News and Tribune

October 30, 2012

BEAM: A different type of dysfunction

Local columnist

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I don’t completely understand our electoral system. There. I’ve said it. I’ve studied it. I’ve read about it. Heck, I’ve even participated in it, as we all do when we cast our presidential votes. But I still don’t entirely get the Electoral College, the constitutionally mandated method of how we choose our presidents.

Apparently, I’m not the only one.

In a 2008 Intercollegiate Studies Institute survey on civic literacy, more than a third of Americans asked couldn’t choose the correct definition of the Electoral College from five multiple choice selections. In addition, McNeese State University political science professor Albert Ringlestein once told the Morning Sun newspaper he believed that only 1 to 2 percent of Americans “understand the electoral process.”

Mo Rocca wants to change this. In his new PBS documentary “Electoral Dysfunction,” he gives us an in-depth look at the way we choose our presidents. The Clark County Democrats screened the film last week complete with producer David Deschamps on hand to answer questions.

Focusing on the 2008 presidential election, Rocca visited a battleground state to fully document the grassroots efforts needed to get out the vote. What was one of the most surprising swing states during that particular election? Our very own Indiana, of course.

Why the Hoosier State? Not only do we have some of the most stringent election laws in the nation, that November was the first time in nearly 40 years a Democratic presidential candidate had a shot at winning Indiana. Hollywood couldn’t set up a better scenario for drama and suspense.

But everyone knows good characters make a good movie. Enter Republican strategist Dee Dee Benkie and Democratic political consultant Mike Marshall. The film follows them around as they try to get out the vote for their respective candidates.

We also meet Clark County native and former Republican chair David Buskill, an elector for the Republicans. Rocca illustrates beautifully how Americans are really voting for these electors, like Dave, to represent their votes rather than actually voting for the presidential nominee themselves.

Rocca investigates more than just the cons of the Electoral College but the legitimacy of the process itself. He touches on outdated ballot designs and the new electronic methods of voting. He also spends significant time on Indiana’s voter ID law, legislation that mandated citizens must present valid photo identification before they could cast their ballot.

Of course, during the course of a documentary, the producers couldn’t always predict the twists and turns along the way. No one’s road got curvier than that of Marshall’s. The film ends by disclosing that, since the initial taping, Marshall had been indicted in Jennings County on 45 counts of voter related fraud. At the time of the indictment, he was employed by the re-election campaign of former Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan. Marshall promptly resigned and is awaiting trial.

All and all, the documentary was quite informative. Does the film lean toward certain policies over others? Sure. However, they don’t seek to demonize the opposition.

Unlike in other political documentaries, the film treats both Republicans and Democrats with respect. In fact, the movie premiered at the Republican National Convention this year. Benkie, a friend of mine, goes to many of these showings and promotes the film regularly, a testament to the fact that she feels she was treated quite fairly.

Like so many things in life — and government — there’s no simple solution to the problems at hand. No system is perfect. The best we can do is to weigh the pros and cons of our current approach against that of other methods and make informed decisions based on facts.

If you would like to watch “Electoral Dysfunction,” check out their website at for available PBS times and stations.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at