Arguing that the current electronic voting systems across the U.S. are fundamentally flawed and, worse, being gamed for political gain, “Stealing America: Vote by Vote” functions as an organizing tool for people worked up about the important issue, but is hardly suitable as a commercial doc release. Pic’s classroom-style presentation and wooden filmmaking can be ignored by eager activists, but will surely bore audiences in theaters (a limited rollout began Aug. 1). Homevid sales, though, look to enjoy a boomlet close to election season.
Director-producer Dorothy Fadiman summons a large group of experts, observers and activists (and no less a pollster than John Zogby) to lay out the case that nationwide elections over the past 10 years have seen skewed results that raise questions about the legitimacy of computerized voting machines. Based on the not-entirely-precise premise that exit polling has been generally accurate, pic cites particularly the 2000 presidential election as a case where exit numbers favored Al Gore and final results favored George W. Bush.
After years of general (though, pic fails to note, hardly consistent) correlation between exit-poll numbers and final tallies, recent times have seen that correlation break down. The film, which carries no writer credit (although Peter Coyote’s narration is prominent), has its theories of why this is so, and suggests that GOP dirty tricksters may be the villains without saying it in so many words. (This is manifested most crudely by composer Laurence Rosenthal’s contrasting “dark” and “sympathetic” underscores for images of Bush and his 2004 opponent, John Kerry, respectively.)
The cited problems include long lines (particularly in lower-income and Democratic-leaning precincts), voting-machine malfunctions, exit polling itself, Republican-friendly influence and ownership of the machine manufacturers, software manipulation, uncounted votes and elimination of likely Democratic voters through such tricks as “caging,” used to nix names from voter registries.
The most damaging testimony comes from computer security analyst Chuck Herrin, who had previously reported to Congress of his successful hacking experiments to prove that a vote count could be skewed or reversed. Pic shifts into the conspiratorial when it notes that such machine makers as Diebold were big contributors to the GOP in such key swing states as Ohio.
But the film fails in its journalistic responsibility to directly grill those it holds responsible: There’s no stated or indicated sign that the filmmakers even tried to speak to current Diebold execs or suits in other major voting-machine firms to get to the bottom of the matter.
Final passage is merely a “get organized” primer, underlining the film’s real purpose as an organizing tool and not an informational general-aud doc. Pic misses the latest trend, which is a growing rejection of electronic voting machines and a return to the more reliable paper ballot.
“Stealing America” also blows a golden opportunity to go further by examining the flaws in plurality voting — more than anything else, the real cause of Gore’s 2000 defeat — as detailed in William Poundstone’s recent book, “Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It).” The film’s lack of debate over such alternative ideas is even more problematic than its bland look and sound, which are more likely to put viewers to sleep than to wake them up.