It doesn't get more mainstream than this: The HBO documentary about computerized voting, Hacking Democracy, been nominated for an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism.
The film shows the detective story that uncovered the inappropriate practice of counting votes in secret, inside electronic voting machines. It chronicles the work of Black Box Voting, catching election workers in the act of destroying audit trails and rigging a 2004 presidential recount. It shows the famous "Thompson hack" and "Hursti Hack", and gets Diebold's head engineer on tape claiming it couldn't be done.
Hacking Democracy was aired on national television 26 times last year, educating millions of Americans about the high risk of electronic voting. It has also been shown in theatres in Great Britain and Europe, where secret electronic voting is creeping into more national election systems.
The film that told America the truth was created by two Englishmen.
Russell Michaels was the primary researcher for the film. He became intrigued by the issue of electronic voting in 2003. Working quite literally on a shoestring, Michaels and a colleague, film editor Simon Ardizzone, scraped together enough seed money to travel from England to America.
One of their first stops was Riverside County, California, where they captured chilling video of the obstructions faced by Linda Soubirous when she attempted to do a meaningful recount of her election for county supervisor. Some of the Riverside scenes show up in a riveting outtake scene, where attorney Greg Luke is interviewed about the secrecy and the recount sham. This week, Luke won a similar case in Alameda County, where the judge may order a new election; also this week, Riverside officials received a report from a Blue Ribbon Panel recommending going back to paper ballots.
In early 2004, Michaels and Ardizzone filmed the bizarre San Diego practice of sending voting machines home for sleepovers, and captured voting machines malfunctioning in Georgia.
The film also shows rare footage of a touch-screen voting machine flipping votes, in a New Orleans election. Republican candidate Susan Bernecker tested voting machines and captured machine after machine switching votes for Bernecker to a candidate named Gambaluca.
Michaels and Ardizzone joined forces with gutsy producer Sarah Teale, who will have the rare privelege of competing against herself in the Emmy Awards this September, because another of her films, Dealing Dogs, was also nominated.
The subject matter in Hacking Democracy was so controversial that all three filmmakers were subjected to brutal maneuverings to kill the film, both from Diebold and from political interests. Teale had already shown herself to be a fearless filmmaker, and she had prevailed before in persuading HBO muscle to back up her productions with the controversial film Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?
Even after producing several films requiring an extra strong backbone, which also include The Whistleblower, a portrait of Charles Hamel who blew the whistle on big oil in Alaska, Teale has told us that the behind-the-scenes maneuverings to impede "Hacking Democracy" were among the worst she's ever encountered.
Michaels and Ardizzone collected over 200 hours of film for the 80-minute "Hacking Democracy." They interviewed eye witnesses to dozens of incidents, going back at least three decades, and they obtained a rare interview with one of the attorneys involved in the original scandals reported in the book "VoteScam" by James and Kenneth Collier. Storylines began to tangle and create knots in the editing, so in the end, Michaels and Ardizzone opted to develop a clean, concise documentary told in the compelling format of a detective story. Eighty minutes made it into the film, 200 hours landed on the cutting room floor.
It worked. HBO Pictures picked up the film, it is out on DVD, and it is now nominated for an Emmy.
If you would like your own copy of Hacking Democracy to show local public officials, town meetings or house parties, a donation of $45 or more to Black Box Voting provides a gift of the DVD. It is also available at standard retail price at http://www.hackingdemocracy.com.
Bev Harris is executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc. an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections.