New documentary 'Rigged' chronicles voter suppression in 2016

“This is a story that needs to be told — and heard,” said the actor Jeffrey Wright, who narrates the documentary.
Image: Judge Damon J. Keith at Howard University Law School in Washington on Sept. 23, 2016.
Judge Damon J. Keith at Howard University Law School in Washington on Sept. 23, 2016.Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Nick Charles

Judge Damon J. Keith of Detroit coined the phrase, “Democracies die behind closed doors.” A new documentary, “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook,” which chronicles the many ways votes were repressed in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, argues that it often occurs in the light of day.

“This is a story that needs to be told — and heard,” said the actor Jeffrey Wright, who serves as narrator. “I was eager to play a part in telling it, and I hope ‘Rigged’ sounds an alarm that wakes America up.”

The filmmakers say the political movement to uncover “voter fraud” grew out of the backlash against the expansion of voting rights after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Proponents of voter restrictions claimed that there were thousands, maybe millions, of votes that were illegally cast, though no one ever produced any evidence of fraud on this scale.

“It’s time we turned the lights on in the kitchen and begin cleaning the cockroaches out,” explained one voter fraud crusader on camera, using the language of infestation favored by President Donald Trump.

Funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, in alignment with other wealthy individuals and conservative organizations, the “malevolent” strategy, as Wright terms it, is described in the film as a 10-point national exercise in political and policy machinations, intended to combat what is seen from a GOP point of view as a losing demographic contest.

It goes like this:

1) Operation Redmap: the strategy to take control of state legislatures.

2) Gerrymandering, or Pack & Crack: as one political operative says: “Whoever gerrymanders usually wins.”

3) Voter restriction laws: “There are only so many old, white, straight men left and the only way to win is to suppress the vote,” says one Republican staffer.

4) Gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965: “Racism is about policy,” reminds the Rev. William Barber II, the leader of the Poor People’s Campaign.

5) Voter fraud: Leverage the Big Lie (fixing a system that wasn’t broke.)

6) Voter poll purges.

7) Voter intimidation.

8) Voter ID déjà vu.

9) The Voter Integrity Commission, which was established by Trump in the aftermath of the 2016 election to root out voter fraud. It has since been disbanded.

10) Change the courts.

“‘Rigged’ shows how the right to vote is under attack from every direction, and we need to let people know about it,” said executive producers Mac Heller and Timothy Smith. “Unless we act now and seek to protect and, yes, augment the right to vote, we will witness the slow bleed-out of our democracy.”

The film aims to raise the consciousness of communities of color who are the main targets of the Voter Suppression Playbook.

That is something the documentary, which travels to communities in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Missouri and Texas, never loses sight of: Behind continuing attempts to suppress or discount a vote is a real person whose rights and citizenship are being challenged.

“It’s dancing on the graves of civil rights workers,” said the Rev. Cassandra Gould of Jefferson City, Missouri, “who gave their lives so people could vote.”