By Phil Hall | February 16, 2007

“No Umbrella: Election Day in the City” was shot during the course of Election Day 2004 in Cleveland’s predominantly African-American East Side. Only three voting booths were delivered, which proved to be woefully inadequate for the extraordinary voter turnout. The gridlock at the polling center was compounded by rain, creating a wealth of ill-will among those forced to wait up to two hours to vote.

Throughout the day, Councilwoman Fannie Lewis stayed at the polling center (the local library) and furiously worked the cell phones to get more voting machines. An octogenarian with more energy than the Kuwaiti oil fields, Lewis tracked down the elusive members of the Board of Elections and badgered them to accommodate her district’s voters. The job was initially half done (machines were delivered, but the inserts needed to make them work didn’t arrive until six hours after the machines were set up). Cleveland’s Mayor Jane Campbell showed up once word of the problems began to appear on the national TV news. But the mayor wasn’t much help, outside of make unctuous statements on the civic responsibilities inherent in voting.

When the day was over, a Congressional report faulted Ohio’s Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell of “voter irregularities” relating to the lack of voting machines in predominantly African-American (and heavily Democratic) neighborhoods. Blackwell was co-chairman of Ohio’s committee to re-elect Bush and Cheney – and he is African-American, too.

Filmmaker Laura Paglin’s fly-on-the-wall documentary brilliantly captures the frustration in this Election Day mishap, and it also celebrates Fannie Lewis’ amazingly indefatigable spirit in working triple-time to make sure her constituents were not disenfranchised from their right to participate in the electoral process. Just from watching this film, one can easily advocate Lewis for the Congressional Medal of Honor.

However, don’t expect this film to win any awards from the White House. One voter, who is sadly not identified, steals the movie with a pithy observation on our 43rd President: “He can’t even lie and keep a straight face.” You can’t top that.

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