[25 August 2008]
On 02 November 2000, all politically vested Americans saw their cages rattled. Even if the president one voted for was the one elected, the give-and-take victories and concessions of candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore were gut-wrenching, as were the subsequent election investigations and legal battles. Although one combatant emerged victorious, the voters didn’t forget the tenuous relationship between the votes they cast and the how they were considered; and also, how easily a small number of votes can change the fate of an entire country for years to come (and arguably, the world).
Countless Americans, people like Bev Harris (founder of BlackBox.org) and Athan Gibbs (inventor of the TruVote voting system), after watching that election unfold, decided to do their best to make sure that cage-rattling would remain in the past. David Earnhardt showcases his own credo to fair and untainted elections by giving some of those Americans a larger voice in his first feature-length documentary Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections.
Centered on the 2004 and 2006 elections, Uncounted studies more than just the results and statistics of those contests; it highlights the people who were discouraged by unfair voting practices and have committed themselves to making the US election process a more transparent representation of the country’s views. With seemingly endless interviewees, some more credible than others, the film winds its way through hack-able electronic voting systems, voting inconsistencies which recently seem to favor Republicans (the Gahanna, Ohio story is interesting; in the 2004 election, one machine recorded a total of 638 votes but magically gave Bush 4,258 votes), and corporate whistleblowers who personally encountered shady voting practices (most of which involve “Republican aligned” voting-machine manufacturer Diebold) and decided to take matters into their own hands.
Uncounted is an important film in that it does bring attention to a topic that deserves public recognition beyond what the media allots, but it’s hard to shake the clear bias of the documentation. With no interviews or viewpoints from people who feel differently (save for a few archived clips meant only as straw men), there’s no basis to create a solid opinion on the subject matter.
It’s because of this partisanship that Uncounted – distributed by Disinformation, the company behind such works as Outfoxed and You Are Being Lied To – joins the ranks of many left-leaning documentaries that have inundated America over the last few years. Since Bowling for Columbine was imbued an Oscar, you can’t spit without hitting a liberal, film-fest-worthy documentary. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly an issue.
Perhaps Michael Moore is to blame; he seemingly made manipulative, political documentaries en vogue all by himself. But maybe Moore was just a harbinger for the changing political climate in America. And that change, along with the technological phenomenon of the internet, was what caused this outpouring of films.
There was very little way for a film like Loose Change, a handmade, half-researched, viral documentary about a 9/11 conspiracy, to be made and circulated in the mid-‘90s. With the social connectivity, information availability, and DIY attitude of the internet, and the powers-that-be seemingly shifting control out of the public’s reach, perhaps documentaries like Uncounted are just a natural outcry for order in America’s post-millennial chaos. And such a furor is a great thing, regardless of the partiality of the documentation.
Even if these movies can slant one way, distort facts, and promote a “Wikintelligence”, they bring attention to necessary topics, give everyday schleps a primer on those issues, and provide the required information from which to investigate further. Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections may not be a beacon of truth, but the primer it provides and the stories it tells are worthwhile and merit closer inspection.
Specifically, the story of whistleblower Clint Curtis, a right-wing computer programmer from South Florida, is amazing. After the office of Tom Feeney (current Rep. congressman, FL 24th district) hired Curtis to make a vote-flipping software, he uncovered a rabbit hole, full deceit, election rigging and murder. Reading his affidavit online reveals just how treacherous this story is. These events even convinced him to switch his party affiliation for the sole purpose of running against Feeney for office. Though only some of this story is contained in the documentary, I wouldn’t have examined the subject so much if it not for watching Uncounted.
Though its subject matter allows the film to reach a certain plateau, sadly, it can’t go any higher. Though well-researched and -produced, Uncounted still commits the documentary mortal sin of hypocrisy. It speaks out against the oligarchies within the government (and specifically the Republican party) rigging elections, while creating its own oligarchy of like-minded talking heads, without presenting the other side. Most of the facts, issues and questions raised by this gerrymandering are interesting and worth further personal research, but the documentary alone isn’t enough. Only coupled with the now-common “post-documentary surfing” does the movie achieve a less biased status.
Even with all this leftist controversy, the film’s conclusion couldn’t be more benign, contrived, and most importantly, accurate: “Get involved”. Voting is an important value in a democracy, if not the value, and just standing by and watching it happen – not participating—only benefits those already in power. That’s a sincere message that both sides can agree on.