Normally when I see a movie at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the location is a distant land like China, Peru, Iceland or even Florida. Capturing the Flag is about what went on during election day 2016 in Fayetteville, North Carolina which is a short drive from my home. This film became personal fast as Laverne Berry and Steven Miller, two lawyers from New York City, flew down to help voters that aren’t being permitted to cast a ballot. How can this be? North Carolina is the 9th largest state in the USA and yet it was seen as place where the state government was doing its best to mess with voting so to maintain power instead of serve the citizens.
Laverne Berry, Steven Miller and other lawyers set up outside polling places such as fire stations. They are not there to push a candidate or political party. They merely want to make sure that people going inside come out with an “I Voted” sticker and a smile. If a voter didn’t get to cast a ballot, the lawyers are there to immediately help. They know the rights of voters in the state so that they can makes sure people aren’t given the dreaded provisional ballot or sent away without checking a single box. They knew there would be trouble with people getting to vote after a judge ruled against a voter purge that removed thousands of names from the rolls. They were supposed to be put back. The Department of Motor Vehicles also had an issue registering people. Plus the state had chanced around voting districts with even more gerrymandering. There was plenty of reasons why a person could show up and get told no by an elections official.
There are so many moments of WTH outrage as voters are sent away from the polling place without getting to cast a real ballot. One of the worst is a woman who had voted in the primary at a location and gets told she’s no longer registered there for the general election. Why? Because somehow the computer moved her back to an address she had left years ago. The attorney helps her find the right place. There are others who find out they’re not on the roll and don’t have the time to sort it out since they have to get back to work. Towards the end of the night Laverne is brought to a precinct where of the 1,200 citizens who showed up, just under half were given a ballot. That’s a little over 600 people that may or may not have voted if they went to another polling place.
This was not the voting process as laid out in elementary school. But over the last few decades, politicians have gone out of their way to making the voting process more difficult. Instead of getting the most votes, the key now is get people to not vote through various means. The political operatives either work on apathy with the “what difference does it make” attitude game or just remove your name from the register so even if you “vote”, it’s a provisional ballot that won’t count unless it’s a tight race. And even then, a political operative can protest your provisional ballot and have it thrown away.
The movie is more about the people on the ground around the polls and their reaction to what has happened to voting day. There’s a bit of history, but it sticks with the emotions and stories of the people trying to vote and those doing their best to help.
As we get closer to the primaries of the mid-term elections of 2018, Capturing the Flag is an important film to watch. It reminds people that voting is not so much a right as a game that others control. Sure they act like every ballot is sacred, but they go out of their way to create a system that understands that the key is denial of the process to people through legislative tricky.
The ultimate message of the film is it’s not good enough to just register to vote. You need to make sure the election board registered you as a voter. You need to check online to make sure you are still registered to vote each election. This is not a one time event. There are people out there wanting to remove your name. Defend your vote.
During the post-screening discussion, Director Anne De Mare had originally intended to make this a short film about what Laverne and Steve did that day, but the events made things grow. The audience was a little bit taken back seeing their state as a place that needed this sort of help. Laverne pointed out that she would appreciate if anyone from North Carolina wanted to come to New York and help with the struggle to get early voting laws approved. We all need help to make voting work in America.
If you’re interested in finding out about future screenings, you can visit the website at:
Tags: Capturing the Flag, Full Frame, Full Frame Film Festival