Next Tuesday, November 4, 2008, millions of voters across America will take to the polls and cast their ballots to determine the next president of the United States. When you’re in the voting booth, and the curtains are closed, you’ll be making an important contribution to American democracy and making your voice heard. But are you ever curious about the experiences of other voters around the country? What is the street-level experience of voters in today’s America? And after all the news stories about “hanging chads” and voter suppression from the 2000 and 2004 elections, how do you really know if your vote is being counted?
In 2004, filmmaker Katy Chevigny set out to document the experiences of voters in America. Her film, Election Day, which first aired on POV in July, combines 11 stories — shot simultaneously on November 2, 2004, from dawn until long past midnight — into one. The heroes of the film are ordinary Americans determined to vote, to make sure others get out to vote, and to see that the voting is legally and fairly done.
Unfortunately, Election Day also reveals that American democracy runs 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 presence of international observers suddenly seems not so out-of-place when one observer finds confusion and two-hour waits in St. Louis’s poor, predominately black precincts while wealthier white neighborhoods have smoothly operating polling places.
As Americans prepare to go to the polls again, Election Day offers a vivid, expansive and sometimes unsettling account of the last presidential election, when America’s voting practices, once taken for granted, came under new and intense observation and challenge. From now until Election Day 2008, POV will be streaming the entire film on our website. So watch Election Day before you go to the polls!
What if, like some of the characters in Election Day, you get to the polls, and you have problems voting? In that case, technology — in the form of your cell phone or your camera — can help you monitor your vote and reach out for voter protection.
The New York Times points out that the 2008 election will surely be the most recorded vote in history. PBS is doing its part by teaming up with YouTube for Video Your Vote, a project where voters shoot videos of their own voting experiences and document the energy and excitement of voting, as well as any problems that they may see. You can submit your footage to the Video Your Vote Youtube Channel, and watch videos from voters across the country. Some of the most compelling videos will be included in PBS’s election coverage. (Please note that some states expressly prohibit videotaping in a polling place, and others have strict rules about how close you can tape near a polling place. For the most up-to-date information on your area, visit the website of the Citizen Media Law Project.)
Do you twitter? If you run into problems while voting, you can twitter about it to share the experience with other voters, and bring the attention of the media and watchdog groups to voting problems. Just include #votereport in your tags. Find out more about how to tweet your vote at the Twitter Vote Report Wiki.
And finally, don’t forget that you can always call Election Protection at 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you run into problems next Tuesday.