Vice presidential candidate Mike Pence. (photo: Getty)
29 July 16
However, he certainly doesn’t want every American to vote. Indeed it was thanks to Indiana’s Voter ID laws – the first of their kind in the nation – that he squeaked into the governor’s office. These seemingly benign laws, requiring voters to show approved photo ID, have a sinister and very deliberate effect: they suppress black, brown, young, old, poor – and, above all, blue votes. In this week’s Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Election Crimes Bulletin, Flashpoint’s Dennis J Bernstein gets the lowdown on the sleazy practice of vote-rigging-by-ID-law from political hanky-panky expert Greg Palast. They also discuss how these racist-by-design laws tap dance around voting rights and discrimination protections, and could ultimately help Pence and Trump waltz into the White House.
TRANSCRIPT (Originally broadcast on July 20, 2016)
Dennis J Bernstein: Today Mike Pence is front and center. He’s out there on his proverbial knees to greet the Trump helicopter. He’s getting ready to accept his party’s nomination. But also, as you point out, he’s a vote bandit. Tell us the joke about the nuns trying to vote.
Greg Palast: Ten nuns walk into a voting booth. I know that Mike Pence says he’s a Christian, but he also stopped 10 nuns from voting – and that’s very important. Mike Pence would not be governor of Indiana if he hadn’t figured out a way to knock out black voters, nun voters, student voters, and poor voters.
DB: You are serious about the nuns?
Palast: Yes. Here’s the story: In 2008, 10 nuns walked into a voting station, a place where they had been voting for decades, and they were told “Scram sisters!” because Indiana had just passed its Voter ID law. It was the first state in the nation that said you had to have a photo Voter ID. So the nuns proudly showed their driver’s licenses, except that the licenses had expired because they were all in their eighties and nineties. But they hadn’t expired. Nevertheless, they were told they couldn’t vote because they needed a current state ID, even though there’s no reason why. There’s no logic for any Voter ID because in the 100 years in which records have been kept, not one single person in a 100 year history of voting in Indiana – not one – was found to have used someone else’s identity. In other words, using identify theft to cast a vote. Because you are going to the hoosegow for a very long time, at least five years under federal law and more under state law. But, nevertheless, this was the first Voter ID law. This is the Voter ID law that Justice Scalia provided the fifth and deadly vote in favor of, saying that it was constitutional and okay under the Voting Rights Act. Now, the Voting Rights Act itself has been killed by the former Scalia court. (Get my FREE COMIC BOOK DOWNLOAD, which includes the NUNS’ TALE.)
But here’s where Mike Pence comes into the story: we wouldn’t have a Governor Pence except for this. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU hired Matt Barreto, who’s a great statistician. He calculated that about 72,000 black people in Indiana would be barred from voting by this ID law. Furthermore, students would be barred from voting. You can’t use a student ID. You can use a gun ID, but not a University of Indiana ID. Students would be barred, and obviously people who don’t drive tend to be poor people, whether they are white or black. Poor people tend to vote Democratic. Black people vote Democratic. Hispanic people vote Democratic – we’re not even counting those yet. Students vote Democratic. So if you add a few more of the blocked voters to the 72,000 African-Americans who are blocked from voting in Indiana, that more than accounts for Mike Pence’s very, very slim 80,000 vote margin when he ran for governor of Indiana. So Pence just sneaked by the Democrat, congressman John Gregg, and he sneaked by simply by blocking voters through this racist ID law.
DB: And the lower courts found it to be a real problem. Justice Terence Evans was not all that impressed, was he?
Palast: No. His ruling was that this was just a clear, bold attempt at partisan manipulation of voter rolls by the Republican Party, knowing that they are knocking out their adversaries. But Scalia, being the 5th vote, said, “I don’t care.” Scalia famously said, “You can always get a non-voter ID.” Well, it’s kind of a catch 22 – you need ID to get a non-voter ID. But even if you do, it’s an average three bus, all day trip back and forth from a county office – on average a 17 mile trip. And, as Scalia infamously said, “Seventeen miles is 17 miles, whether you are black or white.”
But, of course, he had a black Beemer, for which he got a speeding ticket. But whether it’s a black Beemer or a white Beemer, 17 miles is nothing for him. But if you actually have to take a bus, and most people who don’t have licenses have to take a bus, it’s a major hardship. He knew that.
And while it’s racist, that’s only secondary to their plan. It’s partisan, and the interesting thing is that the Republicans in the court say a plan which knocks out your opponents, that’s perfectly fine. It just can’t be clearly and overtly intended to be racist. Now there was a glimmer of hope, because the devil needed his advocate early and took Scalia from us. And the Texas court of appeals is changing and the Texas ID law, which is also a nasty piece of work. That ruling just came out yesterday.
DB: That was not thrown out. It’s thrown back to the lower court, so that could show its ugly face again. Now, Karl Rove thinks it’s a good idea. He thinks, if you gotta go get groceries, they check your ID, so if you gotta go to vote, they check your ID too.
Palast: Yeah, can you imagine Karl Rove trying to cash a check at the grocery store?
But the difference is that cashing a check at a grocery store is not the key to American democracy, but we like to think of voting as part of it. By the way, most Americans don’t realize voting is not a constitutional right. I want to repeat that: There is nothing in the Constitution which gives you the right to vote. That silence in the Constitution was what allowed the Supreme Court to pick George Bush as our president in Bush v. Gore. There is no right to vote in the Constitution. The one thing the Constitution has is the 14th Amendment, which says if you allow the people to vote, you can’t stop them from voting because they were once slaves or their great-grandparents were slaves. And, of course, the 19th Amendment said if you allow people to vote, you can’t stop them from voting based on their genitals. That was the suffrage amendment. But you don’t have a right to vote – that’s what makes it possible to have these nasty laws.
DB: Mike Pence, you said, was a recipient of this kind of draconian, and I guess we can call it racist, on its face, behavior?
Palast: There’s this big back and forth – and we see this in Texas – about whether something is racist by intent or racist in effect. Those have two different meanings under the law. If it’s racist by intent, then the law has to be thrown out. In fact, in places like Wisconsin, one of the Republicans confessed that when the Voter ID law was passed there was absolute jubilation among the Republicans. And Charlie Crist said that in Florida. He was the Republican governor and he said the Republican party specifically did that to knock out black voters. When he revealed that, he was basically tossed out of the Republican Party. But even if it’s not intended, if it has a racial effect, the law must be modified. That’s what’s happening in Texas. They have to modify the law to try to remove some of the overt racial effects. I don’t know how they’re going to do that though.
DB: The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has weighed in on this as well, haven’t they?
Palast: Yes. Here’s a breakdown from the Brennan Center: 6 million senior citizens don’t have their legal ID, mostly poor senior citizens.
DB: 6 million?
Palast: 6 million. 5.5 million African-Americans, 4.5 million 18- to 24-year-olds, and 15% of voters with household incomes under $35,000 a year – that is the poor … If you’re on food stamps these days, what they now call SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in most states you get an official government ID card with your photo on it. Well, Texas allows you to use your gun permit with your photo on it, but does not allow you to use your food stamp card with your photo ID on it. That’s one thing that the court did latch onto.
By the way, they are saying that’s not racist. And you know what? They may be right. It’s really class war. I want to emphasize this. In all my research, while we see that most of the victims of election thefts are voters of color, it’s really class war by other means. Upper-middle class, wealthy Hispanics and wealthy African-Americans tend not to have trouble voting. They have passports. Vernon Jordan and Andy Young had no problem at all with the Voter ID law. They said, “That’s a good idea. People should have ID.” Well, of course, they’ve got passports – and their chauffeurs to vouch for them!
But a lot of white people are caught up in these things too. Elderly, poor white people who are barely getting by on Social Security. Because 15% of the voters are under the poverty line, and that’s white and black. Most poor people in America, remember, are white. People tend to forget that because of the way things are portrayed on TV. Most people who are poor are white, and they don’t stand much of a chance if all they have to show is their food stamp cards. It’s really class war.
DB: Broaden this out at the national level. We’ve been talking about Mike Pence because he’s going to accept the Republican nomination tonight and he was an offender in Indiana. But this is a national program.
Palast: Understand the republic lasted two centuries without photo ID. We founded the republic before there were photographs without any problem. We haven’t had hoards of identity thieves voting. But it’s been marvelously excellent at knocking out literally hundreds of thousands of poor people, especially voters of color.
We’ve gone from one state having a photo Voter ID program in 2000 – Pence was the beneficiary. He would not be governor if it weren’t for that law. Since Indiana, it’s gone like a virus. Once the Supreme Court said Indiana was okay, it was both constitutional and not violating the Voting Rights Act, 20 states adopted some type of ID requirement. And there’s no case in which it doesn’t have a very smelly racial aroma.
Dennis J Bernstein is the executive producer of Flashpoints, syndicated on Pacifica Radio, and is the recipient of a 2015 Pillar Award for his work as a journalist whistleblower. He is most recently the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.
Greg Palast has been called the “most important investigative reporter of our time – up there with Woodward and Bernstein” (The Guardian). Palast has broken front-page stories for BBC Television’s Newsnight, The Guardian, The Nation Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Harper's Magazine. He is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, Armed Madhouse, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, and the highly acclaimed Vultures’ Picnic, named Book of the Year 2012 on BBC’s Newsnight Review. His books have been translated into two dozen languages. Palast’s investigation and production team are currently preparing to release his new film on the theft of the 2016 election: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits.
Palast’s film will screen in Oakland on September 7th.