Dr. Naomi Wolf in conversation with Daniel G. Newman and Greg Palast
Former political advisor to Al Gore and Bill Clinton and author of End of America, Dr. Naomi Wolf talks to fellow authors Daniel G. Newman (Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy) and Greg Palast (How Trump Stole 2020: The Hunt For America’s Vanished Voters) about the challenges voters — and the very institution of democracy in the U.S. — face in the upcoming election. Both books “hold the key to what we can actually do to save the vote, save the election, and save democracy,” says Wolf, who moderates a discussion that is essential pre-election viewing.
Can we un-steal the election? Can we un-rig democracy? Or is this the end of America? Read on to find out…
Naomi Wolf: I’m absolutely thrilled to be here today in conversation with two of my personal heroes, extraordinary men who are, in my view, at the frontlines of waging the life and death battle right now to save democracy. And it is a life and death battle. All of you know both of these important authors. The books are Greg Palast’s How Trump Stole 2020: The Hunt For America’s Vanished Voters and Daniel G. Newman’s Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy.
The minute you’re done with this interview, you have to literally drop everything and order both of these books, because everyone knows that our democracy is going down in flames. Both of these men have been tracking the ways that it could go down in flames ahead of the curve and fearlessly for years in their careers. Now it’s all coming about as they foretold… No other books, both separately, but I think even more importantly together, hold the key to what we can actually do to save the vote, save the election, save democracy.
Their bios are as important as these individual titles. Greg Palast is of course is the freelance journalist who exposed some of the biggest scandals of the last century and now this one. He’s a four times New York Times bestselling author, he writes regularly for many important outlets, including, well, I read him most recently and he blew my mind in Rolling Stone, but he writes for The Guardian, he’s on BBC regularly and a host of other outlets. And he has his own investigative nonprofit with a really exciting venture that he’ll tell you about to get out the vote and make sure we fill out our ballots properly.
Daniel G. Newman is the president and cofounder of MapLight. MapLight is a real inspiration to me as co-founder of DailyClout, because it was a beacon of what you can do in the democracy protecting space. MapLight exists to shine a light on money’s corruption in politics. Now they’re shining a light on fake news. But before Newman was running MapLight, he was named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, he had a for-profit company, Say I Can, for speech recognition software and he was a Harvard Fellow.
So extraordinarily distinguished men and, as you know, I’ve spoken to each of them separately, but this conversation, I’m not exaggerating, it’s one of the most important conversations we can have as they communicate with each other about what to do in this emergency. So welcome to both of you.
Greg Palast: Welcome Naomi. Happy to be with you.
NW: Thank you. Thank you.
GP: Virtually, safely.
NW: That’s right, you’re actually hosting, so you’re welcoming me and it’s delightful to be hosted by you virtually. It’s so wonderful to have you both in the same space. Let me get right to it because I really see you as the two men who can save it as it goes down in flames… I’ll let both of you express the thesis of your respective books in the answer to this first question. But what I want to ask you first is where do you agree with each other about the threats to democracy and to the election? And then my next question is, where do you disagree? Where do you think your different focus, your warnings differ from each other? So that someone can listening to both can get a full sense of the arguments that you’re making and where one of you might have seen a danger that the other might also now know about by reading each other’s books.
GP: If you want me to start, this is Greg Palast. And the reason the book is called How Trump Stole 2020, it’s not a prediction, it’s a warning. And he did steal it already. We can steal it back. We can bust the burglary if we take certain steps. I’ve written the book to show you how they’ve shoplifted the election and how you can basically protect your vote and take it back, both through agitation and legislation, but especially by protecting your own vote. You’re going to have to take action to do that. So I call my book How Trump Stole 2020, because it’s not a prediction. I don’t know who’s going to get the most votes. It is a warning about the theft of your vote and the blockade to your voting and your friends voting. We can though, steal it back, that is bust the burglary. I’m explaining how they do it, how they block your vote, how they don’t count your vote. And I’ve done it in em>How Trump Stole 2020 in what I hope is an interesting way. I don’t want you to cry through the book when you read all these things. Both myself and Daniel Newman in his book Unrig, we are both trying to make the decay of American democracy, its destruction at the hands of vicious billionaires, as entertaining as possible. He’s written in graphic novel form. I actually have a 48-page comic book in the middle of my book and lots of photos and interesting stuff. Because I want you to read it, I want you to take it in, maybe have a few laughs and probably a few tears, but I want you to protect your vote.
Now the difference between our books is that Daniel Newman is concentrating on the money side. Now, I include the money side. Those who know Greg Palast, I was by profession for many years before I was an investigative reporter, I was a financial investigator, a detective working with the Justice Department Attorneys General around the world. This is what I did. And so, yes, it’s about the money. It’s always about the money, but Daniel takes you on a path and shows you in disgusting, corroded detail, but in an interesting, colorful manner in a colorful book, how money has poisoned American politics.
I learned stuff I didn’t know about, like the Democracy Vouchers of Seattle. I won’t take away your topics, but I hope you’ll get to that one because that was fascinating and you’ll want to hear about that. So what a pleasure to come back with you Naomi and to be with, really, one of my heroes is Daniel Newman.
NW: So what I’m hearing, and I agree with you, is that both of you could have spoken to the elites, spoken in language that’s difficult to understand, spoken in jargon and gotten lots of kudos from a tiny coterie, but both of you, the way I see it and the way I’m hearing what you’re saying, made the decision — and Daniel and I talked about this when we last spoke, as did we — to make it as accessible as possible. Because you don’t want just six people who are really influential to read this book. You want everyone and their grandma and their dog and their 12-year old to read this book. Daniel can you tell me how Unrig and em>How Trump Stole 2020 are on the same page with the warnings we’re facing.
Daniel G. Newman Thanks for those comments, Greg. I think your book does such a great job of making it be engaging. And you have a point of view. It’s not like one of these dry books. It’s about voting rights and that could be complicated and intricate, but you have an appropriate sense of outrage and you’re painting a picture in a way that people can do something about it. I share those sentiments about the rules of our democracy, voting rules, money and politics rules, gerrymandering, all these things that are kind of arcane and technical, that control who has power. They control who writes the laws that all of us live under. So by writing this graphic novel, in partnership with illustrator George O’Connor, it puts in 250 pages of comics [concepts] like, what are the rules of our democracy? How are they stacked in favor of the wealthy? But then, really importantly, what you can do about it. What are the solutions.
Greg mentioned Democracy Vouchers… In Seattle, a group of 10 citizens — that’s all it took — started a movement that now has led to the city mailing out $100 coupons to every person in Seattle that they can spend on city council candidates and mayor candidates. What that means is, if you want to run for office and you want to represent the people and not the big money special interests, that you have the means to finance your campaign and run and win. It was really important to me to show people solutions. To show people the ordinary folks who are actually making this happen. And one of the things, Greg, I really liked about your book is you also put inside of an action manual kind of form, that here are specific things that you can do to protect your vote.
GP: Yeah. In fact, actually, at the back of my book, we have something which we call “Ted & Greg’s New & Improved Ballot Condom for Safe Voting“. No, you don’t wrap it around your ballot. You do follow the seven steps, starting with check your registration. I don’t care if you’ve been voting at the same place for 30 years, please, go online to vote.org or even better to your county board of elections. Every county, every state in America allows you to look up your registration. You think, I’ve been voting same place 30 years, well, 16.7 million people have been removed, purged, wiped off the voter rolls in the past two years of record keeping. That could be you. It’s about one to nine voters. It was me. I looked myself up, Greg Palast, no such voter in California. So I reregistered right there online. Please do this.
NW: Turning to you, Greg, what would you say of all the incredible threats to the integrity of the elections that you identify in How Trump Stole 2020, what would you identify as the biggest threat? Why is this time worse, it sounds like, than ever before? And what would you hold up as the one takeaway, scary thing that people should know about from reading your book or from being about to read your book?
GP: Some people are gonna freak out when I say it; the scariest thing is mail-in voting. Mail-in voting is the most dangerous form of voting that we could imagine. Twenty-two percent of all mail in ballots are never counted. Now, wait a minute, is Greg Palast saying don’t mail in your vote? Like Trump, have I turned orange? No, no. What he’s trying to do is make it difficult for you to vote and put your mail-in vote at risk. In other words, right now, 1 in 5 mail-in votes isn’t countered and he wants to make that 7 out of 10. Right? So what do we have to do? You must mail in your ballot. That is, you must get an absentee or mail-in ballot, but you must learn how to protect it.
NW: Are you saying it’s better than going to the polls, Greg?
GP: Oh, absolutely. Look, unless something extraordinary happens that no expert can predict, at this moment the virus is going to be with us. You can’t wait in those lines because if we’re going to have a hundred million people go to the polls, or 150 million people go to the polls like this last time, we are going to have a millions sick and many die and that’s insane. You shouldn’t have to die to vote. But you have to know how to protect your mail-in ballot. And the number one thing, the number one way people lose their votes with mail-in is you don’t get the ballot. Now, if you’re an Oregon, if you’re in California, Washington, in other words, if you’re in what I call a Pacifica Nation, Hawaii and Colorado, you’re going to get your ballot mailed to you. You’re cool. Pretty much. The problem is in America — which does not include California, Oregon, or Washington, okay — in America it’s a bitch to get your ballot.
So you’ve got to do two things. Number one, if you’re not registered, if you’re part of that big 16.7 million purge list, you ain’t getting no mail in ballot. Remember, this might sound simple Homer, but if you don’t get the ballot mailed to you, how do you mail it back in? In California, it’s just going to be sent to you. In Oregon, it will be sent to you. In Georgia, Ohio…? In Georgia, they’re not even sending out the usual cards that ask you if you want a mail-in ballot? You actually have to contact your county office and request the mail-in ballot.
Now, I got to tell you, it’s not so easy. Jerry Thomas requested his ballot 45 days in advance with his wife in Georgia. It arrived June 10. The election was June 9. Now, are these unsophisticated people? No. Jerry Thomas, his wife, somehow she got her ballot in time, she’s the head of the ACLU of Georgia.
Stacey Abrams, the top voting rights figure in this nation, almost lost her mail-in ballot because it came with an envelope that was already sealed in the Georgia humidity, the envelope inside that you have to return your ballot in. She knew, as a Yale law graduate, not to just put it in another envelope, because you lose your vote.
3.3 million mail-in ballots were not counted in 2016, and unfortunately it’s not just anyone’s vote. It’s particularly young voters, when you look at the demographics. And again, it ain’t Greg Palast, I wasn’t sitting there counting the ballots that were thrown out. It’s a study by CalTech. The people that get shafted on mail-in ballots are young people, Hispanic voters, Asian-American voters, African-American voters, in other words, voters of color — and the color’s blue!
NW: Tell us again, for people who missed our first conversation, what you found out about how an algorithm purged a disproportionate number of voters of color, please.
GP: Wow. There’s many ways. Number one, I’m the reporter, as you’ll see in the book, who uncovered how back in 2000 Bush won because they called 58,000 black men felons. And I’m not guessing, because it said “BLA” next to their names on the voter rolls. 58,000 black men, were purged as ex-cons who weren’t allowed to vote. Their only crime was voting while black. There wasn’t a single illegal voter on that list. Just black voters who had names similar to someone who got convicted somewhere of a crime.
That worked so well that they took that game on the road and they expanded it… Like in Georgia, where it was first tested out, and in Ohio. They said if you’ve moved [and not notified the state, you should be removed from the voter rolls]. How do they know you’ve moved? You missed a couple elections? Well, what does that have to do with moving? So we had experts go through their lists and see who moved in Georgia. They said a half a million voters moved. Where are the U-Haul trucks on the road? We discovered that in fact, 340,134 of those voters who lost their registrations, who were wiped off the voter rolls, never moved anywhere. They’re still in the house where they registered.
It included people like Christine Jordan. She had been voting in the same voting station for 50 years. I was there at her voting station. It was going to be her 50th year of voting. They said, you’re not registered here anymore. This is Martin Luther King’s cousin, so you know she was guilty of voting while black. This is what’s happening, I think, around America.
It happened to me. I was purged. It can happen to anyone, but especially if you’re a voter of color or you’re a young voter, you better check your registration. And if you’ve moved down the street, you definitely better reregister. Even though the law doesn’t require it, you won’t get your mail-in ballot, I guarantee it. If you moved and didn’t notify the voting authorities… If you’ve changed you driving license… sixty precent of Americans think that when you go into the DMV and you change your address for your driver’s license, that it changes your voting address as well when you move. No, no, it doesn’t happen that way. The only state I think that does that in fact is Oregon. But you know, in America, that don’t happen. You are going to have to reregister, please.
NW: Reregister. Got it. And how about you? This is so terrifying. How about you Daniel Newman? What is the scariest thing that you’re trying to sound the alarm about out of all the many scary things you identify in Unrig?
DN: I think one is the fact that there is going to be unprecedented amounts of mail-in voting, further because of the reasons that Greg said, like standing in line as a health hazard, and you can vote from home. I should say that the rules here matter, like these little intricacies. Does it have to be the same envelope? And is it postage paid? And how long in advance do you have to get it? And does the state send it out [automatically]? All of these things. They seem like small technical things, but often times these elections turn on very small margins as we’ve seen over and over. So the states that do this the best, they just have the voter in mind. They’re like, let’s make it easy for the voter to follow the rules because the rules are easy to follow. Then you have the states on the other side of that that try and make them really restrictive. So given that there’s going to be this flood of mail-in ballots, many states are just not going to be used to this level of mail-in activity. And so it’s very likely that the final winner of the presidential election, as well as other lower down ticket elections, will not be known on Election Day. And we, as a country, are kind of conditioned like… Let’s get the election night counted. Let’s get [the results] out quickly. The concern is that the President is going to try to delegitimize ballots that were perfectly legitimately cast. I say this not out of speculation, really, but because he has already done that. Like in the midterm election, when the Republicans were ahead, he said, well, let’s stop the count now, which is completely bogus. So my message to individuals is let’s set expectations as widely as we can that we are going to do a careful count, and there’s not going to be instant knowledge of who won and what the final vote totals are. And we have to make sure that the officials have the public support to actually do the count in a thorough way.
GP: Let me just add something… Keep in mind, one of the nasty little secrets of American voting is that we don’t count a lot of ballots. A lot of ballots are simply never counted. For example, 935,000 — just short of a million — provisional ballots were challenged and not counted. We had 600,000 ballots challenged, most of them mail-in votes, because someone said that the signature doesn’t match the registration signature. You have to sign your ballot, and if you’ve signed it in a way that’s different from the registration signature [it can be disqualified]. I was just asked, what type of expertise do people have to challenge your signature? The expertise is they’re Republicans. That’s it. In other words, they just say, I don’t like that signature.
I saw this happen. I was covering for Democracy Now the counting of the votes in Michigan. Now, Donald Trump supposedly won Michigan by 10,000 votes, but 75,355 ballots were never counted in Detroit, Michigan. So wait, if you count the 75,000 ballots in Detroit — Motown — I think it might overwhelm the 10,000 votes that Trump supposedly won Michigan and the presidency with.
Jill Stein paid for a recount, and what we called the recount inn fact was counting those ballots that were never counted in the first place. 75,000 ballots with a marvelous machine called the human eyeball. Because, you know, we can see when the machines broke down in Detroit and couldn’t count the ballots, the human eyeball can. Donald Trump sued to stop that count. But in the meantime, and here’s what I’m talking about, get ready for November… GOP lawyers and GOP poll watchers, when they were counting those ballots, challenged virtually every single Hillary vote. They said, whatever it was, challenge, challenge, challenge. The Democratic Party did not challenge a Trump vote. They didn’t even challenge the challenge. So we, ourselves, are going to have to take control.
If you’re young and you’re healthy, volunteer as a poll watcher, volunteer as a poll worker. We have to make sure that the challenge is challenged because Trump’s got an army he’s going to put together, a vigilante force of 50,000. And while many people are concerned that this force is there to intimidate voters. I’m not. I don’t think they’re going to intimidate anyone. That is, I don’t know any voters that I’ve met that will be intimidated by these schmucks in Hawaiian shirts. But what they can do, the Boogaloo Boys and the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers and the whole Alex Jones crowd too, they’re going to walk in and start challenging every single ballot. 100,000 people lost their vote because of postage due. Eight states require that you have a witness signature. In Alabama, it’s two witness signatures, or you have to notarize your ballot. So learn all the rules and get ready to challenge the challenge.
NW: I have to share the way it was making me feel when both of you were describing, I think very plausibly and if anything I think you’re being gentle with the audience, because you’re right to say get ready for November. It’s going to be a melee. And what you’ve just described, challengers challenging the challenges — how can that end? I mean, God forbid, it’s such a tinderbox to erupt in violence, right? Especially with the kind of militarized policing we’ve seen in Portland in addition to these militias.
GP: Let me ask, Daniel, do you expect violence? I do.
DN: It’s really hard to say. I’m not really one for prediction in such an unpredictable time that we’re in. I think that there was this great report that just came out from the Transition Integrity Project where they did a simulation of all the complexities of the election and what the different actors might do. They found that actually, the winning strategy was to goad the other side into being violent… In these scenarios, you have Trump and his supporters trying to goad the Democrats into having violent street protests, and then Trump looks like the candidate of law and order.
I think one of the intricacies though, is that we don’t want to wait until after the election has happened. I mean, how many people were complacent four years ago, right? Hillary Clinton is going to win, do I really need to push, push, push? But then when Trump ended up winning the presidency, you had $9 million raised for Jill Stein, as you mentioned…
I think you’re exactly right, Greg, now is the time to focus. And when we think about John Lewis, who recently passed away… Who said of the Supreme Court majority, Republican appointed, and the roll back of voting rights. He said, these men never lost their farms. They were never beaten or jailed. No one they knew were killed simply for trying to register to vote. This is the legacy in America of violence to prevent people from having the vote. And so here we are, fortunately, violence free. We have the freedom to actually take the steps you’re talking about Greg, spread the word about how we have to protect the vote and be patient in the counting of the election. So there’s a lot we can do here.
NW: Absolutely. I just want to chime in and say what I wanted to foreground is this warning I hear from both of you, be patient, that we have to let people know going into this that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. As you said, it’s not going to be resolved. We’re not going to have that ritual of going to sleep the night before and waking up with a new president, probably. Right? And the reason my heart is sinking is that I’m having a traumatic memory of 2000 where I was advising Gore as a consultant for Gore 2000 and the hellish unfolding of actually democracy in action. People counting the vote, counting the vote, and suddenly the Right was so able to preempt people’s patience with beating the drum, saying sore loser. What are you waiting for? The hanging chads… You say that these guys in Hawaiian shirts aren’t gonna intimidate anyone. Those guys in buttoned down Oxford shirts that materialized out of nowhere in Florida in 2000 did take us back. We were much less used to intimidating groups of men standing around polling places…
GP: Well, actually, this is very interesting. Let me bring people a little bit into that story… I’m very concerned that Roger Stone has been let out of prison… because you’re letting a wild animal out of prison. He’s the guy that organized what was called the Gucci Riot. You had all these consultants, like you said, in button-down Oxford shirts, screaming, hollering, banging windows, creating complete mayhem in the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office to stop people from counting the ballots, just like in Michigan. Well, there they just used legal challenges. Because in Florida, just the same thing, they were looking at the ballots. The human eyeball can read votes that machines were kicking out. By the way, 179,000 ballots were rejected — rejected — in the 2000 race. 179,000 ballots. We talk about hanging chads. What is a hanging Chad? It’s just a piece of cardboard that’s stuck to the back of a punch out ballot. Someone tried to vote and they denied them their vote, [refused to count] that vote because somewhere on that piece of cardboard there’s a little piece of cardboard hanging on the back. You know who that person voted for. They punched a hole.
DN: I will say in terms of what can be done right now… Like right now, today, many states are revising the rules for mail-in ballots because people are stuck at home. You have North Carolina, which has loosened up somewhat on their very restrictive rules. But while they loosen up more, these are decisions by the state legislature and the governor and they’re happening right now. So one of the things that you can do being at home, watching this, is get in touch with the voting rights groups in your state and help them lobby for postage paid ballots and so you don’t need a witness in this time of COVID and other things that are, again, small rule changes, but will make a big difference on the margin and can be done today.
GP: Two things there. Number one, in the states, you do want to push for changes, but be careful. A lot of people in Wisconsin lost their vote because a judge said you didn’t need a witness signature on your mail-in ballot, which is a crazy thing. Only eight States require that. Why should there be a witness signature anyway? So the court said you don’t need a witness signature, and then the day before the election, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin reversed it. All those people who mailed in their ballots without that witness signature, their ballots were all junked. So be very careful. And I know that there are crazy mail-in rules, we should try to change them, but if we can’t, you gotta follow them no matter how insane they are.
By the way, like in Wisconsin, very few students have the mail-in ID, the ID you need to vote. And if you are a first time mail-in voter, you’re going to have to include a photocopy of that ID. And if it’s the regular student ID, sorry, you better go get a gun license cause that you can use to vote, but not the normal student ID. And if you use a student ID, are you ready for this? In Wisconsin, you have to have a letter saying you are a student enrolled in good standing. So, you know, if you didn’t pay your tuition, you flunked algebra, does that mean you can’t vote for president? This is the crazy stuff that’s going on. And I agree with Daniel, let’s start agitating against it.
There are a lot of groups, like ACLU of Georgia I know was suing about the postage in Georgia, ‘cause a hundred thousand people lost their vote for postage due in 2016. That’s going to be worse [this year]. A lot of it, by the way, is because people think I have to put one stamp on and most ballots are two stamps. This is the games that they play. ‘Cause someone’s going to challenge your ballot.
Our counties can also make things easier. Some counties can actually have the authority under state law to do things like in their county mail everyone a ballot. In Los Angeles, we’ve got these huge pull out postcards which help you vote and are extremely helpful, and that’s done at the county level.
NW: I like to call myself a democracy nerd, as Daniel knows. I think all of us can proudly call ourselves democracy nerds, but people who might not be that in the weeds are listening to this and they’re probably feeling quite depressed and disoriented. How do you know [who you can trust]? Let me give you an example. My son is a college student and he’s part of an organization to get his peers to vote. They’re texting people and saying go to TurboVote, make sure you’re registered. And people are saying, how do I know you’re for real? I don’t want to give you my information. I don’t want to engage with you. Because people are so jaded and traumatized that there are all these fake outreaches and bad actors interfering with communications about voting. If I’m just sitting here watching this, how do I know who to trust? Are there some organizations, are there websites, reliable lists of entities that I can go to and be sure you’re not being manipulated.
DN: The Secretary of State in your state, you go there and you know it’s government information, it tells you how to register to vote. And as Greg says, there are many rules. You can get the rules right there. Common Cause, the League of Women Voters are very long-time, trusted organizations. Greg, I’m sure you have other assets to add.
GP: Yes, vote.org, But, again, you have to give your email and your address to a private non-profit group, and then they will check and see your registration status and give you a link where you can reregister online. Every state allows you to register online by the way, except for South Dakota, ’cause they didn’t have registration. And, by the way, just ’cause they don’t have voter registration doesn’t mean that they have a bunch of Canadian moose coming in and voting. Or South Dakotans sneaking across the border to vote in North Dakota. All these things are just crazy impediments. We have to live with them if we can’t change them in time.
NW: What should people do if they do physically go to the polls, they take all the precautions they should, and they’re turned away? What’s the thing to avoid and the thing to do in that situation?
GP: Well, obviously keep space, have your masks and gloves. But, number one, if you’re going to vote in person, try to vote in person early. I suggest midweek because the GOP has now figured out that, for example, in Ohio, seventy percent of African Americans vote on the Sunday before voting, Souls to the Polls Day. I was with Souls to the Polls in Ohio in 2012 and 2016 and the lines were five hours long. So try to go in midweek when those places are empty. If you can and have a mail-in ballot, walk it in to get it certified and get your signature verified. So you’re not one of the 600,000 people who have their ballots thrown out because someone challenged your signature.
NW: How about you, Daniel? Do you have suggestions about what to do if you’re turned away?
DN: There is an election protection hotline and Election Protection website [866ourvote.org]. It’s this coalition of national, local and state groups that have a hotline to give you advice. They have volunteers and attorneys.
GP: I believe that it’s 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
DN: I also want to note, just sort of looking at the big picture, obviously voting appropriately enough becomes a big topic around election time, but I want to mention this bill in the current Congress called HR-1. HR-1 was this bill that the Democrats introduced, called HR-1 ‘cause it’s the first bill that they introduced back in 2019. And if we have a President Biden and we have Democratic control of the House, then there’s going to be a lot of competing priorities on what the Democrats should do. And I think it’s important that all of us who care about voting and care about democracy, make sure that they continue to prioritize actually fixing democracy, right? So that means the equivalent HR-1, it should be the first thing introduced in the new Congress, and it should be the first thing passed. Because we’ve seen this pattern historically, the party out of power puts forward reforms, but then when they get in power, they don’t actually want to do them. So it’s important not just to focus on your individual vote, and your individual state now, which is critically important, but to make sure that national voting standards, an end to gerrymandering, reinstating the Voting Rights Act, all of which are components of this terrific bill continue to get the first priority.
NW: What a great suggestion. You anticipated one of my questions, which is, will a change in party solve this problem? Obviously not. And that’s such a great suggestion. We’ll follow up with HR-1. We’ll do a reading of it and a video and we’ll do all we can to make sure that people keep it top of mind.
Let me go back to some possible scenarios, big picture… You said prepare for the worst, or prepare for the long haul. I know no one likes to talk about the worst, but I wrote a book in 2008 called The End of America that predicted 10 steps to fascism… No one likes to be Cassandra and I respect one doesn’t want to be predicting in an unpredictable environment. But I studied closing democracies in different times and places and they are all identifiable by certain things, and they’re happening now. You can expect that there will be groups of tough men milling around polls, because that’s how decaying democracies have behaved since the 1920s under Mussolini. You can expect that there’s going to be tampering with the vote. You can expect that there’s going to be the sewing of confusion around facts in the media, fake news, right? These are all part of the 10 steps to decaying democracy, even if you don’t want to say fascism or tyranny or totalitarianism, if you believe we’re not there yet. But I think we have to recognize that we’re in a chess match in which the outcome could be a hollowed out democracy. Where I’m going with that is… I’m going to just predict it, okay. I hate doing this, but I’m often right. So I’m going to do it. I’m going to say…
GP: You’re famous for being right, so I want to hear what you have to say.
NW: It’s not fun because first people hate you. Then, years later they say, oh yeah, she predicted this. You want to be wrong about things like this. But what will happen is that there will be so many challenges to the vote, as you’ve pointed out. It’s not rocket science. There will be an effort on the part of the sitting president to muddy the outcome, that’s completely predictable. And honestly, if Democrats learn from their example, it’s not going to be much better because there will be charges and counter charges, and chaos. I’m going to predict that there will probably be instigators creating violent situations in the streets. I don’t want to, but it’s foreseeable. What do we do if President Trump says… And I’m only saying this because of the studies of so many other democracies coming to a shuddering halt exactly at this point in history. We’re not the first people to be here. Other democracies have softened, weakened, hollowed out, gotten to this point, and come back from the break. But we were not back yet. At this point what happens is that the sitting president declares a state of emergency and says it’s not safe to count the vote. There’s too much violence. It’s not safe to have civil society. It’s not safe to have domestic policing. You start to see what we’ve seen already, which I think is a trial run, which are federal troops instead of National Guard, possibly even members of the U. S. military, I don’t want to go that far. You don’t need to go that far because of fusion centers, our existing law enforcement at some levels. The DHS are already highly militarized. The president says I’m not leaving or something like this: We have to take a temporary emergency measure for the next six months where we’ll let you know the outcome at the end of six months, but in the meantime, it’s too dangerous to have civil society. What do we do?
GP: I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week. I said I believe that there will be violence. I’m certain of it. I want people to think about this carefully. For example, the Gucci Riot with Roger Stone back in 2000 where it was $1,200 an hour consultants banging on the windows and stopping the vote count. Now we’ve get Boogaloo Boys in Hawaiian shirts with crowbars and pipes who are smashing the buildings, Molotov cocktails thrown into Post offices because our president has said there are a million ballots in these 12 Post Offices from Venezuela and we have to stop the election from being stolen. There will be protests in the streets on both sides. We already had the test run, as you say. I agree with you, it’s a test run of the unmarked SUVs picking up people as if we were in Peronist Argentina. This is new, dangerous stuff. When you have an unmarked secret police, some people are going to be like, I don’t know that they are federal troops. All I know is that they’re right wing nuts cases, grabbing protesters. Someone’s going to get killed… So now Trump is militarizing response to protest and what I’m worried about is that, for example, the Florida legislature, you have two Post Offices on fire, the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office is shut down because it’s too dangerous to go in because of the Boogaloo Boys and the Proud Boys. Then what happens is the rabidly Republican legislature of Florida says it’s too much mayhem, we can’t count the votes in time. We have 6 million mail-in ballots, which is what I expect for Florida, 6 million. We can’t count them in time, so we’re not going to certify the election. Republicans of Michigan say we can’t certify the election. Detroit is in flames and Milwaukee’s in flames. We can’t certify the election. So you have three Republican legislature say it’s mayhem in the streets, it’s martial law, we’ve had curfews, we can’t count the ballots. No certification. Now, no candidate gets 270 votes in the Electoral College because they don’t send the electors. Real simple, you don’t certify the election, you can’t send your electors, no one gets 270 votes, it goes under the 12th Amendment and it goes to the House. But it’s not Nancy Pelosi who makes the decision. Each state gets a single vote. Wyoming gets the same vote as New York, and Donald Trump is reelected — constitutionally — because our cities are in flames.
DN: So building on that, Greg, that terrifying scenario, it’s the newly elected Congress that gets to decide on the new president in that disputed election scenario, the newly elected House. And so, you know, if you care about the fairness of elections or you care about Joe Biden getting elected, then it’s worth looking at the map, worth looking at which are the delegations that are a few votes, a few House seats either way — flip the delegation from Republican to Democrat or vice versa. So it’s not about the majority of the House, but it’s about those delegations. MapLight came out with this report last week called “Election in Peril“. It lists all these state delegations. There’s a lot of effort in like how to make sure that a certain party gets the majority in the House. This is another way of looking at it that’s also really important. Because in case of a disputed presidential election, a few house seats could actually make that decision.
I will also mention this report from the Transition Integrity Project that just came out that gamed out some of these scenarios, like with violence and street protests and such. One of the things they found again was that goading the other side into violence was the winning strategy. So if it’s Trump supporters that are violent, that can end up boomeranging against him in public opinion. It turns out that the losing strategy is expecting the courts and the legal system to resolve this. In this simulation it would happen time and time again. Democrats playing Biden campaign officials saying, okay, let’s sue, let’s go to the court, and the court responses were simply ineffective and too slow. I think that speaks to all of us as citizens who want to see a president that actually believes in democracy and is pushing the Democratic party and the Biden campaign to be bold, especially in the case of election disputes. Because you can imagine there’s a tendency to sit back, let’s let the court decide it. But it’s actually the activism of all of the constituents of the Biden campaign and the Democratic party and people who want to see that side win that are going to push them to be aggressive, and that is the winning strategy.
NW: What I’m hearing, and I want to reinforce to everyone listening, is that a huge takeaway from this conversation is psychological, that going into this election we have to stay calm. We have to encourage other people to stay calm. If we protest, we need to do it peacefully. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I hear that. We cannot rise to the bait of any provocation. Not only that, if you look at the history of protest, it’s peaceful, enduring protest that wins. It’s short, sharp clashes that lose. That’s really important. We have to be patient. Patient, organized, diligent, watchful, and not get swept up in the hysteria that is doubtless going to be hyped or real or some combination?
Let me ask one final question, if I may. This is really one of the most important conversations I think I’ve ever had and I think everyone listening can’t pay attention to a more important conversation. A lot of the strategy that you gentlemen have both laid out depends on a functioning Post Office. Our president has already floated the possibility of postponing elections, and he’s also already made it clear that he’s at war with the Post Office and is trying to put his own eyes and hands in deputies all over the management of the Post Office.
I just want to share what the Daily Clout observed in 2014 in the Scottish referendum. There were a lot of irregularities in the counting of the vote of the Scottish referendum. One of the things we found there was that no one was actually in charge, officially, of counting the vote. When there were disputed ballots, people were sent to police precincts, who sent them to local councils, who sent them to the Electoral Commission, which sounds like a government body that’s supposed to validate the vote, but they’re an agency of the British government from which Scotland would have been succeeding. So they are toothless, and they sent people back to the councils, back to the police, in a complete circle. And 400 marked ballots were messed up in the exact same way and people had no recourse. Where I’m going with this is that was a tight referendum… hundreds of ballots were lost from the Post Office or were dumped out of mail bags and found at the side of the road. So let me turn it over to you. Given that so much of this depends on a functioning, neutral, impartial, effective Post Office, what assurances do you have that the Post Office won’t be used to not send people ballots, not deliver them back to the counters. What protections are there?
DN: I think there are so many things that can go wrong and Greg knows that much better than I do. I think that keeping the Post Office funded is basically, fundamentally what needs to happen to make sure that the whole mail-in ballot system works. But despite these voter suppression tactics going on for years and years, candidates do win elections in spite of these things. I’ve never seen the U. S. more energized to get involved in voting. I want people to know that actually your vote is meant to make a difference, and you organizing your friends and neighbors to vote is going to make an even bigger difference. If you can, get in touch with the groups that are pressuring your state, that’ll make an even bigger difference. So many of the elections turn on things that are close. So your vote, and the work that you do, will actually make the difference.
GP: One thing I should say about Daniel’s book Unrig is that you have many positive stories about how citizen action totally changed the whole political makeup of cities. Like Seattle, again, with your Democracy Vouchers. That was an amazing story. Berkeley, other places that are showing that citizens can take control.
The other thing to remember, when I was writing with Rolling Stone, Barack Obama won and my a co-writer, Bobby Kennedy called him up and said… Do you understand that we figured that you were robbed of 5.9 million votes? And Obama understood all the details. He could feed back all the details of all the votes that were stolen. But his statement was we just have to overwhelm it. Because, and this is very important, they can’t steal all the votes all the time. You can overwhelm it. You can protect your vote. You can protect your registration. But most important, you can just overwhelm them. And I’m sorry, just assume that you don’t win an election with 51 percent. You win with 56 percent.
They steal a lot of votes… 925,000 provisional ballots were rejected. Ballots rejected in-precinct as unreadable, uncountable, 1.9 million. Mail-in ballots lost and rejected, 3.033 million, these are numbers from the Elections Assistance Commission, these are the government’s numbers. Over 5 million ballots that someone cast or tried to cast and never got counted. Now, what do we do? We overwhelm that steal. We protect as many votes as we can. We stop the challenge, ’cause we’re going to have 70-million plus mail-in ballots. We have to make sure that we challenge the massive challenges that we expect, but we can do it!
DN: I would add to that, when there’s public officials in office in your state that want fair elections, then have them keep making the rules better. So the next round, we don’t have to go through this. Voting as a state issue. Trump and Congress don’t really make the rules on voting. It happens at your state. Your state has a lot of power, and you have a lot of power to make it better.
NW: Fantastic. Well, on that note, you both have sent us out with very specific ways to be stronger now, having heard you than we were before we heard you. We’re empowered. We’ve got the armor of democracy. And everyone, it’s not just what you’ve heard here. There’s so much more in both of these books. And again, don’t just read both of these books, buy them in multiples, I almost never say that. You need dozens of these books. You need to give them to your babysitters. You need to give them to your children’s teachers. You need to give them to people you argue with at the other side of the political spectrum, your relatives.
Greg Palast’s book is How Trump Stole 2020: The Hunt For America’s Vanished Voters and Daniel G. Newman’s Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy. Beautiful books, both of them. And if you have additional questions, the websites you should go to are GregPalast.com and UnrigBook.com.
Thank you for being defenders of democracy. I feel so much better knowing that you’re in the front lines and shining a light for everyone else. Thank you both so much.