Thursday, October 31, 2013

Just in time for the vote, stream Deschamps, Farrell & Singer's ELECTORAL DYSFUNCTION

We've had the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and just about every other metaphorical war you can imagine. Now comes the War on Voting. This time, however, it's a war we really need to win, as the documentary from last year -- ELECTORAL DYSFUNCTION, which is hitting Netflix streaming just in time to gear us up for next week's election -- clearly proves. Considering the evidence at hand, the doc is surprisingly bi-partisan and should appeal to both Democrats and Republicans (at least to those in the latter camp that still have a clue about the fact that some form of just and decent government is important to this country).

Written and directed by a trio composed of David Deschamps, Leslie D. Farrell and Bennett Singer (Deschamps and Ms Farrell are shown at left; Mr. Singer is evidently photo-shy), the movie's purpose seems to me to be two-fold:  to educate citizens about the unnecessary Electoral College, which actually and officially elects our Presidents (after us citizens who bothered to vote, have done our work) or in one particular case, sits idly by as a certain guy who actually lost the just-and-fair election had to be appointed by our Supreme Court), and to highlight the increasing war on what has always been seen by most of us as our "right to vote" (even if, as the movie makes clear, this is nowhere to be found in our Constitution). The documentary features some interesting history, some charming and clever animation, and most important (for entertainment value), it stars a low-key but funny guy named Mo Rocca, shown below.

Mr. Rocca would seem to be the near-perfect choice for a documentary that hopes to win the hearts and minds of both donkeys and elephants. He's non-threatening yet intelligent and committed, and he goes out of his way to avoid the things that, in so many current documentaries, tend to anchor them to one political philosophy or the other.

This is not to say that Electoral Dysfuction waffles where it counts. No, it makes quite clear that most of the so-called but rarely-to-be-found cases of actual "voter fraud" and subsequent laws arising from this come from Republicans. Yet in Indiana, where most of the movie takes places, the Republicans we see seem like pretty decent, if rather privileged and thoughtless, folk -- whiter-than-white and unable, say, to imagine themselves living the life of someone poor  (that's Dee Dee Benkie, RNC member, at right). But they at least appear the kind you could sit down with and converse without a fist fight occurring. The big problem with "voter fraud" restrictions is that these disenfranchise huge rafts of people who should be able to vote -- and would mostly vote Democratic.

Early in the film, a clever and telling "election" in a third grade class pitting colored pencils against markers shows that class and us how things like gerrymandering and the electoral college can crown people and things winners that actually are losers. From there we get close and chummy with some Indiana Democrats. (Yes, they exist!) Unfortunately the fellow below, former Democratic Representative Mike Marshall, was sentenced earlier this year for absentee ballot voter fraud. (At the end of the film, he is charged with same, but only this year was he finally sentenced. You can read about all this here.) We also meet some Republicans, and see why the state's Voter ID law is indeed like the new Poll Tax. Wait -- say the Republicans: If you are indigent,you can get a free ID that will enable you to vote. Oh, really? Wait till you see what the poor must do (as well as pay, first for a birth certificate, and then a notary) in order to get that "free" ID!

While the filmmakers and Rocca appear to be about as fair and balanced as possible, the facts of the situation make the case for voter rights all the stronger.  The film's funniest segment shows what happens in Indiana when a voter wants to vote but does not have his ID. Rocca really shines in this section. We get some Indiana history -- its "bloody 8th District" back in 1984, when we see a very young and ever-hypocritical Newt Gingrich. Then we go to Florida for the 200 Presidential election, which one commentator calls a perfect storm of everything dysfunctional about our electoral system.

We watch the 2008 election via Indiana, and damned if it isn't exciting and suspenseful all over again, then take a look at the design of election ballots -- another horrible, stupid and crazy attempt to confuse instead of help the public. What the film does not address, sadly, is the bigger and more important problem of how to keep individual and corporate wealth from further controlling our political system, as is happening more and more with each new election. For that, you'd best watch Francis Megahy's fine documentary, The Best Government Money Can Buy.

Meanwhile, Electoral Dysfunction is available to stream now via Netflix or Amazon, and also can be purchased on DVD.

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