In the pilot episode of Know Your Rights, host CK Hoffler talks to Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown and Palast about voting rights — and voting wrongs. The trio also delve into the historic struggle for the right to vote — a hard fought human right that should be sacrosanct, but is increasingly under threat in the United States.
Renowned Atlanta attorney CK Hoffler serves as counsel to civil rights icon Reverend Jesse Jackson and is Chairwoman of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s board. She’s the former President of the National Bar Association and has been at the forefront of the fight for voting rights in Georgia and beyond. This Episode of Know Your Rights with CK Hoffler premiered on AIB TV on Monday, January 23, 2023
CK Hoffler: I’m delighted, excited, just honored, LaTosha, that you are here today to share with us your pearls and wisdom during this critical time in our history in the United States.
LaTosha Brown: CK, I’m very, very happy to be here and to have this discussion particularly with you.
Hoffler: Oh, thank you so much. I mean, this is just magnificent. And then we have Greg Palast. Now, I have to disclose to the audience that I know LaTosha Brown and I know Greg Palast because we’ve been in litigation together.
Brown: That’s right.
Hoffler: Voting litigation in the State of Georgia, where we were challenging the Secretary of State for what we perceive was illegally taking people from the rolls — close to 200,000 Georgians. And for the evidence in that voting case that we had, we can thank none other than Greg Palast.
Greg Palast is an internationally recognized, award-winning investigative journalist. He has done more in the voting space than I would say — and please, no one should be upset by this — any other journalist that I can think of. And so, Greg, we thank you for your work. Now I have to mention Vigilante, but you’re gonna talk about Vigilante and what Vigilante means. And so, we are here amongst friends.
Greg Palast: I’ll take a plug anytime. I have to tell you that my wife is gonna be so thrilled, except that she will say, that doesn’t make any sense, CK and LaTosha are like eight feet tall. In her vision, you’re all giants. So, anyway, this is a real honor, actually. Thanks.
Hoffler: Well, it is wonderful to be here. So, for our audience, let’s just set the stage, legally, of where we are in this country with voting. We know that the founders of this country, those that drafted the Constitution, they in no way envisioned that women and people of color, Black folks, would vote. That was not part of it. The idea of minorities voting in this country was just not anything that entered anyone’s mind when the Constitution was drafted.
Women didn’t have the right to vote until 1919, ladies and gentlemen. And we know that even though women had the right to vote, technically, on the books in 1919, women of color — Black women, brown women — did not really have the right to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is so important for people to understand that. Because you can have laws on the books that mean absolutely nothing until there’s a law as it was with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that got rid of some of the barriers, the discrimination that stopped African Americans from voting. So, in 1965, with the passages of the Voting Rights Act, that’s when we saw Black folks, Black women, women of color, had the right to vote — despite the fact that in 1919 women had the right to vote.
So, when we think of the importance of the Black voters in this election season, LaTosha, right? I’d like you to share with this audience, and with voters, what is the significance of the Black vote and what are we seeing nationally? What do you say about that? Because you’re in the trenches, you’re in the field, and you more than anyone can speak to this subject.
Brown: [singing] Well, the first thing I did right, was the day I started to fight. Keep your eyes on the prize, and hold on, hold on.
I always start with those songs, the Freedom Songs. I’m a native of Selma, Alabama, and so when we talk about the voting rights movement, that was the birth place of the voting rights movement. And so, literally, we have to really put it in context. These were people who literally didn’t have a lot of power, that when you talk about even political parties, neither the political parties were aligned with their interests, nor willing to support them.
They knew that they would be met with resistance. They knew that the state would resist them, but they believed in something greater, their human rights. So, they made the connection around voting rights being a human right, that they had human rights, that they had agency, and so they would organize themselves. And so we’ve seen this evolution of democracy in this nation, but it had to be forced, right? And it continues to have to be shaped and forced by people who are impacted. Even though we say that Black men technically had the right to vote earlier, actually they didn’t… when it came to pragmatically, like really practically [voting].
So, I think that when we’re looking at the struggle, we have to recognize that underneath this is the foundation around structural racism and how this country literally started, where power would be really considered to go to a few, which quite frankly were white men of wealth… And so democracy has been this evolutionary act in this country, where it’s been shaped by people demanding that it is actually shaped in a way that is going to include all the citizens of this country.
And we’re seeing this attack right now. It’s not new. We’ve been going through this over and over and over again, you know, and it’s been wonderful working with Greg and the work that he has been doing as an investigative journalist. ‘Cause I do think that we have to really recognize that democracy is something that we all have some stake in. And, literally, if it is to flourish, all of us are gonna have to be a part of the shaping of that. So where we are right now, I think it’s this really interesting moment… I say that where there is fierce opposition, there’s vast opportunity. There’s really an opportunity for us to break open this facade that this democracy thing, that’s already been taken care of — that’s been handled already. And that’s what got is here. We’re here right now because so many people have not engaged in the process. We allowed a small group of folks to control the governance process, to control the processes going on, over and over, and set policies in ways that have marginalized our communities. That’s how we find ourselves here today.
Hoffler: Absolutely. You know, I’m glad that you put in that context. And I forgot to mention that she’s just a magnificent singer. I mean, did you hear that voice? But LaTosha, and I’m gonna address this question to both of you, but Greg first… So, 2013, there was this horrific US Supreme Court opinion, Shelby County vs Holder, that many believe, and I certainly believe that it was that opinion that led or paved the way for the voter suppression that we’re seeing today. Because prior to that time, we had pre-clearances, we had protections for minority voters. The late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg inked the crushing, dissenting opinion in that case, where she basically laid out why that opinion was so devastating for voters.
And so, Greg Palast, as an investigative journalist, you’ve gone throughout the country, you’ve gone into communities, you’ve gone into people’s homes that didn’t want you, that had guns in the corner, and unearthed, if you will, and peeled back the layers of the onion to discover voter suppression. So, what do you say, Greg? Based on all the work that you’ve done, the phenomenal work that you’ve done about voter suppression, where we say that Shelby County vs Holder, that 2013 opinion paved the way for what we’re seeing today in terms of voter suppression. What have you seen?
Palast: Okay, well, you can see from my hat that I’m a ’Just the facts, ma’am’ reporter. I’m not partisan on this. I was in England, working for the BBC and The Guardian back in 2000 when I’m getting reports in Florida that Black people can’t vote… I start digging in from London, then I fly to Florida for the BBC, and I find out that 58,000 Black men were removed from the voter rules just before that election on the grounds that they were criminals, felons, so they couldn’t vote at the time in Florida. I found out the only crime — all 58,000 — their only crime was voting while Black. 58,000 Black people lost their vote, and we picked a president, George Bush, by 537 votes — not counting those Black men. So, when Black people get shafted out of their votes, we use that wonderful polite term “vote suppression”, but we mean shafting Black people out of their votes — that’s what we’re talking about.
Hoffler: Well, you know, I like to use the legal jargon. This is Know Your Rights, it’s a legal term.
Palast: So, yeah, you can’t go to court and say they’re shafting the vote. You say “suppression”. But what I found was this was systemic. So, I came back to America and worked at Rolling Stone others, and I find out it’s not just Florida and a few outlying, right wing racists trying to bend a race. It is systemic and it was getting worse. And in 2013, with the overthrow of the core elements of the Voting Rights Act, it was like the animals were let out of the zoo in terms of going after Black voters.
By the way, I’ve been covering voting all over the world, Africa, South America, Europe, but I keep coming back to Georgia. Now it’s national, it’s not just Georgia, but Georgia’s where they kind of test drive the games. So, right after 2013…
Hoffler: You mean after >Shelby County vs Holder?
Palast: Yes. And so what happens, you had a Secretary of State… Now, Secretaries of State are the people that control how we vote, who gets certified. I mean, in elementary school we raised our hand to vote for class president and that was it, and you counted the hands. No, in Georgia what you do is you say, no, Timmy, your hand doesn’t count. No, Jonny, we don’t think you really should be in this classroom. And they start removing people. We find out that Brian Kemp, who was Secretary of State, removed half a million voters — half a million voters from the voter rolls. He says, well, they don’t live at their voting address. They don’t live in Georgia. So, I get the experts from Amazon and Google, and they know where you live, and we went through name by name, with computers, obviously/ And we found 340,144 of those voters lived exactly where they’re registered, and they were overwhelmingly Black.
Hoffler: But how does that happen?
Palast: They play games. And I’m seeing this even today… In my film I go to a soldier’s house, an African American career military officer named Major Gamaliel Turner. He’s America’s expert on Warfare of the Future. He’s a Major, a warrior, a citizen of Georgia living near Fort Benning. He’s assigned to California, and you had these operatives… And look, I’ll be straight with it, I’m not partisan, but it’s all GOP operatives. It’s all Republican operatives. They said he doesn’t live in Georgia, he can’t vote. Guess what? You don’t lose your citizenship because the Commander in Chief sends you to California.
Today, I ran into another soldier who was challenged on those grounds. Because the guy was sent to a military base in Texas, so they said, no, you can’t vote. No, no, you, you don’t lose your citizenship because you’re serving. These are just some nasty, horrible examples — but if it was just a weird case, one or two… But I’m going through with computers, I’m going through with top experts, and we’re getting these [purge] lists… And you were helping us blast this out and Gerald Griggs of the NAACP opened their files, because they hide this stuff. They don’t do this in plain sight. We opened their files, and it’s literally tens of thousands….
You know that 149,000 people have been challenged in Georgia. The problem is, it’s not just Georgia. They look at Georgia, where these tricks are taken for a test drive, and then they start spreading. Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina. we see it all over, and so I’m very, very concerned. We have to expose it. That’s what I do as an investigative reporter. And then you guys, you’re fighting it in the courts, you’re fighting it on the streets.
Hoffler: So, this is the thing… You know, I asked how does that happen? The reason why I felt it was important to talk about voting right now, not just because we’re in the voting season, and I’ve got these phenomenal experts, but also so that just everyone — everyone, whether you’re Republican or a Democrat, whether you’re progressive or not — so that everyone can appreciate the significance of the right to vote. Because, right now, when we’re talking about this, we’re not being partisan. Are you being partisan when you talking about?
Brown: Oh no, not at all.
Hoffler: We’re not being partisan. We’re not gonna say, vote this way or vote that way. What I want the listeners and the viewers to understand is the right to vote should be something that’s sacrosanct. It should be something that we cherish in this country. Because, from my tradition being African American, I know people died so that I could stand here and have the right to vote. There’s so many that sacrificed. You know, we always talk about the great heroes, Dr. King, we talk about Reverend Jesse Jackson, who’s still with us. We talk about modern day heroes, LaTosha Brown. We talk about those who have made a difference, Greg Palast. We talk about all of those. You mentioned Gerald Griggs, there’s so many people, not just in Georgia, but throughout the country that are making a difference, just fighting so people can have the right to vote. Not vote one way or vote the other, but just the right to vote. So, I want both of you to comment on that. Let’s take away the partisan stuff, and just talk about why it’s important for people simply to vote… And why we don’t need to be afraid of that, right?
Brown: I really want to build on something that Greg was talking about around how it happens. Because I think the question I often get is, how does this happen? You know, when we’re seeing voter suppression…it’s like death by a thousand cuts…And so, there’s a spectrum of how voter suppression happens. And literally, when you start compiling that and you start seeing this accumulative effect, it starts being thousands and thousands, and then millions of people. And so, I always talk about how there’s been three major strategies around voter suppression that we’ve seen historically in this country.
Hoffler: First of all, I want you to define voter suppression. Because I think people have a different view. What is voter suppression? So, define it, and I’ll give sort of a legal definition, but it’s not the legal definition that matters. It’s the definition for the people that matters. So, LaTosha, can you define voter suppression?
Brown: I think the easiest way for me to talk to people about voter suppression is anything that creates a barrier for you to vote… in a way that literally makes it more difficult for you or other people to vote, based on their circumstances, based on who they are. That in itself is a form and it’s an intention — an intention of literally preventing them from being able to vote freely and unencumbered.
Hoffler: So, one thing we know is voter intimidation — that’s illegal.
Hoffler: It’s illegal. So, I want people to understand it’s not that we’re not doing earthy, crunchy, feeling-good type things. Voter intimidation is illegal in this country. You agree with that, Greg?
Palast: 100%. Absolutely. The Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, we’re going back more than a hundred years, made it illegal to intimidate voters of color in particular.
Hoffler: So, LaTosha, you were talking about voter intimidation. Tell us some more about that.
Brown: So, voter intimidation has been always one of the three strategies that has been used to suppress the vote, to get people to not participate, you know, to feel some sense of fear. We’ve seen that in the past where white mobs would show up throughout the South, and torture and kill people for registering to vote. We’ve seen that from the burning of crosses in yards. We’ve seen that when we go to the sixties with Fannie Lou Hamer, who was brutally beaten just simply for being a part of wanting to register to vote. But we’ve also seen that in 2022.
Just recently, one of our employees was out in Sanford, Florida, they were out as a team just telling people to vote — very non-partisan, not even supporting a particular candidate — and a man walked up to them, engaged in an argument… and then he pulls out a gun… He takes the bullets out and puts them back in. He was like, oh yeah, I wouldn’t do anything without a gun, ‘cause, you know, it’s legal for us to have a gun. And he has this whole story, he puts the bullets back in. Of course, she was shaken.
Now, technically because it is a stand your ground state, he could say, well, I didn’t break any law, right? I didn’t do anything wrong. That’s kind of like how voter suppression happens. It’s like, oh, we didn’t do anything wrong. When in fact he knew what the impact was in terms of creating and putting that fear in her. But we’ve seen this in Arizona…
Hoffler: I mean, I have that fear in me right now when you’re talking about this.
Brown: Right? Oh… It shook us. We also see where in Arizona there are people who have been bringing guns, sitting at the, at the dropboxes.
Hoffler: Yes. Right.
Brown: Just sitting there like they’re innocent. Oh, we’re not doing anything. We’re just sitting with our guns here. We’ve actually seen in Florida where DeSantis has a whole force, a special voting force that is literally a tool to really intimidate people. Just recently, what we know is some of the formerly incarcerated folks, returning citizens who’ve had their rights restored, one man in particular voted, had a SWAT team to show up to his house at five o’clock in the morning, with officers in his backyard, his front yard, and a helicopter. This is all for voting, right? This is in 2022. And so we’re seeing those kinds of tactics actually reemerge, which is a part of the intimidation factor. But also, it can be subtle as well. Like in Georgia with SB 202, that says that if you’re an organization, like my own, and you want to give water or pizza, or comfort care to people in line, it criminalize it. It criminalizes those groups.
Palast: People who waited five hours.
Brown: For waiting five hours. Or some folks who, in 2018, waited 11 hours. Right?!?
Hoffler: Well, I waited five and a half hours.
Brown: I waited four hours.
Hoffler: It’s terrible…So, the three different strategies.
Brown: So, that’s one. The second one is literally around just restricting access to the ballot. The closing of the polling sites. Just making it more difficult to be able to have access to voting, shortening the time in which people can vote. There’s some early voting sites that stop at five o’clock. People don’t get off work work at time, until five o’clock. Then there’s a third strategy, which is weaponizing administrative process. And we see that where actually the law itself becomes a factor to really be able to weaponize that against people. We see that in Georgia where essentially the GOP has giving themselves the authority to be able to overturn election results. We also see that in the state of Georgia, that because of SB 202, one citizen — and Greg talks about that in his film — that one citizen can actually challenge the validity of other citizens indiscriminately.
Palast: By the thousands.
Brown: By the thousands.
Hoffler: So, Greg, this is a perfect segue for you to tell us about Vigilante. What happens?
Palast: So, every year, in Georgia — and in other states, but it starts in Georgia always for some reason— they always come up with some new gimmick to block voters of color. This new one, brand new, any citizen in Georgia can challenge an unlimited number of other people. When I say unlimited, there was one woman, a GOP operative running for GOP Vice Chair, she personally challenged 32,000 voters. She handed in the thumb drive because she couldn’t even print the list out. 32,000 voters! And she didn’t know any of them. I showed her a picture of a Black neighbor of hers and I said, do you know this one? No. Well, you challenged her right to vote… By the way, when I showed her that picture, she chased me out of her house. She had shotguns at her door…
Hoffler: But you responded to the shotgun. Yeah, you got out.
Palast: But then there’s another guy, I’ve mentioned the soldier who was challenged. Well, [the OP operative that challenged him] challenged 4,000 voters around Fort Benny, so he’s challenging Black soldiers. I go in, he dresses up like a vigilante. He pretends he’s Doc Holliday, and he had a six gun with a pearl handle on it. He assured me that it was loaded, by the way. And he challenged 4,000 voters. He didn’t call a single one. He didn’t check a single one. I actually had this military major confront him and say, do you know what it’s like for a Black man to be told you’re not a citizen. I’m serving my country at a military base in California.
That’s four thousand, thirty-to thousand, right now, On hundred and forty-nine thousand, and the problem is, you try out these tricks in Georgia and then they spread. It’s already spread to a dozen states. So, that’s why we made this film, Vigilante, to warn people. We have to fight against this. So. I got Rosario Dawson to narrate. Martin Sheen introduced it, he’s our producer.
Hoffler: Jamie Foxx.
Palast: Yeah. He is promoting it nationwide. And so really what we’re trying to do is say, see the film, Vigilante, get entertained, but get ready, get warned. Don’t take a gun against the guys with the guns, please. But…that’s why we’re here today: Know Your Rights. They can challenge you. Like, I spoke to one soldier today, and I said, here’s what you do. You’ve been challenged, now here’s the things you can do. I mean, it’s horrible. He’s going to have to go to like a court hearing.
Hoffler: Absolutely. And you know, Greg, I wanna talk about this forever, but we gotta wrap it up. And so I just want, for our viewing audience to understand you need to know your rights. You have the right to vote. We understand there’s voter suppression everywhere, but refuse to be denied.
I’m going to end with a Portuguese expression: A luta continua, vitória é certa. The struggle continues, the voting rights struggle. Vitória é certa Victory is certain. Ladies and gentlemen, do not let anyone take your right to vote away from you. It’s a nonpartisan issue. I just want to thank LaTosha Brown.
Brown: Thank you.
Hoffler: The magnificent, extraordinary LaTosha Brown. We’re so blessed to have you, and Greg Palast, you just keep on keeping on as an investigative journalist.
Hoffler: Because you provide the evidence and the foundation.
Palast: I’m not allowed to retire.
Hoffler: No, no, you’re not allowed, nor is LaTosha. And so we want to thank you for being part of our pilot program here at AIB Network on Know Your Rights. And you all need to keep on keeping on, and keep on fighting.
Donate and get a signed DVD of Greg Palast’s new film,
Vigilante: Georgia’s Vote Suppression Hitman.
“Vigilante really underscores, in graphic detail, exactly how voter suppression is manifesting itself in Georgia…I think the way that it juxtaposed the actual people who were victims with the people who were the perpetrators of this voter suppression was nothing short of brilliant…Everyone needs to see this movie. It’s not just about Georgia, but it’s relevant to what’s happening in this country today.” — CK Hoffler, civil rights attorney
“Everybody, I mean everybody, must see it!” — LaTosha Brown, co-founder Black Voters Matter
Tricia “CK” Hoffler is the CEO of The CK Hoffler Firm, an Atlanta-based law firm that specializes in civil rights litigation, among other things. Hoffler was educated in Switzerland (College du Leman, University of Geneva), Canada (Branksome Hall) and the United States. She received her undergraduate degree from Smith College and her law degree from Georgetown University. Hoffler serves as counsel to civil rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson and is Chairwoman of Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Hoffler has served on the boards of Planned Parenthood of South Florida (West Palm Beach, Florida), Women in Philanthropy (Stuart, Florida - founding member), and the Washington Urban League (Washington, DC), among others. She is also an active member of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA) and hosts an informal mentoring program for lawyers throughout Georgia. Hoffler is a frequent lecturer for various bar associations and has received numerous accolades and awards for outstanding contributions to her profession and philanthropy.
Hoffler has made regular media appearances on television and radio. She hosts her own weekly radio show, “Law and Legal,” on Atlanta’s WAOK. Hoffler also is a guest host each Wednesday on the Santita Jackson show “Legal Q&A with CK”. She has also appeared and provided legal and political commentary on CNN, ABC, Court TV, MSNBC, and other entities in the Peacock Network.