Ohio Video the Vote postmortem

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Dave Pentecost was part of Michael Moore's "video the vote" group in Ohio. We offered to host their videos over at ivft, so I got this mail earlier in the evening. So depressing. I got some new CDs from amazon today and truly enjoyed listening to them while driving rather than to the news. Anyway, thanks Dave!

From: Dave Pentecost
Subject: Ohio Video the Vote postmortem
Date: November 3, 2004 9:24:04 PM PST

I owe all you kind folks an update.

Slowness in getting tapes back from the field prevented my getting any video posted on Election day. It was also just chaotic enough that the video crews didn't know the importance of what they had witnessed and recorded. The general impression was that we were seeing more confusion and incompetence at the polls than actual manipulation or intimidation. But just around the time the polls were about to close, there was a report of Republican challengers and police at one site. A video team and our lead producer headed over to see.

The first report said that there were five challengers at a polling station where they were only allowed two. Our team had to stay outside and record statements from voters and the Democratic challenger, who told a peculiar story. Remember, these were all black neighborhoods.
Sometime around noon, eight white people showed up, claiming to be GOP operatives but refusing to show any ID. They said they were there to see the Republican challenger, but no one knew who they were referring to. Several of them came into the polling station and set up shop looking at people's documents and making notes in clipboards. When a couple of them came outside and someone asked them what they were doing, they said they were just delivering sandwiches, and that they had to go. But the same dark blue PT Cruiser had been seen driving around several different polling stations.

Our crew taped two of the people beginning to cross the street to the
polling place, then noticing the crew and quickly turn around and go
back to their car. They also drove up next to them in the parking lot
and when they got out to try to talk to them, they sped off.

I had a glimpse of some of this footage last night when the crews came
back, exhausted, wet and cold. Everyone was ready to go to a small
party at the house of a local Democratic judge to watch the returns. I
left the reel digitizing into my laptop and went off for the evening.
At that point I had only seen a few other clips of voters who had been
told they weren't on the list , were sent to another polling site,
and often not offered a provisional ballot.

Today on the bus ride back to New York, what we had recorded began to
come into focus. The filmmakers logged their tapes and found the most
interesting material There were interviews with voters who were
amazingly calm after the ordeal of trying to vote and getting sent
back and forth when their names were not found on the lists. Young
couples where only one would be on the list, when they had registered
at the same time. Elderly people who were sent from place to place and
then not offered provisional ballots. People who had normal ballots
put into the provisional ballot box and vice versa. Voters who had
received confusing or misleading information by mail or phone. People
who had not been offered the required 2 more chances if they messed up
the first ballot, and were instead given a provisional ballot. Some
who were told that the provisional ballot would not be counted (who
knows yet whether that will come to pass).

And one crew had been at the "PT Cruiser Gang" location earlier in the
day and had gone into the voting room. They didn't know who the white
guys with clipboards were, but they didn't like their looks and shot
about ten minutes of footage of them. These were not blue-suited
Republicans. They were twenty-somethings with short haircuts wearing
black crewneck or turtle neck sweaters. One stood at a table examining
voter documents with a severe look, while holding his pen in a
"stabbing" grip and clicking the button repeatedly in a strange
menacing way. His two male friends carried clipboards and wandered
around, looking over people's shoulders. They talked to each other or
to people outside with cell phones, and a short haired blonde woman
came in to confer. When our team went outside they got a great shot of
the PT Cruiser - a pullout from the license plate.

What to make of all this? Well, the expected army of challengers
didn't show up, at least where we were - polling places that had been
determined to be at risk, and had many Election Protection voluteers
in addition to our teams. We have the distinct impression that a
campaign of purging the rolls and discouraging the voters had been in
place. As far as provisional ballots go, the people manning the
polling stations were at best poorly instructed (a policy of passive
negligence on its own) or could not be bothered. At worst they were
part of a cleverly altered system that denied people the vote whether
they were recently registered or had been voting in that same location
for over 30 years.

The PT Cruiser Gang? Freelancers having some fun? Deniable operatives?
Who knows. But the tape of these incidents that I put together on the
bus is going to the Democratic National Committee as well as Michael
Moore's group. In another era it would probably go to the Justice
Department. We are also trying to see if some television outlet is
interested (Nightline?) and we hope it will spark some action in
voting reform and will get the Dems to tackle these issues and others
before the next presidential election.

I wish I could convey the feeling on the bus today as we left Cuyahoga
County while the bad news came flooding in. There was a nightmarish
moment when we got calls from the Dems and MM's people (I assume - I
was in a black funk, editing with my headphones on ) asking if we had
enough evidence for a lawsuit. Was it all on our shoulders whether
Kerry conceded or not? Was there a lawyer among us to even begin to
answer that question? Could I tell anything from the collection of
impressions I was assembling on my laptop? This could not be
happening. Fortunately for our sanity (and perhaps for the nation's),
we soon heard that all the provisional ballots of Ohio would not make
the difference. And what about all the votes that were lost when not
offered the provisional ballot? When people gave up on running from
place to place in the rain, looking for their name on a list? We'll
never know.

A word about our Video the Vote team. You heard 1200? There were 20 of
us in Cleveland. Yes, Michael Moore paid for our bus and hotel rooms.
But we are not acolytes. We are a diverse group of young and older
filmmakers with our own interests and agendas, who volunteered our
time, skills and equipment to try to make a difference. The tape we
shot belongs to each filmmaker, with the agreement to make it
available as this develops. We were astonished by the dedication of
all the other Election Protection volunteers, and by the deep desire
to vote shown by everyone we met. And we are impressed by the
potential of a "Rapid Media Response Team" - maybe we'll get a chance
to do it again some time, with better communications and closer access
to bandwidth, so the editor (me) and feedpoint won't be clear across

And a word about the tapes. Once I've gotten some sleep I will post a
short edit of the PT Cruiser Gang. We'll see what happens with the
rest - moving testimonials by folks who just wanted to exercise their
right to participate in the process.

Now I can catch up on back posts in Boing Boing and get on with life
in these times.

Dave Pentecost

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This page contains a single entry by Ask Bjørn Hansen published on November 3, 2004 11:20 PM.

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