And that, infuriatingly documented in this film, is what happened. Conservatives, fearing after the 2008 election that they could no longer win over voters in a demographically shifting electorate, decided to tilt the playing field so that even a majority of Democratic votes could not defeat Republican candidates. In one example, more people voted for the Democratic candidates for state office, but Republicans won 60 percent of the seats.
The film draws a direct (red) line between the redistricting and specific outcomes that have ranged from contrary to public opinion to catastrophic. As we learned in Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9” and other examinations of the switch to a toxic water source for Flint, Michigan, “the crisis started with lines drawn on a map.” Michigan Governor Rick Snyder bypassed the city government in Flint by declaring a fiscal emergency and appointing a financial manager with no oversight or accountability. The citizens voted to repeal the appointment and the post-redistricting legislature re-passed it with no repeal allowed. The financial manager switched to a new water source in 2014, which turned out to be contaminated, devastating the physical and economic health of the already-depressed town.
Even more toxic was the loss of faith in government, not just the elected officials but in the entire idea of democracy. But where there is a dragon, there is a slayer, and in a development no one would believe if it happened in a feature film, the slayer who takes on the challenge is a young woman whose only weapons are social media and determination. Independent voter and recent college graduate Katie Fahey invited those concerned about gerrymandering to join her in a campaign to set up a more transparent, independent system for drawing district lines. The film’s most gripping scenes show her efforts to create an all-volunteer grassroots campaign that includes collecting 350,000 petition signatures and a brutal court battle.
Goodman and Durrance have made a dense, numbers-driven subject very accessible and they expertly balance the overwhelming bleakness and cynicism of the voter suppression effort with the integrity of those who are fighting it. They hold our attention with skillful use of animation and other visuals, touches of wry humor, and brisk pacing, but it is the heroine at the heart of the film who gives us hope and perhaps inspiration to try some town halls, petitions, and lawsuits of our own to protect the voting rights that are essential for a just and trustworthy government.
Available on VOD today, 4/3.