Guest blogged by Duncan Buell
The League of Women Voters of South Carolina recently screened Patriocracy, a new film by Brian Malone, who attended the screening and participated in a question and answer event afterward. The film focuses on the question of whether the US political system is broken because politics have become too partisan and the unwillingness of polarized groups to compromise.
My primary motivation in writing this review stems from a segment of the film that featured Americans Elect COO Elliot Ackerman making the familiar and discredited argument that if we can bank and shop online we can vote online.
If one were doing a film about cures for cancer, and time were given to someone explaining theories of the arrangement of crystals around the patient, the science would be called into question. If one were doing a film about nuclear energy and time were given to someone explaining that the answer lay in extending the half life of uranium by a factor of four to six, the science would be called into question. If one were doing a film about the possible evils of the Citizens United decision of SCOTUS, and time were given to someone discussing how to have the House of Representatives solve the problem by passing a law, then the legal judgement would be called into question, and the judgement of the filmmaker would be called into question in permitting a bogus argument like that to be included in what was purported to be a legitimate film.
However, as is so often the case, the film did not find it necessary to call into question the science (or lack) of Internet security. So I asked Malone the question of who his computer security experts were, and what their credentials were, that would have led him to include a technical statement about Internet voting in his film about political matters...
He declined to directly answer my question, saying instead that he wanted to give different parties the right to express their different views of how to fix the situation, as if all possible discussions of nontechnical solutions of a technical problem needed to be presented to an uninformed public. But the fact that Ackerman's flawed analogy is left entirely unexamined calls the validity of the rest of the film into question.
Whatever benefit it might offer on the debate about compromise and civility I think that benefit is more than undermined by including bogus statements about Internet voting without substantiation, making the overall effect of the film on American democracy to be negative.
One of the high points of the film is a series of close-ups of former Senator Alan Simpson (R) arguing that most people will recognize "bullshit" (Simpson's word) when it is presented to them, and thus that the problem of the American political process can largely be fixed by ensuring that citizens are presented with the "bullshit" that comprises many of the current political arguments.
Unfortunately, Senator Simpson’s conclusion has to be considered invalid, because the producer of the film amply demonstrates that the premise is incorrect.
Duncan Buell is a computer science professor at the University of South Carolina. For the past several years, he has served as an election technology consultant to the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. In 2010 and 2011, working with a group of other interested citizens under the aegis of the LWVSC, he analyzed the election data from South Carolina in the general election of 2010.