Many Democrats still haven’t gotten over the 2000 presidential election, and a smaller subset believe the 2004 election was similarly swiped out of their mitts.
The new documentary Stealing America: Vote by Vote will make those folks all but tear their hair out in anger. Even some Republicans might scratch their head over some of the material dredged up in this circumstantially based call to arms.
Stealing gives a cursory background on the country’s irregular voting past, but then launches into the meat and potatoes of the debate. The 2004 presidential election was stolen … by someone or some group — it’s never clear precisely who did the deed.
What’s missing, of course, is both context and hard-nosed journalism.
Narrated by Peter Coyote, Stealing America could be the ugliest documentary in a long while. The hackneyed graphics look like they came from a Commodore 64 computer. Documentaries shouldn’t normally be judged by their snazzy visuals, but today’s software advances mean even neophyte filmmakers can muster up better imagery than what’s seen here.
The story starts, inexplicably, with Comedy Central, which the film says is one of the few mainstream media outlets to explore voting discrepancies. Now, some of those Comedy Central shows do dig beyond the headlines on occasion, but the clips presented here are fairly innocuous.
The movie quickly finds its groove in the incorrect exit polls that seemed to portend a victory for Sen. John Kerry in 2004′s election.
The Massachusetts senator was up by roughly 3 percentage points across the nation, but by the time the actual votes were counted President George W. Bush had won by that same amount.
Exit polling tends to be an accurate barometer, but in both the 2000 and 2004 elections that didn’t hold true. Hmmm. It’s certainly fodder for conversation, but the film just keeps bringing it up in various configurations to hammer home the point that these polls are simply not wrong.
If the recent presidential primaries have taught us anything, it’s that modern polling accuracy is an oxymoron.
But Stealing America has much more up its sleeve. The 2004 elections caused massive lines to form in some polling places, often in neighborhoods of predominantly black and minority voters. Some delays forced people to wait for hours in order to cast their vote.
But the film also mentions voter turnout hit a record high that year. So the long lines could be explained as an ugly byproduct of that turnout. It’s hardly the stuff of conspiratorial fantasies.
The oddest fact thrown into the mix here involves vote switching. Some voters interviewed here claim they pushed the button to select Sen. Kerry, but the electronic voting machines lit up the Pres. Bush button instead. It’s unclear whether these voters could switch back to Sen. Kerry once they noticed the mistake.
What’s more curious is that these switcheroos worked in Pres. Bush’s favor in 12 out of every 13 cases, according to the film.
Much of the material presented here was excavated by bloggers and Internet-based journalists. It’s unfair to paint these bloggers as fantastical partisans, given the yeoman work so many bloggers perform today on the political scene.
But the filmmakers failed to ask some key questions that would have broadened the documentary’s focus — and audience.
Why, exactly, did the mainstream media fail to follow up on possible voter fraud on the grandest scale? It’s a story that would have made Watergate look like a cherry bomb going off in a high school bathroom.
Director Dorothy Fadiman and her crew don’t ask the major news outlets that question. Did they fear the answer? Or did they not want their polemic watered down in any fashion?
Better yet, why didn’t Sen. Kerry pursue the matter with more vigor?
Stealing America is methodical in its storytelling, and some of its talking heads have incredible stories to tell — stories that seem hard to shake off as fiction. One computer programmer tells how a politician asked him to create software that would corrupt a voting machine, which he does without breaking a sweat. The man’s testimony here is compelling, and it certainly gives audiences a fright about the vulnerability of the electronic system.
The film deserves points for coming up with some solutions to what it sees as major voting irregularities. Let’s go back to paper ballots, an old school approach that at least is less hack-proof than computerized machines. And it’s infinitely easier to track.
Stealing America: Vote by Vote says our recent elections have been compromised, and every time it’s the Republicans who benefited from the changes.
It’s a message that will scare off many right-leaning movie goers, but there’s too much evidence lined up here to cast the film aside as merely a partisan witch hunt.