How to Rig an Election: an Interview With Greg Palast

AUGUST 21, 2020

Greg Palast. Photo by Gabriel Olsen.

Greg Palast does not mince words about the 2020 elections.

Only the voter fraud he warns about is not by the voters, as President Trump insists. It’s by the vote-stealers in the Republican Party. And they’ve been at it for a long time, unbeknownst to the American people.

The title of his new book, How Trump Stole 2020, serves as fair warning, while he does everything in his power to educate Americans about the covert dirty tricks performed by Trump Republicans to tamper with our elections.

Most people, he tells us, don’t realize that elections are usually stolen before they occur — mainly by blocking people from voting; sadly, those voters who were purged from the voter rolls in 2016 and 2018(something Palast considers “truly evil”) didn’t even know it happened, They simply assumed their votes were counted. And it’s likely to happen again…unless all precautions are taken. Fortunately, How Trump Stole 2020 is the go-to book to find out how to protect your vote.

Are you worried about mail-in ballots? Read on.

Consider a few frightening facts that Palast, a first rate investigative journalist, has uncovered having spent years of election dissections for the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the Guardian. Most recently:

+ In 2016, over half a million mail-in ballots were never counted. MIT did a study, Losing Votes by Mail, which put the loss of mail-in votes in 2016 at 22 percent. About half the ballots were never received or received too late to vote. And one in two ballots mailed in were challenged by Republicans and not counted.

The cartoon below, from Palast’s book, gives you a snapshot of what to expect.

+ In 2018, just before the midterm elections in Georgia, the Republican Secretary of State (Brian Kemp, who would soon run for governor against popular legislator and Harvard graduate Stacey Abrams) had removed 347,134 voters from the rolls, — illegally — alleging that the voters had moved. Cried Abrams, “they stole our vote!” She was right. Palast, who helped Abrams and her organization, Fair Fight Georgia, figure out what happened, found out that “none of the voters moved.”

+ In the last two years, 16.7 million people were removed from the voter roll records, causing Palast to conclude that Trump could win the 2020 election on November 7, 2018 — two years before an entire vote was ever cast. Hence, the provocative title of his book.

+ The U.S. Civil Rights Commission provides “a most valuable statistic,” he reports: “You chance of having your vote spoiled is 900% higher if you’re Black than if you’re white.

I had a chance to interview Palast in early August, just when Trump was going on a full frontal attack against the Post Office and mail-in ballots while threatening to delay the elections. It appeared that Trump and his minions in the Republican Party — including Republican secretaries of state — were sparing no effort to commit massive election fraud, all while projecting the crime onto the Democrats. I asked Palast why Trump was so openly resorting to such tactics. His answer may seem obvious to some, and a surprise to others:

“Bluntly, there just aren’t enough old white guys to elect Donald Trump.”

In other words, the Republicans have embarked on a deliberate effort to steal the vote from voters of color, who tend to vote Democratic. Trump, he adds, “is very very good at it. But he didn’t start it. The first Jim Crow operation began with the 2000 election in Florida.”

Greg Palast was the reporter who broke the story of how Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris won the 2000 election in Florida for George W. Bush by knocking 58,000 African Americans off the voter rolls, branding them as felons, when in fact, “their only crime was voting while black.” It’s easy to win Florida by 537 votes, Palast wryly notes, “when you eliminate 58,000 black guys.”

How did this happen? Florida, Palast explained to me, was the first state to computerize its voter rolls. “Just by pushing a button you can eliminate thousands upon thousands of voters of color.”

And “it rolls on from there. Every state is now required by law to computerize their voter rolls.”

Eighteen years later, he would see the same baseless purging of Black voters from the rolls in Georgia. And he worries that it will happen again, a renewed “test case” for the 2020 elections nationwide. “The Georgia vote purge game, “ he writes in his book, did in fact “spread to a dozen key states, and would stealthily bleach the voter rolls whiter than white.”

In fact, by mid 2020, according to Palast, the following purges had already happened:

Ohio — 432,000; North Carolina — 576,534; Arizona — 258,000 Wisconsin — 99,000 (with an additional 232,000 listed for purge)

The Palast approach

Why should you believe this supremely confident reporter who sports a trademark fedora on his head as a symbol of his sleuthing skills? First, he has the kind of expert training in number crunching required for this kind of analysis. He taught statistics at Indiana University and got his graduate degree in economics at the University of Chicago, studying under the famed conservative economist Milton Friedman — where he “learned a lot about the system.”

He has not been shy about going to the federal Election Assistance Commission and the federal Census as a source for his statistics. He gives an example in his first chapter of what he found out about voters purged between 20014 and 2016: “The number of voters purged for moving their residence had soared to 16,696,470 — one in 12 registered Americans.”

Wow, he thought, with numbers that high, “we sure are a restless bunch.” But then he consulted the CensusHis findings: “The number of purged voters was nearly double the number of voters the Census counted as having moved out of their county or state.”

There’s more, but that should be enough to whet the readers’ appetite.

Palast draws on other tools besides digging out statistics. He spent 25 years as a “detective investigator” for the Justice Department and the attorney general, doing “multi-billion dollar investigations” in the U.S. and also abroad before becoming an investigative journalist. Put those unique experiences together and you understand why Palast was the only reporter who questioned an official list of illegal voters generated in 2016 by Secretary of State Kris Kobach of Kansas (a Republican purge master who Palast jokingly refers to as KKK.) Palast claims NBC and “hundreds of outlets, not just Fox,” thought that Kobach’s computerized “Crosscheck” list was a wonderful system for preventing double voting fraud. They apparently accepted that voters were engaged in double voting in at least two states — accounting for 3.6 million double registered voters.

Palast asked for the list. Who, he wondered, were these terrible ne’er-do-wells committing a felony crime by voting in two states? “That’s five years in the slammer!” he reminisced. “That had to be one of the biggest crime waves in history!”

Turns out Kris Kobach got GOP states (and some Democrat states) to combine their computerized voter rolls to determine who voted twice by looking at the names. Specifically, they reviewed common names listed in a computerized “Interstate Crosscheck.” Long story short, Palast and his team got ahold of the list and began tracking down the alleged double voters, sometimes making personal visits and also studying the lists. In the process, he learned that 85 out of every 100 most common names in America are minority names like Jose Garcia, Jesse Jackson and David Kim. But many have different middle names. Didn’t matter. As long as they had the same first and second names in two different states, they got purged from the rolls — some seven million in all.

Judging from his findings, journalists and Democrats alike are not posing the right questions to election officials. Instead, they tend focus on the threat of Russians tampering with our elections. Granted, Trump’s audacious efforts to weaken the post office and disparage mail-in votes are now being covered, but the “external interference” story is still getting a lot of air time. Why? “The Russians-fixed-the-election story line,” he writes, “is a lot more acceptable to Americans than explaining that Trump was elected by an endemic racial apartheid in America’s voting system constructed by the GOP and made possible by their cringing enablers, the see-no-evil Democrats.” He holds cable and network TV bosses responsible for not covering the real story about voter fraud, while they determine what is acceptable language in describing the current political/economic scene.

“What it comes down to,” he told me, “is the language that we all come to accept. Instead of calling them billionaire bandits, we use the term ‘entrepreneurs.’” And instead of referring to “vote theft,” the preferred term is “voter suppression.” Palast’s term for schemes like Crosscheck is “The Great Purge.”

Cui bono? Who benefits?

We discussed the role of oilmen in funding Trump’s campaign. President Trump had recently visited the Permian Basin oil territory of Texas for a big fundraiser, charging $2,800 a plate luncheon and $100,000 for each special guest to attend a roundtable discussion. As Palast pointed out in his book, “billionaires don’t donate to candidates. They invest. And they expect a return.”

Palast has written extensively on the subject of “billionaire bandits” in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, in Vultures’ Picnic, and in Armed Madhouse. He was also the first to do a documentary on the Koch brothers, The Richest Guys You Never Heard Of, back in 1995. He explained how Trump became “oil’s best friend,” through Billy Koch, the lesser known third Koch brother “that no one talks about.” Palast managed to befriend Billy and learned that he was “the first guy who put the big money behind Trump” as the owner of Oxbow Carbon — “the number one dealer of PetCoke” — that is, the gunk left over from refining oil. Palast argues that Billy needed Trump to jam through authorization of the controversial Keystone XL (Tarsands) pipeline (which originates in Canada) to run through the US because Billy has made billions pulling the highly toxic gunk out of the pipeline and selling it to China “where it goes off into the atmosphere.”(It’s illegal to burn in most of the US). According to Palast, that makes Billy “the Goliath of Global Warming,” or, put differently, “the Nation’s Number One Filth Merchant.” And Trump is his willing servant — and climate denier.

You see, Greg added, while “Trump plays a billionaire on TV, in reality, he has to call on real billionaires like Billy.”

So the problem of Big Money destroying our voting rights as well as our planet extends way beyond Trump, to the powerful people who count on him to deliver for them. Key among them are the oil boys.

Depressing? Well, yes. But Palast, in his trademark irreverence for the rich and corrupt, has given us a way for us to fight back, against getting screwed. He has come up with an ingenious remedy called The Ballot Condom. It should be in every household if we are to defeat voter theft and save our democracy.

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Page one of the Ballot Condom

The Ballot Condom for Safe Voting

Greg’s prophylactic against vote tampering is in the back of his book and is also available online at It gives a series of instructions, simple to follow. The first warning is to be careful with mail-in ballots, humorously introduced under the warning, “Don’t Pick and Lick”

The condom says: “Make sure you follow carefully its instructions, no matter how beserk.” In one case, (Ohio) there’s a little square on the outside envelope for you to put the stamp. But the instructions require two stamps! One- stamp ballots go into the trash can. “Postage due” killed 100,000 ballots. “How do you like that as a cute way to throw away your vote?” Palast exclaimed. “They kind of lead you to throw away your vote.

And if you are voting by mail, vote early!

Check your registration too! Palast says this is de riguer, the absolute first requirement to protect your vote. If you moved, he counsels, re-register. If you didn’t vote in the last election or two, re-register. (Voters have been purged who didn’t vote in the last two elections.) And don’t think that because you filled out a voter registration form at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you were renewing a license, that it actually got recorded. Federal law requires the DMV to provide the form, but not to have it entered into the voter rolls.

Similarly, you have the right to a provisional ballot if you are missing from the voter rolls. “But you don’t have the right to have it counted.” He says over one million provisional ballots were rejected in 2016.

Greg ended our interview on a sober note. “John Lewis almost got beaten to death while crossing the bridge to win the right to vote. I’m not asking you to do that. But you may have to go to the county board of elections and ask for a ballot if you didn’t receive it two weeks before the election.”

His final words of advice: “Don’t expect the Democrats or your mommy or your daddy to protect your vote. Buy How Trump Stole 2020, get the ballot condom, read it carefully, and follow the directions.” In other words, the onus is on us, the people.

On a happy note, a group called the Emergency Election Protection Coalition meets every week, trading information (with the help of Palast and others) on what’s happening in vulnerable states. Vermont, where this writer lives, is not vulnerable. I interviewed Jim Condos, the Secretary of State, and it became clear to me that he has considered every eventuality and prepared accordingly. He is familiar with the Crosscheck schemes of Kris Kobach(who recently was defeated in the Kansas primary when he ran for the Senate). He communicates regularly with the Democrat Association of Secretaries of State, which unlike the Republican counterpart, strives to protect the vote rather than steal it. He gets uploads from the DMV on license renewals and voter registrations, and he checks regularly with the ACLU on any dangers to voters’ rights. New drop boxes are being installed.

Reflecting on my interview with Greg, it struck me that the driving force behind the Great Game for Oil described in my latest book is similar to the subterranean effort to control our elections, and that Palast’s new book is essentially about the Great Game to Steal Your Vote. Some of the same key players are involved, and as Palast rightly points out, the underlying theme running through his book is “not so much about voter fraud as it is about power.”

Get ahold of Palast’s book and you will get a rare education in how the rich and the powerful are trying to undermine our democracy. It abounds with searing “Palastian humor,” along with a host of witty educational cartoons by Ted Rall, all of which helps us get through a heavy litany of outrageous crimes, not by voters but by the real vote fraudsters serving the billionaires.

I’m reminded of the musician-satirist Tom Lehrer and his spoof of the Boy Scouts of America, who he calls “those noble little bastions of democracy,” naming his wickedly irreverent song after their motto, “Be Prepared!”

Only now, Be Prepared is an adage that must be taken very seriously — not only on election day, but the weeks and days before the first Tuesday in November 2020.