Seemingly the entire world is aware: it’s a tense moment in American politics. With Nov. 8 looming, “Election Film (aka 4182)” – historic silent film footage of Los Angeles’ April 6, 1965, mayoral election – makes for timely viewing. If not simply a relief for its depiction of calm and cool organizational processes, it reveals a proud and patriotic side that many only wish today’s election possessed. In 1965, ballots for the incumbent Democrat Sam Yorty and James Roosevelt, a challenger from Yorty’s own party (Republican Patrick McGee ran a distant third), were processed by the repetitious tasks of letter opening, writing, sorting, stacking, typing, yawning, and filing. Yawning? You read correctly. Without the swiftness of today’s electoral process, the city clerk’s office devoted exacting, time-consuming labor to making sure every single vote was counted.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 makes itself visible in this film, with black Angelenos proudly casting their ballots before the camera.
The 1960s were a unique time for technological and equitable advancement in voting, both for Los Angeles and the nation. First, the punch-card voting system invented in 1960 eased voter tally. Second – though Congress would enact it for several more months – the Voting Rights Act of 1965 makes itself visible in this film, with black Angelenos proudly casting their ballots before the camera. By the time “Election Film” – its full 25 minutes preserved at the Los Angeles City Archives and now publicly accessible through the USC Digital Library – takes flight with aerial scenes over the Ambassador Hotel at 3400 Wilshire Blvd. and the IBM regional headquarters at 3420 Wilshire (two locations where the ballots were tallied), you get a strong sense of how electoral changes have paralleled those within the physical and cultural landscape of Los Angeles.