Stealing America: Vote by Vote rightly addresses an issue that has long been swept under the political rug, the possibility of manipulated elections. Unfortunately, the voice and approach of this address is about as stimulating as the monotone droning of a tenured calculus professor. Math was never one of my favorite subjects, and despite its good intentions and thought-provoking research, Stealing America is not one of my favorite films of 2008.
As a documentary, Stealing America presents its audience with a clear direction and a definitive objective, to expose the American public to the alarming vulnerabilities within our electoral system. Evidently, makers of Stealing America did not think this narrowly drawn goal allowed for much creative expression. The majority of the film’s screen time is given over to examining the vast discrepancy between exit polls and the actual vote count in the 2000 and 2004 elections. However disquieting this recent trend may be, it does not save the ensuing discussion from being dull and exceedingly dry. Historically, exit polls have accurately predicted election outcomes with marginal statistical error. In the 2004 election that error soared to 6%, a figure that Jonathan Simon (co-founder of the Election Defense Alliance) describes as statistically impossible to occur naturally.
Stealing America clearly has its theories for how this statistical gap came about, and if they aren’t stated outright, the dramatically ominous music that accompanies images of President Bush gives the audience a pretty clear hint. The film pursues its theories by exploring the imperfections that mar the voting system, from disparate wait times to voting machine malfunctions. While the average suburban voting wait time was 18 minutes, individuals in lower-income and Democratic leaning precincts had to cool their heels for 3 Â½ hours before voting. During the 2004 election, machine malfunctions were reported in 42 states with 13 states reporting vote switching (where the voter selects one candidate but a different candidate appears on the screen). In addition, a study performed at Princeton University demonstrated that it is not only possible to hack into voting machines and manipulate votes, but that the process is relatively straightforward and can be completed in under a minute.
Unfortunately the best Stealing America can do is warn against such underhand scheming and place it in the realm of possibility. No smoking gun or damning evidence is unearthed that would both enliven the documentary and add concrete validity to its case. The film shows no indication that the top voting machine suppliers, Diebold and ES&S;, were confronted about the weakness of their products. The film suffers from this lack of energized debate and merely plods through a series of uninspired interviews that blend together to form one cautionary lecture. Ultimately, with its preaching to the choir style, Stealing America’s wooden execution will engage only zealous activists, while regular moviegoers will be moved to sleepiness rather than concern and outrage.
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