By Carley Stavis

The presidential primaries are now in full swing, and come November many UC Santa Cruz students will cast presidential votes for the very first time. But as award-winning documentary “Hacking Democracy,” will point out, candidates and campaigns are not the only concerns voters should take into account when they arrive at the polls.

The documentary first aired on HBO in November 2006, and will be screened for free at the Cowell Dining Commons Jan. 29.

In recent years, and especially after the Florida fiasco tainted the 2004 presidential election, our voting system has come under some scrutiny. “Hacking Democracy” picks apart the voting system and reveals the dire state it’s laid out for our democracy. The film aims to uncover truths behind the entire voting system that, according to second-year Cowell student Satya Chima, have never been touched by major media outlets.

“Not only is this film extremely relevant given the upcoming election and the voting discrepancies we’ve seen in the past,” Chima said, “but it exposes things that I just haven’t seen the media cover.”

When Chima, two other Cowell students, and Karen Hilker—Cowell College programs board supervisor—began looking online for documentaries to screen on campus, they came across “Hacking Democracy” and “American Blackout” (which screened this past Tuesday). After watching the films, they were completely astounded.

“The timing couldn’t be better for students to see these documentaries, going into these primaries,” Hilker said.

Chima loved that “Hacking Democracy” explored its contentious subject without partisan loyalty and beyond partisan lines.

“The film really raised questions in my mind about what kind of democracy we live in and what about it is truthful, or not truthful at all,” she said.

The film came to be thanks to Bev Harris, a Seattle-based writer and self-proclaimed non-activist who happened upon some startling information about the computer programs responsible for counting nearly 80 percent of votes cast in the United States. Harris was the first writer to break the news that the voting system was not as sound as many believed it to be. In fact Harris further discovered numerous reports that vote-counting systems had been hacked into nation-wide.

Harris’ story ultimately got the attention of “Hacking Democracy” co-producer Russell Michaels via the Internet. He soon contacted Harris, and after meeting and exchanging stories, Michaels decided to make the documentary and further publicize the astounding information Harris had found. In an interview with HBO, Michaels said that he realized, “if half the stuff that Bev was telling me was true, then I have stumbled on the most amazing, disturbing story.”

Since its November 2006 airdate, the film has been praised for its honesty and for bringing to light new material. The film also earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding investigative reporting.

Following the 7 p.m. screening, there will be an open discussion held at Cowell’s Fireside Lounge where students can share their thoughts on issues presented in the film and learn more about what they can do to keep our democracy safe.

At 7 p.m. on Feb. 20, also in the Cowell Dining Commons, a panel of three guest speakers will talk to students and answer questions regarding both “Hacking Democracy” and “American Blackout,” which was screened Jan. 15.

Though motivating students to catch this film hardly seems necessary, literature professor and co-provost of Cowell College Tyrus Miller urges students to attend: “The integrity of the voting process is at the heart of our democracy. The public has a right to know if the system is breaking down. These films are a must-see for anyone concerned about the health of our democratic system.”