Palast, Progressives and Investigative Journalism
Investigative journalist Greg Palast, one of the most vigorous of all progressive reporters and winner of six Project Censored Awards, originally brought story of the "caging lists" from Duval County, Florida to widespread attention in his report for an October 26th, 2004 BBC Newsnight program. By doing so, he tried to open up a conversation critical to the future of voting rights in America. "Caging" may be just one way of manipulating the voting roles, but it is possible to use it for keeping a percentage of the poorer, less stable potential voters from exercising their rights.
Over two years have passed since the BBC's original report on the emails, and the story had seemed to fade. Yet, because Palast had based his story on "caging" spreadsheets sent to Tim Griffin, the Director of Research and Communications at the RNC headquarters, it wasn't surprising when the issue was resurrected after Griffin's appointment as U.S. Attorney for Western Arkansas in 2006. The claims that the RNC had engaged in using "caging" to disenfranchise black soldiers sent to Iraq along with thousands of voters from African-American neighborhoods or other minority voters in Democratic precincts were being made across the Internet, on progressive radio and even in congressional hearings. Unfortunately, other than that done for the reporting of Greg Palast, there was no known analysis of the names and addresses on the caging lists with the actual data available from the voter registration files. Until recently, that is: The full analysis is covered in the ePluribus Media Journal article Voter Suppression on June 26, 2007.
For that story, we had contacted the Duval County Director of Elections office to acquire a copy of the voter registration file. Subsequent conversations and requests for additional data (including the lists of voters purged from December 1, 2004 through June 22, 2007) led us to identify discrepancies in some of what had been previously reported about the racial and party make up of the lists. Though we respect Palast and the work he has done, we felt compelled to provide additional analysis.
Palast reported that the names of 1886 voters in Jacksonville, Florida had been found on "caging lists" received by Griffin. According to Palast, "Two e-mails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign's national research director in Washington DC, contain a 15-page so-called 'caging list.' It lists 1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly Black and traditionally Democrat[sic] areas of Jacksonville, Florida."
The claims of caging in 2004 have been repeated by Palast in books and interviews since 2004 and have been often cited as evidence of voter suppression—and, certainly, his charges should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, no one has followed up on Palast's work. Not, that is, until we did. Though our investigation found there were no poll challenges in Duval County in 2004, which would be the most likely way of using the "caging" information, that does not mean that there was no preparation to use "caging," should the need arise. Further investigation, therefore, is needed.
Further investigation is needed also, for we found things that, though they do not negate Palast's findings, show a situation much less clear-cut than he presents. As noted in earlier stories and on blogs, in his book and in press releases, for example, Palast cites one "Randall Prausa" as an example of an African-American serviceman disenfranchised by caging. On page 204 of Armed Madhouse he reports:
We checked one list that included 50 Black soldiers. We called one, Randall Prausa. His wife indicated that his address had changed because he was shipped overseas. Go to Baghdad, lose your vote. Nice. A Black soldier's vote gone. Mission Accomplished.
In addition, in a June 2, 2006 report, by Palast contains this:
Was it deliberate? Oh, my God, yes. I'd like you to take a look at the "caging" lists the Republican National Committee concocted to challenge voters with "suspect" addresses. It included page after page of African-American soldiers, like one Randall Prausa, shipped overseas. Mission accomplished, Mr. President?
The problem with this choice of Randall Prausa to illustrate disenfranchisement of African American servicemen by caging is that Randall Prausa (see the photo above) is not Black. This fact does not put the lie to Palast's conclusion, but does mean that any study of this issue is going to have to be conducted very carefully from here on out.
In its own checking on "caging," ePluribus Media was able to reach Mr. Prausa by email and telephone. Mr. Prausa told us he did previously live at the address listed on the caging list. He also reports that he was deployed overseas and voted by absentee ballot in 2004. Review of the election data we received from the Duval County Election Office confirms that he voted by absentee ballot in 2004 and his ballot was counted. Furthermore, Mr. Prausa claims he has never spoken with Palast. His wife told us she was contacted by the BBC in October 2004, but the question of ethnicity never came up. The Prausas have not been contacted again by the BBC or anyone else about the 2004 election until we contacted them at the end of May 2007. Additionally, we found that of the 50 "soldiers" on the caging list (listing "Naval Air Station" as their address), 43 remained on the Voter Registration roll. Of these, nine are Black, four Hispanic, and twenty-three are white. Nine are registered Democrats (24%) and sixteen are registered Republicans (38%). While this spread of party affiliation does not show that the RNC was not involved in caging to eliminate Black voters, it makes it that much harder to prove that it was.
Caging Lists: The Real Numbers
Zip Code Analysis
Palast refers to ZIP codes in his description. Although the precinct racial statistics are much more powerful in that they assign addresses to smaller windows of registered voters, and regardless, definitive racial information can be obtained from the actual Voter Registration lists, we also performed ZIP code analysis to evaluate Palast's claims. We evaluated all of the ZIP codes on the comprehensive caging list ... more
According Armed Madhouse, in October, 2004 Palast received the two "caging" emails from John Wooden, the owner of the parody websites whiteHouse.org and GeorgeWBush.org. According to Wooden, whom we contacted, the emails were among those collected by his website when people mistakenly sent email to any address ending with "@georgewbush.org." The site's catchall email address was closed October 29, 2004, ending the collecting process. These emails are believed to be authentic Republican National Committee emails accidentally collected by the site when the senders entered dot-org, instead of dot-com.
Palast, on page 200 of Armed Madhouse characterizes the emails:
After our team spent hours going over them, it became clear that virtually every list—GeorgeBush.org captured over 50 of them, with tens of thousands of names—were made up entirely of voters in African-American neighborhoods that we checked against ZIP codes. The lists included the ghettos of Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and a town with the Gone-with-the-Wind name of Plantation, Florida.
On June 16, 2006, Greg Palast posted on his website:
Precinct analysis found higher caging rates and a higher total number of addresses in Democratic-leaning precincts than Republican leaning precincts (1234 addresses in 144 precincts in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans; 509 addresses in 141 precincts in which registered Republicans outnumber Democrats).
However, of the 144 Democratic-leaning precincts, only 69 had a white population less than 50%, whereas 75 had a white population greater than 50%. Thus, claims that caging list addresses were overwhelmingly "Black and Hispanic voters from Democratic precincts" are exaggerated—though worries about "caging" may have some basis in fact.
If this investigation happens—and it should—the United States will have a great deal to thank Palast for.