In addition to being the author of the excellent best-seller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, award winning investigative journalist Greg Palast also hosts the BBC-produced exposes of the Bush family, Bush Family Fortunes, which has aired in countries all over the world except, coincidentally, in America, where the Bush family happens to rule. In the documentary, Palast uncovered many of the details that proved the theft of the 2000 Presidential election and exposed disturbing connections between the Bushes and the Bin Ladens. Currently, Palast is working with Martin Luther King III to bring attention to the fact that our democracy is being hijacked via computerized voting machines.
HUSTLER: Is the fix in on the 2004 election?
PALAST: You may have already voted in 2004; they just haven’t told you how. Last year, our President signed a law, with little fanfare, called the Help America Vote Act. As soon as the Bush family tells us that they’re gonna help us vote, I say, “Look out.” Sure enough, go into the details of it, and it has that old Florida swamp smell. I’ve been working with Martin Luther King III, and he’s calling this the Floridation of the nation. This law is going to provide $3.9 billion of your tax money to computerize the voting systems of America. We’re going to have computer screens in the voting booths. The administration has put to death any plan that would allow you to have some type of backup paper ballot or receipt. Which is pretty strange when you think about it. You get a Slurpee from a 7-Eleven; you get a receipt. You vote for President of the United States, and you get no record to prove exactly how you voted.
HUSTLER: So you’re saying the Bush Administration is trying to thwart ballotmachine paper trails behind the scenes?
PALAST: Absolutely. The whole law is being handled behind the scenes. No one even knows what the heck is in this Act. I’ve actually read every word of it. My staff has gone through it pretty carefully, which is quite different than any politician I’ve run into so far. The preamble sounds really good ‘motherhood and apple pie’: “It was just terrible that legal voters were not allowed to vote in Florida, and we don’t want a repeat of the Florida debacle.” What they’ve done is packaged Florida and imposed it on every other state.
HUSTLER: Why should we be suspicious of these computer machines?
PALAST: If you’ve ever had a Windows document, you sure as heck know it’s about as reliable as any other computer system. Except with this one you have more at stake: Who’s going to run this planet? We just had an election in Texas in which three Republicans won with exactly 18,181 votes.
HUSTLER: All three won with the exact same number of votes?
PALAST: The Republican elections officials thought that was quite an interesting coincidence. These were done on iVotronics machines, but the Democratic officials were actually able to go back and reset the machine to re-tally the votes and, lo and behold, suddenly the Democrats won. So if you think that this is a tamperproof system, I’ve got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
HUSTLER: Who owns and manufactures these machines?
PALAST: iVotronics is owned by a company called ES&S [Election Systems and Software], founded by Senator Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska. Hagel became senator after Nebraska installed his voting machine. It was quite extraordinary, because you ended up with a Republican candidate winning in black districts in Nebraska. So obviously Chuck took his voting machine out for a test spin and did quite well.
HUSTLER: He owns part of this company?
PALAST: He’s out of it now, but he founded it.
HUSTLER: What about Diebold?
PALAST: Diebold is another Republican-connected company. Here’s the problem with privatizing democracy: Every single elections expert I’ve spoken to on this planet said there is nothing close to a paper ballot for safety, because you can count it in public and you can see how people voted. But there’s a second aspect to this little computer game that I don’t want to leave out, because no one’s watching this one. That is, in Florida, the key to the theft of the White House was the removal of tens of thousands of voters from the voter rolls before the elections. They were purged on the grounds that they were felons. In fact, 97% of the people on that list were innocent of any crime except voting while black. The Florida Republicans did that by using a computer program to purge the files of people they considered suspects. You’d think they would avoid that system, but in fact the Help America Vote Act is going to require that, by the 2004 election, every state imitate the Florida system of computerizing, centralizing and purging their voter rolls. So we’re going to take the fix that Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris engineered, and we’re going to run that across the country, and we’re going to have 50 Katherine Harris’ with their fingers on the registration buttons.
HUSTLER: Recently Walden O’Dell, the CEO of Diebold voting machines, promised to deliver votes to Bush.
PALAST: The CEO of Diebold, who has become one of Bush’s big donors, promised at a fund-raiser to help deliver the vote to Bush in Ohio. I hope that it gives someone pause about using his machines, but apparently not.
HUSTLER: Don’t the Democrats see this as their own doom?
PALAST: I spoke with Terry McAuliffe, the head of the Democratic Party. He’s overwhelmed. He says that they don’t have the money or research ability to uncover what’s going on. But there’s a second sinister little side to this: All politics is local, and this is going to give one heck of a lot of power to Democratic secretaries of state. We have one political party in America; it’s called the party of the incumbents. This is one way for incumbents of both parties to lock themselves into position. In the state of Illinois, the Democrats are thrilled to have control over the voter registration in Chicago. The Republicans are letting the Democrats drive the getaway car in this voter heist.
HUSTLER: So it’s not being overly alarmist to say that the fix is in for 2004, and that Bush will be President again?
PALAST: I’m not saying Bush has locked up the vote; I’m just saying that if he loses it, the winner’s going to have to win a lot more than 50%. You can steal some of the votes some of the time, but you can’t steal all the votes all the time.
HUSTLER: What can the average American citizen do about this?
PALAST: There’s a petition campaign being run by Martin Luther King III to undo this lynching by laptop. It’s black voters who are going to be targeted; we know that from Florida. We have a petition at www.GregPalast.com. Fifty thousand people have already electronically signed it. It will be sent to Mr. Ashcroft, and then it will be used by congressmen who still have the balls to fight this thing. Every computer expert in the country is saying that to Gatesify our system is just bonkers. [New Jersey Congressman] Rush Holt has at least said, “Let’s do the most basic thing, which is to have a receipt printed out [on] which you can see how you supposedly voted, and you can put that in a separate lock box so that we could test and tally the paper ballots against the computer ballots as an absolute necessity.” He’s talking about requiring the testing of these machines. Believe it or not, there is no testing of these machines. That’s really dangerous stuff. There’s no open source code.
HUSTLER: The machine manufacturers don’t show the code because they say it’s proprietary, like the secret ingredients in Coca-Cola.
PALAST: One of the horrible things about this business is that we don’t know when elections have been stolen. You know if you’ve been mugged on the street, but with these mystery machines, we don’t know. Go to Las Vegas, and the machines are tested by the government and locked up, have special keys and are tamperproof. Here we get shaken up about a slot machine in Vegas, but we have no such legal protections guaranteed to us with the voting machines. Democracy is not a game.