A powerful punch in a small package

I’ve always been a sucker for movies – they are such a vibrant art form, engaging so many of the senses. I’m a big reader, but I sheepishly admit that a movie telling the same story does have a number of advantages. One is that a viewer doesn’t have to work as hard as a reader, or spend as much time. The producer has already made those hard artistic choices, and the result is shorter and already partially digested. (You could argue that this is a downside to movies, but I am focusing here on the positive aspects.)

A movie has the ability to pull us down into the rabbit hole of the producer’s creation. I personally understand the power of film, as the documentary Invisible Ballots launched my initial leap into activism through my lending library project. Almost 3,200 copies later, I’m definitely sold on a film’s ability to make a case.

Help America Vote…on Paper is a perfect illustration of my point. Pint-sized in length, it nevertheless covers many of the points that other films have taken far longer to make. While 18 minutes isn’t enough time to provide much depth, this film is a perfect appetizer. The fact that it’s a free download at (also available for sale from EON, ) is icing on the cake. What excuse does anyone have not to watch it? Even the busiest person can find 18 minutes to spare. I’m really busy, and I managed to watch it twice in the last two days in preparation for writing this review.

The film opens with the statement, "Honest elections are a non-partisan issue." I think we’re all in agreement so far. It goes on to show how the passage of HAVA (the Help America Vote Act) in 2002 has made our elections less and less accessible to the voters. As California Representative Lynn Woolsey says, the system is an open invitation to manipulation by members of either party. "We need to know that nobody can fool around with your individual vote."

Electronic voting is yet another scheme to disenfranchise, labeled "sophisticated Jim Crow" or "high-tech Jim Crow" by various people interviewed in the film. The misallocation of voting machines in Ohio mysteriously left only blacks and students from liberal colleges standing in the rain for hours. There were no such delays in suburban, Republican bastions. The 300,000 legal voters illegally purged by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell in the days leading up to the 2004 election were from the predominantly black, Democratic wards of Toledo, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Keep in mind that the margin of victory in Ohio was less than 118,000 votes. Doesn’t this sound eerily like Katherine Harris’s purging of over 90,000 legal voters in Florida prior to the 2000 election, where the margin of victory was a measly 537 votes?

While billions of dollars have been spent on this voting system, what exactly do we have to show for it? The machines often give impossible results (we can all agree that a voting turnout in excess of 100% is simply not possible), malfunction or completely break down, are exorbitantly expensive, and have repeatedly proven to be vulnerable to hacking. The rationale that electronic voting machines would purportedly be easier for people with disabilities is patently false, as many of these voters were also plagued by difficulties at the polls. Governor Ehrlich (Republican, Maryland) states that the cost of maintaining these machines is 1,000% over the original estimates. If you had a car like this, you certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to throw more money at it. You’d ditch the lemon and try something else!

This film touches on the various studies and reports that confirm the numerous, serious flaws inherent in the electronic voting system. The ability for a single individual offsite (via a modem connection) to access and manipulate the data, thereby changing an entire election undetected, is particularly relevant in view of the recent revelations about the RNC and Karl Rove’s ability, in 2004, to access the Ohio vote totals in real-time, while they were being counted. See "The GOP cyber election hit squad" by Steve Rosenfeld and Bob Fitrakis: Given that so much was at stake in the election, and that Ohio was seen as the quintessential swing state necessary for a Republican victory, it is just plain fishy that there was a mysterious, 90-minute freeze of data, followed by a sudden, inexplicable turnaround when the system was again up and running. Can anyone be completely certain or confident that the results were free from manipulation? How could we be? The votes, which were cast and counted using secret, proprietary software and the process occurred without any citizen oversight. The voter has been effectively locked out of the system.

Lowell Finley, an election law attorney, asks "Is it tolerable to be using voting systems when it’s possible for someone with relative ease to commit fraud with them?" He goes on to say, "Unless we fix this problem, nothing else matters." Without accountability, whom does the elected official represent? And how exactly does this resemble democracy?

In the past several days, a 50-second video clip has been circulating on the web. This piece is the combined effort of various local Florida groups who have been joined by other concerned citizens nationwide. The subject is the thousands of missing votes in Florida’s congressional race last November. Ironically, the disputed race was the one to replace Katherine Harris, the former Secretary of State who delivered Florida’s electoral votes and the election to W in 2000. The clip’s closing punch is, "If your vote doesn’t count, you don’t count." That is the problem with electronic voting, in a nutshell.

Massive citizen action is necessary here. As Ohio Representative Stephanie Tubbs-Jones says, "Florida 2000, Ohio 2004…Who knows in 2008? Who knows?" Well, we do know one thing – if we don’t make an awful lot of noise, 2008 will be just like 2000 and 2004.

I have a no-brainer recommendation for you. Download Help America Vote…on Paper, watch it, and then send it along to everyone on your list. Ask them to do the same. We need to create a tidal wave of interest in this unavoidable, critically important issue. Elections are the bedrock of our democracy, and the film’s opener also serves as a good closer: "Honest elections are a non-partisan issue." We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines, so I urge you to get in there and join the fight!