Good evening. It is my pleasure as President of the MacArthur Foundation to welcome you to this sneak preview of Electoral Dysfunction.

The film will air tomorrow night on WTTW and on PBS stations across the country. We are particularly glad to have Bennett Singer, one of the film’s directors, with us. After the screening, he will take a few questions from the audience. And then you are all invited to a reception – please come and continue the discussion.

We are grateful to The Brennan Center for Justice, The Joyce Foundation, and WTTW who have joined us in sponsoring this event, and to the Spertus Institute for hosting us.

You probably know that MacArthur supports documentary film-making from the credits on PBS stations. It’s a commitment we have had for more than 30 years. We do so because a well-made documentary film touches both the mind and the heart, and is more likely to result in reflection and action than even the best-reported news article. After seeing this film, you will always remember what the Electoral College is and how it differs from the popular vote.

But documentary films are one of many important areas of MacArthur work most of them, like our work on the environment, juvenile justice, fiscal policy, and community development require sensible public policy to address complex problems. 

Our nation faces deep-seated and serious problems: our fiscal future is in jeopardy; our systems of criminal justice, education, and immigration are badly flawed; we are not facing up to threats ranging from nuclear terrorism to climate change.

Despite this, our politicians and elected officials seem to be mostly engaged in futile wrangling. Much of what passes for discussion of the issues is inaccurate and ideologically polarized. Citizens’ confidence in their government is at an all-time low.

The time is right for a re-examination of some of the fundamental habits of our democracy. We appreciate the way Electoral Dysfunction takes a wry and incisive look at some of the illogical, convoluted, and unrepresentative aspects of our voting system, and explores credible alternatives.

But the problems go deeper than the ballot and our constitutional framework.

MacArthur is concerned about the partisan divide that undermines good policy, the growing influence of money and special interests in the process, initiatives that may discourage eligible voters, and a general lack of civility in our democracy.

In recent years, we have given 23 grants totaling $7 million to help make the financing of political campaigns more transparent, fair, and equitable; to strengthen voting processes and to inform voters;  and to support substantive discussions about policy by members of Congress from across the political spectrum. 

Early next year, we will announce a public competition for short and provocative media pieces about democracy.

Our work aims to focus attention about the future of the Republic and the health of its democratic ideals, institutions, and practices. We know we can do better. The promise of America is short-changed if our public life does not reflect our best values.

Thank you for caring about these issues and for being here tonight. Enjoy the film – and make sure to vote next week.


A sneak preview of Electoral Dysfunction took place on October 29, 2012 at the Spertus Institute in Chicago, IL. View event information.

Media, Strengthening American Democracy, United States