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This film screening is a selection from the 2020 V-REP (Voter Registration, Education & Participation) Film Series

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While other films have examined narrow aspects of our electoral system, Electoral Dysfunction is the first documentary project to take an irreverent—but nonpartisan—look at voting in America. In the same way that An Inconvenient Truth revealed the need for immediate action on global warming—and as Bowling for Columbine exposed the roots of America’s gun culture—the film will help spark a national dialogue on the steps ordinary citizens can take to ensure that every vote counts. As former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former President Jimmy Carter noted in a bipartisan report on election reform, “Americans are losing confidence in the fairness of elections … We believe the time for acting to improve our electoral system is now.”

Following successful screenings at both the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions as part of the Impact Film Festival, Electoral Dysfunction had a limited theatrical release in the fall of 2012 and a national PBS broadcast prior to the 2012 election via presenting station WTTW. The film is directed by David Deschamps, Leslie D. Farrell and Bennett Singer, New York-based filmmakers whose collective credits include multiple Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards, and duPont-Columbia Awards, along with dozens of prizes at film festivals in the U.S. and abroad.

Shot in HD by acclaimed cinematographer Joe Friedman, Electoral Dysfunction opens as host Mo Rocca makes a startling discovery: The right to vote is absent from the U.S. Constitution. Mo then embarks on a quest to find out why the Founding Fathers deliberately left the right to vote out of the Constitution—and to learn why the greatest democracy on earth has a dysfunctional voting system. (Jimmy Carter, for example, refuses to send election monitors to the U.S. because, as he puts it, “basic requirements for a fair election” are missing here.)

Mo’s quest—set against the backdrop of the historic 2008 presidential election—leads him to Indiana, home to some of the toughest voting laws in the country. He meets two feisty Hoosiers, Republican Dee Dee Benkie and Democrat Mike Marshall, who take him inside their efforts to turn out every vote. Dee Dee, who worked in Karl Rove’s office at the White House and represented Indiana on the Republican National Committee, has met her match in Mike, a savvy political consultant and former State Representative. As he progresses on his journey, Mo investigates the heated battle over Voter ID and voter fraud; searches for the Electoral College; critiques ballot design with Todd Oldham; and explores the case of a former felon who was sentenced to ten years in prison—for the crime of voting.

Woven throughout the film are sequences in which Mo meets reformers working to bring greater fairness and transparency to our election system. Among these are proponents of the National Popular Vote Initiative, who have devised a plan to reform the Electoral College without a Constitutional amendment. Although this pragmatic reform measure has already passed in 31 state legislative chambers, it has received scant attention from the mainstream media. These stories carry the film into the future while giving viewers a sense of concrete steps they can take to help bring about change.

While the dangling chads and butterfly ballots that caused the 2000 election debacle may seem like a distant memory, experts agree that America’s voting system remains fundamentally flawed—and that in 2008 we merely dodged a bullet. In fact, a 2009 M.I.T. study found that at least 14 million eligible voters were denied the right to participate in the 2008 election. When will the next disaster strike? No one knows—but if we don’t become aware of the problems and possible remedies, there is no doubt that another electoral meltdown is inevitable.

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