Ballot Fatigue: "No Time To Fail"

A new documentary spotlights an endangered species: The election worker.

Ballot Fatigue: "No Time To Fail"

As the country and the culture stagger up to the midterm elections on November 8, it’s good for us all – and, honestly, necessary – to pause to appreciate an unsung hero of our democracy: The election worker. “No Time To Fail” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) is a new documentary, currently making the rounds of specialty and virtual screenings, that puts us in the trenches with Rhode Island election board officials and poll workers during the days leading up to the 2020 Presidential election. If that sounds dull, trust me, the movie is anything but.

It’s directed by Sara Archambault and Margo Guernsey – full disclosure, Sara is a friend of mine from her years running the LEF Foundation and programming the DocYard series, both entities crucial to the production and exhibition of documentary films in our neck of the woods – and it as compelling as on-the-ground movie journalism gets. Archambault’s and Guernsey’s cameras travel to Providence, to Cranston, to immigrant-heavy Central Falls; they accompany elections directors, canvassing clerks, administrators in the Secretary of State’s office. All of them are people like you and me, average civil servants doing thankless jobs. They juggle mind-boggling bureaucratic logistics while fielding a growing wave of hostility from Trump Nation’s Rhode Island representatives, some of whom we see in the film.

You have to love someone like Kathy Placencia (above), the Providence Administrator of elections and a stressed-out, absurdly competent single mother who greets each new disaster with a fine New England F-bomb before charging into battle. You have to admire someone like Rob Rock (below), Director of Elections for the entire state, who drives through a downpour to personally deliver mail-in ballots he’s concerned won’t reach voters’ homes in time. (“My colleagues across the country like to tease me about how small we are,” he says. “Like I could open my office window and yell to all of our voters.”)

They put up with glitchy ballot machines, and machines that get delivered to the wrong precinct, and poll watchers who don’t show up, and early-voting lines that move too slowly. They deal with a woman who arrives at her polling place in labor, determined to cast her vote before heading to the hospital. (She’s allowed to cut the line.) Above all, they are dedicated to getting as many people to cast their vote as possible while maintaining a scrupulous commitment to fairness and democratic duty. For this, they put up with crackpots and cranks and an outgoing President stoking a wave of violent protest by flat-out lying about what they do and who they are. A closing credit notes that personal threats to election officials across the country have surged since the 2020 election and that there has been a mass exodus of professionals from the field. If this is cause for alarm as we head into the midterms, the movie itself is cause for hope.

How can you see it? There are screenings in San Francisco, New York, Detroit, and Cambridge MA in the coming week, not to mention several virtual screenings that you can access at the site. (You can also arrange your own in-person or online showing.) I urge you to see it, maybe with any younger folks who might be hanging around the house. Civic duty always sounds boring until you see it in action. Then it becomes inspiration.

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