is that ex-cons aren’t voting when they have the right to, not the opposite. And the reason is, if an illegal voter voted, the chances he’d get arrested are 100 percent.
“You’ve got these mass purges of thousands and thousands of so-called ineligible voters – but if there are illegal registrants, arrest them. And believe me, they’ve tried. This is one of the points David Iglesias and others have tried to make. [Iglesias was a U.S. Attorney in New Mexico who was fired in 2006.] Iglesias is a staunch McCain supporter, a good Republican. But he also said that he was handed more than a hundred names by the GOP and friends of so-called fraudulent voters, and after two years of investigating the case, he couldn’t find one fraudulent voter in New Mexico. Not one. These fictional voters turned out to be non-fiction. And that’s what was behind the firing of U.S. Attorneys. The people who were fired were refusing to arrest people on spurious, flimsy charges.
“It’s a gotcha game. You have Coffman’s office stone-cold lying about their mass purges and removals, Coffman’s office stonewalling any explanation. And the reason Coffman’s office won’t give us the data is because they know they can’t bullshit me. I walk in with the statistics and the reports, and I’m a statistician and investigator by trade. And the Democratic Party – I’m sorry, but they’re seriously out to lunch. Their response to my raising the cry about disenfranchisement is that they were upset when I said, ‘Don’t mail in your ballots.’ Well, if you mail in your ballot, you’re out of your fucking mind, because there’s a very good chance they could be thrown away. If it’s the only way you can vote, vote that way – but don’t mail it. Walk it in. But the Obama campaign is worried that if voters hear what I said about not mailing it, people will throw away their ballot. Well, if you think that, they must assume Obama voters are dumber than fucking bricks. You don’t throw away your goddamn ballot. You walk it into your voting station, as permitted.
“Where are the fraudulent voters? Show them to me and I’ll cuff them personally. I’m friends with Dog the Bounty Hunter, and we’ll bring ‘em in for you. Just give me their names and addresses.
“In Colorado, you’ve got two-fisted thievery by the Republican Party and two hands over the eyeballs by the Democratic Party. But I’m not here for the Democrats or for the Republicans.
“I think in Colorado, the Democrats simply don’t have the sophistication, but they’re learning, they’re trying. I think it’s a great sign that they’ve brought in a sharp guy like Hultin. But there’s a refusal to face anyone down when there’s an electoral emergency declared. It’s just like before the 2004 election. Donetta Davidson, the purgin’ general, had an emergency purge of thousands of voters. Within ninety days of an election, you can have an emergency purge. Well, as far as I can tell, the only emergency was that it looked like Kerry might win the state. Now the emergency is that McCain might lose the state, not that there are thousands of illegal voters who’ll be showing up at the polls. If that’s the case, they’ve done a pretty fucking bad job if they haven’t arrested any of them now. If you’ve got lawbreakers, you don’t remove them from their right to vote, you remove them from the streets. But no one will talk if you just remove them from their right to vote, especially if they’re black or Hispanic or poor – and they might start talking if you started arresting people. Except then you’ve got the Iglesias problem. He said, ‘I won’t arrest innocent people.’
“Colorado is the Ohio and Florida of 2008, and even if Obama wins, to me, that still matters. It’s not about the Democrats. I’m not a Democrat. Me and Iglesias are of one mind on that. We don’t support Obama. We do support the right to vote. Of course, I’m not a Republican, either. He’s a big McCain supporter. I stay away from that stuff. I don’t care. I’m not just nonpartisan because I’m a BBC reporter, which bars me from partisanship. I can’t get excited about either candidate. But I really do give a shit about people getting screwed out of their vote.
“Let’s say Obama wins, but Colorado is stolen. The problem then is, you govern without the electorate, and the Democratic Party learns that if you take care of the bankers and the big donors, you don’t need no goddamn voters. And you’ve already seen what happens when you have an unelected government. You have Iraq and New Orleans. New Orleans wouldn’t have happened if Bush actually thought he needed the votes. If you think you’re above the electorate, then it’s dangerous not just because it’s unfair. It’s dangerous because it’s not a democracy anymore.” -- Michael Roberts
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.