As Election Day 2020 approaches, it would appear that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his party have much to celebrate.
Biden leads Donald Trump by an average of eight percentage points in national polling, with some surveys showing Biden ahead of Trump by as many as 14 percentage points.
Biden also enjoys huge leads among the Democratic Party’s key constituents, including black voters, Latinos and other nonwhites, college-educated white women and younger voters. Polls also show Joe Biden making gains among older white voters, a group that consistently supports Republicans and has been especially loyal to Trump. Biden also leads Trump in key battleground states such as Michigan and Wisconsin.
On closer inspection, however, matters are more complicated.
Election Day is still more than four months away, almost an eternity in electoral politics. Previous Democratic nominees such as Hillary Clinton and Michael Dukakis are object lessons in the cruel and mercurial ways of the political fates: Both appeared to hold big leads over their Republican opponents at this approximate point in the cycle, only to lose on Election Day.
There is also a not-insubstantial gap between what prospective voters tell pollsters and how they will actually decide to vote — if they vote at all.
Greg Palast is an investigative journalist whose work has been featured by the BBC, the Guardian, the Nation, Rolling Stone and here on Salon. He has become one of the nation’s foremost experts on vote suppression, vote theft and vote fraud. He is the author of the bestselling books Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. His new book is How Trump Stole 2020: The Hunt for America’s Vanished Voters.
In our most recent conversation, Palast warns that Joe Biden’s chances against Donald Trump are worse than the polls suggest because millions of Democrats will have their votes thrown out on Election Day. Moreover, many of those voters will have no idea that their votes were purged and therefore not counted.
Palast explains how the Republican Party has refined its strategy of voter suppression, voter intimidation and vote theft in elections across the country. Palast also highlights how the planned chaos during the recent Georgia Democratic primaries is a preview of how the Republican Party intends to steal the 2020 presidential election for Donald Trump.
Finally, Palast issues an ominous warning: Trump and the Republicans, he believes, are plotting to use the 12th Amendment to the Constitution to declare the popular vote and Electoral College results invalid, so that the 2020 presidential election will be decided in the House of Representatives — which, believe it or not, may well vote in Trump’s favor.
You can also listen to my conversation with Greg Palast on my podcast “The Truth Report” or through the player embedded below.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Chauncey DeVega: One of the dominant narratives in the news is that last week’s Democratic primary in Georgia is a preview of the sabotage, chaos and interference that Donald Trump and the Republicans will be using against Joe Biden and the Democrats in the general election this November. Is that conclusion correct?
Greg Palast: Absolutely. And it’s going to be worse.
The Republicans have been practicing this since 2018 in Georgia. What happened there was a test run for the entire nation. Brian Kemp won [the Georgia gubernatorial election] in November 2018 because of mass voter purges. The Republicans also tried other tricks.
Brian Kemp has been playing these games with voter rolls for seven years. He is governor of Georgia and he stole that election from Stacey Abrams, the first black woman to run for that office.
One of the primary things the Republicans tested in Georgia would be to see if the news media or others would try to find out just why the lines to vote were so very long. Forty precincts in Atlanta had no voting machines. That creates long lines especially when there are no paper ballots. If the machines break, they are supposed to have backup paper ballots. Of course, there were no paper ballots.
Why were all those people out there in the middle of the COVID-19 virus? Why were they waiting in line for a voting machine? The answer is that millions of Georgians asked for mail-in ballots and then hundreds of thousands of people did not get their ballots and were not told why. The answer is that these voters were purged. Hall a million of them! If you are purged, then you do not receive a mail-in ballot. If you do not get your ballot, you cannot mail it back in.
In Georgia and in Ohio, and who knows how many other states — those state officials will not tell me what their rules are — ballots are no longer being sent to people on the so-called inactive list. That is very strange. “Inactive” means that you missed the last two elections, in 2016 and 2018. According to federal law — it is actually in bold type in the National Voter Registration Act — a person cannot lose their right to vote by not voting.
If you fail to vote, these states are not going to send you a ballot and you will not know why. Then it’s too late, and you are forced to physically go to the polls to vote. There you will join all the black and brown folks who also did not receive their ballots. All of you will be forced to wait in long lines.
In 2020 we are heading into a disaster, and it’s a very well-designed and intentional one. The Republicans thought it all through and tested it in Georgia and Wisconsin and elsewhere. In 2020 when Trump is up for re-election, this chaos will be everywhere.
DeVega: Donald Trump and the Republicans have been very public about the fact that if most Americans could vote, especially nonwhite Americans, they would be doomed as a political movement and a party. Naked white identity politics and white supremacy is now the mission statement of today’s Republican Party. Republicans and Trump are cheating to win elections and have faced no consequences for it. Why should they stop?
Palast: Vote theft is the perfect crime. If you successfully steal the vote you have stolen the vote cops, the people who are supposed to monitor the voting to ensure that the rules are being followed. For example, the Department of Justice is supposed to arrest the vote thieves. Does any one thinking and reasonable person actually believe that Donald Trump’s Justice Department, led by Bill Barr, is going to do that?
We are the only nation other than the recognized fake democracies such as Russia and China and Iran where the vote-counters are chosen by the political operatives.
Republican secretaries of state such as Brian Kemp (who is now governor of Georgia) and Kris Kobach [formerly of Kansas] are highly vicious partisan operatives who are given the power to determine who gets a vote, when you get to vote, where you get to vote and whose vote gets counted. Even the Wall Street Journal said that Brian Kemp holding that title [as Georgia secretary of state) while running for governor was unethical. Having politically appointed voting officials in the United States is something that must be put to end.
DeVega: During an interview several years ago, Donald Trump literally said that he wanted riots and social unrest, presumably as a way for him to take power and “make America great again.” With the United States in a state of economic calamity, a pandemic and social unrest, is this an opportunity for Trump and his movement to advance their goals?
Palast: These are politicians, along with the billionaires who back them, who thrive off chaos. That’s how they make their money. It is also how they win their elections. It is the same process of chaos and mayhem. First of all they use the bogeyman of illegal voters, fraudulent voters, dead voters, foreign voters and double voters to create hysteria. It is a type of right-wing hysteria factory, the goal of which is to change voting requirements.
What I am very worried about is how Donald Trump and the Republicans could use the 12th Amendment to the Constitution to steal the 2020 election. We have had two presidential elections in the United States in which a candidate won both the popular vote and the Electoral College vote but did not become president.
The 12th Amendment states that if the Electoral College does not reach a majority, which is 270, the election then goes to the House of Representatives. How could that possibly happen with Trump and Biden in 2020? The answer is the rabidly right-wing legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida say that there is so much voter fraud and that the mail-in ballots are not to be trusted. Trust me, those states are going to do things such as misprint ballots. Many “mistakes” are going to occur in those red states.
So the result could be that Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida do not certify their electors, and Biden has lost those three states’ votes. There are still not enough votes for Trump, but Biden does not hit the 270 threshold in the Electoral College to be elected president.
The 2020 election now goes to the House of Representatives, where every state gets a single vote. New York, California and Illinois each get a vote. Wyoming, South Dakota and Oklahoma each get a vote. Who wins? Most state delegations are majority Republican, even though the Republicans don’t control the House and have far fewer voters in America. But by the rules of the Constitution, Donald Trump could be re-elected even if he loses both the Electoral College and the popular vote.
DeVega: In his campaign emails, Trump has been threatening to raise a “MAGA-Trump Army.” He has encouraged violence by his paramilitaries and other street thugs. Trump and his operatives are also saying that they want 50,000 Republicans to serve as “voter observers” at the polls on Election Day 2020. The goal there is obvious — to intimidate, terrorize, and try to stop Democrats from voting. Given that Trump will be targeting black and brown people for such terrorism, it really is a form of Jim Crow in the 21st century.
Palast: America with Donald Trump is going back to the old White Citizens’ Councils and other ways of intimidating black and brown voters during Jim Crow. Threats and intimidation are also being used in places like Arizona to keep Hispanics and Latinos from voting. Some of this voter intimidation by Republicans are just pure physical threats.
But even more important than intimidation of Democratic voters are demands for proof of residence and proof of citizenship. There are other ways to keep people from voting, such as checking to see if a person has paid their alimony or court fines. Voters could be arrested. In the upcoming 2020 election there Is going to be mayhem. There will be a large number of complaints about voting stations being closed two hours early, and claims that there are all these “illegal voters.” Trump and the Republicans are going to say that the election outcome was illegitimate. This will throw it to the House and Trump gets re-elected.
DeVega: How will these enforcers actually try to stop Democrats from voting? What does that look like on the ground?
Palast: There will be a massive official contesting of votes. In almost every state, the political parties are allowed to assign official poll workers who have the right to challenge a vote. According to my research, this person does not even have to live in the area. Some of these official poll workers are going to automatically challenge any voter they can.
Unfortunately, many of the poll workers will just go along with it and say, “OK, we’ll give you a provisional ballot.” One million provisional ballots were thrown in the garbage in 2016. It is very important for people to talk to other poll workers and summon the election judge and demand that you are allowed to vote. Do not accept a provisional ballot. They are effectively useless. It is a type of placebo that makes people think they voted when they really have not. The reality is that these provisional ballots are not counted, because whatever stopped a given voter from being allowed to vote normally in the first place is going to be the same reason the provisional ballot is rejected.
DeVega: Recently in Wisconsin, the Democratic Party and its voters were able to win a seat on the state Supreme Court. This was very important in terms of stopping Republicans’ efforts to purge Democratic voters and likely supporters from the voting rolls. The Republican Party of course is pushing back. What is going on in Wisconsin at present?
Palast: The Democrats are in real trouble. I just spoke with one of the election commissioners in Wisconsin. There is a right-wing group suing to force the state to remove a quarter of a million voters. This group was able to get a court to agree with them.
Now the case is going to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court — which is what that whole primary in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic was about. The Republicans insisted on having a vote during the virus because they thought that would block voters in Milwaukee who would be too afraid to come out and vote. It was partly true, but enough people in Milwaukee risked death to come out and vote. The number of polling stations in Milwaukee went from 180 to just five.
The Democrats were so happy because despite the Republican Party’s impediments and interference, the Democratic-backed judge won. The Democrats thought that would be the end of it and that the voter rolls were safe. That would not be the case. The Republican candidate who lost then did something unheard of in my years of being involved with the courts: He un-recused himself.
The very man who lost that election is now going to hear the case in July and vote on it. Wisconsin may still remove 250,000 voters. This is extremely dangerous for democracy. If the Republicans succeed in removing those quarter million voters — concentrated in Madison, where the students are, and in Milwaukee, where African-Americans are concentrated — that is 10 times Trump’s 2016 vote margin in the state. How do you overcome that thumb on the electoral scale? We have got to be very concerned about how the Republicans are using mass purges of voters in swing states to stay in power.
DeVega: Given Donald Trump and his Republican Party’s use of voter suppression, gerrymandering, vote theft and other efforts to “win” elections in Georgia and many other states, there have been demands by activists and others that the United Nations should send observers to monitor voting in this country. What would that look like in practice?
Palast: The UN would not be able to monitor American elections. The United Nations subcontracts to the Carter Center in Atlanta. The Carter Center’s and the UN’s rules require that there be a minimum standard of democratic-voting procedures. They report that the United States does not meet those standards.
The UN and the Carter Center cannot monitor an election that they have already certified as being broken. The biggest single problem with voting in the United States is the massive purging of voter rolls, and that has already been done before Election Day. All the UN and the Carter Center observers would be able to do in America would be to sit there and monitor the fact that millions of people who thought they could vote are being told that they cannot vote.
The second serious problem with voting in America is shown by how the news media relies on the State Department to certify foreign elections. The State Department uses exit polls to determine the veracity of an election. But in this country, we have seen a phenomenon in the past few presidential elections where exit polls report that the Democratic candidates won.
For example, in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, exit polls show that Hillary Clinton won a huge victory over Trump. But the official count shows Trump squeaking by in those states. If such a thing happened in Ukraine or Peru or Serbia — I cite those three countries because exit polls there conflicted with the official tally and the United States refused to recognize those governments. Our government actually declared those victories to be phony. Yet in 2016, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and several other states showed Donald Trump losing in the exit polls. By the State Department’s own rules regarding elections, Donald Trump lost.
DeVega: Respected public opinion polls show Joe Biden with a double-digit lead over Trump in the 2020 election. Right now it looks like Trump will be routed in November. I will be transparent: I predicted that Trump would win in 2016 and I was correct. I believe he will win again in 2020. I hope I am wrong. Through skullduggery, trickery, foreign interference and other means, Trump is likely to win — assuming there even is an election and that he leaves the White House when he is defeated. Biden’s lead feels to me like a repeat of Democratic defeats in the past. Michael Dukakis was way ahead of George H.W. Bush in early polls in 1988. Hillary Clinton was also way ahead of Donald Trump for most of the 2016 campaign.
Palast: Joe Biden’s lead right now is not only completely meaningless but something far worse, because it is putting the Democrats to sleep. There were almost 7.9 million ballots that were either not counted or where voters were blocked from voting in 2016. If you were to call those voters up, like a pollster, many of them would tell you they were voting for Hillary Clinton. But those same people did not know that they would be blocked from voting on Election Day or that their votes were thrown out.
The non-count of voters, where people are either outright blocked from voting or their votes are thrown out by Republicans, undermines the predictive power of any poll that predicts a huge Biden victory. The Democrats must confront these structural impediments, many of which are driven by white supremacy, if there are going to be truly free and fair elections in the United States.
The Democrats are acting like they are still at Hillary Clinton’s inaugural and they haven’t left. They don’t know why the balloons didn’t drop through the glass ceiling.
Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at ChaunceyDeVega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show.