Tribeca: Katie Couric on What It Will Take for U.S. to Address Voting Issues

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The veteran journalist — who executive produced the documentary 'I Voted?' — spoke to THR ahead of the film's Thursday premiere, addressing whether an outcome like the Bush-Gore result in 2000 could be even more problematic given the emotions involved in this year's campaign.

On Tuesday, New Yorkers cast their vote in the state's presidential primary. And this coming Tuesday, April 26, people in several other states will do the same. But how do they, or anyone else voting, know that their vote is being accurately counted and verified?

That's just one of the early questions Jason Grant Smith explores in his documentary, I Voted?, which premieres today at the Tribeca Film Festival. Smith, in response to the mysterious primary win of South Carolina Senate candidate Alvin Greene in 2010, set out to discover how a political unknown emerged victorious. In the film, his initial questions about what led to Greene's win give way to further exploration of the voting process in the U.S. and the many factors that have and could still lead to further voting irregularities — including technology problems and a lack of uniform, nationwide standards for how voting is conducted.

Veteran journalist Katie Couric, currently global news anchor at Yahoo, lends her name to the documentary as an executive producer, getting involved through her husband's friendship with Smith. The film is the third documentary Couric has done, following Fed Up and Under the Gun, and she says that she feels like these nonfiction films "are becoming the place where real journalism is done."

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the Tribeca premiere of I Voted?, Couric, who is set to participate in a panel discussion after the premiere, addresses why there isn't more attention around this issue, what it will take for a nationwide push for reform and what would happen if there's another Bush-Gore-like result with this year's election.

You executive produced this documentary. How did you get involved with the film?

Jason Smith, who is a longtime friend of my husband's, from Chicago, whom I had met a few years ago, told me he was working on this movie and then sent me the first cut of it. It was really interesting, really important and I was completely taken by the fact that Jason devoted, I think, five years of his life and has done it completely on his own. It has this very Walter Mitty-type quality in terms of the way it's executed and he needed some help, I think, in refining it and in getting it in shape for it to be viewed, so I told him I was happy to get involved and happy to lend my name to give this issue some attention, which I thought would be a bit of a hard-sell but I thought it was so well done, I wanted to support it — him and the film.

We keep hearing reports of voting irregularities, but there hasn't been a strong push for reform. What will it take for there to be a concerted effort to prevent or resolve these problems?

I think obviously this needs some national attention. I think people need to be educated and informed about the problem. I don't think people really realize it exists. I think when you saw Jason talking to people, they unfortunately assume that their vote not only counts but also can be verified. And you see through the course of the film that that's just not the case. I think that government and citizens need to take a closer look at this problem, and if we're supposed to have faith in democracy and faith in the system, we should have faith in the way we're practicing our right to vote and be part of the democratic process. I'm hoping the film will just wake people up and make them realize that there is really no such thing as voter integrity right now in many states and in many cases and they'll say that just doesn't make sense and they'll want to do something about it, at the federal level, at the state level and just as private citizens.

Why isn't this topic — the potential unreliability of election results — more heavily covered by the media?

It's not super sexy but it's super important, and in many ways, I'm seeing documentaries are becoming the place where real journalism is done, with deep dives into important subjects. That's one of the reasons why I was interested in getting involved in this space, which is a great place to look closely at some of these issues. I think as Dan Rather said [in the doc] there's often not the resources or the time devoted and maybe because it's not a super sexy topic, we're afraid that no one will watch. Everything is so predicated on ratings more than ever, especially as the landscape has become increasingly fragmented, that people haven't really explored this topic. So my hat's really off to Jason for saying, 'OK, Alvin Greene won. What the heck happened here? And what does it say about our entire system and the way that voting is conducted throughout the country?' Sometimes you just try to understand something and you ask why and it leads you to all sorts of things. For me, it's just really fun to see Jason go on this journey and do it in an entertaining way when he's dealing with some really critically important basic issues.

With this presidential election and all of the emotions people have about the candidates that are running, if there was a significant instance of voting irregularities and the results being questioned like in the 2000 election, could it be even more problematic this time around because there are such heightened emotions around this year's election?

I definitely think it could because I think, as you said, emotions are so high, people are feeling so passionately and so angry about this system, if you will, that perhaps if this were to happen, maybe the whole issue will get more attention as a result of that. You know after the Bush-Gore situation in Florida in 2000, as you saw in the film, the government did take some major steps, but it doesn't seem as if they were very well thought out and as you saw billions of dollars went to states before there were any kind of standards or regulations. It really was kind of an ass-backwards situation, so even when something is done, it's not always done in the smartest, most methodical way. … You just wonder why it couldn't have been done in a more strategic, organized, methodical way. … It is a political year, and it's a year that the campaign is getting so much attention. Hopefully this film will be able to piggyback on that fascination with our process and with the people who are running. The personalities are really interesting, but maybe we need to look at the way the whole system is set up.

Watch the trailer for I Voted? below.

I Voted Trailer from Jason Smith on Vimeo.

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