Justin Elliot of Mother Jones and Talking Points Memo Takes the Easy Way Out in His 'Review' of 'Uncounted'...
By Mary Mancini on 8/22/2008, 6:35am PT  

Guest Blogged by Mary Mancini of the Uncounted Blog

Everyone has different tastes, and hey, if you aren’t moved after watching Uncounted that’s your prerogative. But an uniformed and half-assed review that tries to nail the 80-minute movie on one ten-second factoid - like the one delivered to Mother Jones readers by former MJ Senior Online Fellow and current TPM Media News Editor, Justin Elliott - is inexcusable.

In the review, Elliot references the following that briefly appears on screen: “Two voting machine companies --- ES&S and Diebold --- electronically counted 80 percent of the votes in the 2004 presidential election. Both companies have extensive ties to the Republican party.” He then runs the 80% number by Kimberly Brace, “a respected voting expert with the consulting firm Election Data Services” who calls it “totally wrong.” And that’s it. Proof by assertion. No follow up. End of review.

You can, of course, read the rest for yourself at MotherJones.com, where you can also read the comments of some very smart MoJo readers who recognize not only Elliott’s shoddy work but also the importance of the bigger issue - that our democracy is at stake because of bad electoral practices.

You’ll also find Uncounted's filmmaker, David Earnhardt's response, which I am also printing in its entirety...

As the filmmaker for UNCOUNTED, I was surprised to see that critic Justin Elliott failed to actually review our film in his article for Mother Jones. Instead, he spent almost the entire piece on one text graphic that quite literally took up just a few seconds of an 80 minute film. I guess I need to work on my filmmaking because it appears that Mr. Elliott slept through the rest of the movie.

Had he actually watched the film, he could have written about the eyewitness accounts we had from whistleblowers - backed up by election experts - that revealed electronic voting machine security breaches, vote count manipulation, and illegal behavior by a major voting machine manufacturer which all threaten the integrity of our elections. He might also have written about the story of a computer expert who testified under oath that he was asked by a now-sitting congressman to program a voting machine to “flip votes” from one candidate to another. Or he might have written about one of any number of Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, elected officials, and rank and file voters we featured who are part of a growing movement in America that recognize, and are working hard to fix, an election system gone bad.

Instead, Mr. Elliott, using a tactic out of a hyper-partisan’s playbook, chose to try and discredit the entire film by presenting his one sources’ opinion as fact. The reality is that by 2004 our elections had been privatized to such a degree that it had become detrimental to the democratic process.

ES&S’s own website claims its company alone “counted approximately 56% of the vote in each of the last four presidential and congressional elections.” (http://www.aboutus.org/Essvote.com.)

And a Diebold spokesman told veteran journalist and election integrity expert Lynn Landes that they had counted 35% of the total vote in the 2002 election. (http://onlinejournal.com...Landes/042804landes.html)

Journalist Bob Fitrakis, who has written two books and numerous articles investigating irregularities in the 2004 election, adds an additional perspective:

“When you say that 80% of the votes in 2004 were counted by Diebold and ES&S, I think that is actually a conservative figure. You have to remember that it’s not just the voting machines with secret software that count our votes. It’s also the central tabulators where the final counting is done. And these central tabulators are also owned by private companies, like Diebold and ES&S.”

And, according to Robert Kennedy in his landmark Rolling Stone Magazine investigative report “Will the Next Election Be Hacked?“, it hadn’t gotten that much better by 2006:

“The United States is one of only a handful of major democracies that allow private, partisan companies to secretly count and tabulate votes using their own proprietary software. Today, eighty percent of all the ballots in America are tallied by four companies - Diebold, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic.” (Robert F. Kennedy Jr., “Rolling Stone”, September 21, 2006)

I’m worried, as are most of the people who have seen UNCOUNTED in the 35 cities I have traveled to with the film since last January, about the integrity of our elections, particularly as we look ahead to November. And so Mr. Elliott’s unwillingness to examine all the issues presented in UNCOUNTED was a real disservice to Mother Jones readers. Further, his typical corporate media response - which has always been to laugh, roll their eyes, or throw spitballs and move on - could spell disaster for our democracy.

David Earnhardt
Director, Producer & Writer
UNCOUNTED: The New Math of American Elections

Again, like the movie or hate it, that’s up to you. But you do a disservice to your readers when you dismiss an entire piece of work and, by extension, an extremely important issue, by analyzing one microscopic piece of the content to imply implausibility.


Mary Mancini blogs on behalf of the documentary film Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections. She lives in Tennessee and has not yet had her vote go uncounted in tomorrow's state primary election.