Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections and the Power of One

I have eagerly awaited David Earnhardt's sequel to Eternal Vigilance: The Fight to Save Our Election System, which was released last year. Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections builds on his earlier film, examining the 2006 mid-term elections and looking beyond to 2008. Earnhardt patiently weaves his tapestry, using archival footage as well as many new interviews, to place this fight for fair elections within its national and historical context. Those interviewed include members of Congress, journalists, investigative reporters, computer programmers and scientists, community organizers, activists, historians, lawyers, poll workers, and outraged voters. This broad base of Americans demonstrates that this is an issue that transcends partisan lines and touches all of us.

Earnhardt did an excellent job of selecting people and episodes to amply illustrate the perilous state of our electoral system. While the 2006 election results seemed to indicate that we are back on track, in fact, quite the opposite is true. Jonathan Simon, of Election Defense Alliance and co-author of "Landslide Denied: Exit Polls vs. Vote Count 2006," comes straight to the point, Election 2006 is certainly not telling us that pre-election concerns were overblown and it's safe to go back in the water. It gives us no reason to assume that our elections will be run fairly and honestly. Just the opposite. Look at the pattern of the past few elections. We have every reason to believe that the 2008 election is going to be manipulated. And we have a hell of a lot of work to do in a very short time to safeguard our next election and by extension all the elections to come.

Election theft comes in many guises, as Harvey Wasserman well knows. He's senior editor for The Columbus Free Press, a journalist, and a historian. Wasserman co-wrote several books and many articles on the 2004 elections that focus on Ohio, where he lives and works. At the time he was interviewed for this documentary, he had already identified 36 different ways that legal voters in Ohio were kept from voting. He fully expected to reach 50 by the time his investigation was completed.

Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, following Katherine Harris's example in Florida in 2000, ran the Bush/Cheney state campaign as well as Ohio's election, an egregious conflict of interest. On Election Day, while voting problems were bountiful across the country, Ohio was Ground Zero, generating over 50,000 complaints. To add insult to injury, 56 of the 88 Ohio counties have since defied the law by destroying some or all of their election records, making a complete and thorough investigation of the 2004 election virtually impossible.

Most of the disenfranchisement methods focused on keeping minority voters from the polls. Or, if they got to the polls, making sure that their votes were not counted. As Wasserman explains, The targeting of people of color and of people without means is very political and very computerized. What they're saying is, "Black people who are voting are Democratic. Poor people who are voting are Democratic. Therefore, we want to eliminate their votes." It's an easy matrix to work from; they're identifiable and so if a Republican wants to win an election, [they] can start with the people of color. Rep. John Conyers bluntly claims, "Computers are the new twenty-first century threat to fair and full and democratic participation in the voting process." While it's not the whole problem, it's hard to disagree that computers have revolutionized our elections, and jeopardized the voters' connection to their vote. Our votes have been reduced to unrecognizable bits and bytes and are easily shifted around, multiplied or erased entirely.

How'd we get here, anyway? Andrew Gumbel, U.S. correspondent for Britain's Independent and author of Steal This Vote, says about the 2000 election,

So there were all these situations which, had they happened in some other emerging country from the former Soviet Union, the U.S. probably would have been front and center in denouncing these things as evidence of corruption, and suddenly it's happening in the world's most powerful country. Instead of real media coverage, complaints and questions about what happened were pooh-poohed, and concerned citizens were marginalized.

Gumbel continues,
The 2000 election illustrated that there was a real problem. The patient was sick; American democracy was not in a good way. The doctors came along and they really made the wrong diagnosis. They said the problem is the machines; if we have better machines everything will be fine. So there was an almighty rush to believe that computers were the solution.

The subsequent passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 led to the spending of almost 4 billion of our federal tax dollars on these computerized voting machines. Gumbel elaborates, One of the insidious things about touch screen voting machines is that if there is foul play it can, at least in theory, be perpetrated invisibly. You can cover your tracks completely. With these machines you can alter the outcome of a national election undetectably in a way that is just unprecedented in terms of its reach and the power to really play around. For those reasons we should be much more careful of these machines than we've ever been in the past. And the evidence is actually we're being less careful.

Jonathan Simon, of Election Defense Alliance, sums it all up,
This issue really is the hub at the center of all the other concerns that people have. And you see people, whether it's "Save the Whales" or "Save the Forests" or "Save Social Security," whatever it is, working very hard on these individual issues – and perhaps not recognizing that if elections continue to be rigged, their work is going to be for naught.

The power of one
While Uncounted paints a dismal picture of the hijacking of our elections, it has a parallel, more positive aspect. That is the ability of one person to bring about change, or what I call The Power of One. Brad "BradBlog" Friedman describes the phenomenon well in the extended interviews (which can be found in the film's extra footage included in the Bonus Features).

The problem, if you look at it, does seem absolutely massive and as if it cannot be defeated. Well, I will tell you this: in all the years now that I've been working on this, the only time that I've seen things actually change, it's because one person, one citizen stood up and took a specific action.

Whether it's showing up at their County Election Commission and asking questions, whether it's making a public records request. You know, so much of this is available to any citizen who makes a public records request: "I would like to know, how did you make the decision to buy this machine?" Or a poll worker speaking up and saying, "Here's what I saw happen on Election Day."

One person makes a difference. You've got to take action.

Earnhardt features four individuals who stood up for the American voter and voting integrity.

Steve Heller, while clerking at a law firm, stumbled upon documents that showed that Diebold Election Systems Inc. was defrauding the taxpayers and the State of California. "When I saw those documents, I had to do something. If our elections are crooked then our democracy isn't there anymore. And I'm just not willing to let that go. I'm not willing to let liberty and freedom go." For exposing this criminal activity, Heller was charged with three felonies, racked up huge legal bills, and faced financial ruin and jail time.

Clint Curtis was a Republican computer programmer in 2000 when he was asked by Tom Feeney (the incoming Speaker of the Florida House and one-time running mate of Jeb Bush) to create software to flip votes for Florida's elections. Disillusioned, he took his story to Congress and the media. Feeney is now a U.S. Congressman.

Bruce Funk, also a Republican, served as County Clerk in Utah for 23 years. He dared to examine the security flaws within the Diebold voting system used in his county. "I can't think of anything more important to do with my life than to try and save our democracy because the vote is the very core of that democracy." Funk was locked out of his office and forced out of his job.

Athan Gibbs was a Tennessee auditor, accountant, and entrepreneur who became horrified and angry as he saw a million votes go uncounted in 2000. His dream was for every vote to be counted as cast, and he worked tirelessly to invent a machine that went a long way to reaching that goal. He was tragically killed in a car wreck right after he finally got some press coverage, but before he could bring his TruVote system to the market.

Eternal vigilance

Robert Koehler is one of the few mainstream journalists who has written about our election mess. He reports,
There is more passion on this issue than anything else I've ever written about. Once you get bitten by the truth that the elections are not fair, you're not going to stop believing that…If what I believe is true, it can't go away. It just plain can't go away unless we just give up on the country. That's, I mean that is what is at stake. I just want to keep doing my part. I've never felt closer to the whole cliché, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." That always seemed like bullshit to me. Suddenly, it's foremost in my heart – eternal vigilance.

Where YOU come in

• Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections is available for purchase. Extra credit for passing your copy on to your friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

• Instead of heading for the Multi-Plex for an evening out, invite some friends over to watch Uncounted. Talk afterwards about what you can do to help address the problems with our elections.

• Keep the buzz going by talking to everyone you know about how our elections has are being compromised and therefore, the entire foundation of our democracy is teetering on the verge of collapse.

Some inspiration

• Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done."

• Margaret Mead long ago discovered the Power of One. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does."

• Read The Impossible Will Take A Little While by Paul Rogat Loeb. It's a compilation of essays by activists of all stripes, cutting across political, gender and geographic boundaries.

Here's the account of someone who attended the Nashville premiere of Uncounted a few weeks ago. One of the last people to stand up to the microphone was a young (and very nervous) Iraqi war veteran (hair still cut military-short) who said that, until that evening, he had not been aware of all the illegal, immoral, and anti-American acts that had been perpetrated to subvert the consent of the governed in the 2004 elections. At that moment, he said that he was angry as hell. He ended his statement by saying that when he joined the military, he had taken an oath to defend this country against all its enemies "both foreign AND domestic."

He said to all of us, in that dark and steamy theater, that people who tamper with and steal American elections are the worst kind of domestic enemy threatening our country today and he spoke for many soldiers who were prepared to honor their oath to help defend us against that enemy. That young man received rousing and sustained applause for his comments and for his continued commitment to his country.

Judging from the veteran's response and audience reaction, David Earnhardt can be pleased that his message was heard at the Nashville premiere.

At the pro-democracy rally in Atlanta in the summer of 2005, marchers chanted, "Keep the vote alive!" One hand-printed sign poignantly and pointedly read, "I voted. Did it count? Who knows?" The appropriate follow-up question is "Who cares?" I sure do. What about you?

Joan Brunwasser of Citizens for Election Reform is a citizen activist working hard to restore and preserve free and fair elections. She started a lending library project to distribute the "Invisible Ballots" DVD in  mid September 2005.  In the following eighteen months, she loaned the DVD to almost 3,200 'borrowers' in 37 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Canada, Holland, England, Ireland and Japan. Since the DVD's release in spring 2004, there have been numerous studies and hacks, all of them critical of electronic voting. Her new focus is on raising public awareness about what's wrong with our elections and how to achieve a fair, secure and transparent election system. She welcomes your help in spreading the word. She has been the Voting Integrity Editor for Op Ed News since December 2005.