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Friday, 16 June 2017 15:09

Behind Thuggish Assault on Greg Palast: Covering Up New Jim Crow Voter Suppression

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Georgia U.S. stateGeorgia state flag. (Image: Wikipedia)

In last week's Georgia's 8th Congerssional District debate, would-be Congresswoman Karen Handel took a momentary break from attacking her opponent, Jon Ossoff, to attack a reporter: me. Handel claimed, "a reporter supposedly representing some very liberal Democratic organization almost literally accosted me." 

In fact, is was a trio of galoots working for Handel who accosted me.

But who accosted whom is less important than Handel's promoting the dangerous new trend of attacking the press, sometimes physically, when questions are uncomfortable or challenging.

It all began with my investigation for Rolling Stone Magazine, printed just before the Presidential election, in which Georgia, and the 6th Congressional District, played a notable--and ugly--role.

I had discovered that Handel's successor as Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, had employed a sophisticated, under-the-radar trick that could simply wipe away minority voter registrations by the thousands. The trick is called, “Interstate Crosscheck.”

Crosscheck's operation is based on the claim, repeated as faith by President Donald Trump, that there are “millions” of voters registered in two states who vote twice in the same election.

While not one Georgian has been convicted of this crime -- voting twice is a felony – Secretary of State Kemp has been working through a target list of an astonishing 660,708 Georgians.

Handel, previously Secretary of State and a Crosscheck booster, told me, “We use the system of Crosscheck to make sure illegal voters are not on our rolls.” But is there really a humongous crime wave of Georgia citizens voting in another state in the same election?

Despite Handel’s claims to the contrary, records indicate not a single Georgian was found guilty of the crime of double-voting.

I obtained a copy of the list. Here’s a typical suspect: Maria Isabel Hernandez of Georgia is supposed to be the same voter as Maria Cristina Hernandez of Louisiana. James Brown Jr. is supposedly also voter James Brown Sr.

It would be ludicrous if it didn’t threaten so many voters. And not just any voters. The experts brought in by my Rolling Stone team concluded that, by using common names (Hernandez, Lee, Kim, Brown), the list was wildly biased against minorities. They estimated that as many as one-in-seven Black voters in Crosscheck states are tagged.

Not all will lose their vote. That would only happen after a number of steps including failure to return a postcard from Secretary Kemp’s office. Virginia is the only state to identify the number of voters purged by Crosscheck, about 12% of the list. Applied to Georgia, that implies 79,000 voters are at risk.

The issue has national significance. This absurdly concocted list was created for Georgia and other GOP-controlled states by Kris Kobach, appointed two weeks ago to run President Trump’s so-called, “Election Integrity Commission.” If Crosscheck and other racially poisonous vote suppression methods help seize Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District unchallenged, Trump’s commission will be tempted to expand it nationwide.

And that’s why I “accosted” – i.e. interviewed—Ms. Handel. When I attempted a follow up question, a chunky goon jumped between me and her, and muscled me back while another knucklehead grabbed my arm and a third shoved me back. I have it all on camera.

This was only days after the assault on Guardian reporter been Jacobs, but in my case it was more ludicrous than harmful.

What was my question that was so rudely blocked? I had, in 2014, interviewed an enthusiastic group of Korean-Americans based in the Sixth CD, the Asian-American Legal Advocacy Center. When I returned this year, their former office was shuttered, empty.

Apparently, the group which launched a “10,000 Korean Votes” registration drive discovered that many of their registrants simply never appeared on voter rolls. Their lawyers’ query about missing voters to the Secretary of State resulted in a raid by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and a threat of criminal charges. While no charges were brought, the terrifying raid (repeated later against the New Georgia Project), was enough to at least temporarily derail the “10,000 Korean Votes” campaign. According to a written statement sent to me yesterday by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta (the group that replaced the Asian-American Legal Advocacy Center) the “10,000 Korean Votes” campaign ended in 2015. Since that time, the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center also ceased to exist as such, though at least some of its work is being carried on by the Atlanta branch of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which continues to engage in voter registration efforts, according to its website.

I was trying to ask Handel about these raids on voter registration groups when I was body-blocked.

Then her supporters began chanting, “U! S! A! U! S! A!” – as if questioning journalists are now enemies of America.

And that’s frightening. Not the clowns who assaulted me. They were more buffoonish than threatening.

I don't want compensation, I don't want to press charges. I want an answer to the question: Who will decide the race in the Sixth—the voters or Jim Crow?

Note: This article has been updated to clarify that while the author found the old office of the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center to be shuttered and empty, at least some of that group’s work is being carried on at another site by the group that replaced it: the Atlanta branch of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.


Greg Palast investigated vote suppression tactics in Georgia and nationwide for Rolling Stone Magazine. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, now a major motion picture. Palast is a Puffin Foundation fellow in investigative reporting.