By Guelda Voien
Of all the things upon which to base a docu-drama, a recounting of ballots, accented with heart-warming characters such as Katherine Harris, seems a dubious choice. However, Recount, an HBO film based on Florida's 2000 election voting woes, is just that. Neither a documentary nor a legal procedural, it's a fictionalized account of the ballot battle allegedly told in a non-partisan fashion.
To promote the movie, HBO unearthed the actual voting machines used eight years ago in West Palm Beach. They furnished the functional polling booths at the Grove in Los Angeles on Tuesday, where shoppers could take a participate in a little make-believe democracy. The set-up was meant to mimic Florida's actual confusing voting circumstances.
Aaron Harvey, an L.A. art director for an interactive media company, says he voted twice, first, for a candidate other than the one he intended to vote for. On his second shot he accidentally punched two holes in his ballot, which would have invalidated it. Of all people, Harvey ought to be able to make sense of any format for information layout. “It’s interesting,” said Harvey, “I assume [the ballot] has been user-tested, but you wouldn’t know it. It seems so badly designed.”
The décor of the improvised polling place consisted of posters describing different spurious “chads,” or ways you could nullify your vote by failing to punch all the way through the ballot. Among these were the well-known hanging chad, the pregnant chad, and the swinging chad. The voting booths themselves were so feeble as to seem emblematic of our democracy, and afforded no privacy whatsoever. While I easily voted for the candidate I wanted to, the ballot was more confusing than any I've used in California.
Mona Lisa Wallace, an attorney visiting from San Francisco, said she found the exhibit profound. “Given what’s going on with [Senator] Obama and Senator Clinton, I think it’s apropos,” said Wallace, referring to the current Florida primary delegate debacle.
For Wallace, the experience only underscored worries she already felt about this year's election. "How do we reform our voting system?" she asked, "I wish there were an easy answer."
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I asked HBO representatives what type of voting machines worked best and what reforms have been put in place since 2000. What a surprise: They did not know, and seemed uninterested in any political talk.
I left with the feeling that maybe a fictionalized account of these events is not what this issue needs, but rather, information and meaningful attention from politicians.