The shock that an unemployed, non-honorably discharged veteran awaiting trial for obscenity charges could somehow beat a well-known political figure, and without having done any type of campaigning, shook from coast to coast – including the West Coast home of Jason Grant Smith.
But he didn’t respond in the format chosen by us South Carolinians, many of whom just argued (and drank) and debated (and drank) while trying to figure out just who the hell was this Greene guy, and how the heebie jeebies did he wind up taking 60 percent in the primary.
Instead, actor/writer/director Smith actually sought answers, which he’s now finalizing into a documentary titled “I Voted?”
Smith intends to release “I Voted?” in time for the 2014 election season.
What was the trigger? “I couldn't understand how it was that in our 24-hour news cycle, nobody could figure out what happened,” he recalls from the multiple news reports circulating immediately after Greene’s shocking upset.
“David Axelrod (nationally-known campaign advisor) was on ‘Meet the Press’ shortly after Greene's nomination and he couldn't explain it. Obviously, something bizarre was taking place and I wanted to try and understand it.”
He landed in South Carolina with camera in hand two months before the 2010 general election searching for answers to those questions we all still have.
From Greeneville to Charleston and much in between, he spoke with candidates and political activists. He asked county election officials and voting machine critics. Smith questioned local media, and even got insight from national media icon Dan Rather.
“While traversing South Carolina, I tumbled into the byzantine rabbit hole of American elections,” he describes, “a mechanism rife with technical, legal, accessibility, and people challenges.”
But while South Carolina’s well-known for using questionable electronic voting machines that offer no paper trail records to confirm their results, 15 other states use them, too. As a result, Smith had to widen the focus.
“I had no idea that 24 percent of the country uses touch-screen systems that are paperless and cannot be audited or recounted,” he says.
Not that he’s some political expert or anything – (“In 6th grade I was the campaign manager for a friend running for President of Student Council,” he recalls. “I think he won but I don't remember.”) – but he is a voter. And just like all of the 185 million or so who are registered in the U.S., he wants his vote to be accurately recorded, dammit.
After all, the right to vote “is the right from which all other rights are derived,” Smith offers; “the cornerstone of our democracy.
“Most people engage in faith-based voting, meaning that they have ‘faith’ our system works. I'm simply asking upon what specifically are we basing this faith?
“I think when you open the hood on the engine of our democracy, the answers are very disturbing.”
This won’t be some conspiracy flick, though. “This really isn't an exposé or the hunt for a smoking gun.”
Smith stresses that he holds the project at a bilateral level, too. “With the goal of facilitating a non-partisan dialogue, the documentary’s focus narrows on the administration of recording and counting ballots, a challenging issue that affects us all, rather than the more politically-driven aspects of elections, such as voter identification and redistricting.”
“I Voted?” definitely adds a lot of fun to the facts it reports, too, which Smith says is a necessary part of the picture.
“I’m trying to make a film that’s ‘info-taining,’” Smith promises, and which can certainly be seen in its preliminary trailer. “If I bore people, it doesn’t matter how important my material is because I will have lost my audience.
“Consequently, humor is a major part of my mission.”
“I Voted?” doesn’t want to just report on the problems these so-called voting machines impose, however. Smith hopes his documentary could offer insight on how to correct them, too.
“We could change elections dramatically with a federal mandate for evidence-based elections,” he offers as one example of lessons he learned in the film’s progress to date, “meaning elections that can be completely reconstructed utilizing a voter-marked, durable record of intent and risk-limiting audits.
“I also want to offer cost-effective remedies that will put us on the path toward more election integrity,” he says.
Offering cost-effectiveness in its own production is where “I Voted?” could still use some help, though. “So far, the project has been self-financed,” Smith says, “and I am in the initial fundraising stages.”
He’s expecting over $200,000 in expenses, and requests donations to help him make sure the film is released in time for the 2014 election season. (On the right side of the site’s header, see “click here to make a tax deductible donation for the film’s completion.”)
And just like our electronic voting systems could use some heavenly aid, “I Voted?” could also use an angel or three. “Anyone interested in investing in the film is welcome to contact me directly,” Smith says (and you can reach him on this subject by email: email@example.com).
When production is completed, “I Voted?” will certainly come to South Carolina, and groups and individuals could even host their own screenings, he says.
Smith’s no newbie to movies – he’s appeared in films and TV shows for about 20 years, in fact – but this is his first documentary. And he’s had to fly solo through much of the project’s flight. “I’ve been a one-man band.”
In the still-progressing progress, Smith’s learned about much more than just the questionable election process, too. “I’ve worn many hats in this process, and these hats individually comprise skill sets that take years to master,” he says; “directing, sound, lighting, video editing, journalism, how to interview people, producing, archival storytelling, documentary storytelling, et cetera.”
Using only the trailer currently available as a test, it seems Smith’s passed this crash-course with flying colors.
It also piques interest in the many relevant angles and details that “I Voted?” is sure to include.
Until its 2014 release, stay updated by visiting the movie’s website and Twitter account, and even sign-up for updates about the film.
Meeting Alvin Greene