Winston Churchill put it best: "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those others that have been tried from time to time." By the People's "You Are There"-style coverage of preparations for Election Day 2004 demonstrates there are indeed many problems with the American system; yet the film is also cautionary-the biggest of all problems is that too few people participate.

Filmmaker Malindi Fickle focuses minutely on the activities of Doris Anne Sadler, the county clerk of Marion County, Indiana (including Indianapolis). For 11 days, Fickle followed Sadler and her staff as they dealt
with the difficulties leading up to Election Day on November 2, 2004. Among just some of the challenges: facing a shortage of poll workers, getting people with disabilities to the polls, and fixing a computer crash on the Big Day!

Fickle is sympathetic to yet detached enough from the county staff and volunteers to make By the People both dramatic and humorous. Naturally, there are lulls in this real-life portrait and it is hard to completely convey the frustrations of people who are trained not to show them, yet Fickle's insider look at the nuts and bolts of the Democratic process is a rarity. (It is hard to think of another film that has done this before.)

Perhaps the best thing about By the People is that it suggests the average person involved in government is not corrupt and wants fair results. Anyone today dismayed by GOP redistricting gerrymandering or the news that a certain GOP-friendly company (Diebold) has been federally commissioned to distribute voting machines will not be completely mollified or cheered by this film. After all, the inequities in the system are more extreme than ever before in U.S. history (heavily favoring the Republican Party). By the People does not really address this overriding concern, nor does it set out to try, but at least the call-to-arms spirit could help in confronting the malaise and malfeasance. Indeed, if a greater number of citizens participated, some of the sinister influences of late would be rendered moot.

The only flaw of By the People is that it bends over backwards to be non-partisan when it shouldn't. But it is still a vital and valuable filmic record.