ABOUT THE FILM

“A timely look at an important issue that’s getting more hotly contested every month…” Hollywood Reporter

“Eye-opening and highly entertaining … If you have any sort of investment in this country, we recommend seeing Electoral Dysfunction.” Flavorpill

Electoral Dysfunction pulls off an admirable trick: It’s pleasant. It treats Democrats and Republicans respectfully, and its humor, with the comic Mo Rocca as guide, is closer to Garrison Keillor than to Michael Moore. This lighthearted, colorful, nonpartisan documentary … lives up to its title, exploring problems of nationwide accessibility and fairness…” —The New York Times

“Rocca follows Marshall to the house of a 50-year-old woman who believed that since she was an ex-con, she was banned for life from voting. With the cameras following her as she votes for the first time in her life, Dysfunction is worth viewing for this moment alone …. If one were to present the history of America, one couldn’t do much better than Dysfunction. The process of voting and elections is messy, convoluted and confounding, but it’s all Americans have for now. Electoral Dysfunction is a perfect illustration of that. New York Amsterdam News 

Electoral Dysfunction has a bit of everything–comedy, tragedy, farce. It’s educational, amusing and sometimes appalling…” Montreal Gazette

“A stunning investigative work leading to a disquieting statement about the disparities of the American electoral system … a survival guide for the American getting ready to vote.” Panorama-Cinema

“An irreverent look at voting … funny and insightful.” WTSP-TV

“Rocca wryly, yet respectfully, follows the hard-driving efforts of Jennings County Democrat Mike Marshall and Ripley County Republican Dee Dee Benkie as the engaging opponents pull out the stops to help ensure their party’s win. It’s a generally fair and balanced snapshot of Tip O’Neill’s assertion, ‘All politics is local.’ … But it’s the shocking, follow-up news of Marshall’s 2011 grand jury indictment on 45 felony counts allegedly related to his voter registration work (he claims innocence and political witch-hunting) that hammers home America’s red-blue rancor and closes the film on a vital note of gravitas.” —Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times

“Engrossing and eye-opening … the movie has a charged, electric feel to it. Electoral Dysfunction is utter catnip for politicos and documentary film fans, but its attractive presentation and easygoing nature also make this important and instructive movie approachable for level-headed audiences of various political stripes.”
—Brent Simon, past president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association

“This extraordinary film will teach Americans that all of us are caught in a dysfunctional voting system.”
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Nonvoting Member of Congress

“The Supreme Court has told us that there is ‘no federal Constitutional right to vote’ for President. America has no independent national elections board, no uniform ballot or counting procedure, and an ongoing, unpredictable electoral mess. This story urgently needs to be told…”
Jamin Raskin, Maryland State Senator and Professor of Constitutional Law at American University

“Efforts to bring fairness and equity to our voting system depend on a greater understanding of root causes, so I am especially heartened to know that Electoral Dysfunction will put the current problems plaguing America’s election system in historical context. Infusing the film with humor promises to make this documentary especially engaging and effective.”
Tova Andrea Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos

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.

NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD

  • Robert Brandon, President of the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN). Established in 2006, FELN works on a nonpartisan basis to remove barriers to voting for students, youth, and other traditionally underrepresented groups. FELN works with elections officials, college registrars, and other third parties to institutionalize best practices at the state and local levels.
  • Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor and staff writer at The New Yorker. Hertzberg is the author of numerous books, including Obamanos: The Birth of a New Political Era (2009). He writes frequently about the ways in which America’s system of winner-take-all elections, federalism and separation of powers is damaging to political responsibility and democratic accountability.
  • Alexander Keyssar, the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. His book The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States was named the best book in U.S. history by both the American Historical Association and the Historical Society; it was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
  • Robin Leeds, a senior political strategist, organizer, and advocate with more than 30 years’ experience. As a political appointee to President Clinton from 1994 to 2000, she was instrumental in implementing the National Voter Registration Act. A former Fellow at the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, Leeds served as an Academic Advisor to the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform.
  • Lawrence Norden, Project Director for the Voting Technology Assessment Project at the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. As Counsel at the Brennan Center, Norden works in the areas of voting systems, voting rights, and government accountability. He is the lead author of The Machinery of Democracy: Protecting Elections in an Electronic World.
  • Jamin Raskin, director of the Program on Law and Government at American University’s Washington College of Law. Raskin teaches Constitutional Law and is the author of Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court versus the American People. In 2006, he was elected to the Maryland State Senate and was instrumental in Maryland’s passage of the National Popular Vote law.
  • Rob Richie, director of FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy since its founding in 1992. An expert on international and domestic electoral systems, Richie has worked with Congressional staff in writing numerous pieces of legislation; spoken to scores of organizations, including the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice; and organized eight conferences on electoral reform.
  • Elsie Scott, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF). Dr. Scott has overseen the launch of several CBCF projects intended to expand the involvement of African Americans in the political, legislative and public-policy arenas. She has spoken widely on voting rights and has taught political science at several universities, including Howard and Rutgers.
  • Reverend DeForest Soaries, Jr., appointed in 2004 by President George W. Bush as the first chairman of the Election Assistance Commission. The EAC, mandated by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), is the first federal body created to address and monitor voting issues. Soaries was New Jersey’s Secretary of State from 1999 to 2002 under then-Governor Christine Todd Whitman.
  • Tova Andrea Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan public-policy research and advocacy organization that works for a vibrant democracy with high levels of voting and civic engagement. A nationally known expert on election reform, Wang served as staff person to the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former Presidents Ford and Carter.

FUNDING ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Major funding for ELECTORAL DYSFUNCTION was provided by:
Ford Foundation
The Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The Lynne Tennenbaum Trust
The Agnes Varis Trust

Additional funding was provided by:
Jules Bernstein & Linda Lipsett
Philip Gallo
Michael Golder, MD
George and Edwynne Krumme
Lorelie Masters

And dozens of individual donors.