in part from Pelast's book by workingforchange.com.
series is part of the WorkingForChange campaign,
in cooperation with Martin Luther King III of
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,
to prevent the theft of the presidential election
of 2004. There is a link included to sign onto
the WorkingForChange/King petition.
excerpts from Palast's book we learned that
five months before the November 2000 election,
Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and his Secretary
of State, Katherine Harris, moved to purge 57,7000
people from the voter rolls, supposedly criminals
not allowed to vote. Almost every one was innocent
of crimes -- though the majority were guilty of
being African American. Palast's discovery of
the ethnic cleansing of the voter rolls, which
gave George Bush the White, was front page news
in Britain, where Palast reports for the Guardian
papers. But the report remained hidden from Americans.]
Planning to Execution to Inauguration; What They
Knew, and When They Knew It
An editor at one of the biggest newspapers in
the United States told me, "The committee has
decided not to continue printing stories about
the presidential vote. We think it's over. We
don't want to look partisan."
I thought, what "committee"? And I picked up that
I wasn't supposed to ask.
America had, as Katherine Harris requested, "moved
But I hadn't.
It was now February, and here's what we knew so
far. The British Observer story told us
that Harris's elections office had wrongly ordered
over 50,000 voters stripped from the rolls, thousands
of them wrongly. From the Nation report
we knew that Governor Bush's office had barred
the registration of another 40,000 -- Democrats
by a wide margin. That was the election.
Maybe Governor Bush had simply misread the court
orders, and maybe Harris's office had no idea
the purge list was wildly wrong; maybe their computer
firm ChoicePoint DBT simply flubbed the algorithms.
One man's mistake is another man's inauguration.
Tough, but no criminal intent.
A loose clue still nagged me. As always, it was
the money. When I looked into state files, I discovered
that ChoicePoint's DBT was not the first contractor
on the job. In 1998, this first firm, Professional
Service Inc., charged $5,700 for the job. A year
later, the Florida Department of Elections terminated
their contract, then gave the job to DBT for a
first-year fee of $2,317,800 -- no bidding! Then
I found out that indeed there had been an open
bid for the job. However, when the offers were
unsealed, DBT's was the costliest -- several
thousand percent over competitors. The state ignored
the bids and grabbed for DBT, in the end signing
a deal for more than DBT's original astronomical
When I contacted database industry experts about
the fee paid DBT by Florida their eyes popped
out -- "Wow!" "Jeez!" "Scandalous!" The
charge of twenty-seven cents per record was easily
ten times the industry norm.
Something else bothered me: It was the weird glee,
the beaming self-congratulations, from the ChoicePoint
public relations man over my Salon report that
15 percent of the names on his purge list were
wrong (even though the error turned around an
election). To ChoicePoint, my story was good news:
In effect, they said, I reported their list was
"85 percent correct." But was it?
The list was 85 percent "accurate," said DBT ChoicePoint's
PR man, because they used Social Security numbers.
That was convincing -- until I checked the felon
scrub lists themselves and almost none
of them listed a voter's Social Security number.
Floridians, until recently, did not have to provide
their Social Security number when registering
Four days after I ran my first report in England,
on November 30, 2000, the Bloomberg business news
wire interviewed Marty Fagan of ChoicePoint, one
of the PR men who'd spoken to me. Based on the
big "success" of its computer purge in Florida,
ChoicePoint planned to sell its voter-purge operation
to every state in the Union. This could become
a billion-dollar business.
Fagan crowed to Bloomberg about the accuracy of
Choice-Point's lists. The company, he said, used
1,200 public databases to cross-check "a very
accurate picture of an individual," including
a history of addresses and financial assets.
That was impressive. And indeed, every database
expert told me (including DBT's vice president),
if you want 85 percent accuracy or better, you
will need at least these three things: Social
Security numbers, address history and a check
against other databases. But over the ensuing
weeks and months I discovered:
ChoicePoint used virtually no Social Security
numbers for the Florida felon purge; of its 1,200
databases with which to "check the accuracy of
the data," ChoicePoint used exactly none
for cross-checking; as to the necessary verification
of address history of the 66,000 named "potential
felons," ChoicePoint performed this check in exactly
There was, then, not a chance in hell that the
list was "85 percent correct."
One county, Leon (Tallahassee), carried out the
purge as the law required. But with doubts in
the minds of their in-house experts, the county
did the hard work of checking each name, one by
one, to verify independently that the 694 named
felons in Tallahassee were, in fact, ineligible
voters. They could verify only 34 names -- a 95
percent error rate. That is killer information.
In another life, decades ago, I taught "Collection
and Use of Economic and Statistical Data" at Indiana
University. Here's a quicky statistics lesson:
The statewide list of felons is "homogeneous"
as to its accuracy. Leon County provides us with
a sample large enough to give us a "confidence
interval" of 4.87 at a "confidence level" of 99
percent. Are you following me, class? In other
words, we can be 99 percent certain that at
least 90.2 percent of the names on the Florida
list are not felons -- 52,000 wrongly tagged for
Okay, you want to argue and say not everyone tagged
was actually removed. Maybe 52,000 did not have
their vote swiped, but 42,000 or 22,000. Al Gore
"lost" by 537 votes.
Now I was confident the list was junk -- it had
to be, because ChoicePoint did not use the most
basic tools of verification. But why didn't they?
Is ChoicePoint incompetent, hasn't a clue of the
methodology for verifying its output? That's unlikely
-- this is the company hired by the FBI for manhunts,
and the FBI doesn't pay for 90.2 percent wrong.
And why would ChoicePoint lie about it? Their
list was bogus and they had to know it. Did someone
want it wrong? Could someone, say, want
to swing an election with this poisoned list?
That's when I went back to a stack of documents
from inside Harris's office -- and to one sheet
in particular, marked, "DBT CONFIDENTIAL AND TRADE
the going gets weird," Hunter Thompson advises
journalists, "the weird turn pro." In London,
I showed this "CONFIDENTIAL" sheet to the ultimate
pro, Meirion Jones, producer with BBC Television's
Newsnight. He said, "How soon can you get on a
plane to Florida?"
Mr. Roberts Does a Runner
Our BBC Newsnight broadcast began with a country-and-western
twang off the rental car radio:
After hundreds of lies . . . fake alibis . . ."
Newsnight's camera followed me up to the eighteenth
fioor of the Florida Capitol Building in Tallahassee
for my meeting with Clayton Roberts, the squat,
bull-necked director of Florida's Division of
Roberts, who worked directly under Secretary of
State Katherine Harris, had agreed to chat with
me on film. We sat on the reception sofa outside
his office. His eyes began to shift, then narrowed
as he read the heading of the paper on the sofa
next to me: "CONFIDENTIAL."
He certainly knew what I had when I picked up
the paper and asked him if the state had checked
whether DBT (the Choice Point company) had verified
the accuracy of a single name on the purge list
before they paid the company millions.
I didn't ask DBT. . . ," Roberts sputtered, falling
over a few half-started sentences -- then ripped
off his lapel microphone, jumped up, charged over
the camera wires and slammed his office door on
me and the camera crew giving chase. We were swiftly
escorted out of the building by very polite and
very large state troopers. [Click
here for photos.]
Before he went into hiding and called the Smokies,
Roberts whipped around and pointed an angry finger
at the lens, saying, "Please turn off that camera!"
Which we did -- BBC rules. But he didn't add,
"and turn off the microphone," so our lawyers
ruled we could include his parting shot, "You
know if y'all want to hang this on me that's fine."
I will. Though not him alone. By "this" he meant
the evidence in the document, which I was trying
to read out to him on the run. [You can watch
the film of the Roberts run for yourself at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/cta/progs/newsnight/palast.ram.]
What was so terrifying to this Republican honcho?
The "CONFIDENTIAL" page [Click
here to see the title page], obviously not
meant to see the light of day, said that DBT would
be paid $2.3 million for their lists and "manual
verification using telephone calls and statistical
sampling." No wonder Roberts did a runner.
He and Harris had testified to the U.S. Civil
Rights Commission -- under oath -- that verification
of the voter purge list was left completely up
to the county elections supervisors, not to the
state or the contractor, ChoicePoint DBT.
It was the requirement to verify the accuracy
of the purge list that justified ChoicePoint's
selection for the job as well as their astonishingly
high fee. Good evening, Mr. Smith. Are you
the same Mr. John Smith that served hard time
in New York in 1991? Expensive though that
is to repeat thousands of times, it is necessary
when civil rights are at stake. Yet DBT seemed
to have found a way to cut the cost of this procedure:
not doing it. There is no record of DBT having
made extensive verification calls. It is difficult
for DBT to squirm out of this one. If they had
conducted manual verification as contracted, you'd
think they would have noticed that every single
record on the Texas felon list was wrong.
I took my camera crew to DBT's Boca Raton, Florida,
office complex to confront them about the verification
calls, but they barred our entry. On our return
to London, we received a call from one of their
executives explaining that "manual verification
by telephone" did not "require us to actually
make telephone calls" to anyone on the list. Oh,
Based on this new evidence, BBC broadcast that
the faux felon purge and related voting games
cost Al Gore at least 22,000 votes in Florida
-- forty times Bush's margin of victory as certified
by Harris. Quibble with that estimate, tweak it
as you will, we now knew the rightful winner of
the election. Or at least the British public
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