“FRONTLINE: WHOSE VOTE COUNTS”

Encore: November 03, 2020

As America readies for a divisive election, much of the country is seeing a resurgence of the coronavirus. Amid the pandemic, the White House has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. And with widespread allegations of voter fraud, voter intimidation and disenfranchisement, these implications could give way to the possibility the election will be contested long after November 3rd. Historian, journalist, and New Yorker  writer Jelani Cobb discusses his new Frontline documentary “Whose Vote Counts” as he investigates how the pandemic is being used to sway voter turnout, how communities of color are bearing the brunt of both the virus and voting laws and how courts around the country are already shaping the outcome of the election.

For more information on “Whose Vote Counts,” click here.

Aired on October 20, 2020.

 

TRANSCRIPT

WELCOME TO 'METRO FOCUS.'

I AM JACK FORD.

AS WE NEAR THE END OF WHAT HAS SURELY BEEN THE MOST CONTENTIOUS AND DIVISIVE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IN RECENT MEMORY, WE'RE LEFT WITH SEVERAL TROUBLING QUESTIONS.

WHAT IMPACT WILL A RECENT SURGE IN CORONAVIRUS CASES HAVE ON THE VOTING PROCESS?

AND HOW ABOUT THE DOZENS OF LAWSUITS, SOME OF WHICH HAVE ALREADY BEEN RESOLVED, OTHERS STILL PENDING IN WHICH ONE SIDE ARLGS THAT RULES, STATUTES SERVED TO SUPPRESS VOTER TURN-OUT, WHILE OTHERS ARGUE THOSE ARE NECESSARY TO PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF THE VOTING PROCESS.

AND THEN WHAT EFFECT WILL ALL OF THIS HAVE ON COMMUNITIES OF COLOR?

FRONT LINE HAS TAKEN A HARD LINE ON THESE ISSUES IN THEIR NEW DOCUMENT TITLED 'WHO'S COUNT COU CO COUNTS?' WE'RE JOINED ED BY JEI COBBS.

YOU BEGIN BY TAKING A LOOK BACK AT THE APRIL 2020 PRIMARY THAT TOOK PLACE IN THE STATE OF WISCONSIN.

WHY START THERE AND THEN?

WELL, I THINK YOU MAY REMEMBER THOSE IMAGES FROM APRIL OF THIS YEAR, WHICH WERE ASTOUNDING.

WE HAD -- I THINK ONE OF THE DOMINANT THEMES OF THIS YEAR WAS SEEING SO MANY PUBLIC PLACES THAT ARE USUALLY CROWDED BEING ABSOLUTELY DIVERTED BECAUSE OF THE CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWNS.

BUT WHAT WE SAW IN WISCONSIN WAS THE OPPOSITE.

YOU KNOW, PARTICULARLY IN MILWAUKEE.

ON APRIL 7th AS THEY HAD THAT PRIMARY WHERE THEY WERE PACKED, TRYING TO GET INTO POLLING PLACES AND LINES THAT WENT BLOCKS AFTER BLOCK AFTER BLOCK AND THEY JUST REINFORCED THE ABSOLUTE ABSURDITY OF SEEING PEOPLE OUT AND ABOUT IN PUBLIC ATTEMPTING TO VOTE IN PERSON DURING A PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY ELECTION AND ALSO A LOT OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS ON THE STATE AS WELL.

AND THIS WAS DONE AT THE BEHEST OF THE STATE'S REPUBLICAN PARTY WHICH HAD FILED SUIT TO PREVENT THE STATE FROM -- THE GOVERNOR FROM BEING ABLE TO POSTPONE THE ELECTION, AS MANY OTHER STATES HAD DONE AT THE TIME.

AND SO IT BECAME CLEAR THAT THIS WASN'T SIMPLY A MATTER OF CONVENIENCE, BUT THIS WAS ALSO PART OF THE NARRATIVE OF VOTER ACCESS AND VOTER SUPPRESSION.

WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS NOW AS WE HAVE HIT THIS STAGE OF THIS DRAMATIC INCREASE IN CORONAVIRUS CASES, ESPECIALLY IN WISCONSIN GOING BACK TO WHERE YOU WERE IN SOME OF THE OTHER STATES THAT PEOPLE HAVE POINTED TO AS BEING SO SIGNIFICANT IN THE PAST AND THE RESULT OF THE PAST ELECTION AND THE IMPACT IT MIGHT HAVE ON THE CURRENT ELECTION?

YEAH.

I REMAIN WORRIED THAT THERE WILL BE PEOPLE THAT CONTRACT THE VIRUS IN THE COURSE OF VOTING.

I THINK THAT IT IS REALLY WISE TO EXPLORE THE OTHER ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS FOR CASTING A BALLOT TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY MINIMIZE THE POSSIBILITY OF THAT.

I'M ALSO VERY CONCERNED ABOUT, YOU KNOW, THE PRESIDENT'S CALLS FOR POLL WATCHERS, WHICH, YOU KNOW, COULD VERY EASILY SLIP OVER INTO VOTER INTIMIDATION.

AS YOU LIKELY KNOW, THE GOP WAS UNDER A FEDERAL CONSENT DECREE TO PREVENT THEM FROM ENGAGING IN SUCH ACTIVITIES, POLL WATCHING, WHICH HAD BEEN A 30 YEAR BAN ON THEM ENGAGING IN THESE KINDS OF ACTIVITIES PRECISELY BECAUSE THEY WERE INTIMIDATING MINORITY VOTERS, AND THAT CONSENT DEGREE HAS EXPIRED.

SO WE MAY SEE RETURNS OF THAT.

SO THAT MAY BE ANOTHER OPTION.

THERE ARE QUITE A LOT OF ON ST OBSTACLES IN CASTING A BALLOT.

ALL THESE THINGS I THINK ARE WORTHY OF CONCERN.

YOU HAVE SEEN SOME STATES WHERE THEY HAVE LIMITED THE POLLING PLACES THEMSELVES.

WE HAVE SEEN STATES THAT -- THE STATE OF TEXAS WHERE AN APPEALS COURT RECENTLY SAID IT IS OKAY TO HAVE ONE ESSENTIALLY DROP-OFF POINT FOR THE ENTIRE COUNTY, WHICH IF I'M NOT WRONG, IS ABOUT THE SIZE OF RHODE ISLAND.

YEAH.

IT'S GIGANTIC.

TALK ABOUT THOSE HURDLES AND THE IMPACT IT MAY HAVE.

SURE.

AND SO WHAT YOU ARE SEEING IS THIS IS ALL DONE, I THINK, UNDER THE RUBRIC OF ELECTION INTEGRITY.

SO IN THE NAME OF PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY OF THE ELECTIONS, THESE MEASURES ARE BEING TAKEN, BUT THEY ULTIMATELY HAVE AN OBVIOUSLY COMPLICATING IMPACT ON PEOPLE'S ABILITY TO CAST THEIR BALLOTS.

WE HAVE ONE PLACE WHERE YOU CAN HAVE A DROP BOX FOR AN ENTIRE COUNTY THAT IS GIGANTIC, A VERY TEXAS-SIZE COUNTY.

IT IS ESSENTIALLY MAKING SURE THAT PEOPLE WON'T BE ABLE TO GET MANY MILES AWAY TO CAST THEIR BALLOT.

AND SO THAT'S NOT SIMPLY A PROBLEM THERE.

WE HAVE SEEN THE SAME THING HAPPEN NATIONWIDE.

AND IN WISCONSIN, AS WE ARE GOING BACK TO WISCONSIN, WHEN WE SAW NORMALLY 180 POLLING PLACES THAT WERE SHRUNK DOWN TO JUST FIVE FOR THE PANDEMIC ELECTION, IT WAS THE SAME DYNAMIC.

OPPOSITE KIND OF WAY OF ACHIEVING IT, BUT NOT ENOUGH RESOURCES TO TOO MANY PEOPLE AND YOU WIND UP WITH THE SAME PROHIBITIVE EFFECT ON VOTING.

ONE OF THE OTHER ISSUES YOU LOOK AT IS THE INCREASE, UNDERSTANDABLE INCREASE IN THE USE OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT WE HAVE BEEN WRESTLING WITH HERE NOW FOR SO MANY MONTHS.

IN LOOKING AT THAT, AND WE KNOW THAT ONE OF THE ARGUMENTS -- I DON'T WANT TO SAY AGAINST THEM, BUT MAYBE THAT IS THE RIGHT TERM, AS LEAST SOME ELEMENT OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS HAS BEEN THE SPECTOR OF VOTER FRAUD THAT COULD ACCOMPANY IT.

AS OPPOSED TO WHAT MAY WELL BE THE REAL PROBLEM WHICH COULD BE VOTER CONFUSION.

RIGHT.

IN UTILIZING IT.

TALK ABOUT THAT FOR A MINUTE.

SO WHAT'S HAPPENED IS, YOU KNOW, FIRST VOTER FRAUD IS VANISHING.

IT IS NOT A COMMON OCCURRENCE AT ALL IN THE UNITED STATES.

I THINK WE HAVE EVEN HEARD THAT FROM GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES, THE FBI AND OTHERS.

RIGHT.

SO YOU HAVE SEEN THAT AGAIN AND AGAIN.

BUT WHAT IS A CONCERN IS THAT VOTERS MAY NOT FILL OUT THEIR BALLOT CORRECTLY.

PEOPLE MAY NOT HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH VOTING IN THIS WAY.

IN SOME STATES THE BALLOT HAS TO BE PLACED IN AN INNER ENVELOPE BEFORE THAT IS, IN TURN, PLACED IN AN OUTER ENVELOPE.

YOU HAVE TO SIGN THE INNER ENVELOPE.

THERE IS A WHOLE ARRAY.

SOME PLACES REQUIRE THAT YOU UPLOAD YOUR ID IN SOME INSTANCE TO VERIFY WHO YOU ARE OR FIND A WITNESS.

AND BECAUSE THE RULES VARY TO SUCH AN EXTENT, IT WILL BE LIKELY THAT SOME PEOPLE WON'T CONFIRM WITH EVERYTHING THAT'S REQUIRED OF THEM IN THEIR PARTICULAR VOTING LOCAL, AND THOSE END UP BEING REJECTED.

THAT COULD HAVE AN IMPACT ON HOW THE ELECTION PLAYS OUT.

ONCE AGAIN, WE'RE TALKING WITH JELANI COBB ABOUT THE DOCUMENT 'WHO'S VOTE COUNTS?' I RECENTLY FILLED OUT MY BALLOT.

UNLESS THERE ARE CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH CASES YOU CAN GO TO POLLING PLACES.

OURS IS ONE OF THOSE WHERE YOU HAVE A SIGNED ONE THAT GOES INTO AN ENVELOPE.

IT TOOK ME A WHILE.

I WAS SO CONCERNED THAT I WAS DOING THIS PROPERLY THAT I WILL TELL YOU IT WAS NOT A SIMPLE PROCESS.

NO, NO.

AND YOU WORRY ABOUT THE IMPACT THAT THE ABSENCE OF SIMPLICITY.

WE DON'T WANT TO TRADE OFF SIMPLICITY FOR ACCURACY AND INTEGRITY.

OBVIOUSLY THEY'RE BOTH IMPORTANT, BUT HAVING GONE THROUGH THIS, I CAN SEE WHERE THERE IS SOME GENUINE CONCERN ABOUT THE NOTION OF CONFUSING ATTACHING TO THIS.

WHAT CAN WE DO IN THE SHORT TIME BETWEEN NOW AND THEN, DO YOU THINK, TO HOPEFULLY ASSUAGE SOME OF THAT CONFUSION?

SURE.

THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF EFFORTS, A LOT OF SPECIFIC ORGANIZATIONS THAT HAVE REALLY GONE ALL OUT TO MAKE SURE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY NEED TO DO TO CAST A BALLOT IN THEIR LOCAL.

EVERY BOARD OF ELECTIONS SHOULD HAVE DETAILS ON IT OR INFORMATION.

THERE ARE LOCAL CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS THAT CAN WALK YOU THROUGH WHAT'S REQUIRED, YOU KNOW, YOUR LOCAL BOARD OF ELECTIONS.

AND SO IT'S JUST REALLY IMPORTANT THAT PEOPLE NAIL DOWN THE PARTICULARS OF IT.

ALSO IMPORTANT IS THEY GIVE THEMSELVES TIME.

I WENT THROUGH MY PROCESS DOUBLE, TRIPLED AND QUADRUPLE CHECKED TO MAKE EVERYTHING HAD BEEN DONE BEFORE I CAST MY BALLOT IN THE MAIL.

AND YOU WANT TO BE ABLE TO BLOCK OUT TIME, SO IT IS NOT SOMETHING YOU ARE DOING WHILE YOU ARE RUSHING, WHILE YOU ARE DOING OTHER THINGS TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE ABLE TO DO THIS.

IF YOU HAVE THE OPTION OF DROPPING IT, SOME PLACES ALLOW YOU TO DROP THE BALLOT OFF PERSONALLY AT YOUR ELECTION BOARD.

IF YOU HAVE THE OPTION OF DOING THAT, THEN THAT'S A GREAT IDEA AS WELL.

THAT'S INDEED WHAT WE DID, MY WIFE AND I.

FILL THEM OUT AND WENT TO THE LOCAL MUNICIPAL LOCATION TO DROP THEM OFF.

I MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION THE EXISTENCE OF SO MANY COURT CASES.

I SAID DOZENS OF THEM.

I THINK I HAVE SEEN NUMBERS THAT SAID HUNDREDS OF THEM.

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DID YOU FIND IN THE REPORTING YOU DID FOR THIS DOCUMENTARY THAT THESE VARIOUS CASES AND THEIR RESOLUTIONS, SOME OF THEM HAVE BEEN ALL OVER THE PLACE, AS A MATTER OF FACT.

WHAT SORT OF IMPACT YOU FEAR MIGHT COME FROM THOSE?

SURE.

THERE IS REALLY GREAT TEAM FROM COLUMBIA YOUR HONORISM INVESTIGATION.

AND SO THEY REALLY DELVED INTO A LOT OF THIS.

LAST TIME I THINK IT WAS 240 OR 241 COURT CASES THAT ARE AT VARIOUS PLACES IN THE LEGAL SYSTEM NOW, AND THEY COVER THE SPECTRUM.

YOU KNOW, HOW LONG PEOPLE WILL BE ABLE TO VOTE.

HOW LONG POLLING PLACES HAVE TO STAY OPEN.

HOW LATE A BALLOT CAN BE AND STILL BE COUNTED.

WHEN DOES A BALLOT HAVE TO BE POSTMARKED BY?

EVERY TIME THERE IS A MINUTE DETAIL THAT YOU CAN IMAGINE.

AND WHAT THEY ARE ACTUALLY DOING IS SETTING THE PARAMETERS, SETTING THE TERMS THAT THE ELECTION WILL BE CARRIED OUT UNDER.

AND OBVIOUSLY THIS HAS SOME ADVANTAGES AND SOME DISADVANTAGES, DEPENDING ON, YOU KNOW, WHAT PEOPLE ARE FIGHTING ABOUT.

IF YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT LONGER EARLY VOTING AND LONGER POLL HOURS, THEN PEOPLE WHO ARE HOURLY WAGE WORKERS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE ABLE TO GET TO THE POLLS.

IF YOU ARE TAKING ABOUT POLLS THAT PEOPLE ARE BEING ALLOWED TO HAVE THEIR VOTE COUNTED UP TO THREE DAYS OR IN SOME INSTANCES I THINK THEY'RE GOING FOUR AFTER THE ELECTION FOR LATE BALLOTS, THEN THAT WILL -- YOU WILL IMPACT PEOPLE AS WELL BECAUSE THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE QUITE FRANKLY STILL WAITING TO RECEIVE THEIR BALLOTS AND SEEING THE THINGS WE HAVE SEEN WITH THE POST OFFICE AND THE RECALL BRAGS OF SORTING MACHINERY IS MAKING IT DIFFICULT TO VOTE BY MAIL.

THE ELECTION WILL BE A PRODUCT OF HOW MANY PEOPLE COME OUT TO VOTE AND ALSO WHAT THE LEGAL CHALLENGES DO TO FACILITATE THOSE PEOPLE COMING OUT TO VOTE.

I KNOW THAT YOU TALKED TO VARIOUS PEOPLE AS PART OF YOUR INVESTIGATION HERE, INCLUDING A NUMBER OF PERHAPS.

WHEN YOU TALK TO THEM ABOUT HOW THESE LAWS MIGHT DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECT PEOPLE OF COLOR, WHAT SORT OF REACTION OR RESPONSES DO YOU GET?

WELL, 99% OF THE TIME YOU GET DISMISSAL OF THAT.

FOR REPUBLICANS THAT I HAVE TALKED TO, THEY DON'T CONCEDE THAT.

EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE LEGAL RULINGS THAT HAVE POINTED TO THAT AND WE HAVE SEEN OTHER DYNAMICS OF VOTER ID INSTANCE IN NORTH CAROLINA THEY'RE SAYING THEY HAVE A POLICY THAT ALLOWS YOU TO VOTE WITH A HUNTING LICENSE BUT NOT WITH A UNIVERSITY ID SO CURE RATING THE ELECTORATE SO PEOPLE WHO ARE MORE LIKELY OLDER, WHITE AND VOTE REPUBLICAN WILL HAVE AN ID THAT IS ACCEPTABLE.

YOUNGER PEOPLE WHO MAY VIEW THE WORLD MORE LIBERALLY ARE LESS LIKELY TO HAVE AN ID THAT WILL ALLOW THEM TO CAST THE BALLOT.

AND, SO -- I'M SORRY.

I ACTUALLY LOST THE QUESTION THERE.

WELL, THAT'S SORT OF THE ANSWER AND THAT'S PERFECT BECAUSE WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME HERE.

BUT ONCE AGAIN I WANT TO REMIND FOLKS THAT THEY CAN FIND OUT HOW AND WHERE TO WATCH FRONTLINE'S DOCUMENTARY AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

THANK YOU FOR SPENDING SOME TIME AND SHARING YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS.

IT IS A COMPELLING FILM, AND IT'S CERTAINLY WORTH THE INVESTMENT OF SOME TIME ON THE PART OF PEOPLE TO WATCH.

THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

YOU BE WELL.

THANK YOU.

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