Case Number 11970: Small Claims Court


Docurama // 2006 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // August 30th, 2007

The Charge

How do you vote them out if the fix is in?

The Case

Given the US political climate over the past couple of years, it would be easy, not having seen it, to dismiss Hacking Democracy as a conspiracy theorist's ranting diatribe, a whole lot of accusations with little concrete proof. But the film is surprisingly non-partisan, and the only sensationalism is in the subject itself; it's got the proof without the accusations. This is not an expose on what the Republicans or Democrats did or didn't do; it's an attempt to answer a seemingly simple question, "How do we count our votes?" and an inquiry into why people who should be asking that question don't seem to want to.

One night in 2003, Bev Harris, a grandmother and journalist from Seattle, was searching the Internet for information on how electronic voting systems count votes. What she stumbled upon was the supposedly secret and secure source code for a Diebold election system, one of the popular machines in active use across the country. She brought this data to the Technical Director of the Information Security Institute, who analyzed it and discovered numerous security vulnerabilities. And so Bev's life was changed, as she quickly became an activist looking to pull back the curtain on a dangerously flawed national election system.

An enthralling and somewhat terrifying film, Hacking Democracy follows Bev as she leads her small organization, Black Box Voting, in revealing flaws in the computerized voting process. Using Freedom of Information requests, dumpster diving, and straightforward questions, serious and frightening doubts are raised regarding just how much these machines, and their makers, should be trusted.

No one in Hacking Democracy is saying for sure that the system is rigged, and by not drawing any conclusions -- only saying that these flaws could be exploited for nefarious purposes -- the film remains admirably non-partisan. The film raises a sense of doubt in the process' security, and offers a rallying cry to end its secretive, and somewhat incompetent, nature. Citing an example from the November 2000 presidential election where Presidential hopeful Al Gore received negative 16,022 votes, the point is made that a significant software error occurred, and whether it was accidental or intentional, the result was the same. A few people do speak on camera giving their own individual opinions or theories about how outcomes of certain elections may have been predetermined, but Hacking Democracy is not leveling any accusations of tampering or fraud; instead, it is calling out those in power positions within the election system who choose to remain blissfully ignorant.

And it's not just vulnerabilities in the machines themselves that are taken to task. We also see how broken-down systems have caused inordinately long lines at polling stations, turning away would-be voters who couldn't wait six hours to have their voices heard, and how poor practices have made physical recounts virtually useless. Bev's crusade against the Diebold Corporation is an entry point into an examination of voting procedures on a whole.

The straightforward, Frontline-style presentation calmly lays out jaw dropping revelations, one after another, supported by facts and often videotaped evidence. This strategy gives Hacking Democracy a credibility it could have easily lost by trying to make an admittedly dry topic sexier. In fact, the only times I felt disappointed in the film are the occasional brief music montages set to a rock song I can only assume was written specifically for the picture given its none too subtle title, "A Broken Promise in the Promised Land." At these times things digress into near Michael Moore territory, which works well for him but feels jarringly out of place here. Further, the tagline used in promotional materials, "How do you vote them out if the fix is in?" does a disservice to the objective nature of the piece, suggesting intentional tampering when no evidence of same is presented.

Hacking Democracy was shot on both prosumer- and consumer grade digital video, and so the quality ranges as you would expect, but the image is always clear with only small amounts of video noise. A few shots come across as a little soft, especially from the consumer camera. Audio is appropriately basic, but the mix is rather inconsistent -- I found myself adjusting the sound levels from scene to scene in an effort to hear what was being said.

Included are 33 minutes of deleted scenes that are interesting, but would have detracted from the final film. Two sequences document more voting fiascos caused by electronic voting systems but do not feature our Black Box friends, while the remainder elaborates on information already presented in the final cut. There's also a trailer for this and other Docurama films.

Hacking Democracy is more engaging than you'd expect, given its subject matter, and manages to present a political argument in a non-partisan framework. Recommended.

Review content copyright © 2007 Daniel MacDonald; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 87

Perp Profile
Studio: Docurama
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Original Trailer
* Deleted Scenes
* Filmmaker Biographies

* IMDb