"Uncounted" Shines Spotlight on Our Corrupt Voting System
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As a veteran voting rights activist, I learned little new from watching Uncounted, a magisterial history of the horrendous corruption injected into our electoral system since the rise of the Neocons in 2000, by way of Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris in Florida, among many others.
But I appreciated the review and am anxious to spread the word around to the large percentage of people in this country unaware that a large percentage of their votes in the last eight years haven't been counted or, in many cases, been counted backward to subtract from the totals of the candidates they favored.
David Earnhardt's expertise in choosing the right moments in the last eight years to highlight served another purpose in my life: it rekindled my anger and inspired me to keep fighting the fight.
Though it occurs to me that the half of the voting-age population in this country refuse to vote, so disaffected they are with the system or so uninformed of their rights, they may be further scared away from participating in such a corrupted process.
I don't meet such people too often but when I do, I urge them to register. The film medium may reach out to them better than the printed word, so that all in all we accomplish more by getting the word out than remaining silent as our rights slip away.
Earnhardt's film reviews the highlights of the last eight years and finds one of the constants, despite the nonpartisanship of the election rights movement: the Republican party is connected with the corruption, by way of large donations to their candidates by the large voting machine manufacturers, by way of the Republicans in power who have aided and abetted the ethical violations that have handed the Bushocracy the White House twice, unfairly. The details?
- The Supreme Court absconding with the right of the Florida Supreme Court to determine how to handle the conflicts in their state that postponed the election result in 1960; the double role of Katherine Harris as Florida's secretary of state and head of the committee to elect Bush; the complicity of Bush's brother, Governor Jeb, who promised his state's vote to "W."
- The rush to purchase the disastrous electronic touch-screen and push-button "DRE"'s that were so easy to corrupt and manipulate in countless ways, including "vote hopping" from Democratic to Republican candidates by way of manipulating the proprietary coding [read: no one could check the programming to be sure that it was functioning reliably].
- The purposeful racism leveled against third-world citizens bound by large percentages to the Democratic party and therefore kept away from the polls by intimidation, misinformation, manipulation of paperwork, denial of rights on flimsy grounds, purposefully undersupplying to precincts where they voted, or supplying dysfunctional machines in stark contrast to the treatment of affluent communities bound to vote for Republicans.
- The control of the key battleground state of Ohio in 2004 by Kenneth Blackwell, also both secretary of state and leader of the committee to re-elect Bush; the long lines at the polls in pouring rain that forced many with limited amounts of time to leave without voting -- those who persevered were forced to wait as long as 16 hours. The faking of a terrorist scare at another precinct. All that and much more crippled our rights in 2004.
Diebold is the case in point Earnhardt uses to exemplify what has gone wrong in this country since 2004 (activist groups have formed since then to fight the corruption; more on this below). A large and powerful Republican-connected manufacturer of paperless DREs, Diebold is responsible for dispersing dysfunctional machines in huge quantities -- machines that have been proved hackable in less than a minute. The key to the programming so resembles a luggage key that anyone can open a black box in that short a time and infect the machine to produce votes for the candidate of choice.
The mainstream press ignored this fiasco for as long as it could. Grassroots activists and then iconoclastic and brave journalists first began the publicity push. First the establishment corporates dismissed the activists' claims and then finally took up the proliferation, but never soon enough to affect results and never to the degree needed.
The film features heroes of the election integrity movement, including pioneers like Bev Harris, the few equally brave Members of Congress who dared speak out -- John Conyers and Cynthia McKinney the earliest. The syndicated columnist Robert Koehler of the Chicago Tribune joined the fight early on. Then of course, the pantheon of others who arose from the grassroots are quoted, along with the courageous whistle blowers who sacrificed their careers to fight the corrupt behemoth.
The earliest canary in the coal mine, Greg Palast, who exposed the list of illegally purged voters wrongly identified as felons, in Florida, is missing from the pantheon, though other pioneers who stood in front of the Supreme Court in mid-December are briefly photo'ed on that day they awaited the decision of the Supreme Court on who would next occupy the White House.
Among the persistent activists quoted are Mary Beth Kuznik of central Pennsylvania, attorney Lowell Finley now of California, author Andrew Gumbel, New York activist Teresa Hommel, author Bob Fitrakis, blogger and speaker Brad Friedman, martyr Athan Gibbs, who started Tru-Vote, now up and running after ceasing operations after Gibbs's death, Clint Curtis, Ed Felten of Princeton, Bruce Funk of Utah, Christine Jennings of Sarasota 2006 fame, and Jonathan Simon.
Just as John Conyers's slow, weary articulation serves as ground base to the film, a theme running throughout is the outrageous and chronic disconnect between exit polls and machine tallies. And there is much more to watch and learn.
What can we do? Contact our representatives who must run for re-election every two years; say no to DREs, an area where we are making progress; volunteer to be a poll observer or worker -- a job where the median age of employees is currently 72; write letters to the periodical editors local and national, lobby, and pass this film around.
Where's the outrage? 'We can', Barack Obama might say were he among us in this fight. Use of optical scanners, low-tech electronic voting machines that produce paper ballots, and revival of paper ballots are spreading. We're succeeding but never has the need been more urgent to never stop. Election 2008 is upon us and it is up to us to keep our democracy functional and not go the way of places where notorious corruption for years has kept the wrong people in office.
One citizen, one ballot must remain to perpetuate this historic experiment we call democracy, an age of enlightenment in history that must endure. Individuals have to take that step, says Bev Harris as the film ends and our part continues, strengthened, our outrage rekindled, our mission defined once again. Democracy: love it or lose it!
Marta Steele is a writer, editor and blogger.