Electoral Dysfunction: Montreal Review

Semi-comic look at the "war on voting" makes plenty of troubling observations.

The documentary featuring former "Daily Show" contributor Mo Rocca gives a semi-comic look at voting in America.

MONTREAL — A timely look at an important issue that's getting more hotly contested every month, Electoral Dysfunction takes a mildly jocular tone to get viewers concerned about what it calls a "war on voting" in America. Odds are that most citizens who'd consider paying to see the film already share its concerns, but a TV broadcast before November might put it in front of the right audience.

Mo Rocca, who has been a contributor on The Daily Show and done more serious work for CBS, puts on his silly hat as host here -- never tripping up interviewees or staging pranks, but also not refusing to cruise streets yelling "Rocca the Vote!" from a bullhorn. Epitomizing that fixture on the contemporary doc scene, the host who wants to have it both ways, he is neither a snide, Michael Moore-type agit-propagandist nor a solemn voice of inquiry.

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Questions of tone aside, the film (made by a trio of documentary vets) is serious about examining debates over photo-ID voting requirements, the Electoral College, and campaign strategies that rely on back-door disenfranchisement. Along the way, it makes an observation that may shock many Americans: The right of every citizen to vote is not explicitly asserted in the Constitution.

The film spends most of its time in Indiana during 2008, where both parties had a fighting chance to take home 11 electoral votes. It offers a welcome, and sometimes charming behind-the-scenes look at county clerks' offices, poll-worker training sessions, and party headquarters, taking time outs to discuss election rules in broader historical context. Discussing contemporary politicians, like Tom Tancredo, who would like to give civics exams to potential voters, the film recalls the kinds of tests considered legitimate in the past -- one of which weeded out blacks who couldn't answer "How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?"

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The film spends time with activists on both sides (though it clearly agrees with those who would err on the side of too-easy access to polls). But it's too polite to ever throw a subject on the mat -- insisting, say that a Republican show evidence of the anecdotal voter fraud they cite so frequently. Or asking a Democratic activist, just as a thought exercise, "Have you ever, after hunting all day for a laggard and dragging him to the voting booth, thought 'I wouldn't trust this guy to choose my toothpaste, much less the leader of the free world'?"

Production Company: Trio Pictures

Directors-Screenwriters-Producers: Bennett Singer, David Deschamps, Leslie D. Farrell

Executive producer: Don Epstein

Director of photography: Joseph Friedman

Music: Adi Yeshaya

Editor: Jay Keuper

No rating, 91 minutes