While going through one another’s belongs in The Breakfast Club, a fellow student asks the nerdy “brain” (Anthony Michael Hall) why he would need a fake I.D., to which he replies so that he can vote. Although I was never the fake I.D. type, as a fellow uncool “brain” who started college at sixteen, I could definitely relate to Anthony Michael Hall’s wish and was less excited by the possibility of getting into bars or dance clubs and far more thrilled to finally have a voice in the American democracy when I turned eighteen. You can guess how popular this made me with my peers, which is probably the biggest reason that—even to this day—the average age of most of my friends is at least a full decade my senior. Despite placing the former, tragically deceased professor turned Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone on my personal political pedestal and being from the state where the most notable election was for an old friend’s dad-- Jesse Ventura, the registered independent former wrestler turned Minnesota governor-- the first election I was old enough to participate in was the 2000 presidential election.
I remember it like it was yesterday—knowing full well, I’d be leaving the cool Midwest temperatures to visit my grandparents in the state of Arizona which months later would become my home, I went down to City Hall in person to vote for Vice President Al Gore, having the strangest but surest inkling not to trust the idea of an absentee ballot by mail. It turned out to not only be a good decision but obviously the least of my worries when I sat on the edge of my seat well into the evening of the November 7, 2000 election. Certain that sooner or later the media-- and especially Dan Rather who by about ten p.m. was running out of an increasingly bizarre string of the strangest metaphors one could ever muster-- would finally stop “flip-flopping” their decision over who had won Florida similar to the way the news attacked candidates for “flip-flopping” on an issue, I kept waiting to hear the final word on who would be the next Commander-in-Chief.
And then it continued on well into the night until George W. Bush seemed to be the winner but just when we thought it was over, the next morning it continued again and rumors started pouring in with new phrases such as "butterfly ballots," “hanging chads,” and outcries of elderly and African-American voter suppression beginning to cloud over the election, leaving unprecedented chaos, mounting suspicion, outrageous disbelief, and disaster in its wake over the next several weeks until Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris began setting in motion the events that helped push the Supreme Court to uphold Florida’s ruling and serve up the White House to then Governor George W. Bush. And of course-- no matter which party you belong to—we all know how well that turned out! Still, now with the benefit of hindsight, it makes us infinitely aware in a post 9/11 world, that the pre 9/11 election was one of the most important on record.
Additionally what we didn’t know perhaps-- or what only some of us true news junkies who lived for the latest facts and figures back in 2000 with CNN blaring in the background and newspapers stockpiling on our coffee tables-- is the stuff of political infamy and it makes for highly compelling fodder in HBO’s latest made for premium cable film Recount. After the film’s producer, the recently deceased director Sydney Pollack found his health failing and therefore couldn’t helm the ambitious project, Meet the Parents and Austin Powers director Jay Roach stepped in, which despite seeming like an incongruous choice, turned out to offer the film just the right tongue-in-cheek, awkward, hilariously strange but unfortunately true tone he'd poured into the similarly pitched festival of discomfort, Meet the Parents.
An insider’s look at the events from the point-of-view primarily of one of Gore’s lead strategists, Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey), we follow Ron along with other Gore staffers Denis Leary’s Michael Whouley, and later their lawyer David Boies (Ed Begley Jr.) as they try to get to the bottom of just what went wrong in Florida. Using every legal recourse, they try to demand first a machine and then hand recount of the questionable butterfly ballots which found several elderly Democrats mistakenly voting for Pat Buchanan (who even admitted that his large number of votes must have been an error), and navigate the conflicting rules and biases from one Florida county to the next over how ballots with “dimpled” chads would be handled, while researching questions about military and absentee ballot legitimacy, a highly inaccurate count of voters turned away from the polls for having names similar to those of convicted felons, and voting machines that offer a different read every time. Of course, presiding over the chaos is the overly made-up and-- as the film illustrates-- the cheerleader puppet Harris (wonderfully played by Laura Dern) who seems so unfit for her position that she’s eager to not only seek advice from either the bible or any of Bush’s people including Tom Wilkinson’s James Baker and Bob Balaban’s Ben Ginsberg, but prefers to hide behind an unchangeable recount deadline unless of course—per her most cited alibi-- a hurricane hits the state of Florida.
While admittedly slanted to the left, perhaps the most fascinating thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls star turned scripter Danny Strong’s intelligent first time screenplay is the way that it manages to illustrate all of the madness and every possible solution including the arguments of both sides. Instead of narrowly offering one specifically definitive view of the situation or even by completely demonizing the questionable motives and back-room deal-making Republicans or celebrating the heroic underdog Democrats, Strong seems to argue that the entire process is filled with potential flaws with neither the hand count or machine count being ideal, showing the equal probability for both human and mechanical errors. And of course, all this is the key to stimulating excellent audience debate... and just think, Roach and Strong didn’t even begin to address the validity and wisdom of the electoral college! Although, as a passionate voter looking eagerly forward to casting a vote this upcoming November, I'm hopeful that this topic won't be explored in a sequel... now only if I could ensure the ballot, the chad, and the machine will read my choice for the Democratic nominee correctly.