PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Stealing America: Vote by Vote

Not talking about controversial election issues is a first target for Stealing America.


Stealing America: Vote by Vote

Director: Dorothy Fadiman
Cast: Bob Fitrakis, Chris Hood, Lynn Landes, Pat Leahan, Charles Lewis, Greg Palast, John Zogby
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Direct Cinema Limited
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-08-01 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

As the presidential election draws nearer, the mainstream media are predictably distracted by all manner of sideshows. Whether it be Paris Hilton's memorization of a one-minute script, Michelle and Barack Obama's dating history, John Edwards' love child, or the possibility that Putin has aligned with Karl Rove in order to provide John McCain with the perfect opportunity to show himself as a tough guy, the so-called news cycle is repeatedly derailed by trivia, hysteria, and scandal.

Even as CNN's Bill Schneider evaluates the latest poll numbers or Fox News brings on the body language analyst, Dorothy Fadiman's Stealing America: Vote by Vote submits that the most important story remains un-covered. Namely, the story of how Americans' votes are counted. This isn't about guessing what the one percentage point difference between the candidates in Montana will mean in the general election. This is about how voting works mechanically and digitally: how hardware and software, both maliciously altered and plain defective, lead to calculation errors -- and, according to the film, stolen elections. As the film shows flags waving under patriotic drums, investigative journalist Greg Palast asserts, "The nasty little secret of American democracy, and we're not supposed to talk about this, is that not all the ballots get counted."

Not talking about it is a first target for Stealing America. While it stipulates that "all parties historically have stuffed ballot boxes and repressed votes," it also makes the case that paperless touch-screen methods have only enhanced the capacity for wrongdoing. Advancing (more manipulable) technology has made the cheating worse. This conclusion is based on data indicated by assorted graphs as well as anecdotal evidence. "Either exit polls are becoming harder and harder to do or voting manipulation is becoming easier and easier to do," says computer security consultant Bruce O'Dell. He also happens to be the documentary's co-producer and an energized advocate for system reform -- now.

"How do we know," asks exceedingly somber narrator Peter Coyote, "if an election is fair?" (Let's concerned that the film's argument is not bolstered by sometimes unsophisticated phrasing, cheesy graphics and music, and uninspired organization.) Without any way to recount by hand, the available data are always-already subject to tampering. Over the past decade, the film observes, discrepancies between exit polls and election results have increased. The tampering may not be precisely organized but it is intentional and effective. And if Stealing America does propose a grand conspiracy at work, it does tend to point the finger at the Republicans, using the 2004 Presidential example as Exhibit A for much of its argument.

The documentary goes over points that have been made before, including the problems caused by uncounted ballots, vote switching, undercounts, faulty machines. Some of these are supported by personal testimony: Ohio State Senator Bob Hagan recounts seeing his vote switched from Kerry to Bush; computer expert Chuck Herrin describes how easy and fast it has been for him to change votes, "just to show that it could be done"; and Chris Hood, a former Diebold employee, recalls being asked to "place a software patch in machines at DeKalb county" in Georgia during the 2002 midterm election, when Max Cleland unexpectedly lost to Saxby Chambliss.

The film also makes the oft-heard point that purging of registrations in some precincts targeted black voters (Robert Kennedy Jr., in an interview borrowed from TV, says, "In Ohio, there were 300,000, almost all Democratic, voters purged from the rolls right before the election"; and Palast notes a "challenge list" was mounted that included mostly African American soldiers who were shipped overseas and so did not respond to requests for verification at home -- never mind that troops are allowed to vote from wherever they are stationed).

As well, the film posits, the long lines at polling stations in poor neighborhoods are typically efforts to repress black and other minority populations' votes. The numbers noted here are actually startling, as the numbers of working voting machines in such stations are low and the hours spent standing on line are high. Again, Kennedy provides background. During an appearance on The Daily Show, he says, "In some of the African American communities, there were lines that were 11 hours long. On average, black people had to wait three and a half hours to vote, while in white suburban communities, the wait was less than 18 minutes."

If you feel less than certain when hearing such arguments (peppered with terms like "some" and "on average"), Stealing America's kudos to Comedy Central for being "one of the few mainstream venues exploring controversial election issues" may send you over the edge. But if you watch Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report, you may be inclined to agree with this assessment. And besides, clips from these shows (on The Daily Show, a correspondent says of Bush, "This is not a man who's going to let the numbers stand in the way of moving American forward!") help to offset the unintentionally comedic performances gleaned from CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC (on CNN, the most frequently represented network, a reporter notes the use of "monitors and observers sent by Department of Justice" during the 2006 elections, as if this was an effective way to limit dishonesty).

The lack of investigation or even rudimentary coverage of voting problems is worthy of its own investigation -- or at least attention and serious consideration of redress. When John Conyers hosted a hearing on the 2004 elections, pollster John Zogby (who is also interviewed in the film) states outright that "This election has produced unprecedented suspicion regarding its outcome." And Ion Sancho, Supervisor of Elections Leon County Florida and a persuasive interview subject, still maintains that the cessation of recounting in the 2000 election was illegal, as well as resulting in "a clear loss of public trust in elections."

This is the film's most urgently pressed notion, that the failures of elections to reflect exit polls not only suggest errors in the system, but also convince voters not to vote. This is the worst possible outcome -- apart from any individual election or specific party dominance. Stealing America urges viewers to be worried and to take action.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.