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Electoral Dysfunction (2012)

Trio Films
DVD Released: 11/5/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/30/2013

I've written before concerning how I'm very selective about documentaries. If the film's topic doesn't pique my curiosity or I don't feel like I'm going to learn anything from it, then I'll often pass. (Does this make me a documentary snob?) Choosing a movie can also be difficult when one is overwhelmed by choices. In the past decade, we've seen a significant rise in the number of documentaries which address political issues. Some mundane, some controversial, the breadth of topics is daunting, especially when it appears that many of the movies are pushing an agenda along with their intent to inform. Electoral Dysfunction appeared to fall outside of those parameters, as its focus was both simple and important -- How do elections work?

Mo Rocca, who cut his teeth skewering political stories on The Daily Show, wants to learn more about the election process in the United States. He begins in Washington, DC, where he examines the origins of American elections and how they are addressed in the U.S. Constitution. He gets a few broad answers, but Mo wants a more in-depth look at how things work. So, he travels to Indiana, where he focuses on the 2008 Presidential election. Interviewing local politicians and grass roots workers, Mo gets a closer look at how many people are involved in local elections and how things are not as simple as putting a ballot in a box. Along the way, Mo observes lawsuits, asks about ballot uniformity, and gets involved in a role play.

I don't know if it was its initial intention, but Electoral Dysfunction is a very sly documentary. The initial premise -- How do elections in the U.S. work? -- and the first segment of the movie feel very innocent, as if it were aimed at school children. In fact, as a way to explain how the Electoral College works, Mo actually meets with a group of school children. His mixture of a quasi-deadpan approach mixed with a sort of youthful exuberance helps to bring energy to the piece and we want to go looking for answers with him.

However, once Mo reaches Indiana, things change, and Electoral Dysfunction gets somewhat more serious. The movie isn't exactly a hard-hitting expose, but as Mo is knee-deep in a real election, those he is interviewing are often very frank in their political, and more importantly, partisan views, and the gloves come off at certain points in the movie. Mo gives equal time to both Democrats and Republicans here, as he follows pollsters and political party workers who are attempting to spread their message and get every vote possible. This gives us an eye-opening first-hand look at how these workers reach far beyond the average registered voter to ensure that everyone has their say in democracy.

But, Electoral Dysfunction also exposes many problems in the system as well. During the time of filming, Indiana Republicans were pushing for more stringent voter ID laws. Mo delves into this, talking to individuals who are effected by it and exploring the issues with actually getting an ID. Also, the movie looks at election ballots in the U.S., specifically the fact that many different types of balloting are used, many of which are archaic.

Overall, I found Electoral Dysfunction to be an enjoyable documentary. Some of the material is admittedly dry, but Mo Rocca's enthusiasm helps to make it more appealing. This isn't a Michael Moore-esque piece which seeks to expose corruption or problems, but the movie does find itself in circumstances where obvious issues are occurring and it explores these topics. The movie works hard to be bi-partisan, although I can see how some would say that it was hard on Republicans. My only really problem with the movie is that it didn't complete its initial mission statement. Although the movie delves into it somewhat, I still don't understand exactly how the electoral college works. Also, as the film is taking place during the 2008 election, there's no suspense as to the outcome of the events Mo is witnessing. Still, Electoral Dysfunction is fun and informative -- think of it as a live-action edition of Schoolhouse Rock with a more investigative eye.

Electoral Dysfunction answer age-old questions about drunk people voting on DVD courtesy of Trio Films. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing on overt grain or defects from the source materials, other than in archival footage. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. Being a documentary, especially one which uses hand-held cameras at times, the image is shaky in places, but that's to be expected. The level of detail is good and we see few jagged lines. The DVD carries a Dolby 2.0 audio track which provides clear dialogue and effects. We don't get any truly dynamic effects here. Those speaking are always intelligible and the occasional music sounds fine.

There are no extra features on the Electoral Dysfunction DVD. In fact, there is also no menu and no settings options.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long