Throughout the 2016 US election campaign one of Donald Trump’s main refrains was “this election is rigged.”
Turns out this particular Trump election rallying cry wasn’t a lie… Well, not entirely.
A new investigation by Channel 4 has revealed the mechanisms used by Cambridge Analytica for Republicans to disenfranchise ethnic voters while Trump gaslit everybody about voter fraud.
EXCLUSIVE—Trump’s election campaign wanted to deter millions of Black Americans from voting in 2016.— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) September 28, 2020
The ‘Deterrence’ project can be revealed after Channel 4 News obtained the database used by Trump's digital campaign team #DeterringDemocracy
?WATCH NOW https://t.co/ln6GqReCLv
Veteran election investigator Greg Palast raised the issue with The London Economic at the time. Here’s what he told us.
“The election was already fixed”
“Before a single vote was even cast, the election was already fixed by Trump operatives,” Palast told TLE reporter Ben Gelblum in 2016.
“This country is violently divided. There simply aren’t enough white guys to elect Trump nor a Republican Senate. The only way they could win was to eliminate the votes of non-white guys—and they did so by tossing black provisional ballots into the dumpster, new strict voter ID laws that saw students and low income voters turned away—the list goes on.”
Palast has spent the past decade and a half investigating and identifying several techniques used to suppress ethnic minority and young votes – the voters that statistically vote Democrat.
And this is surely the biggest and most unreported scandal of the most bizarre election any of us can recall.
Biggest unreported scandal ever
According to The Guardian, Palast is the “most important investigative reporter of our time – up there with Woodward and Bernstein.” The fast-talking fedora-topped reporter has investigated election irregularities for publications such as The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and BBC’s Newsnight, ever since the controversial Bush v Gore election in 2000.
The 2000 election was too close to call without Florida, where votes were counted and recounted for weeks before George W Bush won the state by a margin of just 537 votes out of almost 6 million, and as a result the presidency. Palast uncovered the purge of 56,000 black voters in Florida – wrongly deleted from voter rolls as ex-felons.
Now Palast’s investigative team are certain that vote suppression techniques were instrumental in Trump’s Republican presidential and Senate victory.
“For years I have been following the American election process which is nothing like in England,” says Palast. “Election manipulation is a very big factor in US elections. I found we had a massive problem in Florida in 2000, similarly in 2004 in Ohio with tens of thousands of invalidated votes. And now we are back at it again.”
Hysteria and conspiracy theories
So why were Trump and his acolytes constantly drawing attention to vote rigging during the campaign?
Trump was constantly banging on about debunked claims of large scale voter fraud, urging supporters to volunteer to monitor the polls, and creating an atmosphere where hysteria and conspiracy theories abounded.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, talked about busloads of people voting numerous times in some big cities. He also quipped that “dead people generally vote for Democrats, rather than Republicans.”
Yet truly, you are more likely to be struck by lightning in the next year (a one in 1,042,000 chance, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) than to find a case of voter fraud by impersonation (31 in over a billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014, according to Loyola law school’s research).
Trump allies often cited the fact that Mitt Romney failed to win a single vote in 59 out of 1,687 Philadelphia precincts that happened to be almost entirely black. But with their demographic make up it’s no surprise why and investigations by Philadelphia’s Republican Party and the Philadelphia Inquirer found nothing untoward. Nationwide, 93 per cent of black voters voted for Barack Obama that year.
In 2012, an Arizona State University study concluded: “while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.”
The ultimate smokescreen
So despite the lack of evidence or convictions for the crime of multiple voting, certain Republican figures devised draconian systems to prevent it, which have also served to deny electorally significant sections of the population of their right to vote. – Disproportionately ethnic votes, which are way more likely to be Democrats.
And now the election is over, according to Palast, Trump’s increasing hysteria about vote rigging served as the ultimate smokescreen for a systematic denial of hundreds of thousands of crucial votes in the name of preventing fraud.
As a response to constant paranoia about voter fraud, 30 mainly Republican states have adopted a system called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program (Crosscheck), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
This system was devised in 2005 by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, better known as the anti-immigration fanatic responsible for Trump’s idea of building a wall on the US / Mexico border and getting Mexico to pay for it. Kobach, like Trump, has given lip service to conspiracy theories, especially ones that bolster fears of the growing influence of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. And now, interestingly he has been rewarded by Trump with a job on his Transition Team as adviser on immigration.
Kobach convinced other states, including crucial swing states such as Michigan and North Carolina, to share their voter lists to look for the same name potentially registered to vote in more than one state. Crosscheck supposedly matches first, middle and last name, plus birth date, and provides the last four digits of a Social Security number for additional verification.
Seems like a sensible method to stop people voting more than once in separate states. Only it soon became clear that Crosschecking was neither accurate nor fair and was not being used as it should. Some states including Florida dropped out of the program due to doubts about the reliability of its data — though other states joined despite these concerns.
Palast’s team discovered Crosscheck had amassed a list of 7.2 million people registered to vote accused of being potential double registered voters.
Yet despite such an enormous list of suspects, there has only been four arrests.
“It is a crime to deliberately register to vote twice,” says Palast. “You go to jail for five years. And to organise double voting on a significant scale is practically impossible. They are basically arresting no one – about four arrests out of a list which identified around seven million potential double voters, and I doubt these arrests are even due to the list.”
Palast’s team managed (legally) to get hold of over 2 million names identified as potential double registered voters and soon began to spot obvious mistakes. The failsafes of National Insurance number and date of birth meant to make the system foolproof were not attached and appeared to have been ignored.
“The most common name in the world is Mohamed Mohamed,” explains Palast, scanning through the list of names, “so for example under this Trump hit list, Mohamed Said Mohamed is supposed to be the same voter as Mohamed Osman Mohamed – in fact about one out of four middle names don’t match and Jr and Sr don’t match – so for example with James Brown a very common black name – they are matching James Brown Sr to James Brown Jr and saying it’s the same voter and then the middle names don’t even match.”
U.S. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of 100 of the most common last names. “If your name is Washington, there’s an 89 percent chance you’re African-American,” says Palast. “If your last name is Hernandez, there’s a 94 percent chance you’re Hispanic.”
Trump’s hit list
This inherent bias results in an astonishing one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian-Americans and one in nine African-Americans in Crosscheck states landing on what Palast dubs “Trump’s hit list.”
Potential double registrants were sent a postcard and asked to verify their address by mailing it back. “The junk mail experts we spoke to said this postcard is meant not to be returned. It’s inscrutable small print, doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t even say you’re accused of voting twice. It just says, please confirm your voting address,” explains Palast, “and most people of colour, poor voters don’t respond to this sort of mailing and they know that.”
According to the Census Bureau, white voters are 21 percent more likely than blacks or Hispanics to respond to official requests; homeowners are 32 percent more likely to respond than renters; and the young are 74 percent less likely than the old to respond. Those on the move – students and the poor, who often shift apartments while hunting for work – might not get the mail in the first place.
So if a few older white people, more likely to vote Republican were caught up in the mainly ethnic hit list, they were more likely to return the card and retain their right to vote. If you do not reply to the missive, state officials have discretion over what to do next, and the process varies from state to state. What Palast’s investigation made clear is ethnic voters were disproportionately likely to be targeted and purged from voter lists.
Ethnic voters “disproportionately likely” to be purged from voter lists
All this despite other states choosing a more reliable system to prevent double voting: the Electronic Registration Information Center, (ERIC) – adopted by 20 member states plus the District of Columbia, according to its website. A 2013 report found ERIC actually boosted voter registration and turnout and eliminated errors in voter files.
Palast’s investigators calculated 1.1 million people, many spread over crucial swing states were deprived of their right to vote last Tuesday.
According to the exit polls last Tuesday, 88 per cent of black voters voted for Hillary Clinton, as well as 65 per cent of hispanic and asian American voters.
“The list is loaded overwhelmingly with voters of colour and the poor,” says Palast. “Many didn’t discover that their vote was stolen until they turned up last Tuesday and found their name missing. In the US they are given something called a provisional ballot, but if your name is not on the voter roll, you can fill out all the provisional votes you like they’re not going to count your vote. – They can’t even if you’re wrongly removed.
“Trump’s victory margin in Michigan was 13,107 and the Michigan Crosscheck purge list was 449,922. Trump’s victory margin in Arizona- 85,257, Arizona Crosscheck purge list- 270,824;. Trump’s victory margin in North Carolina was 177,008 and the North Carolina Crosscheck purge list had 589,393 people on it.”
Crosscheck was by no means the only method that came to light to disenfranchise voters more likely to vote Democrat.
Palast also cites statistics on vote spoilage – “In the UK, glitches, spoiled or empty ballots are random, but here, the US Civil Rights Commission found in Florida you are 900 per cent more likely to lose your vote to spoilage if you are black than if you are white.” Statistician Philip Clinker author of the study, has said that this is typical nationwide, and according to Palast, if anything, the situation has got worse since the 2000 study.
“African American Early Voting is Down”
In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned part of the Voting Rights Act enacted in 1965 at the heart of the Civil Right Movement to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. This allowed all kinds of shenanigans in the lead up to last week that previously could have been challenged by the Department of Justice.
In North Carolina, for example, Republicans even bragged: “African American Early Voting is Down.”
This after a federal court federal court found their voting restrictions “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
States, particularly those controlled by Republicans, made several changes this year, such as stricter voter ID laws and restricting polling booths, to make voting harder in a way that targeted generally Democrat-voting ethnic minority voters. There were reports of ridiculously long queues. As this is not the first election this has happened in, it appears to be a deliberate tactic.
Harvard’s Stephen Pettigrew who studies polling lines found that ethnic minority voters were six times more likely to have to stand in line for over an hour. And losing out on work from disproportionately long queues costs people in ethnic minority areas proportionately more in lost income, which also puts them off voting next time. Pettigrew estimated that 200,000 people did not vote in 2014 because of queues encountered in 2012.
“Election day was marred by long lines due to cuts in early voting and 868 fewer polling places,” adds Palast, “to say nothing of the untold millions who were unable to vote due to restrictive voter ID and felon disenfranchisement laws.”
During the election last week, Palast also made a shocking discovery about voting machines in Ohio – one of the states in which he found many black voters were disenfranchised by a mixture of the Crosscheck and other systems, and exit polls differed markedly from the counted votes.
“In the state of Ohio they have fancy new machines which can record an image of your vote and an anti-hacking function. They were turned off,” explains Palast. “I went to court with Bob Fitrakis a law professor in Ohio to have this overturned. I went into the judge’s chamber, and there the Republicans did not deny that it was turned off but they said to turn it back on would create havoc. – This after the FBI had issued a warning that they feared the machines would be hacked.
“If you get such a warning, why would you turn off the anti-hacking mechanism? All this means we will never know if the machines were hacked and how many votes were lost if there was a challenge as there was no image of the vote recorded.”
A disaster for democracy
Greg Palast’s documentary and book last year The Best Democracy Money Can Buy further details his warnings about voter suppression techniques we haven’t even mentioned in this article.
“I stuck my neck out last year, saying they would steal this election, and I really hoped I would be left looking like an idiot.
“Turns out I was right though,” he adds. “The problem with the electoral college is a few thousand votes in tiny states can flip an election.”
An election President Elect Donald J Trump won despite still trailing nationwide in the popular vote. A problem Donald Trump railed about too in the past, calling it “a disaster for democracy.”
Civil rights organisation NAACP, which nine times managed to see off voter suppression of hundreds of thousands of votes in the federal courts over the past few months, is now mounting a legal battle to reinstate fully the Voter Registration Act.
Palast and his team are certain that the chicanery they and others uncovered more than explains the difference between the outcome polls predicted and the result of the presidential and senate elections – especially when it comes to the exit polls taken as people had just voted.
“Crosscheck does not account for all the shoplifting, but if you put it together with the other nine methods to steal votes that I identified, there’s little question that the exit polls were correct and Hillary Clinton won, or at least more voters voted for her in the swing states. Obviously she won the popular vote, but we have an electoral college system. If they counted all the votes in all the swing states the traditionally highly accurate exit polls would have been accurate,” adds Palast.
Electoral Integrity blogger Theodore de Macedo Soares drew attention to the bizarre discrepancy between computer counted official vote counts and exit polls last week, writing: “According to the exit polls conducted by Edison Research, Clinton won four key battleground states (NC, PA, WI, and FL) in the 2016 Presidential Election that she went on to lose in the computerised vote counts. With these states Clinton wins the Electoral College with a count of 302 versus 205 for Trump. Clinton also won the national exit poll by 3.2 per cent and holds a narrow lead in the national vote count still in progress. Exit polls were conducted in 28 states. In 23 states the discrepancies between the exit polls and the vote count favoured Trump. In 13 of these states the discrepancies favoring Trump exceeded the margin of error of the state.”
Systematic electoral rigging
Palast believes such discrepancies, some far greater than any acceptable margin of error are indicative of systematic electoral rigging to steal Democrat votes:
“The bane of pre-election polling is that pollsters must adjust for the likelihood of a person voting. Exit polls solve the problem. The US State Department uses exit polling to determine whether you accept the outcome of a foreign election. The Brexit exit polls were extremely accurate. Yet in the Ukraine the US does not accept the result of the 2004 election because of the exit poll mismatch with the final official count.
“And here for example in North Carolina we have the exit poll raw data at 2.1 per cent favouring victory by Clinton, yet she loses by 3.8 per cent in the final count. In Pennsylvania 4.4 per cent victory suddenly became a 1.2 per cent loss; Wisconsin: 3.9 per cent victory becomes a 1 per cent loss; Florida: 1.1 per cent victory becomes a 1 per cent loss.
“In the swing States we have this massive red shift because when people come out of the votes, exit pollsters can only ask, “How did you vote?” What they don’t ask, and can’t, is, “Was your vote counted?””
Kris Kobach did not give us a comment, but a statement from Kris Kobach’s office on the Crosscheck program said it had been used for over a decade, and insisted “merely appearing as a potential match does not subject a voter to removal from a participating states’ voter registration roll/record. Ineligible and/or unqualified persons who are registered voters are only removed from a states’ voter registration roll/record if the person is subject to removal pursuant to applicable state and federal elections provisions.”
Kobach’s Kansas Secretary of State office also added this regarding Kansas procedures: “First, the interstate crosscheck program is a program used by a bi-partisan group of Secretaries of State to enhance current list maintenance procedures used by each state. There are no racial characteristics attached to any record used within the system. Secondly, the program does not match only on first name and surname, the program requires an exact match of first name, last name and date of birth. I have not seen any research that claims that black, Latino, and Asian Americans are more likely to match exactly on first name, last name, and date of birth compared to other groups of Americans. Third, before any voter registration record is removed in Kansas, the voter must confirm the information is correct. If the registered voter receives the postcard and does not respond, no action is taken…. If the confirmation notice is returned by the post office as undeliverable the election office will change the voter registration status to ‘inactive’ and wait for the registered voter to miss two consecutive general elections before cancelling the voter registration record. No person is removed for not responding to the mailing.”