California Primary:
Returning to the Scene of Crime

Greg Palast

by Greg Palast with Dennis J Bernstein for Reader Supported News
If-every-vote -counted-BBB-TedRallThis week on The Best Democracy Money Can Buy — Election Crimes Bulletin — the Crime Scene: California. The Crime? Two million votes still not counted. One million ballots already disqualified, thrown away. Another million so-called provisional “placebo” ballots. Here’s the story of the voting horror show you won’t get on Fox or MSDNC.

TRANSCRIPT (Originally broadcast on June 8, 2016)

Dennis J. Bernstein: This week, were going to do a postmortem on yesterdays California primary. Greg, I know you were out there. You were also trying to vote?

Greg Palast: I think we need to get a long piece of yellow tape that says “crime scene” and wrap it around the state of California. It was ugly… Days before the election the polls were showing it was a dead heat between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton, with Sanders rising. How could it be what the AP called “a crushing victory” with so-called 96% of the vote counted? The answer is that 96% of the vote has not been counted.

Specifically, the mail-in ballots, which tend to be the Democratic Party regulars, were counted first — they’re all Hillary folk. She’s leading among registered Democrats by about 30%. But those who got NPP, that means that they’re independent, No Party Preference ballots, that’s just about the second biggest party in California, a no party… 15% of the people who had those mailed them back in, which is quite a process… Of those ballots, maybe 100,000 were mailed yesterday [Tuesday June 6], a couple hundred thousand total this week. Those have not been received, let alone counted yet. They haven’t been received by the registrar yet, so they can’t have been counted. And those are overwhelmingly voters for Sanders (according to the Golden State Poll, he has a 40% lead among those). Again, those votes have not been received by the boards of elections, let alone counted.

And then, the big one, the really big one, we’re talking provisional ballots. From what I’ve seen at my polling station, and I think it’s quite typical, 15% of the entire vote went into provisional ballots. We’ve discussed those babies before. They’re placebo ballots. They make you think you voted. Whether you get a real ballot or a placebo provisional ballot, in California they give you these little stickers that say “I voted” that you can wear. But the problem is that the 15% of the people who got provisional ballots — so we’re talking up to a quarter million voters — those people may have the “I voted” sticker but it should say: “I don’t know if I voted, because I don’t know if my vote counted.” And it probably won’t be counted. Those, again, are overwhelmingly Sanders voters. At my poll, and every other poll I’ve gotten reporting from, the provisional ballots are given out like candy to the NPP voters. That is, the independent voters who asked for Democratic ballots so they could vote for Senator Sanders. They, for the most part, were either shoved to the provisionals automatically, or handed one if there was some minor problem.

For example, a woman in front of me, was crying— a Sanders voter. She had brought in her NPP ballot to exchange for a Democratic Party ballot, which is her absolute right, but she didn’t bring the envelope. And at my station, and in most of the state, if you didn’t bring in the envelope with your ballot for an exchange, you didn’t get a regular ballot, you got a provisional ballot. And if you didn’t bring in any ballot and said, “I’m an NPP voter, look up on the list, you’ll see my name. I have the right to a Democratic Party ballot.”…If you didn’t bring in your other ballot, the old ballot, forget it. It’s either provisional or nothing, and you were sent away.

So the vote is not over in California. I’m happy to do an autopsy, a postmortem on that election, except that the victim ain’t died yet. Before we conduct an autopsy on the Sanders campaign in California, I think we ought to wait, decently, until he’s actually dead — because he may have won!

DB: How long has this been going on? Should this be going on? When can people really expect to get some kind of feedback on this? Who are they going to pursue, or is this just lost in the abyss?

Palast: Well, two things: Those 100,000 or 200,000 votes that were mailed in in the past couple of days, yesterday (June 7) and the day before (June 6), the state of California will count those, and they’re almost certainly overwhelmingly Bernie voters — if Bernie doesn’t throw in the towel. There will be pressure on him to say, “Come on man, give it up.” In other states he has waived away additional counting and recounts. Those should be counted, unless Sanders does that sort of gentlemanly thing he’s been doing and just waive it off. I hope he doesn’t, because I want to see that vote. It’s very, very important as far as I’m concerned. Because this is the democracy, it’s not about his campaign, it’s about democracy. It’s not about the Democratic Party.

The second thing are the provisional ballots. A poll worker told the woman in front of me: “Don’t worry, fill out a provisional ballot, we’ll count it.” I said: “No, they won’t count it. Because if you didn’t follow the procedure, if anyone wants to challenge you, your vote is knocked out.”

There were all these newly registered folks who lost their vote. My co-host at KPFK here in Los Angeles, Cary Harrison, who has been voting for many, many years, was twice turned down from voting. Then they sent him on a scavenger hunt to other precincts. When he got to the third attempt to vote at a third precinct, they refused to let him vote in the Democratic primary, which is his right as an independent voter. He called the cops, and the cops came in, and suddenly the poll workers followed the law. How about that?

DB: He had to call the police to vote?

Palast: He had to call the police to vote.

DB: Ive been keeping track of this too. A lot of young people, a lot of first time voters, were misled or devastated when they had the information but they still couldnt get the proper ballot.

Palast: They couldn’t get the proper ballot. Also, a lot of people registered and didn’t find their name on the voter rolls, and then they got provisional ballots. You’ve got to understand, if your name is not on the voter rolls, they’ll give you a provisional ballot. But that doesn’t mean they’ll count the vote. They won’t. If your name is not on the roll, it doesn’t matter if you registered but they never got around to putting you on. Remember, you’ve got to count on those clerks…

In terms of sheer numbers, yesterday was the most biased election I have seen in the United States. Just cause of the shear number of people who were shafted out of their votes, probably in the area of 400,000 to 500,000 in a single state. Most states don’t even have that many voters! So in terms of just the monster size of the disappearing vote, it was the biggest I’ve seen. But that has to do with California’s size. It’s shameful because it’s a one party state. It’s the Democratic Party, there is no real other party. This was just the Democratic establishment beating the crap out of the new young voters.

What we saw yesterday is fascinating because for the first time, in a long time, we had upper-middle class white voters, the Bernie Sanders supporters, who were treated as if they’d turned black. This is obstacle course voting, where you have to bring in the envelope, and you have to change this, and you have to call that, and your registration is missing, and you’re sent to another precinct, and you’re given a provisional ballot. It’s called a black ballot, back of the bus ballots, because they were almost always given to voters of color. And suddenly you have hundreds of thousands of white folk getting a ballot that they’ve never seen, called the provisional ballot — that’s new!

The problem for Hillary here, frankly, is that all these tricks that were used yesterday — and I’m not accusing her of designing that, I don’t know what her role was — she should be standing up and saying, “That is not the democracy that we want to defend.” The Democratic Party is generally the victim, because most of the victims of these voter games, including the handing out provisional ballots, are directed at black folks, and in November Hillary will miss those votes that get flushed out of the system.

DB: Let me ask you a question about the chain of custody. Those provisional ballots, who will count them? How will they be secured? Who will protect them?

Palast: That’s a very good question. Cause my poll worker says, “Oh, I decide which of these I’m going to count these myself. I’ll make that decision.” What? Huh? No! The problem with provisional ballots is that they are very easy to challenge. They’re supposed to be opened up with representatives of all parties available to review and make the decision whether a ballot should be counted or not. If someone says, “Oh, that person was not on the voter roll.” They can say, “Well, they’re not on the voter roll.” Even if their name was removed wrongly, they’re not on the voter roll. Their vote goes down the toilet.

Then there will be a fight over questions where people voted in the wrong precinct. Because they always vote at that same high school for 40 years, and suddenly their precinct got changed, as what happened to Cary Harrison. In Ohio this was a big battle. Out of precinct votes were not being counted, even though a citizen voted. I don’t know how California is going to handle this. There’s no rules being set down. There’s no system being set down. It is an unholy mess. I want to talk to the Secretary of State, Mr. Padilla, about this and find out what he’s doing with these hundreds of thousands of votes. I also want to ask my so-called fellow reporters at the AP how you can call an election and say 96% of the vote have been counted when 96% of the votes have not even been received by the voting officials.

DB: This is just the beginning of a new part of the election season, the run towards the presidency. We can expect all kinds of dirty tricks, all kinds of hurdles for our democracy to get over. Obviously, it’s an endangered species at this point — thats what were seeing in California. How does this set the tone for what comes next?

Palast: One of the things I’m really concerned with is within the last presidential race 2.1 million people were shunted to these placebo provisional ballots. You saw a massive number yesterday. I think it’s going to be a couple hundred thousand in just California. This is dangerous stuff. You just asked about procedure and custody of these provisional ballots, that’s what I’m hoping people will be asking now — not the day after the election, as we’re doing in California.

What’s going to be the procedure for handling these ballots in states like Ohio? Swing states, where you have hostile, nasty, and frankly racist secretaries of state. Like Jon Husted of Ohio and Kris Kobach in Kansas, these are people whose names you don’t know, but they’re the people that are going to be counting the votes. They are ultra-right wing. They have a history of hostility to voters of color and setting up obstacles. It’s not looking very good as we go forward into November. And don’t count on the Democratic Party, which, as you just saw yesterday, gets its hand dirty in the same voter suppression tactics that the Republicans use. It’s a very bad thing when the Democratic Party pulls off these stunts, because they lose any moral right to complain about them when they’re used against them. So don’t count on the political parties, don’t count on the Democrats to save voters of color. It ain’t going to happen. They’ve never done it.

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Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, which will be released as a feature documentary movie this fall. Get your name in the movie credits! The deadline to do so is 4. July 2016.

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Dennis J. Bernstein is the executive producer of Flashpoints, syndicated on Pacifica Radio, and is the recipient of a 2015 Pillar Award for his work as a journalist whistleblower. He is most recently the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.