Political Film Society - Newsletter #310 - August 1, 2008

August 1, 2008


Swing VoteHalf the eligible voters in the United States do not vote. Swing Vote tries to explain why by focusing on Bud Johnson (played by Kevin Costner), whose lone vote is supposed to decide the outcome of a presidential election. The improbable premise is that his precocious, idealist school-age daughter Molly (played by Madeline Carroll) secretly cast a vote for him that was not properly recorded in Texico, New Mexico, a state where votes are otherwise even for two presidential candidates yet its five electoral votes are needed in order to decide the election. New Mexico election officials come calling after the election to inform Johnson that he has ten days to recast his vote. But Johnson is depicted as a white trash divorced bum, living on the margin in a trailer, who is frequently drunk, profane, and very irresponsible, whereas his former spouse Larissa (played by Mare Winningham) appears to be on drugs. The news media descend on Texico to cover the story, and the presidential candidates reveal the sleazy manner in which they say anything to get his vote. When Molly persuades her dad to demand a debate between the two candidates, letters pour in from around the country proposing questions. The one selected, which resonates with Johnson, is why a hardworking family man cannot afford to live in the richest country in the world. The film, attended on the opening day in working class North Hollywood mostly by older Americans, then ends. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern, the message is clear. MH

For centuries, elections in the United States have been decided by ballotstuffing and racial exclusion. The documentary Stealing America by Vote, directed by Dorothy Fadiman, updates the failure to respect the right to vote by focusing on voting fraud from 1986-2006 using more sophisticated means. The sometimes disjointed presentation, which creates the impression that libelous and hyperpartisan content was cut from the final version of the film, consists of interviews with several persons as well as television news broadcasts. Among the anomalies identified in the film are the following: (1) Exit polls have failed to mirror final results only where Democrats lost unexpectedly. (2) Republican election officials have failed to respond to complaints about ongoing fraudulent practices. (3) White suburban voters average a few minutes to vote, whereas Black city voters wait hours before voting. (4) There is little accommodation for handicapped voters in cities. (5) Machines were programmed to switch votes for Kerry into votes for Bush. (6) Black voters have been mysteriously purged from lists of eligible voters. (7) Kerry conceded the 2004 election before the final vote tally was posted. (8) The Supreme Court stopped Florida from recounting votes in heavily Democratic counties in 2000. (9) Counting of votes was conducted in secret by Republican voting officials in one Ohio country during 2004. (10) The major networks and newspapers have downplayed election irregularities, which exist nationwide. Although the documentary fails to explain all the anomalies, one emphasis is on problems with voting machines: (1) Diebold refused to allow inspection of its voting machine software, and its CEO was openly committed to supporting Republicans. (2) Some machines malfunction upon arrival at polling places, and personnel to handle the problem are not available. (3) Voting machine software can easily be modified undetected before arrival or on the spot. The main policy recommendation of Stealing America by Vote is that the country should return to paper ballots, though the evidence in the film clearly indicates that paper ballots cannot prevent future elections from being stolen by many other means. Hello, President McCain? MH