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Documentary Shows Every Vote Counts, If You Can Cast It

Capturing the Flag

The bedrock of American democracy is the right of every citizen to vote. But exercising that right can sometimes prove complicated. During the 2016 election, three old friends headed to Fayetteville to volunteer at polling stations, accompanied by a single camera they hoped would capture their efforts to ensure everyone who wanted to carry out their civic duty could do so. 

Instead they spent election day trying to assist people who were turned away from voting stations and countering confusion about a recent lawsuit about voter ID. Footage included in the resulting documentary “Capturing the Flag”reveals a system that is confusing, complex and disenfranchising. Host Frank Stasio talks with lawyer and volunteer Laverne Berry, who produced and is featured in the film, as well as producer Elizabeth Hemmerdinger and director Anne de Mare about the project. “Capturing the Flag” premiered in April 2018 at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and will be screened again on Thursday, Oct. 18 at the Full Frame Theater in downtown Durham.


De Mare on why she made the film: 

The original impulse for me with the film came from a real frustration with the top-down way we talk about politics in this country. And particularly the diminishment of the role of citizen. I felt like there was nothing that really was talking about what it felt like to be a citizen in that really contentious build-up to the 2016 presidential election. And so here were everyday citizens who were taking control of the situation away and saying: We care about democracy. We care about the right to vote. This is what we're doing to contribute to the process. And I found it really inspiring.

Berry on the little ways votes get suppressed:

There are lots of different ways that the vote gets suppressed. And everybody thinks that suppression of the vote is one thing. But it's not one thing. It's a combination of things like the purging [of voters from registries], it's people not being registered correctly at the DMV, it's getting notices that send you to the wrong polling place ... It's many, many, many little things. And what we've learned from some of the research is when people show up to be able to vote and they can't vote, they think that they've done something wrong. They think it's their problem. They don't think that it's systematic in any way. And so being able to stand outside of a poll and say to someone, "We have a solution for that," or, "I'll find out how to help you with that," is really really important because it takes it from being only their problem to being a joint problem and you get to help someone.

Hemmerdinger on realizing the scope of voter suppression:

The thing I learned coming out of it, which I'm wrestling and grappling with every day, is how few other people knew that the problem exists. Going into [making the film], I knew it was a problem. Coming out of it, I personally was aghast at that particular number and at the insidious nature of what was going on and the human comedy involved in who gets to choose who gets to vote. 

de Mare on showing suppression without sensationalism:

The problem with modern-day voter suppression is that it is so insidious. It is so hard to put your finger on ... As the day moves on … You see people having these problems. You see people in the wrong place. You see people whose registration has been not processed by the Department of Motor Vehicles. You see people where you're not quite exactly sure what's happened ... And what happens at the end of the night is that we go with Laverne to another polling station where they've been having a lot of problems and we get a statistic that night about how many people showed up and how many people actually got to vote and it's a staggering statistic. And you suddenly understand that all of these small little incidents that you've been seeing across the day really add up. And you see the breadth of the kind of voter suppression that we have. 

Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.