Liberals have spent the last eight years in a hissy fit over what they consider to be the stolen presidential election of 2000 and the vote tampering, voter fraud and African-American voter suppression that supposedly marred the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush. And while all of those accusations might be true, until someone does some serious journalistic legwork, documentaries like producer/director Dorothy Fadiman’s Stealing America: Vote by Vote will come off as the pouty, tiresome rantings of a grounded teenager. Boldly interviewing people who already agree with her, the only thing Fadiman uncovers is the insatiable partisan appetite for slow-motion shots of the American flag over sound bites of indignant, no-name pundits putting two and two together and still not coming up with a satisfactory answer. Box office will be strictly nickels and dimes, since no one will watch this thing accept those already swayed.
Fadiman utilizes many graphs to illustrate her point that, in the last 10 years of state and federal elections, there’s been a curious discrepancy between exit-poll results and the final vote count (up to 6 percent, which doesn’t seem all that much, considering). In the 2004 presidential contest, exit polls showed Democrat John Kerry ahead of President George W. Bush in 10 of 12 critical states (“sometimes called ‘battleground’ or ‘swing states,’” Peter Coyote’s voice over condescendingly adds). The initial impulse is to blame faulty exit polling. But Fadiman claims the disconnect is attributable to political and corporate impropriety, leading to the Left’s pet allegation that “not all the ballots get counted. (That’s) the nasty little secret in America.” As told here, the reasons that not every vote gets counted in key races are varied, conspiratorial and standard issue for those inclined to think along these lines. According to the doc, in 2004, electronic voting machine malfunctions were reported in dozens of states. There’s no doubt that electronic voting machines are a questionable, easily compromised method for tallying votes. But it’s one thing to make the very justifiable claim that the machines weren’t ready for primetime. It’s another to say the machines were rigged based on party precincts or infested with a self-destructing virus or that machines were purposely withheld from certain (read: heavily Democratic) areas. And that’s the problem with Stealing America and its ilk. As much as they champion the notion that any election chicanery is bad for both parties, this is strictly another propaganda-laced lashing out at corporations and the Republicans who use them to steal elections.
Of the 20 voting machine companies in the U.S., the most visible is Diebold. Among their many jobs is to manufacture, maintain and service voting machines—a factory-to-end-user monopoly that admittedly is disquieting. To prove that Diebold is in the pocket of the Right to criminal extremes, Fadiman carts out the story of former Diebold CEO Walden Odell, a major fundraiser for George W. Bush who was quoted in the New York Times as saying he’ll “do what’s necessary” to deliver Ohio for Bush in 2004. What constitutes “necessary” is strongly implied but, since Fadiman doesn’t advance the story beyond what’s already in the record, hardly proven. Still, some of Fadiman’s subjects raise provocative eyebrows. Chris Hood, a former Diebold employee, says malfunctioning clocks on Diebold machines in Georgia’s heavily Democratic DeKalb and Fulton Counties were the pretense to install a patch that supposedly guaranteed victory for Republican Saxby Chambliss over Democrat Max Cleland. Most damning is Fadiman’s regurgitation of the story of Clint Curtis, a Florida computer programmer who testified in front of a “group of Congress members” that, in October 2000, Congressman Tom Feeney, then Florida’s Speaker of the House, asked him to create vote-switching software. The movie makes quite a deal about vote switching, which makes you question whether something so audacious, treasonous and damning could ever be kept a complete secret. But if anyone’s talking, Fadiman hasn’t found him. Instead, we hear from Democratic Sen. Bob Hagan, who says the voting machine switched his 2004 vote to Bush, prompting a call to Kerry’s handlers, who told him “don’t talk about it, it’s not something we want to get out.” Why they wouldn’t want to get that out is not clear, but as long as it’s accompanied by ominous music (or mournful, as when Kerry concedes to Bush in 2004), we’re supposed to assume a Republican conspiracy to steal the election.
Of course, these scandals would have broken long ago if it weren’t for the darn mainstream media, both parties’ go-to villain when even the most ridiculous conspiracy theory isn’t getting the airtime it deserves. In 2004, news outlets ignored how “votes were switching on multiple machines during the day” in Ohio and other states. But news outlets ignore more stories than they report, so if they’re going to taint a presidential election with a wild accusation, they’d better have enough corroborative evidence. Clearly, they didn’t, since their threshold for going with a story is much higher than Fadiman’s. The Oscar-nominated director swings wildly here, as well, reminding us that the media called the election for Bush when there were people still to vote. But that hardly-new, and pretty irresponsible, phenomenon could have worked in Kerry’s favor had he been winning, which would have made this movie unnecessary (in politics, you only care about such things if you’re on the wrong side of the outcome).
There’s much that’s wrong with politics in America today, but most problems would be solved if people would stop listening to talk-radio propagandists and reading partisan websites that only confirm what they already believe. The Left’s infatuation with the last two presidential elections refuses to abate, but until a smoking gun appears, Fadiman, and many of the other liberal docu-theorists should seriously table the subject. Karl Rove is not going to break down on the stand and admit to any felonious tactics, President Bush is not going to be impeached and he’s not going to wheel the library cart down the hallways of a minimum-security prison. Instead, Democrats should look towards the future, where there’s a senator from Illinois who could really use their help.
Direct Cinema Limited
Director/Producer: Dorothy Fadiman
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: August 1 NY, August 15 LA