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Docurama presents
Hacking Democracy (2006)

"Our democracy could go out of business."
- Bev Harris, founder of blackboxvoting.org

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 10, 2007

Director: Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:21m:52s
Release Date: March 27, 2007
UPC: 767685989135
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BBB+ B-

DVD Review

Good old-fashioned ballot box stuffing hasn't gone away, it's just gone high tech. That's the premise, anyway, of this muckraking documentary, which raises incredibly disturbing questions about the fundamental honesty of our elections, but answers only a very small percentage of them, unfortunately—if you're of a conspiratorial bent you'll find confirmation of all your worst fears here, but if you're simply skeptical, you'll probably end up wishing that the filmmakers could have dug a little deeper.

As everything in our world moves online, voting is no exception, and this is a look at Diebold and a handful of other companies who manufacture electronic voting equipment and develop the proprietary software that makes that equipment run. And that's the principal problem right there: our states and counties and cities have contracted with private companies to provide all the necessary equipment for public elections, but our public officials aren't allowed to know how all the software works. It's a recipe for potential corruption, certainly, and it's deeply discomforting to read reports of the Diebold CEO promising to "deliver" Ohio for George W. Bush in 2004. The 2000 Florida recount is the obvious launching point for many of these inquiries—no matter what your political leanings are like, you had to be made queasy by the spectacle of election workers holding up punch cards and trying to glean the intentions of the voters. And the documentary is jammed with other such unsettling anecdotes, like a negative vote total for Al Gore in one Florida county in 2000, or the malfunctioning machines and 5-hour waits in Ohio in '04.

The unstated premise of the film is that a vast and sinister conspiracy stole not one but two Presidential elections on behalf of George W. Bush, but that presupposes a kind of genius to the system—the real question is whether those overseeing elections in our country are wicked or simply stupid, which really isn't much of a choice. The hero of the film is Bev Harris, who kind of gets her Erin Brockovich on—she's a Seattle grandmother outraged by what she's learned, and when a Google search exposes a Diebold security glitch and allows Harris to download their vote-counting software, she becomes a corporate enemy and a public crusader. She and her colleagues file many, many Freedom of Information Act requests and scour the dumpsters outside the offices of many bureaus of elections; she's consistently disillusioned, especially by John Kerry and his quick concession in 2004 despite the Ohio electoral irregularities.

Harris finds a few decent public servants—most notably Ion Sancho, Supervisor of Elections in Leon County, Florida, who puts the Diebold machines to the test and discovers how easily they can be hacked into. But you keep hoping that Harris will come up with the smoking gun, and alas, she never does—the possibility of a conspiracy isn't the same thing as a conspiracy, and the potential for fraud doesn't mean that fraud exists. The more resonant lessons are more civic-minded, if perhaps not as cinematic—we need to be extraordinarily vigilant about things as vital as our elections, and the outsourcing of voting to private industry may be good for stock prices, but it's bad for democracy.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: An adequate transfer, though with a little too much contrast, likely stemming from high-end video source material.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: James Naughton provides the narration track, and sounds incredibly portentous throughout. It's a fairly clean transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, The Weather Underground, Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
4 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Along with brief biographies for directors Simon Ardizzone and Russell Michaels are four deleted scenes (33m:27s), documenting more electoral irregularities, in Atlanta (with Rep. Cynthia McKinney) and Riverside County, California; and more of Bev and friends sorting through dumpsters and facing off with Floridian public officials getting mighty snippy about other people getting into their possibly illegal business.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A disturbing if incomplete look at just how vulnerable our electoral system may be.

 


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