Big names like Yvette Nicole Brown, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Debra Messing have joined up with veteran investigative journalist (and occasional graphic novelist) Greg Palast this election year to create and promote The Purged, a short film that is aimed at helping people know their rights this Election Day. Both parties have poll watchers at most polling stations, and it isn't uncommon for voters -- especially voters of color -- to be challenged at the polls, or removed from the registry entirely. Sometimes that can be an innocent mistake with a simple fix, but as often as not, Palast has spent the last 20 years reporting, it's a result of political parties who want to minimize competition and stack the deck in their favor.
Since his 2002 debut book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Palast has dedicated much of his career to pursuing stories that center around efforts to suppress the vote -- or steal it, as Palast puts bluntly. In 2008, he got into comics for the first time, releasing Steal Back Your Vote, a magazine-sized one-shot printed by Top Shelf and distributed through The Nation and Rolling Stone. More than half a million copies were distributed that year, and the idea of the guide was to allow Americans who were being illegally disenfranchised a playbook for fighting back.
This year, Palast has another, similar comic -- which he wrote with cartoonist Ted Rall, who illustrated it. You can download it for free at Palast's website. The Purged, which Brown produced and voiced an abbreviated cut of, is also available in its full length below, with a voiceover from Will & Grace's Messing.
"I read Greg's book, on all of the things we can do to try and save our vote," Brown told ComicBook.com. "And so he reached out this year and said, 'Do you want to do this short with me?' and I said yes, and he said 'do you want to narrate it?' and I said 'absolutely.' It's really important for everybody to vote for everybody to know that it's their right, it kind of feels like watching the news that it's a privilege or gift that someone gives us. But no, it's a right. So I wanted to take part and make sure a lot of people fight for their rights and they have the same government."
Palast's work is backed by the Palast Investigative Fund, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that produces not just books and comics but films as well. A feature-length documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, came out in 2016 and featured Rosario Dawson and Willie Nelson, among others.
"It's very easy for me to be non-partisan because I don't take a position. Everyone should be allowed to vote and that's it," Palast said. Still, each new election presents a new series of challenges.
Brown, best known for her work onscreen in things like Community and as a regular guest on Talking Dead, is also an activist who has been working with Black Votes Matter to drive voter engagement among populations of color as well as fighting voter intimidation and suppression.
Unlike Palast, Brown is unabashedly a Democratic partisan on an individual basis, but she explains, "when it comes to making sure that everyone gets to vote, I believe that everyone should vote. I don't care who you vote for. Just please get out and make your voice heard. I really do believe that."
Laws that make it harder for voters to be counted get a lot of attention during big elections, but Palast finds himself chasing these things all the time. He successfully sued Georgia governor Brian Kemp, for example, compelling the state back in February to open up its records and reveal who had been removed from the voter rolls and why. Some of those results helped inform The Purged.
"In the comic, Ted Rall calls it the 'thievery whack-a-mole,'" Palast explained. "We knock down one bad thing -- like I had investigated something called interstate CrossCheck -- and then they come up with something else. So one of things we say in the comics is that every year they come up with a new scheme, a new steal-your-vote whack-a-mole. So every two years I find myself having to report on and uncover the latest Jim Crow trickery. It's about time that America is addressed a completely and fully."
Palast noted that while the Republican party tends to get the lion's share of the blame for voter suppression, part of that is because they do it during the more-visible general election, whereas the Democrats' offenses tend to be during the primaries.
"To me, it's not partisan," Palast explained. "It is racial and it's also ageist in this election, but we're dealing with a serious racial issue. And as a matter of fairness, equity, the constitution of the United States and as what's right."
Today is Election Day in the United States, but Brown and Palast want to make sure people have these resources, especially in the states where you can still register on the spot.
"n the swing States of Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, Minnesota, and also some non-swing States like California, you can register on the day," Palast explained. "So when they say your name's missing from the voter rolls, don't run away and say, 'Oh damn it' and just walk out, don't go away mad. Don't fill out a provisional ballot in those states, because half of those do not get counted. Do say, 'I want to register right now.'...If you have photo ID bring it, but most important, bring proof of your address. That's the practical thing. So in all these swing states, you can actually register when you walk in to vote. If they say 'you're not here anymore,' say 'okay, can you register me right now?' That's my practical advice."