Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ***½
On last Sunday's episode of This Week with George Stephanopoulos, reporter Katrina vanden Heuvel mentioned during the journalists' roundtable that a lack of polling place preparedness could sway the outcome of the 2008 presidential election and she was nearly laughed off the stage. I repeat, the very notion of compromised voting eight years after the supreme court appointed a president and just four years after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (in a joint decision with Congress) deemed it necessary to send international observers to monitor our elections for the first time, was immediately discarded by a group of prominent political writers from the most widely read news sources in the country. It's possible there's never been a clearer illustration of the mainstream media's apathy to question status quo that has served us so well for the last several years. This void has left a public more primed than ever for the chaos and clumsiness of blogs, talk radio and agit prop documentaries.
A popular misnomer about documentaries is that they are objective, or somehow at their best when they are striving to be objective. But documentaries are meant to communicate ideas and that is most easily borne from a strong point of view (though preferably one with a curious mind). Or in the case of Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections, a very strong sense of outrage.
First-time director David Earnhardt meticulously lays out various types of electoral manipulation as they are alleged to have occurred in the 2000, 2004 and 2006 elections. The film deftly balances technical definitions and jargon with anecdotal examples keeping things from getting too muddled or bookish. There's also a refreshing mix of interviews with journalists, PHDs and elected officials with poll workers, aggrieved voters and whistle-blowers that gives the documentary a strong grassroots feeling.
It's one thing to speak slowly to make a complicated issue more accessible, but the film falters a bit when it veers off into a few vague tangents and conspiracy theories, such as a languid demonstration of how computers can be programmed to 'flip' their actual counts. Or a deliberately fuzzy explanation of the role Diebold executives played in the removal of Bruce Funk from office, an elected county clerk in Utah who had called for investigation of vote tampering.
But for each of those less compelling anecdotes there's a Steve Heller, a transcriber at Diebold's law offices who paints a scene of smuggling out incriminating documents in the middle of the night; a Clint Curtis, a computer programmer who was commissioned by Florida's Speaker of the House to create a "vote-flipping" software; and an accountant named Athan Gibbs, who invented a voting machine that provided an audit trail and paper receipt who died in a fiery car wreck a week before he was to demonstrate his machine for Congressional representatives. These stories weave together to create something out of a KGB crime novel.
Made available through The Disinformation Company (who also released Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers and several 9/11 conspiracy docs) the film's one-sided approach will be a turn off for some viewers. But Uncounted is also diligently researched and deeply passionate, two qualities that are achingly missing from the larger discourse today.
DVD extras include over an hour of extended interviews, deleted scenes and trailer.
See also: American Blackout,Recount, Voting in America, Hacking Democracy, Ammo for the Info Warrior 2, So Goes the Nation, Election Day.
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