Count my vote – a citizen's guide to voting by Steven Rosenfeld

Forewarned is Forearmed

AlterNet has been around for the last ten years, bringing its millions of monthly readers the latest in award-winning, independent, investigative journalism and doing the job the traditional media abdicated long ago. This spring, they branched out and AlterNet Books was born. Count My Vote – a Citizen's Guide To Voting is one of their first offerings, written and compiled by Steven Rosenfeld, an AlterNet Senior Fellow who specializes in democracy and elections. He co-authored several books on the 2004 election including What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election (New Press) and Did George W. Bush Steal America's 2004 Election? (Columbus Institute of Contemporary Journalism). As a result of Rosenfeld's extensive research into what went wrong in 2004, there are few people in a better position to write the voter education guide, Count My Vote, which will hit the bookstores later this month. This is a combination sneak preview and interview with its author.

Why did you write Count My Vote?

I wrote the book based on my experience covering what happened in Ohio in 2004. That summer, when I was the executive producer of an Air America Radio show, we had people on the air that kept telling us they were registering tens of thousands of voters in Ohio – and "Don't worry, we will win." It turned out that neither the 527 groups working for John Kerry nor the Democratic Party had a firm grip on what the GOP was doing in Ohio to tilt the playing field on Election Day. This book is an attempt to look at what is happening now, instead of looking back after Election Day and asking "what happened?"

What's new in the book?

The landscape facing voters is not the same in 2008 as it was in 2004. That's a big deal, and one that most of the films about 2004 don't address. I decided to do this book after virtually every state had a high-turnout primary this spring. This was more than a dress rehearsal; it showed the flaws in their voting systems that could affect a large turnout in the fall. So this book takes the record from the primaries and says here are the lessons, here are the things to look out for, and here's what to do about it.

How is 2008 different from 2004? And what are the big problems?

I spend so much time on registration and getting properly credentialed because that is what will stop people – for many reasons – from voting in the fall. The GOP, mostly working at the state level where they are in power, has created new bureaucratic hoops for voters and especially new voters: be they new ID requirements, moved polling places, etc. Also, some states are using new statewide voter lists for the first time and longtime voters have been left off. There also will be many states purging voters this summer. If people know they are properly registered and show some backbone and patience with lines and poll workers, then they will get to vote and beat partisan voter challenges.


Rosenfeld clearly indicates that in our political system it is up to the voter to assure that his registration is correct and in force. That's why you need to familiarize yourself with the requirements in your particular state. As a result, the second part of the book is a voting guide organized state-by-state, with officials to contact, voter ID and voter registration requirements, early voting provisions (or not), voting machines, and election concerns. Part One deals with voter registration as well as specific groups that often fall through the cracks for voting: students, the transient, and those overseas (including the military).

I'm a long-time resident of suburban Cook County, Illinois. My own family has five potential voters. So I used my situation to see if the book's advice and suggestions would be helpful.

My daughter, Yael, lives in downtown Chicago but is registered to vote at our suburban address. Rosenfeld suggested I contact my local election office. I did and learned that before the deadline of October 7, she must either change her registration to reflect her current address, request and use an absentee ballot, or come home and vote in our suburban polling place.

My daughter, Ariella, has been abroad for a number of years. While she might have been purged from the voting rolls, she has been voting absentee in every election. According to Regina at the Cook County Clerk's Office, as of this week, she is still registered at our Skokie address. She will be leaving for Boston for graduate school at the end of the summer. She misses early voting, which starts October 13, so she has two choices. She can request an absentee ballot in a timely fashion, or reregister in Massachusetts.

My son, Michael, is the most challenging of the three. Now 18, he missed the deadline to register for the primaries, but all is not lost. It used to be that first-time Illinois voters had to vote in person, but that is no longer the case. He can still vote in the general election, but there are several steps he must take in order to do so. First, he needs to register. Right now, he's up in Northern Wisconsin, eight hours away. When he returns in mid-August, he can take his driver's license to Skokie Village Hall and register to vote. Or, he can steal a minute at camp and download an application to register to vote.

After a few weeks, he can check with the County Clerk to make sure that his registration was received and processed. Then, he needs to request an application for an absentee ballot. He needs an absentee ballot because he will be doing a program abroad for the coming academic year, starting October 12. (If his flight were even 24 hours later, he could have gone into our Village Hall and done early voting.) After he applies for an absentee ballot, it will be mailed to him. Depending on when the ballots become available (September 25, at the earliest), Michael's ballot will either be sent to our home address or his overseas address. At that point, he will finally vote by filling out the ballot and sending it back to the States.

FedEx has recently teamed up with the Overseas Vote Foundation to expedite delivery of what could be as many as 6 million votes from overseas. If he were in Hong Kong, China, New Zealand or the Philippines, this novel service would be free. Virtually everywhere else in the world, it will cost $23.00. Express Your Vote will operate between September 15 and October 29. Those using the service will be able to track and trace their ballots' progress online. Those opting out of the FedEx option will have to resort to the traditional method of popping their ballots in the mail in time to be counted.

My husband, Rafi, and I have lived in the same home for more than ten election cycles and have never missed an opportunity to vote. Nevertheless, due to the high incidence of purging of legal voters, we are taking nothing for granted. We will be calling the County Clerk's office in the next few weeks to confirm that our names are still on the voting rolls. Rosenfeld advises every voter to do the same, sooner rather than later, to avoid the pre-election crush. An Election Official Directory organized by state can be found at the OVF website.

These are the kind of steps that people have to take to ensure they can vote in November. The book covers these details and is a very useful resource even for voters who have no plans to leave the country on Election Day.

And now, back to the author interview.


What about the timing of this book's publication?

It's coming out now so that people can fix any problems with their voter registrations. Your family situation is a perfect example of that. If you tried to figure out what each of your kids should do on Sept. 15, you'd have quite a scramble. By looking at your situation in July, you can verify your registration info, easily contact local election officials, and figure out what can be done to vote for the fall. In more than half the country, the state registration closes a month before the election. So now is the time for not just would-be voters, but anyone working on campaigns, to double-check that they or their family members or community are going to be able to vote. If this book came out in September, it would be less helpful.

In sum, it really is a voter education book, which says here are the possible hurdles, and problems that surfaced in the primaries – and here's what most people can do to get past those hurdles. A high turnout will offset most of the nasty things that can happen in close elections. The voter suppression and fraudulent vote count tactics only work in close elections where the other side tries to shave a few percentage points off the vote here and there. That's why my focus, and my timing, is to get this out early.


Rosenfeld believes knowledge is power. His guide serves as a sort of election first-aid kit. Not enough voting machines, long lines, challenges at the polls, confused poll workers, statewide computerized voter databases that scramble voters' names making them ineligible to vote – are but a few of the myriad of problems that have occurred in recent elections. They will undoubtedly recur this November. Rosenfeld offers concrete help.

Voters need to know what they can and cannot control. You can control your ability to register properly; verify your registration with local election officials; know what ID is required; and find out in advance the location of your polling place. You cannot control how well election machinery works or whether there will be a problem with the vote count. (p. 15) 

This quote reminded me of AA's official prayer:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.While mental health might dictate a more Zen approach to current elections, Rosenfeld has given us actual tools to address some of the barriers that could keep us from voting in the first place. AlterNet has generally been considered to be left-of-center. Ironically, this publication has the potential for the widest possible audience since all of us, regardless of our politics, cherish the right to vote. Rosenfeld makes it more likely that we will be able to exercise that right.

Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which exists for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. We aim to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Electronic (computerized) voting systems are simply antithetical to democratic principles.

CER set up a lending library to achieve the widespread distribution of the DVD Invisible Ballots: A temptation for electronic vote fraud. Within eighteen months, the project had distributed over 3200 copies across the country and beyond. CER now concentrates on group showings, OpEd pieces, articles, reviews, interviews, discussion sessions, networking, conferences, anything that promotes awareness of this critical problem. Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005.