With Election Day, filmmaker Katy Chevigny takes a look back at the events of November 2, 2004. We caught up with Chevigny last week to ask her some questions about her film and find out why she believes some steps still need to be taken to ensure a fair election on November 4, 2008. Election Day will have its broadcast premiere on POV later this year.
POV: Tell us about your new film, Election Day.
Chevigny: Election Day follows eleven people participating in the electoral process over the course of the day on November 2, 2004. Through the eyes of poll workers, international observers, first time voters, former elected officials, campaigners, and voting rights activists, we tried to show what voting means to Americans. In our filming, we saw a lot of flaws in the system, but we also saw a lot of people trying to make it work.
What makes the film unusual is that we shot it all on one day. The chronology of the film starts at dawn and ends well after midnight. I was interested in the challenge of editing together footage from disparate locations and characters and finding themes and contrasts that would make the material add up to more than the sum of its parts.
POV: The 2008 presidential elections are just around the corner. What lessons can viewers, voters and officials take from Election Day to ensure that the election process is fair in November? What do you think can be done to improve the voting process in America?
Chevigny: There are many, many things we can do. There has not been sufficient political will to make the system better but there are concrete solutions, for sure. Spencer Overton’s book Stealing Democracy offers a very pragmatic look at what doesn’t work and why. And once you really understand it, the solutions are easier to identify. A couple of clear steps we could take: truly non-partisan poll workers, better training of election workers, and perhaps most importantly, state election commissioners should not be partisan office-holders! This is a blatant conflict-of-interest that should have been eliminated long ago. In terms of combating voter intimidation and the use of deceitful tactics that mislead voters, there is currently a bill before the Senate that would help ensure fair elections. You can track the progress of the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act online. Another practice that blocks citizens from having their votes count on Election Day is voter caging. Notoriously targeted at low-income and minority communities, voter caging happens when an organization or campaign sends mail marked “return to sender” or “do not forward” and then uses the returned addresses to challenge votes cast by citizens whose addresses might have changed since they registered to vote. For more information on this practice and what you can do about it, check out the National Campaign for Fair Election website. I also feel strongly that the math created by the Electoral College is a big part of the reason people stay at home. Let’s face it: if you’re in a swing state, your vote just DOES count more.
POV: Election Day focuses on everyday people instead of politicians. After having made this film, do you feel hopeful about democracy in America?
Chevigny: I do. We have a long way to go until we have truly fair elections, but it was inspiring to learn how many people do participate in the electoral process and do care about democracy. It’s hard to meet someone like Leon Batts, an ex-felon who we followed for the film as he voted for the first time, and not be inspired by his belief in the importance of democracy. The shame is that his vote didn’t end up counting after all — his registration wasn’t properly recorded with the state — and we hope the film will inspire other people to improve the process like Leon inspired us.
POV: What are you working on now?
Chevigny: I have a couple of different projects in the works. We are currently in post-production on The Dishes, a film about a mostly-female Chicago punk band. Here at Arts Engine, we also have two other film projects underway: Rose and Nangabire and Asexuals: The Making of a Movement. You can learn more about all these projects on our website.
POV: What are your five favorite documentaries?
Chevigny: I don’t know if I’m capable of distinguishing my top five, but here are five that I love and admire:
American Dream, Barbara Kopple
Black Is…Black Ain’t, Marlon Riggs
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Forever, Heddy Honigman
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Errol Morris