I'm really disappointed. For months, I've been looking forward to David Earnhardt coming to Chicago with his documentary "Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections". Since its Nashville premiere last November, Earnhardt has been on the road, with screenings before appreciative audiences taking place in theatres across the country.
It's official: "Uncounted" will be shown downtown next Tuesday, April 29th, at Landmark's Century Theatre, 2828 N. Clark St. at 7:00 p.m. There will be a Q & A afterwards with Earnhardt and Bob Koehler, syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.
The film is professionally done and quite compelling, as befits the work of an award-winning producer and director. I know; I've seen it several times and wrote a review for OpEdNews which you are welcome to peruse. The bad news is that, because of a minor but inconveniently scheduled surgery, I will neither be able to put Earnhardt up nor attend the event.
So, in order not to feel totally out of the loop, I've done an extensive interview with filmmaker Earnhardt and offer snippets of it here for your reading pleasure. I'm hoping that it will get you thinking. If you live in the Chicago area or have friends who do, please spread the word. I guarantee that you will not walk out of the theatre unmoved.
Q. Let's start at the beginning. What is this movie about?
A. We show that our election system doesn't work very well. Millions of people's votes go uncounted in major election after major election, either through voter suppression - where people who go to the election polls on to vote on Election Day are prevented from exercising their right to vote - or through the many problems with the electronic voting that has pretty much taken over our election system these days. And we show in our film that the vast majority of these uncounted votes, particularly in elections of the last decade, would have gone for Democratic candidates had they been properly counted. For example, most of us know that President Bush wasn't fairly elected in 2000, but we also show in our movie that he would not have been elected in 2004 had that election been run fairly.
We further show how millions of votes also went uncounted in the 2006 mid-term election, blunting what would have been an even bigger Democratic victory in that mid-term election. So, recent history tells us that the lack of integrity in our election process is huge and will probably play the single biggest role in who's going to get elected in 2008.
Q. You've pointed out these election irregularities that have gone against Democrats and favored Republicans. It would sound like that this film is taking a partisan slant. So talk to me about that.
A. In recent years, virtually all the manipulation has been at the expense of Democratic candidates, and that is a reflection of what's gone on in recent history. But this is a reflection more of who's in power. The party that's in power is in a better position to manipulate election results. But you don't have to go very far back in history to see that it can swing the other way. Throughout history, you can find example after example of the Democratic Party running huge political machines that stuffed ballot boxes and stole elections. Political machines like Tammany Hall or the Daley machine in Chicago.
The bottom line is that when people go to the polls, they ought to be able to vote and their vote ought to be counted. We all have an interest in this. It shouldn't be a matter of who's in power; it should be a matter of the power of the public citizen to hold our leaders accountable by the power of the vote. That's the core of our democracy, and this is the kind of issue -- making sure each and every vote is properly counted -- that can pull together everybody. I am sure that 95%, if not more, of citizens in this country believe that the vote ought to be counted as intended. It's important to us as Americans, and it's something we have grown up with -- this belief in democracy. And I find when I show this film, when it's audiences that have Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Greens, Libertarians -- it makes everybody mad when they see the evidence that votes are not getting properly counted.
Everybody has a stake in this, and it's in everybody's interest to get behind this issue. We ought to have fair and honest elections.
Q. Boil it all down for our readers. What's so bad about electronic voting?
A. The biggest problem with electronic voting is it breaks a big, a basic tenet of democracy -- is that we're supposed to be voting in secret and counting in public. You can't see how the counting happens on these electronic voting machines. You just put your vote in a black box, and then it just disappears. It's not a good way to run our democracy.
And the biggest opponents of all to these electronic voting machines are computer scientists themselves. They will tell you as a group that computers are not a good way to count our votes; it's just too difficult to keep them secure. And it doesn't even really take a conspiracy to change vote totals, and that's the scariest part of all. One person can get inside these machines, and can introduce a virus that can be passed from machine to machine. Or a rogue programmer can manipulate results at the tabulation level where literally millions of votes can be shifted. It's a scary situation for something as precious as the core of our democracy -- the vote.
Q. You spend a good chunk of the film telling the stories of Steve Heller, Bruce Funk, Athan Gibbs, and Clint Curtis. Why?
(Editor's note: Steve Heller is the whistleblower who revealed Diebold's intention to defraud the State of California and its many millions of voters. Bruce Funk is the Republican former county clerk of Emery County, Utah, who investigated the reliability and accuracy of the Diebold machines his constituents voted on, calling down the wrath of Diebold and local officials. Athan Gibbs invented a more trustworthy electronic voting machine which was starting to garner interest when he suddenly died in a car accident, putting on hold his dream of assuring that the public's votes are accurately counted. And Clint Curtis was the whistleblower who testified under oath before Congress about the scheme fellow Republican Tom Feeney had to subvert the South Florida vote via intentionally corrupted programming code in the voting machine software.)
A. Every single one of them took a major step to try to do something to help improve our elections -- to make them more fair and honest. I think all four of them define what real patriotism is. And each one of them has suffered. Steve Heller gets convicted of a felony. Bruce Funk is out of a job. Athan Gibbs never lives to see his machine go to market. And Clint Curtis has to quit his job and really his career is completely derailed.
But each one of these people - the actions they took as a single individual - made a huge difference. And their individual actions have helped clean up our elections. Cumulatively, they have helped bring a bad name to electronic voting.
And these days, electronic voting seems to be on borrowed time. (Editor's note: Unfortunately, I beg to differ on this point and regret that I didn't bring it up during the interview*.) And a lot of that is because of the actions of these individuals who have made a big difference. It bothers me most that Athan Gibbs didn't live to see how the actions he took made a big different. I mean he really was one of the pioneers, and the principles he put to work in his voting system -- well, these are now required by law in most states.
So, it proves so much the power of one. And I think that's, as much as anything, what I hope comes across in our film is that one person is who usually makes a huge difference. It's not really even small groups or large groups -- but one person. There's a lot of dark information in this film, a lot of difficult information, a lot of information about a real threat to our democracy and that our vote isn't something we can count on. But within that, what I wanted to make sure came crashing through in the film is that as powerful as the large forces are, individuals still do make a difference in bringing down this big machinery. It's the great metaphor of the big machine, like in the old Charlie Chaplin movie, the big machine that they used, but then one little bolt can clog up the machine and bring it to a halt. That's what happens when an individual takes a step and says, "No. You can't do that. You can't mess with the vote."
Q. So how do people react to the film when they see it?
A. First, they get mad. We are a people taught to believe that we're a freedom-loving country and that the vote is the core to that freedom, that we as individual citizens can hold our leaders accountable. If they're not doing the job, then we take them out with our vote; that's what we believe. And that's very core to not only our identity as a country, but to each one of our own individual identities.
And when viewers see the movie and they see that our vote is being messed with, they get very mad. And when they see what's going on, the overwhelming sense that people have when they leave the theater is that they want to do something. They want to get involved. They want to work with groups that are fighting.
A lot of people buy our DVD right after they have seen the film, so that they can share it with their family, friends, and others. So the film becomes something that people can share to help people understand how critical this issue is. And that's what we want people to do with it. We tried to make it simple. We tried to take a very large issue, a complex issue and just boil it down, thread together the evidence and show how huge this problem is and how important it is that we understand it so that we can do something about it.
Q. How have you been getting this film out?
A. We're taking a very grassroots approach at this point. I've been on a national tour for nearly three months now, where we have having theatrical screenings in cities across the country. I travel with the film, introduce it, then, afterwards, discussions where we discuss the issues raised in the film. We've been in some beautiful theaters, have had hundreds of people at many of the different screenings, and it's been a very invigorating experience, seeing how people respond to the film.
At the same time, we also have been having house party screenings across the country. We've had well over 300 of these screenings during the past three months, 203 of them coordinated in one night by Democracy For America in 42 different states across the country. I spoke by conference call to all 203 house parties after the film, where we discussed the issues. So that was an incredible night. And then Brave New Theaters has been working with us to coordinate a number of other house party screenings.
And then we're making our DVD available at these screenings. It's the kind of thing where we don't want to wait; we want people to be able to get it right then after they've seen it, and people then getting copies of the DVD after they see the screenings, so they can share the film with others. And we've made it available on our website , where it has has sold in 47 states and 16 countries in the four months since we made it available.
So it's a very grassroots screening approach, taking our film directly to people and then people spreading the word about this critical issue.
Q. Do you feel like the film is making a difference?
A. Well, I do. I think this is a very complicated issue, and I think what I tried to do with "Uncounted" is just to try to simplify it, to try to take a very large view of what's been going on with our elections primarily since 2000. And what I'm seeing as we show this film is that people get activated when they learn about the issue. So, I think we're providing a service in the sense that we're providing a tool for people that they can share with others and help people understand this issue.
When people see the film, it's kind of like staring at the abyss; they see it, they don't like it, and then they want to do something to make it right. And I've learned, while making this film, that one person makes the biggest impact. So, that makes me feel like that it really does matter, that it's worth the effort. And I'm just going to keep showing this film to as many people as I can, right up until Election Day 2008.
So, dear readers, whether you live in Chicago or not, spread the word about this important film which American historian Howard Zinn has called "powerful and persuasive". Visit the "Uncounted" website and learn more, including how to get a copy of the DVD. You can also see where the film will be next and how to arrange for it to come to your town.
* It may be that touch screen voting is on the way out. Some states are switching from touch-screens to optical scanners, but -- let's be perfectly clear -- they are another form of computerized voting that belongs to private, for-profit corporations, counting our votes secretly on proprietary software that they don't feel obligated to reveal. Optical scanners share many of the same problems, lulling us into a false and misplaced sense of security.