"Theft of the Presidency"


Thursday, February 15, 2001

by Greg Palast

View the full video here.

GREG PALAST: Washington, the marine band plays 'Hail to the Chief' for George W Bush, 43rd President of the United States. But in Florida, some are singing 'Hail to the Thief'.

COUNTRY SONG: After hundreds of lies
Fake alibis

PALAST: We are coming into Tallahassee. We want to know whether George W Bush won the election or did brother Jeb steal it for him? Our investigation suggest the answer lies in this shuttered building and in a very expensive contract between Governor Jeb's division of elections and a private company named DBT, which accidentally wiped off the voter rolls thousands of Democratic voters. 18th floor division of elections, we have come to ask Mr Clayton Roberts, the director, a few questions. Roberts agreed to talk, but became a bit uncomfortable when he learned that we had obtained the secret DBT contract, and asked him if he knew what DBT were up to.

CLAYTON ROBERTS: Florida Director of Elections No, I didn't ask DBT. They do what we contract them to do. We have a statute that says we have to have a private company to do this. We put it out for bid, we put it out for bid, and I think I'm done with this interview.

PALAST: Let me just show you the contract if I could Mr Roberts. It says here in the contract that the verification is supposed to be done by DBT. That you paid them $4 million. It could look to others don't you think that you paid $4 million to purchase this election for the Republican party. 95% wrong on the felon list. Mr. Roberts, could you answer the question regarding the contract... Instead, Mr Roberts called out State troopers. It's interesting here?

STATE TROOPER: Oh, man! Never a dull moment.

PALAST: I don't know why he had to call the police. We hadn't gotten to our difficult questions yet! The difficult questions are: Did Governor Jeb Bush, his Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and her Director of Elections, Clayton Roberts, know they had wrongly barred 22,000 black, Democrat voters before the elections? After the elections did they use their powers to prevent the count of 20,000 votes for the Democrats? The Democrats say the answers to both questions are yes.

COMMISSIONER: In any other country in the world, if this had occurred, there probably would have been riots or military troops throughout the streets.

PARTY CHAIRMAN: Al Gore won the election. He won the popular vote and he won the vote in Florida. I think that that's pretty clear.

VOTER: It wasn't done fairly. They shouldn't allow you to contest an election then give you no way to contest it.

LEGISLATOR: Jeb Bush promised his brother he was going to deliver Florida. I believe the Republicans strategy was at all costs we deliver Florida.

CAMPAIGNER: Were people taken out of polls and stopped from voting? Yes, I think that was not right. I smell a rat!

PALAST: This is Database Technologies. This is the company that the state of Florida hired to remove the names of people who committed serious crimes from the voter lists. I have obtained a document marked "confidential and trade secret". It says the company was paid millions of dollars to make telephone calls to verify they got the right names - but they didn't. There is nothing in the state of Florida files that says they made these telephone calls. So the question remains, why did the Republican leaders of this state pay millions for a list that stopped thousands of innocent Democrats from voting? The first list from DBT included 8,000 names from Texas supplied by George Bush's state officials. They said they were all felons, serious criminals barred from voting. As it turns out, almost none were. Local officials raised a ruckus and DBT issued a new list naming 58,000 felons. But the one county which went through the whole expensive process of checking the new list name by name found it was still 95% wrong. Reverend Willie Whiting was one of those removed from voter roles after DBT wrongly labelled him a serious criminal.

REVEREND WILLIE WHITING: I have never spent a night in jail.

PALAST: Were you ever busted?

WHITING: No. I had a speeding ticket probably 25-30 years ago, I guess, but that's about it.

PALAST: Do you think you should be allowed to vote if you had a speeding ticket?

WHITING: Absolutely.

PALAST: The Florida legislature likes to see young prisoners paraded in front of the capital in old cavalry uniforms.

PRISON GUARD: Me and superman had a fight

PRISONERS: Me and superman had a fight

PRISON GUARD: I hit him in the head with some Kryptonite

PRISONERS: I hit him in the head with some Kryptonite

PALAST: More often than not in America, the prisoner's colour is black. Because of the way DBT generated the list, every genuine black felon in the United States could knock out every black voter in Florida with the same surname and similar date of birth. That's why the NAACP is suing Florida for violating voters' civil rights.

LARRY OTTINGER: Lawyer for NAACP Governor Bush, the Secretary of State Katherine Harris, Clayton Roberts, the head of elections, all knew or should have known in advance that certain election policies and practices would disproportionately impact low-income areas, and in particular black citizens and other minority citizens, and that this would disproportionately impact Democratic voters, based on historical voting trends.

AL GORE: Thank you, Florida!

PALAST: Altogether, it looks like this cost the Democrats about 22,000 votes in Florida, which George Bush won by only 537 votes. The US civil rights commission is also on the trail. They called in Bush, Harris and Roberts. Bush did not convince his critics.

UNNAMED MAN: You screwed up this state. You sealed the ballot.

PALAST: Commissioner Edley and his colleagues will be in Miami tomorrow to hear from voters wrongly disqualified.

DR CHRISTOPHER EDLEY: US Civil Rights Commissioner If you are going to do it, by all means as a matter of due process and fairness, it's got to be done with excruciating care. It's a democracy, the vote counts. There is a lot of public concern that the contractor selected is a firm that seems to have ties to the Republican party.

PALAST: They will be putting our evidence to Database Technologies. Their vice-president told us that "manual verification by telephone calls" does not mean ringing people up to check they have got the right person. So were they paid to produce a list which they knew would name thousands of innocent black people? In fact DBT told Newsnight that Clayton Roberts and the State of Florida: "... wanted there to be more names than were actually verified as being a convicted felon." So did they use their powers to prevent the count of 20,000 votes for the Democrats? You don't have to be black. In Palm Beach, America's privileged nurse their tans and their anger.

UNNAMED WOMAN: I thought I voted for Al Gore but unfortunately I voted for Pat Buchanan, and I wasn't happy about that, because I am a Jewish voter and he would have been the last person in the world I would have voted for.

PALAST: Whacky butterfly ballots caused thousands in this Democrat town to accidentally mess up and they were refused replacement ballots promised them by state law.

JOANNE CARBONE: From the time the elections started until that awful decision that the Supreme Court made, I came across hundreds of people who made a mistake and I saw over 13,000 complaints filed by people who live in Palm Beach county.

PALAST: In all, Palm Beach voting machines misread 27,000 ballots. Jeb Bush's Secretary of State, Katharine Harris, stopped them counting these votes by hand. She did the same to Gadstone, one of Florida's blackest, poorest and most Democrat counties, where machines failed to count one in eight ballots. Again Harris stopped the hand count. This alone cost Gore another 700 votes, in an election in which Harris declared George Bush winner by only 537 votes.

KATHARINE HARRIS: In accordance with the laws of the State of Florida, I hereby declare Governor George W Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes for the President of the United States.

PALAST: Harris was a busy woman. In charge of Florida's vote count and co-chair of Bush's presidential campaign.

LOIS FRANKEL: Had she really been unbiased? Wouldn't the appropriate actions for her to be to say - let's really get to the bottom of this election and let's make sure every vote is counted.

PALAST: Lois Frankel represents Palm Beach, in the State legislature where she leads the Democratic opposition.

FRANKEL: She wanted George Bush to win. She interpreted every rule, every law in a way to help George Bush.

PALAST: We are driving down to Miami to witness an American ritual. In Britain, you count the votes, then announce the winner. In Florida they declare the winner first and here we are, still counting the votes.

WOMAN'S VOICE: She is showing the ballot in front of the light. They can see the light through where the chads have been punched through. Then she holds it in front because sometimes you can see things in different light. They have a whole column.

PALAST: Normally these are machine-read, right?

UNNAMED WOMAN: Right.

PALAST: They are carefully going through the 179,855 uncounted ballots that Harris did not want tallied. They'll know the winner next month. Sources tell Newsnight that Gore's ahead by 20,000 votes. The Biltmore, grandest hotel in Miami. Democrats are upstairs eating with their richest friends charging $5,000 a plate. Let's see if we can get in. Not far away from the millionaires on the balcony a voter had taken hostages at gun point protesting against the election fraud. But here it is back to champagne politics as usual. One Democrat whispered they would have done the same as Katharine Harris if they had the chance. But another, party chairman, Bob Poe remains bitter about this.

BOB POE: Chairman, Florida Democrats Jeb Bush, Katharine Harris, Clay Roberts did everything they could to stop every legitimate count of the vote. And that's what did us in.

PALAST: All fingers point to the Jeb Bush crew in Tallahassee. Investigators want to breakthrough the iron shutters.

EDLEY: I have to say that thus far we have been disappointed by the explanations, or perhaps I should say the lack of explanation provided by the state officials. When we spoke with the Governor and the Secretary of State and even with the Director of the Bureau of Elections underneath the Secretary of State, they were pointing fingers at everybody else, saying "look it wasn't our responsibility", they were in charge, which is a disheartening disquieting thing for us to hear - who should be held accountable for what clearly was a system that broke down.

PALAST: State officials point the finger at the counties and say it is their responsibility to check if the names on the list are real felons before disqualifying them. Clayton Roberts says his job is just to pass on the list. Roberts now admits he didn't bother to check with DBT, if innocent people were on it.

ROBERTS: Please turn off that camera.

PALAST: Off camera he said: We did not call and say did you check the list again... the whole tenor of this is like OK you screwed up you didn't check with DBT and if you want to hang this on me that's fine. It is certainly fine for George W Bush. Even if investigators conclude that Jeb Bush and the Republicans conspired to steal this election, the man in that house for the next four years will be George W Bush.
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