&ldquoThe more it changes the more it stays the same” says Greg Palast, this cold and wet Saturday three days before one of the most hotly contested elections in American History. Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money can Buy was the journalist who broke the story about the illegal removal of thousands of voters from the Florida voting register before the 2000 election, paradoxically reported on BBC rather than the American networks where he is a persona non grata. It's an obvious question to ask, but a vital one, and if there's one journalist who's done the legwork on this it's Palast: have things been cleaned up since the 2000 scandal? &ldquoWell, supposedly, Jeb Bush, who was sued by the NAACP, agreed to put back all the black folk who were not criminals, which was 97% of the people on the list. – he pauses for effect – He didn't, and tens of thousands of people will not be able to vote on Tuesday”. And, as he reported for BBC's Newsnight, there are more hi-jinxs expected in Florida come election day: &ldquoRepublicans are keeping lists of African-American voters that they intend to challenge this Tuesday. Secret lists, and the reason that they're secret is that to target an African-American specifically is against federal law, but like all the laws they break, as long as they win, they win. They control not only the election machinery but also the enforcement machinery. I'm not going to expect John Ashcroft to bust brother Jeb”.
One imagines that if the election comes down to Florida alone, that this time round it'll be harder to pull off what Palast descirbes as the &ldquoShoplifting of the Presidency”, but, spurred on by his Florida findings after 2000, Palast has investigated voting procedures throughout the United States and has come to alarming conclusions, which, needless to say, have failed to appear in the mainstream American Media so far. &ldquoThe problem is that we have an apartheid system nationwide. Since the last book, I've worked out that there are two million votes that go uncounted. Ballots that aren't counted due to technical problems”. This would seem normal in any democracy, votes get spoiled and there you have it. Not so. Palast goes on: &ldquoWe have all these goofy voting machines – people are worried about the introduction of computers, but all our machines are a mess, and they lose votes. People go in and vote and don't realise that through a technical fault their vote has gone unrecorded. This isn't an estimate, because attempts to vote have to be counted as well as actual votes. Half of these lost votes are cast by African American voters, by black voters. Half, – he emphasises -even though blacks make up about a tenth of the population of the United States electorate. If you're a black person you're roughly 800% more likely to have your vote thrown out for a technical reason than a white person. So one of the big issues in America is that, while we now have laws that no longer bar black people from voting, which we used to have, on the other hand it doesn't mean that the vote will actually count”.
It seems impossible to believe that a) such a situation could exist, and that b) the Democrats, who lost in 2000, if the theory is correct partly due to this disenfranchisement, haven't made more of a fuss about it. Why hasn't the issue garnered more attention in the election campaign? &ldquoIt's starting to be taken on at a national level. John Kerry has mentioned these missing black votes several times, – and here he scarcely manages to conceal his frustration – unfortunately only to black audiences. John Edwards has made an issue of it, as has the Democratic party in Florida and elsewhere. However, all politics is local, as we say in the US. What that means is that local officials of both parties like the system as it is. For example in cities like Chicago and Atlanta, or the state of Georgia you have white Democratic party officials who maintain control of their party because they don't have too many black votes, even if it means that they lose some elections, they retain control of their party. It's a [heavy emphasis] big issue.
On the ground the democratic party will not defend the black voter. You'll get some lip service at the top, but the same old 'jim crow' action at the bottom.
Palast, who came to journalism seven years ago from a background as a rackateering investigator, has been virtually exiled from the American media due to his uncomfortable reports. He's been labelled a conspiracy theorist, to which he replies &ldquoI'm a conspiracy expert. I'm called a conspiracy nut, which always gets a laugh from the conspirators. That's what I did for a living. I was hired by the Government to investigate racketeering conspiracies”. He continues to point out: &ldquoEvery time I'm called a conspiracy theorist, what you never see is exactly what fact it is that they're challenging. I remember my friend Bob Parry[Editor’s note:Associated Press Journalist] who was writing this insane unbelievable story that US operatives were selling guns to the Ayatollah Khomeni in Iran, and using the money to support the Contras in Nicaragua. It was such an unbelievable conspiracy theory, but it was true of course.”