'Video the Vote' Effort Seeks Foothold

Documentary filmmaker Ian Inaba's "Video the Vote" movement urges citizens to film their polling places and document irregularities. Debbie Elliott speaks with Inaba and with Pam Fessler about recent and potential problems at the polls.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

President Bush is out on the actual campaign trail, but on the Internet the virtual campaigns go on 24/7. If you go to the popular Web site, YouTube, you'll see right on the main page a video that comes across as a call to arms.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man: The weather can't stop me. Ain't nothing they can do to stop me from voting.

ELLIOTT: The video isn't really a call to arms, but a citizen's call to the polls, and not with weapons but with cameras. Filmmaker Ian Inaba is the creator of this movement called Video the Vote. He's recruiting volunteers to document potential voting irregularities on November 7th.

I caught up with Inaba this week in Ohio, one of the seven states his group has singled out, along with Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Mr. IAN INABA (Filmmaker, Video the Vote): The reason we're targeting those states is because we're working very closely with the election protection organizations. In particular, People for the American Way as well as the Lawyer's Committee on Civil Rights Under Law. And these are the states that they expect to encounter the most problems, just from both historical patterns, but also because of new election laws that have come up like the Voter ID bill in Arizona, where they expect new problems to occur.

ELLIOTT: Now, explain for me how this will work. What are you telling people to look for and document when they're at the polls with their cameras?

Mr. INABA: We do have a long list of items, such as people being turned away from the polls or people being challenged for an ID, people's names being left off the lists, or people being instructed to go to a different polling location than they thought they were assigned to.

So there's a number of different instances or occurrences that represents these challenges to voters that often go untold in the mainstream media, and that's why we felt it was appropriate to have citizens go document these stories so that this discussion can be had among the American people.

ELLIOTT: Now, how is that discussion going to happen? What are you going to do with this footage once you get it?

Mr. INABA: Well, we are building back an infrastructure on YouTube, along with our site, where the footage will be uploaded the same day, so that we'll be making these images available.

The problem in the past - I made a film called American Blackout, which chronicled the voters' disenfranchisement of 2000 and 2004, and what I found was that it took so long for those stories to come to the surface and for the American people to even know about them, so I wanted to find a way in which these stories could be made available the same day so that this complete picture of the election could be discussed and told on Election Day.

ELLIOTT: And this will be happening online.

Mr. INABA: This will be happening online. And as well, we'll be making it available then to different press outlets, radio outlets, as well as TV outlets.

ELLIOTT: So if they see something, if they're there, they're observing and they see something that doesn't look quite right, what do they do at that point? That's when they pull out the video camera?

Mr. INABA: Mostly we're dispatching videographers along with lawyers in responses to the calls that are coming into the election protection hotline, so they will already have been documented and serviced by a lawyer as well. So this is also just to have an archive of documentation for potential litigation as well as to provide a historical record of actually what happens on Election Day.

ELLIOTT: It seems to me there's a fine line here. Could there not be a risk that videotaping voters could create a climate of intimidation in and of itself? Or even at the very least, disrupt the polling place?

Mr. INABA: We are aware of that concern and we know that video cameras in the past have been used, particularly in Hispanic precincts, as an intimidation tactic. But we are trying to address that, and we think the overall benefit will overcome that risk.

ELLIOTT: Is this something that voters in just these seven states will notice, or do you think voters around the country will be taking cameras to the polls?

Mr. INABA: I think people across the country are going to be going with cameras to the polls. There is this growing concern that people feel like something is wrong with our democracy and they want to do something about it. And this gives them a way which also latches onto kind of the YouTube or home video phenomenon. And it gives people a very easy way to specifically engage around this issue.

ELLIOTT: Ian Inaba is the creator of Video the Vote.

Thank you.

Mr. INABA: Thank you.

ELLIOTT: With me now is NPR's Pam Fessler, our resident expert on all the controversies over voting machines and voting irregularities.

Pam, we've just heard about growing public concern over the integrity of the voting process. Should the average citizen be concerned about his or her vote?

PAM FESSLER: I think what we're going to find for the overwhelming number of voters, everything's going to work fine. They're going to go to the polls. They're going to sign in. They're going to cast their ballot, go home, and their vote will be counted. That said, everybody expects that there will be problems, and they could be problems in areas where there are very tight races and it could matter.

ELLIOTT: Like where?

FESSLER: Well, in places like Ohio, in Tennessee and Missouri; lots of states where there are very close, competitive races. About a third of the nation is using new voting equipment this year. So as poll workers and voters try to learn and adjust to this new equipment, there is expected to be some kinds of glitches. Also, the machines themselves, some of them are new. They haven't been road tested. They will be road tested on November 7th.

As Ian mentioned, there are a lot of new I.D. rules around the country. A lot of voters are going to be, for the first time, required to show photo I.D.'s or other kinds of identification. There have also been a lot of court challenges to these new laws. And so the laws are changing, even as we speak. So there's expected to be a lot of confusion in places about just in fact what is required.

ELLIOTT: You know, Pam, we've just heard that people will be at the polls watching. There seems to be this fear that there is a deliberate effort to disenfranchise some voters. What is at the core of this? Is that the concern?

FESSLER: I think we are seeing some efforts to intimidate voters. We've seen flyers in the past that have been sent out to voters, saying that if you're Republican, you vote on Tuesday, Election Day. If you're a Democrat, you vote on Wednesday. Clearly a problem. We have also seen this year that some voters -Hispanic voters in Orange County, California, have already received letters telling - warning them that immigrants could get arrested if they go to the polls; even though, in fact, if you are an immigrant who's become a citizen you are allowed to vote.

So there are definitely these efforts to intimidate some voters. But I would say for the most part, the overwhelming majority of problems that we see at the polls are the result of either human error, incompetence, or just a lack of resources. Voting has become incredibly complicated. We have all these new machines, and most of it is being run by volunteers, poll workers who the average age is 72.

Last week I went to poll worker training up in Baltimore, and my head was spinning. I mean it was so confusing, all the things that you have to learn. So a lot of it is not intentional. It is the process and all these new things that are coming into place this year for this election.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Pam Fessler, thank you.

FESSLER: Thank you.

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