'The Way Americans Like to Do It': What Voting Looked Like in 1944


"For three months all through the late summer and fall wherever people come together issues and men are discussed and argued about. Some feel that this isn't altogether a good thing -- that a lot of time and energy are wasted this way. It may be, but that's the way Americans like to do it," the narrator of Tuesday in November explains proudly. 

From a voting booth in small town California to a victory celebration in Times Square, the film celebrates American democracy in action. The U.S. Office of War Information produced the film in 1945, drawing on a dramatization of the voting process and archival footage of the 1944 presidential race to tell the story of the wartime election.

It begins in Riverton, California, a town that is "not very large, not very rich, not very old." In a sketch worthy of Norman Rockwell, the first to vote is the milkman. "I always like to vote early -- it gives the Republicans a temporary lead," he announces cheerily. He'll be on the losing side of history on this one, of course; Roosevelt will crush Dewey 432-99 in electoral votes. The real winners, though, were the kids whose school closed for the day to become a polling station -- an official holiday at the time in California, apparently. 

The Prelinger Archive has made this high quality digital version of the film available here and notes that in spite of its obvious propaganda, the film carries a powerful, if idealized, message: 

The Office of War Information films have been criticized for idealizing and oversimplifying the reality of American life, and there is no question that they do so. Tuesday in November ultimately is a case of wishful thinking, or about how things ought to be. Much of what we see is neither truthful nor completely candid. Elections were being stolen that year of 1944. African Americans were effectively forbidden from voting in many states. Roosevelt was not strongly opposed in the wartime election of 1944 ...

But, by the time the results are being calculated and disseminated, it no longer seems to matter. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people are gathered in Times Square waiting for the returns ... Ultimately, the elegance and authority of the film lends credence to its optimistic view of our system, making it one of those rare propaganda films that has the power to seek out and stir whatever trace of idealism still may survive in your mind. "All over America tonight, the people are waiting to learn whom they have chosen to govern them for the next four years. Toward midnight, the final results are announced. A nation of a hundred and forty million has elected a government."

For more films from the Prelinger Archive, visit http://archive.org/details/prelinger.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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