Who would have ever thought that it would be one lone Democratic Senator that would finally put an end our democratic voting system? The one person, one vote ideal we’ve been trying to achieve in this country. Maybe it’s time now to make Joe Manchin’s name into a verb, as in “Manchining” — as in crippling a structural system of voting. As in, he “Manchined” the voting system, and can you believe it, he’s a Democrat?
In this week’s edition of the Election Crimes Bulletin, Greg Palast and Dennis Bernstein talk about this and other insanities happening in the world of elections.
Dennis Bernstein: How about a verb for “Manchin” Greg?
Greg Palast: Well, sometimes I’m feeling “Manchined”, so, you know, it happens. Yeah…We’re all getting “Manchined” right now. Just so people are in on the joke; Joe Manchin, the Senator from West Virginia and nominal Democrat has said two things. First he said, he will not break the filibuster, which [means] you need 60 senators to stop a debate. You need only 50 senators plus the Vice-President breaking a vote to pass legislation, but you can block having a vote. In other words, you can actually kind of block the democratic process. And when Rand Paul says, I’m just going to keep talking, which he has done. He’s said he will filibuster, that is, he will talk to death the Voting Rights Bill. Now people need to understand, Manchin has now actually moved to the right, ‘cause he actually did say some months ago that he would consider on the issue of voting rights by an adjustment to the filibuster rule just for that issue. But now he said, no, he won’t touch the filibuster. He also said he doesn’t agree with the Voting Rights bill because it has no Republicans endorsing it and he believes in bipartisanship. Well, maybe he could tell me the name of the bipartisan, ready-to-bargain Republican. There ain’t one. And Mitch McConnell told his caucus that this would be devastating. Mitch McConnell will not permit any Republican off the reservation to vote for the two Voting Rights bills.
Bernstein: Go over them Greg, brief us on both those bills so people know where we stand at the federal level.
Palast: One is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. It’s very short, but in my opinion, it is the key one because it restores the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted by the U S Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court said you can’t use what’s called pre-clearance. Now what does that mean? That sounds fancy, but it’s really simple: You can’t steal someone’s vote without asking the permission of the Justice Department. And now that we actually have a Justice Department, as opposed to the Attorney General’s Injustice Department under Bill Barr, our current Attorney General under Biden is very committed to voting rights. So if, for example, Georgia does things, as we’ve reported, like arrest you for a felony crime if you hand pizza to someone in line, they have to get that new rule approved by the Justice Department to say this does not affect Black voters or various religions or ethnic groups, this does not hit them especially hard. You can’t do that. The pizza might sound nonpartisan. It ain’t. Because the big long lines are only at universities and only in Black communities… And of course, you know, Georgia’s new move, and in many other states, is to either cut back or eliminate dropboxes, to cut back or eliminate early voting, et cetera. So it will restore the Justice Department review to prevent the return of Jim Crow… And it’s also has another value, because when you send a note to the Justice Department saying we’re about to make pizza, dropboxes and early voting illegal, a crime, then that notifies all the voting rights groups, not just the Justice Department and they can take action. So that is vitally important. And all that does, it’s not a radical change, it merely restores the Voting Rights Act that we had up until 2013, when you know the Right Wing Five killed it.
That’s one, and then we have a second act, which is it’s really quite big, 900 pages long. It’s gone under different names. They call it the Big Rights Bill. It not only restores to people and gives to the American public a real true protection of votes, everything from same day registration… And that’s important because we talked about purges; 24 million people every two years get removed from the voter rolls, 24 million people! [With this bill], if you show up and your name’s missing, you can register on the spot. Just bring some ID. The second is that it makes mail-in voting accessible to everyone throughout the nation, makes early voting assessable to everyone throughout the nation. It requires that you have a minimum number of precincts, so you can’t say, okay, 200,000 black voters get one precinct and in the white suburbs, they have 200,000 polling stations. I’m exaggerating, but I can tell you when I was in Ohio, Dennis, and we discussed this back in the last election, there were five hour waits in Dayton… five-hour weights to vote, and no waits [in the white neighborhoods]. They had so many polling stations, so many poll workers in the white suburbs of Toledo that the poll workers were lined up waiting for voters. I kid you not. So that stuff is all prohibited.
There’s two other aspects to the Voting Rights bill, the bigger bill. One is voting rights to make your vote more powerful than money. And that means there would be a lockdown limit on the private funding of elections. It would be much harder to purchase an election. There’s limits and also exposure on who’s buying the election. So the money is a big part of that bigger bill. And finally, what may in the end be the most consequential, it prohibits gerrymandering…
In a gerrymander, the politicians pick the voters instead of the voters picking the politicians. And this is vital, especially because this is the year right now in 2021 when the GOP does not have the majority of voters in America, it’s a minority party. However, it does have the vast majority of state legislatures which draw the lines for congressional districts and state legislatures, so that it keeps Republican control of the state legislatures and, even more important, it means that the Republicans will be drawing lines and therefore they can play the game they’ve played. Right now, you’ve had something like, and I’m sure some will call and correct me, but I believe the Democrats had a plurality of congressional votes by about five to seven million votes. That’s typical. So Democrats, by vote win Congress. However, the way the lines are drawn, Republicans were taking control of Congress. In fact, they’re now only four seats away from taking control of the House of Representatives and with the new lines that they’re drawing I think it’s nearly impossible for the Democrats to keep control of the House.
Bernstein: If I could just jump in here just for a second. This is what really puts the lie to Joe Manchin, unless he’s living in space or he’s only got outgoing and no incoming, he has to understand that the coup is at the state level, and the end of a fair voting system is being engineered now. How could he not know? So this idea of bipartisanism, as in one particular bill he’s bipartisan on, but what’s going on in the rest of the country in almost every state he’s silent about.
Palast: Yes… He doesn’t challenge the Republicans. He doesn’t go to the Republicans and say, why don’t one of you stand up for voting rights? Why don’t one of you stand up against jacking around with the congressional lines? Like in California, for example, we have a non-partisan commission draw the congressional lines, and that’s one of the reasons we have a wipe out, overwhelming Democratic delegation. It’s not because we mess with the lines here. We have a nonpartisan committee of demographic experts draw our lines. When they are fair elections, the GOP loses. The math is real simple. So Joe, why don’t you ask a Republican to come over and be bipartisan? Why don’t you ask a Republican to say, we want to have full exposure of who’s buying our elections.
Now, of course, you have to ask another question. Maybe Joe doesn’t want to tell us where he’s getting his money. And, you know, I just talked to a political insider who said he’s totally Koched up… Charles Koch is his big money. Also don’t forget coal mining… You’ve got some pretty monstrous people who are operating these coal mines and the coal mining controls West Virginia politics, which is therefore very right wing. So, again, we’re talking about Manchin, but who’s behind Manchin? I mean, that’s aiming at the puppet, what about the puppeteer, like Charles Koch. But he’s not obviously saying that elections should be fair. He says our democracy depends on bipartisanship. Well, actually, where does it say that in the Constitution? Our democracy depends on elected leaders who are elected by the people, not by the cash.
So these are the two bills, which unless Manchin votes for it, that only leaves 49 [senators] at best. And of course, Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic right-wing senator out of Arizona has also said that she wouldn’t bust the filibuster, though she has said she’s for the bill, but she doesn’t want a chance to vote on it. She’s actually saying I don’t want to have a chance to vote on the bill I support, which is vital to our democracy, vital to fairness. That’s what she’s saying…
I think I’ll be making a call myself to the head of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, a guy I’ve known for 40 years. He was also a head of the mine workers union, and I know he’s for this bill, but I think we also need to figure out a way for the mine workers to be able to reach out. And I think one way is of course guaranteeing coal miners’ jobs, as FDR did. When there was no demand for coal during the depression, Franklin Roosevelt created something called the Civilian Conservation Corps and told the miners get out of the pits because there’s no jobs there, take your shovels and build something called the Appalachian Trail. And many, many more people are employed in tourism on the Appalachian Trail that are employed in the coal mines of West Virginia. It’s really a tourist state, it’s not a coal mining state. It’s just that the coal mining companies control the politics. So that’s where I think progressive have to start talking with the coal miners. Because as Rich Trumka once told me, they had the coal miners union, now head of AFL-CIO, no one, Dennis, no one wants to work in a coal mine, but they do want union wages, union jobs, union pay. If we do what Roosevelt did and say you got that, but you’re going to be building, you’re going to be expanding the Appalachian Trail, you’re not going to get objections from the coal miners. And if they take away that fear, I think that Manchin is going to get “Manchined”.
Bernstein: You’re listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. We’re speaking with Greg Palast, we’re talking about what’s going on with Joe Manchin. I hesitated to mention his name, but he is really at the center of the future. This one guy from this small state is really is going to have a lot to say about the future of this country, and it is quite troubling.
Now, I want to just coax you out a little bit on the two bills. Did I hear as a practical matter, I’m not that much of a practical sort of guy, but I think I want to be practical right now. I think you were saying Greg, that you were hoping to support the John Lewis bill.
Palast: Well, it’s not whether I support it, but the issue is that the John Lewis bill is probably the simplest and more urgent.
Bernstein: And it’s got the most chance of getting any support at this point.
Palast: Yes… It just says that you can’t do anything that’s racially prejudice, that jacks with the elections, rigs the operation of elections to favor white voters… That’s really what it comes down to. It’s that simple. And Manchin is saying no… Believe it or not he can’t find Republicans to say we want to protect voters of color. But he’s saying without that, [he’s not going to vote for the bill]. Well, where are we going to find that Mr. Manchin? But again, we have to be careful, because people have been talking about trying to primary, that is put up an opponent to Joe Manchin in the Democratic primary. One, they’d probably lose. But even if they don’t, we just had the governor of West Virginia switch from Democratic to Republican, Manchin could do the same and likely win as Republican. So we have to be very careful here. I think that the way to look at this, if we care about the voting rights, is work with [the miners]. One thing that there’s been some dearth of in the people pushing for the Green New Deal is working with the coal miners. They want their jobs. They don’t care about having coal dust on their face or in their lungs. They’d rather not. I’m telling you that now. So there is maybe some way to work around Manchin and maybe Manchin him through the coal miners. So I’m very concerned that we don’t cede to the Republicans, don’t cede to Trump.
When Trump, for example, virtually gutted the rules about emissions from coal plants, from power plants, allowing coal plants to keep operating, he had a bunch of miners behind him wearing their hard hats with the little lights on, a real good photo op. He got rid of the anti-pollution laws, so now we’re all sucking extra soot, and he turns around to these coal miners on this stage thing and says, you know what this means, boys? You’re going back to work. By the way, those guys didn’t go back to work because coal is really expensive compared to natural gas and really expensive compared to wind power. So no one wants to run a coal plant. The only coal plant that’s been reopened is one that’s dedicated to mining Bitcoin. So other than that, coal plants are pretty much on their way out anyway…
You know, it’s funny, I’m talking about coal mining when we started out with voting rights, but you have to put these things together. We have to make people feel comfortable… They understand that if you have voting rights, you’re going to have a very different Congress and the Green New Deal will pass. And you have to remove that fear of the people in West Virginia, that they’re going to lose those coal mining jobs. They’re going to lose those jobs, but we need to talk about giving them other jobs as FDR did. I think that that’s really important. We can’t just talk about “let’s have voting rights” because people understand the political consequences of that.
Bernstein: Right. It’s all about economic justice. The vote comes with economic justice and that’s never really been built into the struggle, but there are some interesting things popping up around that now. But I guess Greg, I want to shift with you for the last few minutes we have with you… there were a couple of battlefronts that you’ve been engaged with. I know you’re laser-focused on Georgia. There’s also what’s going on in Texas… Can you give us a sense of what that looks like? And these kind of crazy things going on in Arizona…
Palast: Texas, Arizona and Georgia. In Arizona. there is a so-called recount of the vote out of Phoenix, which is the Democratic area there. They’re looking at the mail-in ballots. But of course even Republicans have been nervous about that because they grabbed the ballots out of the government offices, took it to a private company. No one watched what they were doing with those ballots. Now you have to understand the fancy term is “chain of custody”. You know, the idea that someone goes in a room and you don’t know what some private operator did with the ballots, and then they said, oh, well, we recounted it and guess who won? Trump really won, sorry. And understand, if we were on One Network or one of the other right wing networks, we’d be talking about the inauguration of Trump in August. That’s the trope that’s going on in right wing media, that the recounts will restore Donald Trump to office. We may laugh at this, but don’t laugh my friends. In Georgia, the Republicans have gotten themselves a recount, a review of all the mail-in ballots in Fulton County. Now why Fulton? That’s a big hunk of Atlanta, it’s Black and Democratic voters. They’re not recounting votes in Valdosta, they’re not recounting votes basically in red redneck Georgia, they’re counting the votes only in urban Democratic, Black Fulton. And there are about 130-some thousand votes there that will be recounted. And here’s the problem: In Georgia you have a system called Exact Match. So if you signed your name on your registration form as “Dennis J. Bernstein”, yet on your mail-in ballot you signed “Dennis Bernstein”, my friend, you’ve just lost your vote. They’ll disqualify it. If you signed “Garcia Marquez” and you included the hyphen and the accent on the eñe, the tilde, and it wasn’t that way on your driver’s license ‘cause they left the accent off the driver’s license, you lose your vote, et cetera. If there’s a miss mark, if there is a red pen, a pencil instead of a blue or a black pen filling in that ballot, you lose your vote. If you put a check mark instead of filling in the bubble, you lose your vote this way. They are hoping to find, and they well could find 12,000 ballots to disqualify on these cockamamie, picayune grounds. But that would give Trump the state. And they’ll claim, oh, look, there was massive fraud. No, no, it’s just picayune junk, check marks, wrong pen, you know, you forgot your middle initial, whatever it is, and so I’m very concerned about Georgia.
I’m very concerned about what’s happening in Arizona and in Texas, the legislature, the Republicans are trying to jam through a completely nutso bill we’ve talked about on the air that would severely limit the right of voters to vote. It’d be almost impossible to vote by mail, unless you bring in a surgeon holding your liver saying I just have to put in the new liver so they can’t vote on that day. I mean, that’s hyperbole, but that’s almost what it requires to mail in your ballot. Cutting early voting hours, eliminating dropboxes, et cetera, and eliminating, for example, drive-through voting, which is very valuable during a pandemic and for off hours people. They had 24/7 voting in Houston. The Republicans, they don’t want to convince the voters to vote, they want to stop the voters from voting in Texas. So the Democrats walked out and here’s the good news, Dennis, the Democrats walked out, denied a quorum so they couldn’t vote in Texas, but what makes that extraordinary… They’ve done it before, when Texas 15 years ago attempted to gerrymander the vote, the Democrats not only walked out of the Capitol to prevent a quorum, but then the Republican governor called out the Texas Rangers to arrest the Democrats and bring them in chain into the chamber so they can be counted for quorum. So the Democrats literally left the state, the entire Democratic legislature left the state. But after two months with their kids saying, where’s daddy, where’s mommy, they came back and they did gerrymander the deal. But you see, there the legislators were actually fighting, frankly, for their own seats to prevent the gerrymander. Here they’re fighting for your vote. That’s very different. This is a first for the Democratic party. When white Democrats were literally willing to bring down, stop the legislature for the right to vote. That is a sea change not only in America, but it’s extraordinary for the Democratic party to finally stand up and say the vote is primary. How about that? A Democratic party for democracy, it’s very refreshing and brand new.
Bernstein: It feels slightly late, Greg. There’s a certain urgency here. There’s a certain urgency wouldn’t you say? In terms of the paths that we’re heading down. And we haven’t seen the end of the violence, that’s the other side of this. You haven’t talked about the violence, but it’s simmering.
Palast: Well, actually, I want to say that for the first time in a hundred years I’m looking at violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1878. After the Civil War, progressive abolitionists in Congress passed a law against killing voters, intimidating them, stopping them from voting. It’s a crime. You go to jail. And I was just investigating mass — mass — violations of the Ku Kux Klan Act of 1878 in Georgia, in Texas, in North Carolina, in Florida. Basically, they’re not using white sheets, they’re using spreadsheets, but it’s the same thing. It’s a mass crime and I’m hoping that Garland Nixon, our new Attorney General, will step forward and say, okay, I can’t believe we’re doing this, but we’re going to have to bust people under the Klan Act. You don’t have to wear a white sheet to be busted under the Klan Act, but they’re pulling the same stunt. And this stuff has got to end. I’ll be reporting more on the details, we don’t have time now, but yes, there is violence, threats of violence, intimidation, and it is against federal law. It’s time to bring in the federales and say, ¡basta! Enough! We haven’t used this law in a hundred years. I think it’s time.
Bernstein: Before we let you go… What are the big dates? The big things you’re watching for? You’re coming and going and keeping an eye on this work… What are yo zooming in on?
Palast: Chuck Schumer has said hat he wanted to have the vote on the two voting rights bills in July, before they go on recess. And, unless there’s some pressure on Manchin, or maybe pick off a Republican… That the other thing, to actually win over one Republican. The other is that I’m looking at, obviously, the Texas legislature, and the Georgia recount and other games. So we don’t have any serious deadlines, mainly because it’s impossible to get anything progressive voted in.
Bernstein: And there is another recount going on in Georgia, right? We’re not done. Georgia’s not done.
Palast: That’s why I say there’s the Fulton County recount. And that was promoted, by the way, by Brad Raffensperger, the guy that 60 Minutes, NBC said was the great hero because he stood up to Trump. Understand, as the ACLU told me, all the guy did was PR, he wanted to stay out of prison. You do understand that what Trump was asking him to do was a felony crime. This guy jacked with the voter rolls, he jacked with the precincts, he has called for this phony recount to try to put Trump over the top. What he couldn’t do was what Trump asked. Trump basically told him, take 12,000 ballots in the other room and disqualify them. That’s what he’s really saying. Just knock out 12,000 ballots and make me president. That’s a problem.
Also, one other deadline we have is in Wisconsin, where the legislature, once again, is trying to put through horrendous voter purge laws and other limitations. But luckily there is Tony Evers and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. They’re gonna veto that bill. But there is a court case which could restore some of the legislature’s demands for the removal of 135,000 voters. I was in Milwaukee, they’re almost all Black and student voters being removed on bogus, suspicious grounds. They know exactly what they’re doing. Remember Biden only won that state officially by 10,000 votes. They knock out 10,000 students, 20,000 African-Americans in Milwaukee, they’ve got the state again. It’s very dangerous stuff. And again, it’s not whether I’m against Republicans taking back control of Wisconsin. I just think the voters should make that decision and not the Jim Crow cockamamie trickery.
Bernstein: Right. We don’t want all these elections Manchined, not to come back to the subject of the day and it’s a horrible subject. We’re going to leave it right there. Greg Palast… We thank you for spending the time with us again and endlessly reporting on this crucial subject.
Palast: Thank you, Dennis. And thank you for Pacifica and KPFA for allowing this information through the electronic Berlin wall. You don’t get it anywhere else and I do appreciate it. Thank you.
Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and the book and documentary,
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
His latest film is Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman
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Dennis J. Bernstein is the executive producer and host of Flashpoints, an award winning front-line investigative news magazine focusing on human, civil and workers' rights, issues of war and peace, global warming, racism and poverty, and other issues. Flashpoints is broadcast weekdays at 5 PM PST on the Pacifica Radio station KPFA-FM (94.1) in Berkeley, California and is relayed on Pacifica's national feed.