Filmmaker Matt Kohn Reflects on the 2000 Election Debacle and Problems with the Electoral College

Christopher Karr

 

"Sometimes I'm a journalist," Matt Kohn told me the day after the 2012 presidential election. "But I consider myself a filmmaker telling stories who uses journalism."

 

The story Kohn tells in his documentary, Call It Democracy, is a sobering one. It's a narrative that meticulously examines the problems that were -- and are -- posed by the Electoral College. The film, which aired on the Documentary Channel last November, focuses primarily on the 2000 election debacle, and chronicles the measures that have been taken to prevent those problems from happening again. Kohn recently spoke with Highbrow Magazine.

 

 

Why did you vote for Obama in the past election?

 

I voted for Obama because I feel like the nature of the electoral college puts you in a position [where] you have to make a choice for somebody you think will win in your state. I've done protest votes before. I voted for Nader in '96 and I voted for Nader in 2000 in New York. But it was a strategic vote. In other words, I thought about it. Like if I lived in Ohio or Florida I wouldn't have voted for Nader. I would have voted for Al Gore, who I thought was gonna be a good President.

 

If you don't have a party behind you at all, and you're really just a personality or issue candidate -- even if you were a billionaire and you became President -- you'd be so screwed. You'd have to be a very special person to get elected and not have a party. Maybe Mike Bloomberg could be that kind of person. It would be interesting to have Bloomberg-Nader. Or maybe Bloomberg-Gary Johnson.

 

During the 2012 election, all the issues were divided down the middle. Especially the healthcare debate.

 

I just had a long argument last night with some friends of mine who are Republicans. I was a little shocked that when I said the American people who can't afford healthcare deserve healthcare, and I used the word "deserved." And they were just so pissed, and the person who was so pissed was a guy who basically worked his way until he was successful from nothing. So I respect him for that, but I don't respect the whole "Well, I'm on top. Just 'cause I did it, everybody can do it." It's really obvious: most people aren't ambitious enough. Period. Life is like that. Very few people play in the NBA.

 

Is it possible to protest the system and fix it at the same time?

 

Fixing the system and protesting the system are different because you want to put pressure on the system that exists. And right now the real problem is that there is no pressure on election officials except for the pressure that exists on election data reform the way the state has told them to do it. We really need a national voting rights movement. Not one that tries to do anything, but one that just tries to educate people about the options we have to make change.

 

What kind of changes would be necessary in order to reform the current electoral system?

 

What we're talking about from the top down, for me, would be to abolish the electoral college, make sure everybody in every precinct has access to a paper ballot that you can use for a recount, that would be great. And then also that they can vote for, say, three weeks leading up to Election Day. There are other possible reforms as well, like instant runoff voting. Which is where you create a hierarchy for your choices, so this way you can have your favorite, and then your practical, vote. 

 

Given all the problems that happened in the 2000 election, what do you say to those people who feel their vote doesn't count?

 

There's a process to get every vote counted in each state. The question is, would you feel like your vote counts more if you live in North Dakota than if you live in California. Lets say you're a Republican in both states. In California, and your vote for President, your vote is counted but it doesn't count.

 

So the electoral college aspect of voting poses the biggest problem.

 

I don't believe the security of the election system is good enough right now for us to truly have an electoral college where every vote in every precinct is gonna be fair and secure. So it's not even a matter of whether people could go and vote. Would there be an infrastructure that makes sure their vote is counted? I believe not. I believe that's still a little way away.

 

[We need to] abolish electoral college and build the infrastructure to make sure that when the electoral college is gone, in a presidential election, everybody who wants to vote -- Republicans in Vermont, Democrats in Texas, Libertarians in New Mexico -- everybody makes sure that their vote is counted. Right now, your vote could be counted. Every election before 2000 had about one to two-and-a-half percent of the votes uncounted in the totals because of mechanical glitches, because of voter error, because of mistakes the machines made.

 

What if our President were elected by popular vote?

 

If there was a popular vote, the percentage [of eligible voters voting] would be 30 percent higher because everyone would realize that yes, their vote counts. They would go out there and do it. I think it would encourage third parties. It would encourage the two biggest parties to deal with a lot more issues a lot more seriously.

 

Which isn't exactly what happened with the 2012 election.

 

This election was terrible. On an intellectual level, it was the worst election I've ever experienced or even read about. I'm sure there are worse ones, there always are. But as far as the way they were communicating about issues, it was constricted to extreme versions of -- almost poetic versions of what they think that certain people in Ohio needed to hear.

 

Highbrow Magazine

 

Photo of Bush: FFitzsimmons (Wikipedia Commons).

 

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Comments

To abolish the Electoral College would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population.   Instead, The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC), by state laws.   Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.                                                When the bill is enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.                                                  The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.   The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.                                                                               In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.                                                                                The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states with 243 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.                                                            

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