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Investigative reporter Greg Palast claims on a BBC Newsnight broadcast that the Bush presidential re-election campaign has a plan to disrupt voting in Florida during the November 2004 presidential elections. The BBC says it has two emails prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington that contain a 15-page “caging list” of voters, predominantly African-American and likely Democratic voters, residing in and around Jacksonville, Florida. Voting rights expert Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will later explain “caging” to Palast: “Caging is an illegal way of getting rid of black votes. You get a list of all the black voters. Then you send a letter to their homes. And if the person doesn’t sign it at the homes, the letter then is returned to the Republican National Committee. They then direct the state attorney general, who is friendly to them, who’s Republican, to remove that voter from the list on the alleged basis that that voter does not live in the address that they designated as their address on the voting application form.” A Tallahassee elections supervisor, Ion Sancho, tells a BBC reporter, “The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day.” He says that under Florida law, operatives from political parties can station themselves inside polling stations and stop voters from obtaining a ballot; such “caged” voters would then have to complete a “provisional” ballot that may well not be counted. Mass challenges of this nature have never occurred in Florida, Sancho says. No challenges have been issued against voters “in the 16 years I’ve been supervisor of elections.” He continues, “Quite frankly, this process can be used to slow down the voting process and cause chaos on election day; and discourage voters from voting.” Sancho says it is “intimidation,” and it may well be illegal. Civil rights attorney Ralph Neas says US federal law bars challenges to voters, even if there is a basis for the challenge, if race is a factor in targeting voters. The “caging list” of Jacksonville-area voters contains a disproportionately large number of black voters. Republican spokespersons deny that the list is illegal, and say it merely records returned mail from either fundraising solicitations or returned letters sent to newly registered voters to verify their addresses for purposes of mailing campaign literature. Republican state campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker Fletcher says the list was not compiled “in order to create” a challenge list, but refuses to say it would not be used in that manner. Republican poll watchers will, she says, challenge voters “[w]here it’s stated in the law.” No one in the Florida Republican Party or the Bush campaign will explain why top officials in the Bush campaign have received the caging list. Palast’s colleagues have captured on film a private detective filming every “early voter” in a Jacksonville precinct from behind a vehicle with blacked-out windows; the detective denies knowing who paid for his services. Representative Corinne Brown (D-FL) says the surveillance is part of a Republican-orchestrated campaign to intimidate black voters. (Palast 10/26/2004; Goodman 5/14/2007) Palast later writes that many of the black voters affected by the caging list are veterans.
Methodology - He will write: “Here’s how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, ‘Do not forward,’ to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as ‘undeliverable.’ The lists of soldiers with ‘undeliverable’ letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters’ registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballots being counted. One target list was comprised exclusively of voters registered at the Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station. Jacksonville is the third largest naval installation in the US, best known as home of the Blue Angels fighting squadron.” Over one million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 race were never counted. “The extraordinary rise in the number of rejected ballots was the result of the widespread multi-state voter challenge campaign by the Republican Party,” he will write. “The operation, of which the purge of black soldiers was a small part, was the first mass challenge to voting America had seen in two decades.” Palast will say that the BBC had more than the two emails it used for its Newsnight report. He will also identify the sender as Timothy Griffin, the RNC’s national research director, and the recipients as Florida campaign chairman Brett Doster and other Republican leaders. “Attached were spreadsheets marked, ‘Caging.xls.’ Each of these contained several hundred to a few thousand voters and their addresses. A check of the demographics of the addresses on the ‘caging lists,’ as the GOP leaders called them indicated that most were in African-American majority zip codes.” Palast will report that one Republican official, Joseph Agostini, explained that the list may have been of potential Bush campaign donors, a claim that is undermined by the list’s inclusion of a number of residents of a local homeless shelter. Fletcher will later claim that the list contains voters “we mailed to, where the letter came back—bad addresses,” but will not say why the list includes soldiers serving overseas whose addresses would obviously not be correct. Fletcher will insist that it “is not a challenge list.… That’s not what it’s set up to be.” (Palast 6/16/2006; Palast 4/16/2007) US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico will later say of the practice: “That’s a terrible practice. If it’s not illegal, it should be. I hope Congress fixes that, that problem. It’s when you send voter information to a group of people that you have reason to believe are no longer there, such as military personnel who are overseas, such as students at historically black colleges. And then, when it comes back as undeliverable, the party uses that information to remove that person from the voter rolls, claiming that they’re no longer there.… It’s a reprehensible practice. I had never heard of the phrase until after I left office.” (Goodman 6/4/2008)
Griffin Sent Memos to Wrong Email Address - Palast later reveals his source for the caging list spreadsheet to be an error made by Griffin. In August 2004, he sent a series of confidential memos to a number of Republican Party officials via emails. Griffin mistakenly sent the emails to addresses at georgewbush.org and not georgewbush.com, as he should have. The georgewbush.org address is owned by satirist John Wooden, who sent them to Palast at BBC Newsnight. Palast will write: “Griffin’s dozens of emails contained what he called ‘caging lists’—simple Excel spreadsheets with the names and addresses of voters. Sounds innocent enough. But once the addresses were plotted on maps—70,000 names in Florida alone—it became clear that virtually every name was in a minority-majority voting precinct. And most of the lists were made up of itinerant, vulnerable voters: students, the homeless, and, notably, soldiers sent overseas.” (Palast 4/16/2007)
GOP: Palast, Sancho Wrong, Biased - Fletcher responds to the BBC story with an email to Newsnight editor Peter Barron claiming that Palast is ignorant of the laws and practices surrounding elections, and calls Sancho “an opinionated Democrat” who does not supervise the area in question. Such “caging lists” are commonly used, she says, and are entirely legal. Palast mischaracterized the nature and use of caging lists, she says. Moreover, the list is composed of returned mailings sent by the Republican National Committee to new registrants in Duval County (which includes Jacksonville) encouraging recipients to vote Republican. “The Duval County list was created to collect the returned mail information from the Republican National Committee mailing and was intended and has been used for no purpose other than that,” she says. Palast erred in “insinuat[ing]” that the list would be used for challenging voters, “and frankly illustrates his willingness to twist information to suit his and others’ political agenda. Reporting of these types of baseless allegations by the news media comes directly from the Democrats’ election playbook.” She then accuses the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) of “massive fraud efforts” on behalf of “the Kerry campaign and the Democrats.” Many registered voters in Duval County “do not have valid addresses,” she says, implying that such voters may be subject to challenges. She concludes, “In a year when reporters are under heavy scrutiny for showing political leanings toward the Democratic Party, I would think that your new[s] organization would take greater care to understand the facts and use sources that will yield objective information, rather than carry one party’s political agenda.” (BBC 6/4/2008)
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