Barack Obama's coming Saturday, John Edwards is in town tonight, Mike Huckabee's wife was here Monday, and the governor of Minnesota has been following John McCain around like a puppy following the Big Dog.
Yes, it's an election year. Political pulses are pounding.
But the Nov. 4 election may do more than choose a president. It may also decide whether we can still trust democracy, after two elections marked by vote-tampering and fraud.
It will help if we can believe our votes count this time.
That is what it's supposed to be about. One person, one vote is the democratic ideal. But over the past few elections, we've learned hard lessons: Millions of voters can be kept out of the equation -- by keeping them from the polls, by under-counting ballots or even changing the vote totals.
It can happen here. It has.
But will the vote-counting scandals and controversies of the past two elections happen again next fall? That's the question asked in a new documentary film that will be shown Wednesday night at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. Called "Uncounted," the documentary is a disturbing look at the weaknesses in our system of counting ballots, which allow manipulation of the outcome and corruption of the very idea of a democracy.
"I used to take for granted that our system was sound," said Mark Halvorson, director of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, a nonpartisan group that advocates for verifiable elections and is sponsoring the film (for more information, see www.ceimn.org). "Then I went to Ohio in 2004.
"That was very eye-opening."
Halvorson, 52, quit his job as a social worker to begin working full time to help make elections open and accurate after observing the "laundry list" of problems that disrupted voting in Ohio in the 2004 election. So many people were unable to vote due to equipment or polling place problems, and so many who managed to cast ballots did not have their votes recorded, that Ohio -- which was won by George Bush and helped secure his reelection -- is the model for what can go wrong. And will go wrong, unless citizens are vigilant.
Although the film focuses on questions about Bush's 2000 victory in Florida and his 2004 win in Ohio, Halvorson says the issue is larger than who has partisan advantage.
"Problems with voting systems cut across party lines," said Halvorson. "This is not about which party wins. It's about making sure the losers can be confident that they lost, in a fair and verifiable manner. That's about safeguarding the integrity of the system."
David Earnhardt, the Nashville film producer who spent three years making "Uncounted," said he wanted "to give as much evidence as I could, in an 80-minute film, to connect the dots a bit and show the many different ways election results can be manipulated. We have the 2008 election coming up, so the more aware the people are, the more difficult it makes it to pull these shenanigans."
Republicans have as big a stake as Democrats.
"In recent years, Republicans have been the ones in the best position to benefit from manipulating election results," Earnhardt said. "But they should flip it around and ask themselves if they want to be in that position with the Democrats in power. This is totally nonpartisan. It's a moral issue -- we were raised to believe that our vote is the essence of our freedom-loving democracy. If our votes don't count, it makes Americans mad. All Americans."
Or, as Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., says in the film:
"If you don't know that your vote is counted, and counted fairly, then we have no democracy. It becomes rule by a small group of elite insiders who manipulate what looks like a democracy for their own advantage. They're happy with the way it is right now. ... They get to rule, instead of the will of the people."
Minnesota vote-counting practices are solid. But voters in 14 states will vote on touch-screen machines that keep no certifiable record of the votes. What voters can do to help, Halvorson says, is to volunteer to be election judges and observers of post-election audits, to make sure official totals are correct.
"This is in the interest of every citizen and candidate," he says. "Way too much has been taken for granted."
("Uncounted" will be shown at 6:45 pm. Wednesday at the Riverview Theater, 3800 42nd Ave. S. Tickets are $8 ($5 for students and seniors). The film will be followed by a discussion with producer David Earnhardt. For more information, go to www.uncountedthemovie.com.)
Nick Coleman • firstname.lastname@example.org