Talking Back: ‘Election Day’

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Election Day combines eleven stories — shot simultaneously on November 2, 2004, from dawn until long past midnight — into one film that documents the street-level experience of voters in today’s America. Along the way, filmmaker Katy Chevigny discovers that more and more Americans are bringing their passion for democracy to the poll. But Election Day also finds that American elections run on a surprisingly antiquated system, which often works as much to frustrate voter participation as to encourage it, and which harbors wide disparities in access between rich and poor neighborhoods.

The 2004 elections took place in the long shadow of 2000′s bitterly contested presidential vote. The upcoming 2008 presidential elections will be another strenuous test on America’s election system. Will the system hold up? Or will “hanging chads” and disputes be part of the conversation around the election results once again?

Katy ChevignyFilmmaker Katy Chevigny says that the American election system can often fall short and fail its voters. She says that “improving our election system is not going to happen on its own; people would need to get involved to reform the system so that everyone gets an opportunity for their vote to be counted.”

Do you think the American election system needs to be reformed?
Leon BattsIn New York City, ex-felon Leon Batts has just regained the right to vote. He sees his vote as one representing all ex-convicts denied the right to vote, despite having served their time. But voting turns out to be harder than anticipated for Leon. States differ on whether ex-felons can vote. Do you think that ex-felons should be granted the right to vote across the country?

Renee ParadisIn POV’s roundtable discussion, Changing the System, we asked experts: What’s the one thing you would do to improve the accuracy, access to and efficiency of the election system in America? Renée Paradis of the Brennan Center suggests a system of universal registration. What’s the one thing you would suggest to improve the American election system?

Election Day skips over the partisanship to depict portraits of real people who make American democracy work. Along the way, it raises unsettling questions about the American election process. Have you ever run into problems when you were trying to vote? What do you think about America’s election system?
Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

Ruiyan Xu
Ruiyan Xu
Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.
  • Gloria

    FOREIGNID: 16486
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    This is a great film. How did you select which stories to follow?

  • Raymond

    FOREIGNID: 16487
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    What’s your vision for how this film can be used to raise awareness of voter disenfranchisement and perhaps influence electoral reform?

  • David

    FOREIGNID: 16488
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    This is a great film, which I hope will promote awareness and reform in the upcoming election. We are all told how important this election is, but as cliché as it sounds – it is so true. There are so many important issues that have risen to the forefront in the campaigns of our candidates. As far as issues go the film does a great job showing different ways in which voters in the U.S. are disenfranchised. I was wondering, however, if you think speaking about the issues involved in the election itself (economy, health care, homeland security etc.) are important in an election-based film. Being that the issues are so important in this election especially would you consider making a film about voters in respect to voting based on the issues they care most about?

  • Judith dePonceau

    FOREIGNID: 16489
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I am concerned about a comment made by a woman in a clip from tonight’s show. It was shown over and over again before tonight. The woman says that voting is not a right, but a privilege. The other woman, to whom she is speaking, disagrees mildly and says it is a right.
    It seems to me that people who watched that clip and didn’t see the show might think the woman knew what she was talking about. Even watching the brief conversation during the program and seeing the quiet disagreement, might leave some confused. I wish it could have been clarified. I KNOW that voting is a right guaranteed by the consitution, but even I doubted for a few minutes. Someone having difficulty at the polling place might be intimidated by a statement like that, even by seeing it briefly on a tv screen.
    I have years of experience in voting, and am sure of myself, but for some people it is still a scary thing to do. I am still watching the program, and now a wide man in a blue shirt is acting disgusted about people who are having difficulites, belittling them, saying that if they don’t know simple things like where they should vote, how they are registered, and so on, then they don’t deserve to vote. He ends with the statement that it is not a right but a privilege. I surely hope that by the end of this program someone has clearly rejected and corrected what these two people have said.

  • john harris

    FOREIGNID: 16490
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I am really disappointed with this documentary because the filmmaker uses 90 minutes to cover the Ohio Nov 2004 election to give the impression that our democracy is still alive and kicking and working despite a few glitches here and there. What happened in Ohio nov 2004 was more than just a few glitches, it is called election theft. please read the many books documenting this election fraud. also I notice that none of the comments are critical of this documentary so the censor must be in overdrive to stop criticism from being posted regarding this documentary.

  • TBT

    FOREIGNID: 16491
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Fantastic movie. My only question is, where can I get a copy?

  • Dana Schmidt

    FOREIGNID: 16492
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I was also concerned about the “right vs. privilege” scene in the film. Voting, like any civil right, should belong to everyone equally and is not something that can be “taken away” like a privilege. Yet the film manages to portray how some honestly see voting as a privilege, especially with rules dictating how old you must be and what your past criminal record must look like in order to participate. These people truly believe that the right to vote is not a right at all, but something that must be earned. And I find that to be very intimidating.

  • Becca B

    FOREIGNID: 16493
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    i agree with the lady in video four in some cases. although i do not agree that race had anything to do with how well the voting ran. but i guess it could i dont live there so you never know with people.

  • Taylor S. SHS

    FOREIGNID: 16494
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I agree with Schmidt that criminal record should not prevent a person from voting, because, if a person disagrees with a law, how can he change it if he can’t vote?

  • Rachel T. SHS

    FOREIGNID: 16495
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    In video 4, the lady makes a valid point in saying that there is no telling how many people left due to the ridiculous lines that form in the poorer communities since they don’t have the same machines and tools to use for their voting.
    Additionally, I think that in order to improve the adequacy and convenience of voting there should just one designated voting style (ie. punch cards, machines, etc) so that there will at least be less controversy surrounding one being more difficult than another.
    At least if there is a glitch in whichever system is chosen, there is a greater chance that all would be affected by the error.
    But, the voting system is unfortunately too complicated to be successful enough to not have so many issues dealing with voting in itself.
    There should be more focus on what is being voted for, rather than how the voting is being done and I think that could be solved simply by enacting a nationwide way to vote.

  • marievshs

    FOREIGNID: 16496
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Registering to vote seems like a long and confusing process. The pace where people had to vote was a very crowded. I admired the fact the women was concerned about her childs future.

  • patty a.

    FOREIGNID: 16497
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    to me voting is important because the people can put their say in how they want things. some people do it for the bennefit of their children, others do it because they can’t live with something they don’t like. some people think our vote don’t count, but that is so not true, we are voting for someone else to vote for what we want.

  • brieannabefa

    FOREIGNID: 16498
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    in this area there are still using paper to bote for who they want. its not as chaotic as the other places were but nonetheless i thought that technology would have improved some of the other areas. the girl was able to do the same day process even though it was here first time to vote.

  • marievshs

    FOREIGNID: 16499
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    The second video showed a more organized voting process. The women had just turned 18 and she was able to register and vote in the same day. I would prefer that type of system. It would be a more comfortable atmosphere.

  • patty a.

    FOREIGNID: 16500
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    when voting it should be organized because if it’s not, there will be a hard time counting and giving the right number, and there will be some very unhappy people.

  • patty a.

    FOREIGNID: 16501
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    watching the third video showed me that poor people voting booths are crowded. the more rich ones have less activity and are usually regulars.

  • patty a.

    FOREIGNID: 16502
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    some voting areas take hours before they can vote, and it causes people to leave, or think that others are held higher than them. people may not want to vote because they think it’s a waste of time, but others may not do it beacause it takes too long to put their vote in.

  • marievshs

    FOREIGNID: 16503
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Video four was set in an urban community. Once again the voting lines were very long. A group of women reacted to the circumstances, and began to get upset. There main problem was they felt the white community had a more effcient system. Despite these peoples location they should still get to have the same treatment.

  • marievshs

    FOREIGNID: 16504
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    The poll watcher in video three showed two dramaticly diffrent voting places. The first poll was in a poor neighbor that showed incredably long wating lines. The richer community however, had short lines and wasn’t very crowded. I think all people are intitled to equal voting areas.

  • brieannabefa

    FOREIGNID: 16505
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    in the first scene there were people standing in line for two hours. TWO HOURS!!!! that’s when you know that the system that they have in that town. in the poor place the there were lines among lines. but in the richer area there were poeple in a very less organized line as well as different voting booths. i felt that the poor town needs to do something about voting areas to make them much more efficient as well as organized!

  • brieannabefa

    FOREIGNID: 16506
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    this video number four showed how the people are upset and mad. I agree with the ladies that were talking about how they had four years to get the system right. It’s wrong that the place takes so long for the poeple to sign in and vote. The poor places should have the same things that the rich places have. i think its ironic that the poor places don’t have system like that. trying to get the people to stop voting because it takes so long for the people to stand in line to vote. it is a privalage but when the governement does nothing about it to help out some of these poor places the people start decideing not to vote!

  • marievshs

    FOREIGNID: 16507
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    In video five they use punch cards to vote. I don’t think the cards are a very effective way of voting. The man in the video made the point that the cards dont always punch through. I believe a lot of confusion emerges because of the cards.

  • patty a.

    FOREIGNID: 16508
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    in the 5th video, a man asks a question about if it was neccasary for them to I.D. him and when there was a problem with the voting booth he let them know. this just proves to show that some of the voting machines are not set up equally and everyones votes may not have been counted right.

  • brieannabefa

    FOREIGNID: 16509
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    dang….theres so much in this video to say. first off i thought it was mandatory for everyone in the united states to show there ID when they were about to vote. the second thing was that the voting ballets was all messed up. the needle wasn’t punching. the voter was telling the democratic and replublican party about and said that they needed to tell people about it. but when she did it, it worked, i wonder if the people before him noticed that the hole wasn’t punching through the ballets???

  • Anonymous

    PBS is an acronym for NBC.  The coverage of the RNC is so biased towards the left it might as well be the Chris Mathews Show. Beware PBS, NBC is at the bottom of the ratings ladder.  You depend on donations, but I doubt anyone with any sense would donate based on your RNC coverage