This week on Brian Ross Investigates, investigative reporter Greg Palast takes on Georgia’s new election law, asking how this one local Republican party official was able to personally challenge the eligibility of some 32,000 voters.
Brian Ross: We begin with a new investigative report out of Georgia and what might be called The Great Purge. The Georgia Secretary of State says his office is going to remove some 100,000 people from the voter registration lists. People, he says, have not been active, have not voted in some time. But there’s yet another purge being demanded. This one by Republican party officials in Georgia who say they are now challenging the eligibility of some 360,000 voters, something they say they can legally do under Georgia’s new voting laws.
Rhonda Schwartz: That’s right, Brian, and now comes investigative reporter, Greg Palast, with backing from the progressive Thom Hartmann Report, with a new investigation looking into who’s behind all this and how they’re using a new provision in George’s new state voting law to challenge so many voters claiming they’ve changed addresses, they moved out of state, all without it seems any personal knowledge or investigation into the underlying facts.
Ross: To learn more about this, we’re joined now by investigative reporter Greg Palast with the Palast Investigative Fund. Greg, tell us about this new provision in the Georgia voting rights law.
Greg Palast: The new Georgia law says that any citizen of Georgia can challenge an unlimited number of voters.
Ross: The precise language from the law: “There shall not be a limit on the number of persons whose qualifications such elector may challenge.“
Palast: And right after this law was passed, there was a revival of a challenge to the votes of 364,000 Georgia voters.
Ross: And who made these challenges?
Palast: Well, there are 88 operatives of a group called True the Vote. Almost all of them were Republican officials of one type or another… We had one official who personally challenged 32,000 voters.
Ross: That was Pamela Reardon, a Cobb County Republican party official who told Palast how she got the 32,000 voters names to challenge from a conservative group called True the Vote, which researches change of address data nationwide.
Palast: She claims that she knows for a fact that these are voters ineligible to vote.
Ross: But when Palast showed her photos of two of the 32,000 voters, she challenged [she was unable to identify them]. And, in fact, did not know any of the voters she’s challenged, whether they were eligible or not… Yet she had certified she knew as a fact they were not legal voters.
Palast: That’s correct. She never called anyone. She never wrote anyone. She never did any personal investigation, and neither did any of the other 88 who challenged a third of a million voters. Just no attempt to do this correctly at all.
Ross: If the counties accept the challenges, officials are required to send postcards to notify all those voters that their eligibility has been challenged.
Ross: So what about these voters? Do they know they’ve been challenged? And how do they make sure they can vote legally?
Palast: Well, two things… The ones we spoke to said they were shocked and stunned because they never got any contact from Ms. Reardon or from True the Vote, or anyone. Now Reardon says that she wanted the county to send out postcards to all these people. And according to the ACLU, which was shocked when they heard that they’re reviving this attempt to challenge these voters… The lawyer for the ACLU told us that you have to have some care, some personal knowledge. You know, you can’t just, willy-nilly, remove voters from the voter rolls. Now here’s what you have to do if you want to get back on [the voter rolls]. You must go to your county clerk’s office. You have to see that you got a card, you have to go to the county clerk’s office and prove you are who you are, and live where you live. There’s a day off work. And very few people will respond to that card. In fact, the ACLU was worried that people would, because you’d have thousands of people jamming into these clerk’s offices. If this goes ahead during a pandemic in these small offices, it’s not a good idea.
Ross: So as it stands now, for those more than 300,000 voters, they’re off the rolls or they have to prove they’re eligible?
Palast: Well… right now the county is supposed to be sending out those postcards and each of those voters is going to have to come in and verify who they are, or the next time they cast a ballot, it will be thrown in the garbage. It won’t count.
Brian Ross is an award-winning investigative journalist who served as ABC News’ Chief Investigative Correspondent, where his reports were featured extensively in “World News Tonight with David Muir,” “Nightline,” “Good Morning America,” and “20/20.”
Prior to joining ABC News, Ross worked for 20 years at NBC News, reporting for the “NBC Nightly News” and “Dateline NBC.”
Ross began his professional career in 1971 as a reporter at KWWL-TV in Waterloo, Iowa. He later worked at WCKT-TV in Miami and WKYC-TV in Cleveland. A Chicago native, he is a graduate of the University of Iowa.
Ross received the 2007 Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting for a two-part “20/20” undercover investigation into retail pharmacy errors, focusing on large drugstore chains, including CVS and Walgreens.
In 2012 Ross earned his sixth George Polk Award, sixth Peabody Award and two Emmy Awards, including best investigation in a news magazine story for his “20/20” investigation “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed,” which exposed the cover-up of sexual abuse of Peace Corps volunteers and led to Congressional hearings and calls for new legislation. He was also awarded with a 2012 Gracie Award for the report.
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